How Senior Congress Leaders Sanctioned The Organised Violence Against Sikhs In 1984

03 November 2017
Rajiv Gandhi’s cousin and confidante Arun Nehru (left) with the Indian president Giani Zail Singh outside AIIMS on 31 October 1984.

Exactly thirty-three years ago, Delhi witnessed one of the bloodiest and most brutal massacres since Partition—the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The violence began after the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October that year. She was assassinated by two of her guards, both Sikh. Over the next three days, 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. Sikhs were also attacked in several other Indian cities, including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela.

In this excerpt from “Sins of Commission,” the cover story for our October 2014 issue, Hartosh Singh Bal examines how the violence against the Sikh community was organised in the aftermath of Gandhi’s death, and how it leads back to senior leaders of the Congress government in power at the time.

SHORTLY AFTER 9 AM, Indira Gandhi stepped out of her house at 1 Safdarjung Road to walk to her office in an adjacent bungalow, where Peter Ustinov was waiting with a television crew to interview her. A head constable was to heel, holding aloft an umbrella to protect Gandhi from the sun. Another policeman, her personal attendant, and her personal secretary, RK Dhawan, followed.

The gate separating the bungalows was manned by two Sikh jawans, who had coordinated to be on the same shift. Beant Singh, armed with his service revolver, had exchanged duties with another policeman. Knowing a latrine was located near the gate, Satwant Singh, armed with a semi-automatic carbine, had stationed himself there by claiming he was suffering from dysentery.

As Gandhi approached the gate, Beant and Satwant opened fire—five shots from Beant’s revolver, 25 from Satwant’s carbine. As soon as she fell to the ground, both men dropped their weapons, and were taken into custody. Gandhi was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she was declared dead later that day.

Hartosh Singh Bal  is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada.

Keywords: Congress Indira Gandhi Rajiv Gandhi Sikh 1984 Sikh pogrom Indira Gandhi assassination 1984 Sikh pogrom Arun Nehru Nanavati Commission