VIII. ROLE OF THE PUBLIC
While the disturbances that shook Delhi from October 31 to November 5 could be described as an 'organised disorder' with signs of meticulous planning by certain groups in some areas, deliberate laxity on the part of the administration in other areas and wilful relinquishment of responsibility of senior Ministers as well as opposition parties on a wider scale, we cannot at the same time rule out the existence of hostility and suspicion among large sections of the Hindu population against the Sikhs because of the happenings in Punjab during the last two years.
By not solving the outstanding economic and political issues in Punjab, by allowing Sikh extremism and Hindu communalism to feed on each other leading to the army raid in the Golden Temple and antagonising thereby large sections of the Sikh community, the ruling party at the centre had sown the seeds of communal division between Hindus and Sikhs.
As a result, when from October 31, organised assaults on the Sikhs began (as distinct from a spontaneous mass upsurge against Sikhs which some observers are trying to make it out to be), the Hindu public by and large appeared to be in a mood that sanctioned such assaults. Comments by responsible Hindu citizens in Delhi indicate to some extent the popular psyche. An officer belonging to the IPS was heard to comment that the government was not preventing the violence so that people could let off steam and the Sikhs in Punjab would be 'taught a lesson'. An Indian who works for the UNO in Geneva who flew to Delhi for Mrs. Gandhi's funeral, told a member of our team that the orgy of violence had been allowed to 'teach the Sikhs a lesson'. When asked about the suffering that this was causing the common people, he said: 'Who is suffering?'. The long record of uninterrupted depredations by the Sikh extremists in Punjab had possibly created a desire for retaliation that blinded even those who are regarded as responsible people among the Hindus.
How did the Sikh victims view this attitude of their Hindu neighbours ? Victims in Gurgaon said : "People stood on their rooftops watching our houses burning, just, as they do when observing the Republic Day Parade".
It was this mood again that allowed the Hindu public to believe all sorts of rumours ranging from the story of poisoning drinking water to that of armed Sikhs prowling the streets to attack Hindus. The next step from such belief in rumours is acquiescence in the rampage that had started from the evening of October 31 and even active participation by the younger and more aggressive Hindus in some cases.
The anti-Sikh communal partisan feelings had penetrated the lower ranks of the administration also, a evident from the behaviour of the police force, who were given the reins for three or four days by their superior officers.
Given this mood of vicarious exultation at the plight of the Sikhs among the public, it was easy for an organised group enjoying the patronage of the rating party to carry out the plan of systematic destruction and killings.
The anti-Sikh sentiments in some areas were also stoked by some isolated expressions of happiness at Mrs. Gandhi's death among some Sikhs, and of bravado and attempts at resistance could have been taken as a challenge by the marauding hordes who were sure of getting police protection at every step. We came across reports, corroborated by some responsible residents of a few neighbourhoods, of Sikhs dancing the 'bhangra' on the night of October 31. Such incidents reinforced the simmering hostility against the Sikhs.
But these stray incidents were marginal and do not explain the wide scale explosion of indiscriminate violence against all Sikhs throughout India on the same date and the same time, which could be the result of only a well designed strategy.
The only signs of courage and initiative in an otherwise ominous landscape were demonstrated by those Hindu and Muslim neighbours who helped Sikh families in the affected areas. We came across a large number of Sikh inmates in the relief Camps who told us repeatedly that but for these neighbours they would have been butchered.
In a makeshift camp opposite the Kalyanpuri police station on November 3, we met a Hindu family, whose house was burnt down by the miscreants because he had given shelter to his Sikh neighbours.
A postal employee living in Bhopal told us how his house was damaged and partly burnt because he helped two Sikhs. With army assistance he moved the Sikhs to his village in Faridabad.
Members of a voluntary organisation traced two Sikh families who were given shelter by Hindus in Khichripur on November 3. Defying a belligerent mob that stood at the entrance of the lanes, a local Hindu youth led the members to the house and rescued the families who were being sheltered by a poor Hindu family. The next day, the volunteers following a request by a mother in a relief camp went to trace her daughter in Trilokpuri who was being looked after by a Hindu family. The latter restored the daughter to the volunteers, kept with them two other Sikh children whose parents were still traced.
"It is our responsibility to look after them", they said.
Near Azadpur, a Hindu factory owner hid a Sikh inside the factory premises. When the Hindus surrounded the factory demanding that the Sikh be handed over to them, the factory owner persuaded the Sikh to shave his hair and beard have him a cycle which helped him to pass through the crowd and escape.
On the GT-Karnal Road, Hindus saved a Gurudwara and a Sikh doctor's clinic from being burnt down. In the same area, from November 1 to 5, Delhi University teachers and students kept vigil around the entry point to lances where Sikhs lived.
Hindus from Munirka village and residing in Munirka colony provided protection in their own homes to ten Sikh families.
Thirty Sikh families residing in Mayur Vihar were guarded all through the period by young Hindi neighbours who resisted attempts by outsiders to raid the compound.
According to a rough estimate based on information gathered from different sources, at least 600 Sikhs were saved by Hindus of Trilokpuri. According to an army officer posted in Shahadara, of the Sikh families he rescued from different parts of the area, at least 70% were sheltered by Hindus.
It is these acts of courage, however, few they may be, which reassure us that sanity still prevails in our country.