THIS IS what the police did during the 1984 Sikh massacre: they watched. They let the rampaging mobs storm the Sikhs’ houses. And some even took part. They removed the Sikh police officers who would have acted against the killers. They disarmed ordinary Sikhs so they couldn’t protect themselves, and gave them no protection. They wired messages about Sikhs charging ahead with kirpans, but forgot to mention the mobs assaulting the Sikhs.
This is what the police did soon after the 1984 Sikh massacre: concealed the number of those killed despite dead bodies all around. Closed 300 of the 700 cases claiming the culprits were “untraceable”. Directed subordinates to not register cases. Merged hundreds of cases into a single FIR. Refused to register FIRs against police officers and government officials. Registered — shockingly — FIRs against Sikhs. Threatened eyewitnesses and forced them to sign affidavits favouring the police. Reduced major offences to minor ones, manipulated evidence, and destroyed paper trails. In some areas, the police said that the curfew that followed the mass killings only applied to the Sikhs.
There’s worse. Pretending to be victims, many officers wrote false affidavits exonerating various Congress leaders who were seen inciting the killer mobs.
Since the pogrom, many investigative commissions have come and gone, each scrutinising the role of the police. First, in 1984, the commission led by IPS officer Ved Marwah. Then, in 1987, the Committee led by former IAS officer Kusum Lata Mittal. In 1990, the Jain-Agarwal Committee led by retired judge JD Jain and retired IPS officer DK Agarwal. And, in 2000, the Nanavati Commission of retired Supreme Court judge GT Nanavati. Each received thousands of affidavits meticulously detailing how the police aided the Sikh massacre.
Surinder Singh — a prime-witness against Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, who allegedly led a killer mob — approached the local Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) for help after the killings. “This,” Singh told TEHELKA, “is what the police officer said to me: Jo log mar gaye, hamne unki madad ki. Aap mar jaate, ham aapki bhi madad karte (We helped those who died. Had you died, we would have helped you too).”
A quarter century later, neither justice nor accountability has come. In all, the various commissions and committees indicted 147 police officers for their role in the Sikh killings. Not one officer has been prosecuted. Some 42 of these officers had retired or died by 2005. The Delhi Government has taken no action against the remaining officers.
Several officers, whose dismissal was recommended for their role in the killings and in destroying evidence, were promoted. Several others were allowed to retire gracefully. The Union Home Ministry exonerated five officers. Meanwhile, systematic machinery has been in place to ensure that those accused of killing the Sikhs remain scot-free.
IT WAS on Shoorveer Singh Tyagi’s watch that 500 Sikhs were brutally killed in the east Delhi slum of Trilokpuri. He was the SHO of the local police station. This was the Capital’s heaviest toll in a single location. The Kusum Lata Mittal probe noted Tyagi’s “criminal misconduct” during the killings and described him as a “living shame for any police organisation”.
“[Tyagi’s] attempts, to a great extent successful, in obtaining affidavits in his favour by browbeating the witnesses indicate that it is highly unlikely that any witness would have the courage of coming and giving evidence against him,” Mittal wrote in her report. Her shocking finding — Tyagi found an honourable discharge from the court only because the police failed to take the sanction from the Union Home Ministry to file a chargesheet against him, which was mandatory because he was a government employee. No action was ever taken against him. In 2005, he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP).
Sewa Dass, DCP (East), was Tyagi’s immediate boss. This is what Mittal said of him: “The conduct of Sewa Dass is a slur on the name of any police force. He should not be trusted with or assigned any job of responsibility. Sewa Dass removed Sikh officers from duty who were inclined to take proper measures to deal with the rioters. The SHOs under his jurisdiction systematically disarmed the Sikhs [and] as a result they couldn’t protect themselves. At the same time no steps were taken to provide police protection to them.”
She added: “Sewa Dass made blatant efforts to conceal the number of killings. He directed his subordinates to register only a few cases in each area, which was illegal. The killings continued till November 5, which could have been prevented. Tyagi in Kalyanpuri/Trilokpuri and Dass in the whole district have been mainly responsible for the killings.” Sewa Dass was later promoted as Special Commissioner.
The DCP of west Delhi, UK Katna, wrote nothing in his logbook from 11 am to 10.30 pm on November 1, and from 9 am to 5.30 pm on November 2. This is the period when Sikhs were being massacred in his area. The logbook of DCP of south Delhi, Chander Prakash, was actually later found with pages torn pertaining to the time of the Sikh massacre in his area. Delhi’s Police Commissioner at the time, Subash Tandon, never submitted his logbook to the Mittal Commission.
Amrik Singh Bullar, the then SHO of Patel Nagar Police Station, told the Nanavati Commission that senior police officers had ordered him to merge 115 complaints as one FIR. Even the Jain-Agarwal report acknowledged this: “Instead of registering a separate case on the complaint of each victim, the police registered a vague and generally worded omnibus FIR purportedly covering all the offences that took place in a given locality. Since the FIR itself contained no specific information, much less the names of the accused persons, whatever chargesheets were filed under it ended mostly in acquittals.”
The numbers tell the story. The official death toll in Delhi is 2,733. For that many deaths, the police filed only 228 FIRs, the Delhi Administration told a Commission headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranganath Misra.
Several eyewitnesses say they have testified against Ram Pal Saroj, the Congress Pradhan of Trilokpuri, who was a subordinate of the late MP HKL Bhagat, another Congress leader widely accused of leading the mobs that killed the Sikhs.
In his ruling on the case against Saroj, then Additional Sessions Judge SN Dhingra wrote: “Police had not made any other person as witness in this case. In fact, there is no investigation done by the police except recording the statements [which] are also very sketchy. Sometimes the statements are actually not made by the victims but they have been recorded by the police officials sitting in a police station and it is alleged that these statements were made by victims. In most of the cases in order to help the accused persons police has given wrong facts in the statements. The victims when appeared in court had given altogether a different story.”
The Mittal committee said Trilokpuri SHO Tyagi is a ‘living shame’ and east Delhi DCP Sewa Dass a‘slur’ on the police. It held the two responsible for the killings. But both officers were promoted
IN THE rare instance a police officer tried to bring justice, he was stopped. In his affidavit to the Nanavati Commission, Marwah — the first police officer to inquire the police lapses — disclosed that he was asked to discontinue his probe before he could examine senior police officers. His handwritten notes were destroyed on instructions from higher authorities. Justice Nanavati ignored all such observations. On Sewa Dass, he wrote: “As the departmental inquiry held against him… exonerated [him] the commission does not recommend any action against him.”
The commissions and the committees may have forgotten the role of the police. But the eyewitnesses remember everything in graphic detail. “A policeman shot my husband in the head right before my eyes,” says Ladhi Kaur, 41, who then lived in Trilokpuri. “The SHO [Tyagi] was standing there too.” Kaur, who now lives in a one-room quarter in a resettlement colony in west Delhi, lost 18 members of her family. “My biggest sorrow is that our own people, not outsiders, killed us… our own politicians, our own policemen.”