Amidst Barbarity, A Few Hindus & Muslims Saved Sikhs in 1984
The worst massacres took place in Block 32 Trilokpuri, in which hundreds of Sikhs were butchered over several days.
These are edited excerpts from British journalist Pav Singh’s book ‘1984: India’s Guilty Secret’ published by Rupa in 2017. The excerpts have been reproduced with the author’s permission.
On the morning of 1 November, a huge bloodthirsty crowd roamed through Trilokpuri colony in East Delhi, one of the poorest parts of the capital that bore the brunt of its casualties.
The worst massacres took place in Block 32 along two narrow alleys, just 150 yards long, in which hundreds of Sikh residents inhabiting single-room tenements were casually butchered over several days.
Initially, around 150 local Sikhs were able to fend off the stone-throwing mob numbering several thousands. Two hours later, the local police suddenly intervened.
To the relief of the besieged Sikhs, they escorted the marauders away, only to return to relieve the Sikhs of their staffs and swords – their only means of defence.
In a calculated manner and with the connivance of the police, the mob sealed off and guarded all exit points from the area to ensure that no Sikh could escape but the police could enter.
Within just a kilometre from two police stations, the violence recommenced, the mobs splitting victims’ skulls and filling the gashes with kerosene before setting them alight.
When a Sikh lady finally dared to come out of the shelter afforded to her and her children by a Muslim neighbour, she later recalled seeing the lifeless bodies of Sikh children scattered across the streets, still burning like wood. A senior police officer was overheard casually comparing the scene to the burning of garbage.
In several other poor districts in the east of the capital across Delhi’s main river, the Yamuna, babies were snatched from the arms of their mothers and butchered – the bodies of some were casually tossed onto makeshift bonfires. Men were dragged to the rooftops of their houses and hurled off. Children were lynched in front of their parents. Holy sites were burnt to the ground, sometimes with worshippers inside them.
In Vinod Nagar East, a few kilometres north of Trilokpuri, a truckload of men from nearby villages first razed Sikh shrines to the ground before moving on to people’s homes. The local postmaster’s house was set ablaze with his children inside. A local cinema owner’s home was also torched despite being just a stone’s throw away from a police station – four policemen were present at the time of the attack in which all eleven family members, including women and children were roasted alive.
Nightfall allowed no respite from the onslaught. The police in Old Delhi were reported to have spread the ominous slogan: ‘The nights are ours, the days are yours’. One woman later described how her husband who was discovered hiding in a trunk, was dragged out and cut to pieces. She also witnessed a sixteen-year-old boy and a small child he was carrying, both killed without remorse.
As the massacres progressed, a further disturbing revelation began to emerge. In several areas, the killers were not all politically directed thugs.
A twenty-two-year-old man, the sole survivor of the attack in which his entire family was slaughtered, recalled how his neighbours had initially assured them that they would be safe and protected. Hours later, the very same neighbours returned with weapons and forced the doors open:
“Immediately when we came out they pounced upon us like bloodthirsty animals. His first blow hit my mother. She was so dazed by this sudden and unprovoked attack that she did not even scream and fell down on the ground. The chopper caused a deep cut on her shoulder and she bled profusely. The attackers did not stop after she had fallen but all of them gave her blows with their weapons, causing grievous injuries and thus killed her. The next to be attacked was my younger sister, aged seventeen. A long knife was thrust into her neck which caused a deep cut and a stream of blood flowed from it. She instantaneously fell down but the criminals continued to hit her till they were sure that my helpless sister was dead”.
Humanity Amidst Barbarity
Even at the height of the unbridled barbarity, ordinary Hindu and Muslim citizens came to the aid of their Sikh neighbours, undoubtedly saving countless lives while risking their own.
Six hundred Sikhs were saved by the Hindus of Trilokpuri. According to an army officer posted in Shahdara, of the Sikh families he rescued from different parts of the area, at least 70 percent were sheltered by Hindus.
In Yusuf Sarai market, Hindu shopkeepers laid down in front of Sikh shops and told the mob they would have to burn them first before touching any Sikh-owned businesses.
In Vinod Nagar East, a Hindu dragged a Sikh and his children out of a burning taxi.
In Sadiq Nagar, Sikhs were assured by their Hindu neighbours that they would be protected.
When a Sikh tried to rescue his niece in West Delhi, he was stunned to find that a group of Hindus were protecting her.
A Hindu family in Shakurpur saved three families by keeping them hidden in their house.
While protecting three women, Prabhu Dayal, a Hindu employee of a Sikh-owned factory, caught fire himself and died.
In Trilokpuri, five Muslim houses in Block 32 stood as a buffer between the mobs and the Sikhs. A Muslim risked his life saving his Sikh neighbour. Muslims also saved a Sikh lady and her children in Shahdara.
Both during and after those four tragic days, many ordinary citizens from all walks of life resolutely helped their humanity and did what they could to help the innocent in the absence of any official response.
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