Home > mint-lounge > features > Book Review | 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence And After

Sanjay Suri’s book on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi opens dramatically with an anonymous phone call to The Indian Express office where he worked as a crime reporter.

It is 5 November, four days after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and a couple of days after some of the worst rioting to have hit post-independent India.

The caller, his voice “ringing with great urgency", tells Suri that the police have arrested some men in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh neighbourhood for looting Sikhs and a Congress member of Parliament (MP) has come to the local police station to secure their release. Suri takes out his Vespa scooter and heads to the police station, little knowing that this fishing trip would, in his words, lead to “the firmest evidence ever" he would see of the “involvement of Congress leaders, along with top policemen in the looting and killing".

At the police station, Suri hears angry voices. As he approaches the room from where the noise is emanating, he spots the additional commissioner of police, Hukum Chand Jatav, sitting in the chief inspector’s chair, along with a bunch of senior policemen. On the other side of the table he sees the local Congress MP Dharam Dass Shastri, talking for a group of men and protesting noisily against the police. Jatav orders a policeman to send out the eavesdropping reporter. But Suri is an intrepid news hound, so he walks outside the building and positions himself close to the window of the room.

What he hears then is a heated exchange between Shastri and fellow Congress supporters protesting against the arrest of some party supporters for looting Sikh homes.

“You are protecting criminals," Amod Kanth, deputy commissioner of police, tells the politicians. But Jatav keeps cutting short Kanth, “demanding explanations" openly in the presence of the Congressman. “I’d never seen anything like this before," writes Suri. “The top police officer was sitting there backing the Congress leaders against his own SHO (station house officer is the top officer of a Delhi police station) and the local police. The next senior officer in that room was defending the local police team—and was being opposed by his own senior for it."

Later a policeman walks out the room, looking upset and tells Suri: “Whenever the police try to do any work, the politicians stop us." When Jatav steps out, Suri asks him why he has not supported his officers.

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