When the mob ruled
When the mob ruled
ON the way to the Patna Junction to see off our parish priest, I took a few copies of the special edition we had brought out to cover Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
As we waited for the Howrah Express, a passenger train from Dhanbad arrived on platform No.1. A skeletal Sikh, his wife and two small children got down from the train.
As they picked up their luggage and began to move, some lumpen elements assembled there from nowhere and began attacking them.
The man abandoned his luggage, clutched at the hands of his children and ran towards the waiting room. His wife kept pace with him. The miscreants, whose number had meanwhile swelled, followed raining blows on the couple.
They ran into the first class ladies’ waiting room, which was crowded at that time. They entered the bathroom and bolted it from inside while their attackers bayed for their blood.
The anti-social elements stood outside the room shouting something like “khoon ka badla khoon”. When they did not come out, they began to disperse.
Finally, when everyone of them was gone, two armed Railway Protection Force jawans went into the waiting room, persuaded the couple to open the door and escorted them out. By then there was no trace of either their luggage or the poor man’s turban.
For all one knew, the hapless family would not have even known why they were at the receiving end of the mob. Most probably, they would not have even heard in the train about the Prime Minister’s assassination.
By the time I came out of the station, violence had begun in Patna. I saw a mob attacking and looting a shop near the station. I got scared. I had to reach office and bring out an edition.
It was exciting to produce the paper. Even more exciting was to get the first copy from the foreman. In any case, I had decided to stay in the office as it was not advisable to travel at night.
There was neither pleasure nor excitement to sleep in the chair. Why not go home? And when our typist, Mr Kapoor, sought a pillion ride on my scooter, I took the plunge.
We had nearly reached Rajendranagar when we were asked to stop by some rioters. “Sir, take a turn to the left and drive as fast as you can”, advised Mr Kapoor. We did not look back till we reached home.
Next morning I left for office as usual. The roads were deserted. At Kankerbagh, I saw urchins carrying sackfuls of chappals, all looted from a factory owned by a Sikh. Last year, I read about the owner of the same factory in a Chandigarh newspaper. He lost everything in Patna, returned to Punjab and started a business, which, fortunately for him, is now thriving.
The whole day we had reports of violence in Patna. Most of the Sikh establishments were looted or destroyed. Many of them took shelter in Patna Sahib in the old city area.
The police imposed a curfew on the city. I got a curfew pass.
When I returned home in the evening, a small crowd had assembled in front of my house. They were waiting for me. They wanted to know the real news as many rumours were floating.
I could see at a distance my neighbour, who was a judge of the Patna High Court. After I was through with the others, he called me to his place. He too wanted authentic news.
In the course of our conversation, he said something, which shocked me. “These Sikhs had become arrogant. They deserve this!” I could not believe that I was listening to a High Court judge (May his soul rest in peace). As I walked back, I wondered whether the small Sikh community in my village, Ranni, in Kerala, whose hospitality I enjoyed once when I was a child, was safe. I hoped against hope that they were safe. A few weeks later, I learnt to my utter horror that they too were not spared.