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1984 riots in Trilokpuri: ‘Bodies of hundreds of Sikhs were scattered, some showed signs of life’

Joseph Maliakan was at Trilokpuri in 1984, reporting on the riots for The Indian Express. He recounts what he saw.

Updated: November 3, 2014 7:25:59 pm
Joseph Maliakan in Trilokpuri, 30 years after what was his most heartrending assignment.(Source: Express photo by Praveen Khanna) Joseph Maliakan in Trilokpuri, 30 years after what was his most heartrending assignment. (Source: Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

By Joseph Maliakan

The 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two Sikh guards  is the saddest and most heartrending event I have covered as a reporter. For three days beginning November 1, 1984, organised armed mobs freely roamed the streets of Delhi, killing Sikhs and looting them of their possessions. The police at best looked on and at worst joined the marauding mobs.

Trilokpuri, a sprawling resettlement colony in east Delhi which is currently making headlines because of the Diwali-eve communal riots, witnessed the mass murder of Sikhs in 1984.

The killings began on the night of November 1 and on November 2 afternoon, I visited Trilokpuri along with my colleagues Rahul Bedi and Alok Tomar. As we reached the colony, an armed mob who stood guard stopped us and ordered us to return because Block 32, where more than 400 Sikhs were killed and set on fire, was out of bounds for outsiders.

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We went to the Delhi police commissioner’s office. Then lieutenant-governor P G Ghavai was holding a meeting with senior police officials including commissioner Subhash Tandon. In spite of our accounts of the Trilokpuri massacre, the commissioner maintained absolute peace prevailed in Delhi. On our request, however, commissioner Tandon agreed to visit Trilokpuri. Rahul and I followed in our car. However, instead of turning right for Trilokpuri after crossing the ITO bridge, Tandon turned left and disappeared. Even the commissioner, obviously, was avoiding trouble spots and in no hurry to stop the killings.

We returned to Trilokpuri and managed to enter Block 32 by 5.30 pm. The bodies of hundreds of Sikhs lay scattered around. Some showed signs of life. Rahul and I tied a turban around a bleeding Sikh. A few minutes later, SHO Shoorvir Singh arrived with two policemen. With the help of policemen, we picked up a few more injured from among the dead.

Rahul then left to get help. I stayed on to lend support to the survivors who were thirsty, hungry and frightened. As night fell hundreds of women and children came out of neighbouring Hindu homes where they had taken shelter. Frightened children were running a high fever and some clutched at me, begging me to save them.

Around 8 pm, deputy commissioner of East Delhi Sewa Dass arrived. I urged him to send the injured to hospital in his vehicle. He obliged, and left promising to arrange vehicles for survivors.

I took a few steps into a narrow lane in Block 32 and was horrified to see a huge bonfire of bodies. It dawned on me only later that the police were in Trilokpuri in the afternoon to ensure that the bodies of those killed were burnt so that no evidence was left. In fact all over Delhi, the pattern was the same. The killings began in east, west, south and north almost simultaneously on the first evening and continued till the third. Everywhere the bodies were disposed of by burning.

The massacre was planned meticulously and executed with military precision. The mobs were armed with weapons, kerosene, petrol and other inflammable material. They also had copies of the voters list to identify Sikh homes. The involvement of Congressmen in power in organising the mass murders was very evident. Also evident was the connivance of Delhi police.

For some reason, the Rangnath Misra Commission rejected outright the majority of the affidavits filed by the victims as well as witnesses. The commission not only rejected Rahul Bedi’s affidavit and mine, but an officer of the commission called me informally to his chamber and dissuaded me from filing an affidavit arguing that I had not suffered in the anti-Sikh pogrom. The state prosecutor accused me of filing reports in The Indian Express at the behest of the management.

Misra later became a Rajya Sabha member, courtesy the Congress. He continued to be appointed to various commissions by the UPA government.

A word about the first committee, headed by Ved Marwah, to inquire into police lapses. Marwah had gone about his work with honesty and seriousness but his findings, if made public, would have indicted not only the police but powerful Congress politicians.

Therefore, the report was buried unceremoniously. Though 30 years have gone by, Marwah, I believe, has a duty to reveal his findings. Now that the Congress is out of power, he has nothing to fear .

While the guilty have gone scot-free (most have been rewarded), the state and society have been  very slack in the matter of providing compensation and rehabilitating the victims. Initially, the government announced compensation of only Rs 10,000 for each person killed. It was doubled after a lot of pleading.

The treatment of the 600 widows is unforgivable. They were given a meagre pension of Rs 500 a month and dumped together in Tilak Vihar, a DDA colony comparable to the worst slum. I have been visiting the colony on and off. In spite of the hardships, they have managed to bring up  their children by themselves. Their courage and resilience give us hope.

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