Kids Corner


1984 & I: Not a Riot! It Was a Pogrom!

by ASHOK JAITLEY [Indian Administrative Service]


The following article is the 48th in's "1984 & I" Series.    


Ashok Jaitly, an IAS officer posted in Delhi in November 1984, was one of the rare officers to testify against the police and political workers on their role in the anti-Sikh pogroms.


I was on leave around the time Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984. All day on October 31, we heard reports of Congress Seva Dal workers coming out on the streets shouting slogans like "khoon ka badla khoon se lenge" ("We will avenge blood with blood!); we heard reports of mobs attacking Sikhs.

That evening, my then wife Jaya and I drove down Lodhi Road to see gangs pulling Sikhs out of buses. Around Defence Colony, we found a Sikh on a motorcycle, his old father hanging on the pillion. Rather than letting them risk their lives, we convinced them to come home with us. I remember how shaken up the old man was.

On the morning of November 1, a number of us got together around Lajpat Nagar. While marching for peace, we passed a gurdwara to see hoodlums standing outside with trishuls (tridents) in their hands, wearing saffron headgear.

Inside, apprehensive Sikhs, holding swords, were ready to defend themselves. When we came out onto the Ashram flyover, I remember seeing corpses lying on the rail tracks. A group of us went to Congress leader Arun Nehru, demanding the army be brought out. His demeanour was frighteningly casual; he claimed he and his party were doing all they could.

Within no time, we had set up the Nagrik Ekta Manch. Groups went in all directions, coming back with horrendous stories of people found dead and burnt. We got affidavits from victims in which they detailed what had happened.

Much of that evidence was put before the Nanavati Commission. I myself testified before the commission.

On the basis of the evidence we found, there is no question that what transpired in 1984 was not a riot, it was a pogrom. Thousands died and there was barely a response because there was a quiet complicity between the establishment and the mob, like later in Gujarat.

When I look back, I realize my actions weren't out of the ordinary. My generation had many bureaucrats who thought differently. We had an ideology, which to use a cliche, was pro-poor, pro-minority, pro-secular. Even our ‘elitist' St Stephen's-Oxbridge education taught us that.

If one had to desperately hunt for a positive, it would have to be that in 1984, there emerged a unique citizen's movement, a spontaneous response to the pogroms. 


[As told to Shreevatsa Nevatia. Courtesy: Outlook]

October 13, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Amitoj (U.S.A.), October 13, 2009, 10:21 PM.

At last an article by someone from the non-Sikh community. I knew there was an intellectual class in India but boy, they were silent on this issue of 1984. It is a strange phenomenon that the Sikh community is so eagerly ready to help others in dire straits, yet so few speak on its behalf. I feel like saying that we should also learn (to use the words of English playwright, William Congreve) 'The Way of the World', but then wouldn't we then lose our uniqueness for which our community is known for. This writer sure took the right actions for that time. It was a pogrom, indeed, and all these years the media and news reports kept using the word 'riots' as if two parties were battling it out in equal numbers. Language of violence and hate has its own vocabulary and it must be used judiciously.

2: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), October 18, 2009, 4:00 PM.

I agree with Amitoj that the Sikh community or the Sikh leadership can help others, whereas for the last 25 years Sikhs and Sikh families effected by the 1984 pogroms are still looking for help. Even Sikhs cannot teach the world what happened to Sikhs in 1984.

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