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Anti-Sikh riots part of wider pogroms: Khushwant

Even one of the Nehru famly's greatest supporters: writer and journalist Khushwant Singh deposing before the Nanavati Commission, probing the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 after the assassination of then prime minister, Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, said that the police were mute spectators while butchering was on.

"On October 31, 1984, I came out of my house, near Ambassador Hotel and from the gate near the road, I saw a mob burning a taxi. From a distance of 10 yards, I saw around 30 policemen, an inspector, who was armed and a sub-inspector, standing across the road. The policemen did nothing to prevent the mob from burning the taxi," Singh told the commission.

The mob had burnt shops in the adjacent Khan Market and had attacked a gurdwara nearby. Thereafter the mob burnt cars sent to repairs to Sukhwant Singh, a mechanic, he added.

While watching the incident happen, his Hindu neighbours prodded him to come inside as his life could be in danger if the mob saw him, he said.

On November 1, 1984, morning, Singh had been told by friends to be careful, as he could be the target of a mob attack, as he had returned the Padma Bhushan awarded to him, in protest against Operation Bluestar.

Singh said he had made a call to then President Zail Singh, seeking help as he was informed by his son-in-law that a mob was approaching his house.

Salman Haider, who later became foreign secretary, had informed Singh's son-in-law about it.

But Singh was not allowed to speak to the President and his secretary told him that the President had advised him to stay in a Hindu's house.

"I felt like a refugee in my country. In fact, I felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany," Singh told the commission.

When pogrom victims lawyer, H S Phoolka, questioned Singh whether he tried to contact the police for help, he replied, ''After I saw what the police were doing, I thought it pointless to ask for police help."

"I thought if I call the police, the mob would be on me," Singh said.

Commenting on the involvement of the then Congress government in the riots, Singh said the government of the day had a hand in it as it was organised violence.

But he refused to call the 1984 pogrom 'Hindu-Sikh riots', as it was a one-sided pogrom. There was no retaliation from Sikhs, even in Punjab, where they form a majority, he explained.

The comparison with the Nazis' elimination of Jews in Germany was obvious when Singh said, "It was a pogrom."

Adding that it was the saddest day of his life and that he was pained as he had never seen a pogrom earlier, Singh said he was embittered as the Sikhs raped, butchered and burned were innocent.

When even the Gandhi family's biggest ardent supporter comes out in protest against this pogrom why has the government provided no answers, no justice, no help, let alone legal or constitutional reform. Indeed the only answer evident from the silence is that since nothing has changed; sikhs and other minorities should expect more of the same in the future.