New Delhi, Nov 06, 2004
There are two anniversaries so deeply etched in my mind that every year
they come around I recollect with pain what happened on those two days.
They occurred 20 years ago. One is October 31, when Mrs Gandhi was gunned
down by her two Sikh security guards. The other is the following day,
when the 'aftermath' consummated itself: frenzied Hindu mobs, driven
by hate and revenge, finally killed nearly 10,000 innocent Sikhs across
north India down to Karnataka. Four years later, Mrs Gandhi's assassins
Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh paid the penalty for their crime by being
hanged to death in Tihar jail.
I rang up Zail Singh. His secretary said the president had advised me
to move in with a Hindu friend.
Twenty years later, the killers of 10,000 Sikhs remain unpunished. The
conclusion is clear: in secular India there is one law for the Hindu
majority, another for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs who are in minority.
October 31, 1984: The sequence of events remains as vivid as ever.
Around 11 am, I heard of Mrs Gandhi being shot in her house and taken
to hospital. By the afternoon, I heard on the bbc that she was dead.
For a couple of hours, life in Delhi came to a standstill. Then hell
broke loosemobs yelling khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (we'll avenge
blood with blood) roamed the streets. Ordinary Sikhs going about their
life were waylaid and roughed up. In the evening, I saw a cloud of black
smoke billowing up from Connaught Circus: Sikh-owned shops had been
set on fire. An hour later, mobs were smashing up taxis owned by Sikhs
right opposite my apartment. Sikh-owned shops in Khan Market were being
looted. Over 100 policemen armed with lathis lined the middle of the
road and did nothing. At midnight, truckloads of men armed with cans
of petrol attacked the gurudwara behind my back garden, beat up the
granthi and set fire to the shrine. I was bewildered and did not know
what to do. Early next morning, I rang up President Zail Singh.
He would not come on the phone. His secretary told me that the president
advised me to move into the home of a Hindu friend till the trouble
was over. The newly-appointed prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was busy
receiving guests arriving for his mother's funeral; home minister Narasimha
N.C. Menon, editor of The Hindustan Times, wrote of how Sikhs had
"clawed their way to prosperity".
Rao did not budge from his office; the Lt Governor of Delhi had no orders
to put down the rioters. Seventy-two gurudwaras were torched and thousands
of Sikh houses looted. The next few days, TV and radio sets were available
for less than half their price.
Mid-morning, a Swedish diplomat came and took me and my wife to his
home in the diplomatic enclave. My aged mother had been taken by Romesh
Thapar to his home. Our family lawyer, Anant Bir Singh, who lived close
to my mother, had his long hair cut off and beard shaved to avoid being
recognised as a Sikh. I watched Mrs Gandhi's cremation on TV in the
home of my Swedish protector. I felt like a Jew must have in Nazi Germany.
I was a refugee in my own homeland because I was a Sikh.
What I found most distressing was the attitude of many of my Hindu
friends. Two couples made a point to call on me after I returned home.
They were Sri S. Mulgaonkar and his wife, Arun Shourie and his wife
Anita. As for the others, the less said the better. Girilal Jain, editor
of The Times of India, rationalised the violence: the Hindu cup of patience,
he wrote, had become full to the brim. N.C. Menon, who succeeded me
as editor of The Hindustan Times, wrote of how Sikhs had "clawed
their way to prosperity" and well nigh had it coming to them. Some
spread gossip of how Sikhs had poisoned Delhi's drinking water, how
they had attacked trains and slaughtered Hindu passengers. At the Gymkhana
Club where I played tennis every morning, one man said I had no right
to complain after what Sikhs had done to Hindus in Punjab. At a party,
another gloated "Khoob mazaa chakhayawe gave them a taste
of their own medicine." Word had gone round: 'Teach the Sikhs a