Blood and Ink

A reporter’s account of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence

Anti-Sikh violence in west Delhi on 1 November 1984, a day after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her guards, both Sikh. About three thousand Sikhs lost their lives in the capital in the violence. P Dayal / BCCL
31 October, 2021

It was the most revolting sight I ever saw, and I have seen nothing like it since. One of my colleagues, Dipankar De Sarkar, bolted out of the Delhi Police mortuary in Subzi Mandi and threw up.

It was 1 November 1984, over twenty-four hours after Indira Gandhi had been shot dead by two Sikh bodyguards. Innocent Sikhs were being targeted in an orgy of senseless violence. It was medieval-era justice at its worst.

That morning, Sarkar, Rajiv Pande—another colleague—and I were on two scooters trying to map out the mayhem. We saw a young Sikh man lying dead, his body still partly burning, near the tracks just outside the Delhi Cantonment railway station. Bystanders said that the man, apparently a train passenger who had gotten off at the station, had been chased down and brutally killed. Seeing us taking notes, an army officer inspecting the area remarked that we were wasting time going around the city—we only had to visit the Delhi Police mortuary to know the extent and depravity of the bloodbath.

We turned up at the mortuary well after noon. It was my first visit to a mortuary since I had become a journalist six years earlier.