III. ROLE OF POLICE
All through the period from October 31 to November 4 - the heights of the riots - the police all over the city uniformly betrayed a common behavioural pattern marked by (i) total absence from the scene; or (ii) a role of passive spectators or (iii) direct participation or abetment in the orgy of violence against the Sikhs.
On November 1, when we toured the Lajpat Nagar area we found the police
conspicuous by their absence while Sikh's shop were being set on fire and looted. Young people armed with swords, daggers, spears, steel trishuls and iron rods were ruling the roads. The only sign of police presence was a police jeep, which obstructed a peace procession brought out a few concerned citizens (who later organised themselves into the Nagarik Ekta manch) on the evening of November 1, When the procession was on its way to the Lajpat Nagar main market, a police inspector from the van stopped the procession, warned it not to proceed reminding its members that the city was under curfew and Section 144. When leaders of the procession wanted to know from the police inspector why the arsonists and rioters were not being dispersed if curfew was on, he gave no reply and warned instead that
the processionists could go to the Lajpat Nagar market at their own risk. At the Lajpat Nagar market, leaders of the procession sought to pacify the mob by pointing out that innocent Sikhs were not responsible for Mrs. Gandhi's assassination and should be protected from the attacks. They raised the slogan : " Hindu-Sikh bhai bhai " As the crowd began to listen to the speeches made by the procession leaders, organised attempts were made by certain groups from among them to shout down the speakers, by raising the slogans :- "Indira Gandhi
Zindabad", "Hindi Hindi bhai bhai". It is significant that wherever we went, we did not find any sign of mourning or grief on the faces of those who were participating in the looting and burning. Attempts of pacify them by the peace marchers were met with derisive laughter. Listening to their
raucous exultation and looking at their gleeful faces, one would have thought it was a festival, but for the arson and loot that was going on.
In the resettlement colonies, the police came out from their passive role and directly participated in the violence against the Sikhs. We were told by survivors that at the first signs of tension those who felt threatened personally went to the nearby police stations to seek their intervention. But the police did not respond. In Trilokpuri, the police reportedly accompanied the arsonists and provided them with diesel from their jeeps. The Station Hours Officer (SHO) of Kalyanpuri police station under which Trilokpuri falls, withdrew the constables who were on duty there when action against the SHO and his two colleagues by suspending and arresting them for a criminal negligence of duties. In Sultanpuri, the SHO, one Bhatti, is alleged to have killed two Sikhs and helped the mob in disarming those Sikhs who tried to resist the mob.
Several residents of Loni Road in the trans-Jamuna area, who were camping at Shakarpur when we interviewed them on November 7, told us that the police announced on loudspeakers two or three times at night on November 1 that they would not be responsible for the safety of the Sikhs and that the latter must look after themselves. One women from the same area said she had seen a police jeep full of men and that the stoning of Sikh shops was conducted from the jeep. Another resident from the same road said that the police had incited the looting of a watch shop before it was burnt.
In Kotla Mubarkpur, a domestic worker told our team members that the police had encouraged the looting. Later they were reported to have said to the looters; " We gave you 36 hours. Had we given the Sikhs that amount of time, they would have killed every Hindu"/
In the Kingsway Camp, residents claimed that seventy percent of the loot was to be found in the police lines, suggesting that the police took a leading role in the plundering.
When after this destruction and murders, people went to complain and file FIR's the police in many areas refused to record their complaints, according to information gathered from the Hindu neighbours of the victims. A respected Sikh professional whose house was burned on 1st November was not able to register an F.I.R. despite all efforts. In Mangolpuri we were told, a police officer asked the Hindu complainants why they were protecting Sikhs and advised them to look after safety of Hindus. Typical was the experience of Dharam Raj Pawar and Rajvir Pawar - two residents of Ber Sarai - who on November 1, went to the sector IV R.K. Puram Police station to ask for protection of Sikh family (which till then was being sheltered by Hindu neighbours from impending attack by a mob led by a Congress-I man, Jagdish Tokas) The officer in charge of the police station reportedly told them that he could not offer any help. Two constables later said to them, " You being Jats should have killed those Sikhs. What are you doing here ? Don't you know a train has arrived from Punjab carrying bodies of massacred Hindus ?"
A few individual police officials who did try to intervene and stop the riots found their efforts frustrated primarily through lack of co-operation from the top. One senior officer told us that when on October 31 and November 1 be received reports about some 3000 to 3000 people moving around the city in scooters and motorcycles without helmets, he contacted the CID seeking information from them regarding the identity of these people. Till November 7, when we met him, he had not received any report from the CID.
While analysing the role of the police during the crucial period we can not afford to ignore the responsibility of those in position of authority at the top, namely the Home Ministry. The Home Minister, Mr. Narasimha Rao who was inducted in the new Cabinet by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi soon after Mrs. Gandhi's death, was enpowered in his capacity as a Home Minister to deploy the para-military forces ( if the Delhi Police force was found to be inadequate or inefficient) to quell the violence that erupted following the announcement of Mrs. Gandhi's death. Mr Rao is not a new incumbent who is unaware of the procedural technicalities. We are left with the question : why did Mr. Rao, with his past experience as a Home Minister in the previous cabinet, fail to take the necessary steps and summon the forces available to him to nip in the bud the communal elements that organised the riots?