On the 38th anniversary of a Monstrous Crime:
Lessons of the 1984 Genocide

November 1 marks the 38th anniversary of the gruesome massacre of Sikhs in 1984. A systematic genocide was carried out for three days, with prominent leaders of the Congress Party, the then ruling party at the Centre, leading the attacks. The streets of Delhi, Kanpur, Bokaro and many other towns were filled with bodies of Sikhs who had been brutally murdered. It has been estimated that over 10,000 people were killed in those three days. (See Box)


Planning and execution of the 1984 genocide

The planning of the genocide of Sikhs was carried out from well before the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

For over three years, systematic propaganda was carried out in the mainstream media accusing Sikhs of being terrorists out to destroy India. The Congress Party which was in charge of the Central government led this communal campaign.

As preparation for the massacre, voters’ lists identifying Sikh households were kept ready to be distributed when the time came. Canisters filled with kerosene, along with rubber tyres, were also kept stocked up.

As soon as Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, the plan was put into operation. The news media deliberately spread the rumour that Indira Gandhi had been killed by her Sikh bodyguards. Rumours were spread in Delhi that Sikhs were distributing sweets to celebrate her assassination and that they had poisoned the water supply of Delhi.

Leaders of the Congress Party assembled in front of the AIIMS where Mrs Gandhi’s body lay, and raised the provocative slogan  — Khoon ka badla Khoon. This slogan was raised repeatedly on Doordarshan TV.

From the early hours of November 1, prominent leaders of the Congress Party led bloodthirsty gangs through the streets of Delhi. Sikhs who came their way were beaten up, dosed with kerosene, a rubber tyre put over them, and set on fire. The homes of Sikhs were attacked, women were raped, men and boys murdered, their houses and shops were looted and then set on fire, as the police watched and encouraged the murderous gangs.

Interim Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had no words of sympathy for the victims. He had no words of condemnation for the massacre. On the contrary he justified it with the words “When a big tree falls, the earth will shake”. In other words, the massacre of Sikhs was to be accepted as the legitimate response to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Simultaneously, he was hiding the hand of the Congress Party and its government and falsely blaming masses of people for the crime.

For the past 38 years, successive governments have kept repeating the lie that what took place during 1st to 3rd November 1984 was an “anti Sikh riot”. The word “riot” implies it was a spontaneous outburst. In other words, people of India are blamed for the massacre that took place.

The truth is completely different. It is not the masses of people who came out onto the streets to kill their Sikh brethren. On the contrary, people everywhere tried their best to protect their Sikh neighbours.

The genocide was planned and executed by the Party which was in charge of the Central government at that time – the Congress Party. The entire state machinery worked actively to carry it out.

Right from the morning of November 1, prominent personalities, including retired and decorated Generals and Air Marshals, judges and officers of the Indian Foreign Service, Members of Parliament, writers and journalists repeatedly called on the then Home Minister to take measures to stop the genocide. They were met with silence. No action was taken. For three days and three nights, the police let the attacks take place, and in many places, they actively assisted the murderous mobs.

For 38 years, people have been demanding that the government reveal the truth behind the 1984 massacre. People have been demanding that those guilty of masterminding it be punished. People want to know what went on in the corridors of power in the weeks and months preceding the genocide, and during those three days and nights. What was the discussion in the Union Cabinet, the Home Ministry, and what was the role of the intelligence agencies?

The response of successive governments has been to set up commissions of enquiry. These commissions have covered up the role of the central government, the Home Ministry, the various arms of the state in organising the genocide.

The assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 remains shrouded in mystery even 38 years later. It revealed that the contradictions within the ruling circles had become so intense, that assassination was the only way to resolve them. It called for investigation as to who masterminded the assassination and why. These questions were conveniently covered up by the rulers, by blaming a community for the assassination, and by unleashing genocide. No government in the past 38 years has brought out the truth behind the assassination, or the genocide that followed.

The cover-up over the past 38 years reveals the hand of the ruling class and its entire state machinery. While the Congress Party and the officials in leading positions of authority at those times, were the executors,  the massacre was carried out in the service of the ruling class as a whole. The ruling class organised the genocide in order to resolve the contradictions within its ranks and smash the unity of the working class and toiling masses.

The genocide of 1984 showed that the Indian ruling class is prepared to commit the most monstrous crimes against the people of our country in order to preserve its rule. This is confirmed by the systematic escalation of state terrorism during the past 38 years, including repeated episodes of state organised communal violence.

The destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 followed by communal terror, the genocide of Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat, and many other blood-chilling acts have been organised with the full involvement of the parties in power and active deployment of the state machinery.

Over the past 38 years, it has been the experience of our people that those who organise communal massacres and attack the unity of our people go unpunished, and in fact go on to occupy the highest positions in the state. On the other hand, the people fighting for their rights are labelled as “terrorists”, and “anti-national elements”. Many have been killed in fake encounters. Tens of thousands of fighters for justice have been incarcerated for years on end under fascist laws such as TADA, POTA, and UAPA.

Political parties of the bourgeoisie, headed by the BJP and the Congress, talk about defending national unity, while they work systematically to divide the people, in order to serve the class in power. They regularly and systematically inflame passions on the basis of religion, caste, language and region so as to break the class unity of workers and peasants.  Together, such parties defend the rule of the bourgeoisie over the workers and peasants. They are all integral parts of a system in which the bourgeoisie rules through the ballot and by unleashing violence against the toiling masses. Such parties compete and contend with one another to control the state machinery and implement the agenda of the bourgeoisie.

The source of communalism and communal violence and all forms of state terrorism lies in the rule of the capitalist class headed by the monopoly houses. Therefore, the struggle to end communalism and communal violence will not be crowned with victory simply by changing the party in charge of the executive.

There is a view that the genocide of Sikhs organised by the Congress Party was an aberration. The dictionary meaning of aberration is “a temporary change from the typical or usual way of behaving”. The genocide of Sikhs was not an aberration. It will be a grave mistake to treat it as an aberration.

Those who promote the view that the 1984 genocide was an aberration are doing so to justify the line of calling upon the people to line up behind the Congress Party in its rivalry with the BJP. They are making out that the source of communalism and communal violence is a particular political party, the BJP, and not the ruling class as a whole. This is a line which will lead the struggle against communalism and communal violence on a dead-end road.

The target of state terrorism including communal violence is the working class and toiling masses of our country, and its aim is to smash our unity and crush our struggle for rights. To advance our struggle against communal violence and state terror, it is necessary to build and strengthen the political unity of all the exploited and oppressed people, and of all progressive and democratic forces, in defence of the rights of all. It is necessary to uphold and implement the principle that ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’.

State-organised communal violence and state terror can be eliminated once and for all, only when the rule of the bourgeoisie is replaced by workers’ and peasants’ rule.  The existing state must be replaced with a new state which guarantees to all citizens the right to life, right to conscience and all other human rights and democratic rights. Such a state will ensure that no one is discriminated against on the basis of her or his beliefs, and anyone who carries out such discrimination is promptly and severely punished, regardless of her or his official position.

On the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the gruesome state-organised genocide of Sikhs, let us resolve to escalate the struggle against state organised communal violence and terror. Let us wage the struggle with the perspective of establishing a new state committed to ensure sukh and raksha for all.

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