31st October is a date which will always be remembered as the day when for the first time in our history a Prime Minister was assassinated who also happened to be the first and only women PM we had since. What followed was one of the darkest chapters of our history and a permanent stain on our democratic and secular ethos. Indira Gandhi was perhaps one of the most charismatic leaders this country had ever seen because she was bold and at times very decisive, unlike so many of her contemporaries. When everyone thought she was finished, she would rise to the occasion and prove everyone wrong. But sadly on this day 31 years ago, men who had sworn to protect her gunned her down and then the circle of violence started against the Sikh community and the reminiscence and echo of that shameful chapter could still be felt all across New Delhi and the families who lost their loved ones.
It is not important to get into the politics and the reasons why Indira Gandhi was assassinated, but what we need to look into is why did the state watched and let so many of its citizens be raped and murdered, their property looted and destroyed. It was a day when the “State Stood Still” which is tantamount to committing the crime itself. Mobs were organized and instigated by highly influential people some of whom have already died and some still alive but would never see the darkness of prison cell because of politics. What transpired after 31st of October in simple words was a carefully planned “State Sponsored Genocide” which is something we in India are all used to. But to drag other instances would take away the importance of this event, not that other events do not have any significance but the idea is not to lose singular focus regarding 1984 Sikh riots in Delhi.
The security forces were not only instructed to stand down, many actively participated and took their pound of flesh that day. No Police Officer till date has been convicted for dereliction of duty for allowing unbridled atrocity on our own countrymen relentlessly for 10 days. But in this period of great confusion, loss and turmoil there are stories of courage and compassion which proved that ‘not all of us cruel and vindictive. Many Sikhs were saved and people did their best to protect their property. But more importantly lives were saved and a message was sent to the people who led the charge to seek revenge and personal vendetta, it would take a lot more to kill our humanity and kindness for our fellow brotherin.
The newly anointed Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi who was the first son of Indira Gandhi did nothing and allowed the carnage to continue in Delhi for days. Only after things got really out of hand and enough blood had been shed to douse the anger of congress party supporters and its leaders did the carnage come to ignoble end. Rajiv Gandhi was also sadly killed in one of the most tragic and brutal way seven years later and it would be barbaric to call that poetic justice. But in the heart of all those people who lost a father, husband, son, wife, sister, mother maybe it was poetic justice. Perhaps in their hearts the misery of seeing a loved one burnt alive is too much to forgive but somehow the very people who were wronged are still waiting for justice with quite dignity.
Several commissions had been set up over the years and the eye witness accounts are innumerable, yet not one of the senior congress ministers went to prison. In other words it was one of the greatest cover-ups this country had ever seen. Files and police records were destroyed and eyewitness account falsified, a deflated figure of number of people killed was put forth. Voices were muffled and lives of people changed forever. The scars of those 10 days in November can still be seen in the eyes of many Sikh families in Delhi and other parts of the country.
What precipitated after was a direct manifestation of the riots which took a huge toll on the hearts and mind of the Sikh community and the dawn of a long and bloody terrorism which took the lives of so many people. It was bad enough to destroy the Golden Temple, one of the holiest shrines of Sikh religion but the failure of the state to give protection and also actively participate in rioting was a dark mark in our democracy and people are yet to regain their faith.
The Delhi High Court in verdict said “Though we boast of being the world's largest democracy and Delhi being its national capital, the sheer mention of the incidents of 1984 anti-Sikh riots in general and the role played by Delhi Police and state machinery in particular makes our heads hang in shame in the eyes of the world polity.” That was just the courts observation but the victims and families of over 3000 people killed in Delhi in 1984 Sikh riots still await justice and in doing so many an eyes have long past and many a youth and innocence destroyed