A sting operation by Cobrapost on several police officers serving in Delhi during the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 allegedly exposes how the police refused to act against the rioters, partly because they wanted to be on the right side of the Congress government of the day, and partly because the police force itself had got communalized.
Based on a series of interviews by an undercover reporter with six station house officers (SHOs) of the time, from areas where the riots took place, the sting apparently brings to light ‘confessions’ by many of them. The interviews of two senior officers, ACP Gautam Kaul and then police commissioner S C Tandon, however, yielded no such confessions.
While Tandon parried all the questions, Kaul claimed that on one occasion when he went to check out reports of rioting near Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, he had to flee since he was alone in front of a hostile mob.
While TOI cannot vouch for the authenticity of the interviews, if they are true they reveal how an entire police force not only failed to act, but colluded with the government of the day to teach Sikhs “a lesson” in one of the worst examples of state-sponsored violence against a religious minority.
The SHOs interviewed were Shoorveer Singh Tyagi of Kalyanpuri, Rohtas Singh of Delhi Cantonment, SN Bhaskar of Krishna Nagar, OP Yadav of Srinivaspuri and Jaipal Singh of Mehrauli. Amreek Singh Bhullar, who was SHO of Patel Nagar at the time, was also interviewed. He had submitted an affidavit to an inquiry commission accusing some local leaders of not just participating in the riots but whipping up mobs into a frenzy.
Among the more shocking revelations is that messages were broadcast directing the police not to take action against rioters shouting slogans of “Indira Gandhi zindabad” and that bodies of victims were in some cases dumped far away from the scene of the rioting to reduce the official toll of the riots.
According to some, while news of arson and rioting poured into the police control rooms, only 2 per cent of the messages were recorded. Later, entries in police logbooks were changed to get rid of evidence of inaction on the part of senior officers.
Senior officers did not allow subordinates to open fire on rioters. Even the fire brigade refused to move to areas where cases of arson had been reported. The police also did not allow the victims of rioting to file FIRs or when they did file FIRs, clubbed many cases of murder and arson from disparate places in a single FIR.
At least three of the SHOs castigated Tandon for mismanagement. Tyagi, for instance, insisted that, “knowingly or unknowingly, he (Tandon) was under the influence of the government. He mismanaged in the beginning and in the first two days the situation went out of control.”
Yadav too accused Tandon of not providing leadership to the force, while Bhaskar said that instead of singling out some SHOs, the police chief’s head should have rolled.
The Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Kapur-Kusum Mittal Committee, both set up to inquire into the riots, held Tandon responsible for breakdown of law and order. When the Cobrapost reporter met Tandon, he refused to comment, saying anything said by him could create a controversy in poll season.
Bhaskar maintained that messages for reinforcement sent by him were ignored by senior officials. Bhullar accused additional CP Hukam Chand Jatav of refusing to act even when the press informed him about murders and arson taking place. According to Bhullar, Jatav was in the control room in Karol Bagh when a reporter passed on the information to him, but he responded by saying he was in the control room and no such thing had happened. “He knew everything lekin wahan se move hi nahi kiya,” claimed Bhullar.
Rohtas Singh, one of the officers indicted by the inquiry commissions, maintained that DCP Chandra Prakash did not allow him to open fire on the rampaging mobs. According to Singh, “he told me, and gave me in writing, that Indira Gandhi’s murder is big enough an event. Now should you make an even bigger event by opening fire?”
Singh insisted that he could have substantiated his charges if only wireless messages had been faithfully recorded. “If those messages had been recorded, I could have proved many things, but not even two 2% were recorded in the log book of the control room,” he said in Hindi, alleging also that Chandra Prakash had changed messages that would indict him.
Singh also admits to the force having got communal. “I have no hesitation saying that our policemen who were drawn from the local men too had become communal-minded,” he candidly observed.
The interviews also reveal how the police tried to put a spoke in the wheels of justice once the rioting abated following the intervention of the Army after three days. First, they did not register cases and when they did, they clubbed disparate cases in one FIR.
According to Bhullar, “The police did not register cases, instead they tried to suppress cases. They knew there were huge riots in their areas, so they tried to minimize, even picked up corpses and dumped them in Sultanpuri, to save their jobs.”