Remembering 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots this Halloween

​A trip down the memory lane: Delhi’s bloodiest Halloween happened 30  years ago
It’s the morning of October 31st, 2014. Many of us, 20 something, in Delhi today are confronted with a choice of what to wear at tonight’s costume party. This festival is quite popular in the western world and is known as Halloween. Today it will be celebrated among the western expat community, the young and the rich Delhiwallas and the not so rich English speaking population of Delhi. It will be held at several bars and on the rooftop house parties in many parts of posh South Delhi.

Halloween, as a festival has gained popularity in Delhi quite recently, mainly among the millennials. Wikipedia says, ‘It is the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers of the western Christianity faith.’

Since, it is already about martyrs and the faithfully departed — I’d like to reach out to the youth of Delhi, many of whom are unaware of the important part of the history of Delhi, the one that relates to this day in a horrifying manner which is scarier than the mask you’re going to wear for tonight’s Halloween party. 

What happened today 30 years ago should be marked as the most heinous organized genocide in the history of Delhi. 

Speaking of genocides, we Indians get the hang of it quite easily. Genocide after genocide and we refuse to learn from these horrible happenings about how this country is in the process of becoming progressively worse. The rising racism and the street harassment that limits women’s ability to be in public, the rise of homophobic hate crimes and the police brutality are the just few of many social issues that India is facing right now. 

Let me take you back down the history lane again. As the sun began to set on 31st October in 1984, the Sikhs of Delhi and other northern cities could not have foreseen what was about to befall the streets of their capital city. 

Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India was shot dead by her own security guards early that morning. The whole world might recall this event but what has not been talked about is the operation blue star, that horrible attack on the holy land of Amritsar conducted by the Indian army and the oppression against the people of Punjab in the 70’s during Indira Gandhi’s rule in this country. 


I am now going to narrate a personal event that took place among the members of Iqbal Singh’s family who were the residence of Kashmeri Gate in Old Delhi. This is the family that had come out of the horrors of partition and built up a house and a flourishing family business of manufacturing generators and alternators for the fields in Punjab. That day, this family lost more than their wealth because their fault was that they were Sikhs by faith. Sikhs constitute about 2 percent of the India’s total population that have suffered decades of religious discrimination. 

That afternoon, my mother Devinder Kaur heard the All-India-Radio announcement about the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two bodyguards who were Sikhs. Followed by the instruction for Sikh families to not go out of their homes for the coming days because the riots broke out throughout the city.  My mother described that day as the worst day of her life. The All India Radio announcement did not stop there. It did not take long to turn the announcement into the propaganda of uniting the mobs together for what was to follow a state controlled genocide. ‘They shouted the slogan ‘blood against blood’, said my mother. ‘I even heard Amitabh Bachan’s voice encouraging people to come on the street and kill Sikhs at the first sight of them’.

Soon a heavy wave of fear and anticipation ran through my maternal family and the head of the family, my grandfather Iqbal Singh had nothing else in his mind but to rescue the family of his two brothers who were living adjacent to the three adjacent buildings of their factory in Azadpur that was set on fire the following day by the angry mob. They were all over Delhi by the following day armed with iron rods, knives, kerosene and petrol.

The Wikipedia states ‘The mobs swarmed into Sikh neighborhoods, arbitrarily killing any Sikh men or women they could find. Shops and houses were ransacked and burned. They stopped buses and trains, in and around Delhi, pulling out Sikh passengers to be lynched or doused with kerosene and burnt alive. Others were dragged out from their homes and hacked to death with bladed weapons and women were raped in front of their children.

Through the first night of this genocide killings meetings were taken place by several congress party officials for the distribution of the weapons and the voter lists, school registration forms and ration lists were provided to the mob who marketed the letter ‘s’ in front of the Sikh homes during that night. By using the list, the mob was able to locate Sikh residences and business properties. Among the first targets – Gurudwaras.’ 

Iqbal Singh’s family was in old Delhi and due to the majority of surrounding Muslim population. The old Delhi area was least affected area of Delhi. The whole family survived along with the families of the Iqbal Singh’s brothers. However, apart from their factories burned in Azadpur; they had to shave off their beard and give up their religious identity to protect themselves.

My mother described that her family residence in Kashmeri Gate accommodated 185 Sikhs men, women and their children during that week. The family’s ancestral servants who were Muslims provided the people rescued in the house with daily rations despite of the curfew being imposed. My mother recalls, bade abbu who was the head of our ancestral servant family told my mother that he will protect my mother’s family even if he has to give up his life protecting them. Many policemen watched as Delhi was burning on this day 30 years ago. And here we are thirty years later, still boasting about India being the world’s largest democracy. 

Trilokpuri happens to be one of the areas of Delhi where the anti-Sikh mass killings took place in 1984. Last month, it was the same Trilokpuri area that witnessed a communal violence between local Hindu and Muslim population. This recent incident speaks volumes about how our general attitude towards religious minority have not managed to change even a little bit in last thirty years.

The recent general elections that made Narendra Modi our prime minister is the result of this attitude that we Indians have. It might sound strange but the local Hijra community of Trilokpuri, who are often mocked, feared and ostracized emerged as heroes as they stood there and didn’t let the mob pass into the premises of Trilokpuri when the violence erupted last month. They are still guarding the gates of each blocks of Trilokpuri. There is a lot to learn from this group of 15 eunuchs who have put their life at risk in order to maintain peace in this area. Our prime minister have not yet come up with any statement condemning the communal violence that sparked in Trilokpuri. 

And here we are, the sun will begin to set again soon in few hours. While you satisfy your morbid fascinations dipped with those cocktails down your throat. I’d like you to never forget what happened with my family and thousands of Sikh families in northern India today, 30 years ago. We the millenials’ of this country hold the future in our hands. If we will not learn by now the aftermath of a religious based discrimination in our society then we will only push ourselves into a death knell that will sound more like a synonym to India.

Views expressed are authors own.