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1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom Dark Are The Images That Haunt Us


Jun 1, 2004
HE saw, he reported and he lost hope, nearly. Rahul Bedi has seen it all - the way the police abetted riots in 1984 and the long, hard almost futile struggle for justice that followed. And then a rerun in Gujarat.

Bedi was a reporter back in 1984 and has deposed before the many commissions that have enquired into the anti-Sikh riots. Cynicism and bitterness is what he has reaped from his experience.

"Twenty years and so many commissions of inquiry later, we achieved nothing," he says.

His frustration is obvious. "Justice Nanavati commission (which is investigating the riots currently) is probing something that took place so long ago. Justice delayed is justice definitely denied."

In 20 years, most memories would fade. But not the images of what happened in the four days of November, 1984.

Bedi, now 52, gives a vivid account of Trilokpuri incident that "encapsulates the four-day pogrom".

Block 32 of Trilokpuri was then a colony of poor Sikhs. "It was in fact the most calculated, ****** and horrible massacre that took place 36 hours after Mrs Gandhi was killed," says Bedi.

"About 320 people were massacred in the confines of a small gully about 300-400 yards long. There were houses on either side and the street was littered with bodies," he recalls.

For Bedi, covering the Trilokpuri riot was a matter of chance.

"I was working with the Indian Express. A resident of Block 32, Mohan Singh, managed to reach our office. He had cut his hair to save his life. I happened to be around at that time and heard his story. On November 2, I went to Block 32 with two of my colleagues to come upon this horrible massacre."

[FONT=Georgia, Times New Roman, Times, serif]"About 320 people were massacred in the confines of a small gully. There were houses on either side and the street was littered with bodies."[/FONT]​
AT first, they were chased by a stone-throwing crowd. "They nearly lynched us." But, determined to learn the truth, the reporters went back to the colony after dark.
Dark are the images that haunt Bedi. "It was concentrated in a very, very small area. There was nothing on the street but body parts, hair, clothes … People were shrieking … And there was an all-pervading stink of decaying flesh. We were literally walking on our toes to avoid stepping on some body."

They did manage to save one life. Bedi and his friends rescued a baby who was in one of the houses on the street unattended for the past 24-36 hours. The dead bodies on the street and the patrolling mobs had meant nobody heard the baby cry.

"There was a polio-inflicted woman who was sitting stunned at the doorway of a house. She was beyond tears, beyond any feelings. She had sat there for a one and a half day. Just watching. Watching the senseless and gruesome killing. Mercifully, she was spared."

That was just the beginning of the horrors for Bedi. The next shock came when he discovered that this mayhem was no act of madness of the mob, but a calculated move. "There seemed to be a very precise method to the massacre.

"Firstly, the entire area around Trilokpuri was blocked off by placing huge water pipes strategically across the approach roads. The local residents were checking everybody coming in and out.

"Secondly, whilst the massacre was on, I saw two policemen on a motorcycle coming out of the area. They obviously had not anything to stop the murder. Nor did they call for reinforcements."

Police turned out to be one of the villains of the riots. "This was a colony of poor Sikhs being slaughtered by people living around them and the police did nothing. The local administration did nothing.

At the police station in Trilokpuri, there was a truck full of dead bodies. But "one constable lounging around in the deserted police station claimed to know nothing about the killings that had taken place less than a kilometre away".

THIS infuriated Bedi. He filed PILs against three police officers. "I thought I could make a difference."

But he had not bargained for the labyrinthine justice system. "They were ultimately not accepted after a first couple of hearings as the litigations became part of the larger inquiry" which is still to be completed after 20 years.

Would a mellowed Rahul Bedi take such a step now? "I think lot more exposure is available today especially after television. There is a greater awareness among the society today."

Bedi, who also covered the Gujarat riots of 2002, perhaps would not rush in with PILs against policemen. "I have become cynical over the years."
Worse, today's India gives him even less chance to hope. "I don't really think the state machinery has become more responsible or more likely to apportion accountability or blame."

"Twenty years later we are a more cynical people. Killing, riots, sectarian violence have no meaning to us." Surely, India cannot afford to be this unfeeling.
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