First Person Second Draft: 1 Assassination, Countless Murders

The assassination of Indira Gandhi caught me on the wrongest foot possible: in transit from New York to New Delhi.

Rajiv Gandhi and actor Amitabh Bachchan beside the body of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi and actor Amitabh Bachchan beside the body of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Written by Shekhar Gupta | Updated: June 6, 2014 9:59 pm

collective crimes that, as a nation and society, we are not able to apply closure to the most tragic turning points in our history.

You want to know if the Congress, at least at the local levels, was involved? I will repeat some stories I documented then: I witnessed a scene created by local Congress leader Dharam Dass Shastri (In 1993, the Jain-Aggarwal committee recommended registering a case against him, and in 2005, the Nanavati commission found “credible evidence” against him, following which the Union home ministry ordered the CBI to reopen the case. But nothing happened, and Shastri is now dead.) at the Karol Bagh police station as he protested against the arrest of Congressmen caught with property looted from Sikh homes. Recover the property for sure, he said, but why arrest? They are “not criminals”.

Brahm Yadav, the Delhi Youth Congress president, was far ahead of this too. He protested against a joint army-police raid in Kodapur, his block, and you want to know the reason why? He said a fair raid could not be carried out by a patrol led by a Sikh army officer assisted by another Sikh from the police. One most significant fact about the rioting was how dramatically it all stopped the moment the first Army units moved in, including Soviet-made BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The army had to hardly fire any shots, make any arrests. As the news of the army’s arrival spread, the mobs decided to melt away. They knew they were not dealing with Delhi Police any more, which was incompetent where it wasn’t complicit, and mostly absent, some for predictable reasons like leave, and some because of panic and indecision among the higher brass that somehow decided to tell the Sikhs in the force to stay out of trouble. And Delhi Police? Here is one of the scenes I witnessed and reported. A mid-level police officer, with a strong armed patrol, sat on a chair picked up from a nearby house and watched coolly as a mob chased a group of Sikhs, including women, with sticks, iron rods and swords while two of the panicked Sikhs fought desperately to keep them at bay with iron rods. Why don’t you people do something, I asked the officer. How can I, he said with mock helplessness, I have a very small force. Let’s wait for reinforcements.

There were tragedies to see and record across the city, but none more heart-rending than the killings in outlying, particularly east Delhi colonies where lumpens looted, raped and killed not merely unhindered, but often helped along by the police. I reached Block 32 in Trilokpuri, the trans-Yamuna near-slum on the second afternoon of the riots. Its narrow lanes were piled with half-burnt bodies, in the odd case, a decapitated one. I spoke with Jasmer Singh, a survivor from a poorer section, a real slum and she said “they would strike a man unconscious, douse him with kerosene and touch him with a burning corpse. It was also the …continued »

First Published on: June 6, 2014 12:00 amSingle Page Format
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