"Kill them. "Burn them. "Get all the bloody Sardars. "Let no Sikh survive." "Loot them and burn their houses." "Let nothing remain of the community, not a trace." They killed our leader, let no child of theirs live." "Burn their turbans."
(The reference here is to Sikh religious symbols including, their deep blue and saffron coloured turbans and the reference to Pakistan here is symbolic for ‘enemy’ territory. Don’t let any blue or saffron turban remain, don’t let Sikhs greet each other. Let their religious symbols be destroyed and let all Sikhs be banished to Pakistan.)
These slogans echoed in every street and square of Delhi. There was violence everywhere. One could hear the cries of the Sikh victims coming from all directions. Smoke was billowing out of burning Gurudwaras and houses, shops, factories and other property of Sikhs. Sikhs were being dragged out of their homes to be butchered. Killings were carried out in various ways, each more spine-chilling than the other. Some victims were beaten with iron rods until all that was left of them were a few last breaths. Many were burnt alive after being garlanded with kerosene-soaked tyers, lit with much ceremony. No Sikh the mob could lay its hands on was spared, not even young children, old men and women.
After every killing, the killer crowds gathered around the corpse and danced and yelled with Joy. " Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega (Indira Gandhi’s name will live as long as the sun and the moon live)".
Every time the mob spotted a Sikh, it burst into joy: " Here comes a Sardar." " We have found one here, " another crowd would yell. The killers were combing the residential colonies and markets for Sikhs, a majority of whom were killed right in their homes. After killing the men, the mob raped their wives and daughters. There was nobody to rescue Sikh men from the massacre and Sikh women from gang-rape. Some Delhi police men were also among those involved in the carnage.
Sikh women begged the killers to spare their men and children. The more they begged, the more savage did the killers become. Sikhs were killed with knives, iron rods, petrol and kerosene and a strange, white chemical which did not need a match to burn. Dragged out of their homes, pulled out of public and private transport, Sikh men were killed savagely and then abandoned to be eaten by dogs, cats, pigs and crows. Nature’s scavengers, the vultures, never got a chance to feast on these dead bodies because they are vary of descending down to busy roads and squares.
The lucky ones got a mass funeral. Truckloads of corpses were unloaded and burnt with kerosene oil. Thousands did not need cremation because they were burnt alive. The killers carted away televisions, videos, clothes, cupboards full of household goodies and refrigerators. Among them, those who grabbed cash and jewelry looked most content.
The air was thick with rumours. One rumor had it that Sikhs of Punjab were sending train-loads of dead Hindus. Another rumour was that Sikhs had poisoned Delhi’s water.
Doordarshan, the official electronic media, had its own story to tell. The focus of the film footage on Mrs, Indira Gandhi’s assassination was on her dead body and mobs around it, chanting,, " khoon ka badla khoon (seek blood for blood).
It was apparently the government’s way of instructing the nation what to do, of justifying the savagery displayed towards the entire Sikh community. Five thousand Sikhs were brutally killed in four days. Thousands of others were wounded. Many more rendered homeless. Hospitals were not closed but nobody dared to take the victims to hospital. The police had already made clear whose side it was on.
After 1947, when India became free from British rule, many historic judgements and orders of the Supreme Court have given the Indian people a new hope about the strength of the Indian judiciary. There have been many occasions when the honorable judges of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court have taken suo moto action, based on media reports highlighting comes and injustices. In several other instances, all the victim had to do was to send in a post card to the judges of the two courts to bring his or her problem to light and to get justice.
The courts have been unsparing in their criticism of government actions and decisions which they found unjust and have issued many orders, amending the wrongs committed by the government. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the top investigating body, also received flak from the courts whenever it slackened its enquiry into crimes committed by political and government big-wigs. For instance, when the former chief of the agency, Mr. Joginder Singh, met former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao at a time when the latter was under investigation by the CBI for white-collar crimes, of bribery, cheating and forgery, a Supreme Court bench summoned Mr. Singh to the court and ordered him to behave. Mr. Singh had to apologise to the court for his indiscretion. The point to note in this story is that the court took action against the former CBI chief not because anybody petitioned it but on the basis of media reports. In one of the many scams involving political leaders and members of the Bihar State government, the court ordered the CBI to report directly to it instead of submitting its report to the government. A year ago, the Capital of India saw an epidemic of Dengue fever which took many lives. The media blamed the government for it. The administration’s neglect of its civic duties, said the reports, had led to the epidemic. A Delhi High Court judge was prompt to respond to such press reports and issued an order to the government to explain its criminal neglect of public health.
In another case of rape, the court ordered the arrest of the alleged culprit, Vishnu Pandit, a resident of east Delhi, again on the basis of press report. The reports also accused the police of siding with the culprit than the victims, which invited a reprimand from the court.
On October 31, 1984, when an open massacre of Sikhs in the streets of Delhi and for four subsequent days during which the killings went on unabated, the honorable judges of the two courts were not in their offices but in the comfort of their homes, perhaps, watching television coverage of the assassination and aftermath. They must have watched the mobs crying for the blood of Sikhs like the rest of India.
The four-day long massacre was carried out by blood-thirsty mobs within a radius of 30 kilometers of the two courts’ buildings in New Delhi. Several incidents of grotesque violence took place close to the houses of these honorable judges, again in Lutyen’s Delhi. The air of Delhi was thick with smoke and stench of burning corpses for four long days and nights. What were the honorable judges doing during this time? Sitting in their homes like a bunch of impotents? Not one of them reacted. Not one of them was moved by the dance of death in the streets of Delhi. Not one of them was provoked into ordering the government to stop the carnage of Sikhs.
Besides, it is very hard to fathom why the two courts remained locked for those four days of unprecedented violence. Judge this against the backdrop of stories about judges of the two courts sometimes having passed midnight orders in important cases. According to an order of the Supreme Court itself, "justice cannot be enslaved to the clock and, whenever necessary, it must be delivered without waiting for the courts to open."
Presuming that the judges could not move out of their homes in the first few days of that dark November for security reasons, why did they not hold special sittings right in their homes? And, if the streets were not safe for them, could they not imagine what must be happening to ordinary citizens? Why did they do nothing to safegaurd the lives of Sikhs or to stem the anti-Sikh violence? Why did they shut themselves in their houses when Sikhs were being brutally killed? All these questions lead to another very significant question. Were the honorable judges acting as agents of the Congress party or were they sleeping like Kumbhkarna and, therefore, unconscious of the violence outside their homes?
Why did it take the honorable judges four long days to report to their offices ? Even after the carnage and the opening of the courts, not one judge reacted. Not one of them sought explanation from the government for its criminal neglect of an entire community. No judge even dared ask the Delhi police as to why it had allowed such savagery against Sikhs. Who is to be blamed ? Where was the police ? Where was the government ? Where was the army ?
Fourteen long years later, when there is a national debate on the so-called "judicial activism" in India, no judge has said a word of criticism against that massacre. The killers of Sikhs prowl free on the streets of Delhi, not far from the two courts but no judge knows about their existence. One the other hand, some of those alleged to have been involved in the killings, especially, members of the Congress party, have top class security cover provided to them by the government. Is that not an open challenge to the institution of judiciary ? And yet, nobody is outraged at such foul and double standards.
Some newspapers have done a good job of reporting on the victims families’ fight for justice. The reports talk of the killers openly intimidating and mocking at the families. But, no judge seems to read these reports. No court has asked why the killers are roaming free and why the Delhi police and the central government have done nothing to nab the killers.
And, in the middle of this cruel silence on the part on the courts, the intelligentsia in the country is debating the pros and cons of judicial activism. Are the crimes of killings 5,000 Sikhs, rape of their women and looting and the destruction of their property, nothing compared to the white-collar crimes over which the Indian judiciary is so agitated? The same judges who are so concerned about probity and accountability in public life are quiet on the State-sponsored massacre of Sikhs. They apparently do not recognise the killings as a serious crime.