Post-assassination violence against Sikhs in India was allegedly planned
New Delhi — Rajiv Gandhi's India is two weeks old. The arsonists' smoke no longer envelops Delhi. Sikhs are beginning to reappear on the streets, trickling out of their refuges in temples and camps.
But as this superficial semblance of normality returns to the capital, and as some of the 50,000 homeless begin returning to their neighborhoods though not necessarily their homes, a painful analysis is beginning of the recent savagery that threatens to divide India into unforgiving communities of Hindu and Sikh.
In Block 32 of Trilokpuri - a new working-class settlement of east Delhi whose residents were transplanted from their Delhi slums across the Yamuna River during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's 1975-77 period of ''emergency rule'' - little remains of the once vibrant Sikh community.
Each of the 200 flat, box-like houses, linked rectangularly by narrow gullies and alleys, bears the scorched reminders of the rampaging mob. Except for old men and children, nearly all of the male inhabitants are dead. At least 350 of Trilok-puri's 1,000 Sikhs were sacrificed to the mob, to apathy and alleged police connivance, and pre-planning by political thugs.
Class and caste envy played a part, as did social and economic factors. Today Block 32's only residents are packs of rabid, howling dogs.
According to both victims and eyewitnesses interviewed this week, Trilokpuri was not a spontaneous ''communal riot,'' where Hindu neighbors turned against Sikhs. Indeed, there were a number of cases where Hindus and Muslims sheltered Sikh women and children from the frenzied mobs. Many members of the mobs were strangers who arrived with kerosene and hatchets in a convoy of trucks, vented their horror for 30 hours without police interference, then disappeared when the deed was done.
The pattern appears to have been the same throughout the capital, which experienced its worst carnage since India gained independence 37 years ago. The violence radiated like a wave from the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences on the afternoon of Oct. 31, where tens of thousands had assembled to await word of Mrs. Gandhi's condition after her Sikh bodyguards shot her that morning.
The slogans were vicious, betraying decades of envy and bitterness against the proud and stubborn Sikhs. Though only 2 percent of the Indian population, the Sikhs have acquired a disproportionate share of the national wealth, usually through sheer effort, but in some cases - in the Army, for example - through what is seen as preferential treatment by the Indian state.
Not surprisingly, the slogan shouters were mostly ragged, unemployed Hindu youth. They were mostly from the ''untouchable'' or ''scheduled'' castes, mostly from the impoverished states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; they had recently arrived in the capital in search of jobs. The New Delhi press describes them as the ''lumpens'' of the proletariat - that growing number of slum and pavement dwellers who have traditionally provided votes and rally crowds for the Congress (I) Party, which has governed India for nearly all of its independent years.
This time, however, they struck a new balance of terror between Hindus and Sikhs. At least four district-level party leaders, named by eyewitnesses and relief workers over and over again, appear to have been actively involved in the violence.
According to survivors and eyewitnesses, the Thursday night after Mrs. Gandhi died Congress Party workers spread out in the trans-Yamuna colonies, including Trilokpuri, delivering a lethal combination of firey rhetoric and drink. The carnage began later that night.
By Friday morning, a mob of 1,500 had arrived in Trilokpuri in trucks and began marching toward the Sikh temple there, behind Block 32. Sikh men tried to protect it with the traditional weapons of their martial class - kirpans, or small daggers, and a variety of swords.
The brave attempt only incensed the mob, which began torching everything, including homes and small businesses of the Sikh community, which consisted mostly of carpenters, shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, and blue-collar laborers. Sikh men were caught, beaten, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze. Many were scalped. (Sikhs do not believe in cutting their hair.)
A Sikh who escaped contacted the respected English-language daily, the Indian Express, which dispatched two reporters. One of them, Rahul Bedi, subsequently sent a written complaint to Delhi's lieutenant governor, accusing three senior police officers of being ''accessories to one of the most gruesome massacres in independent India, through dereliction of duty and sheer apathy.''
Mr. Bedi says he arrived at Trilokpuri early Friday afternoon to find the entrance sealed by police constables who said, ''Nothing much was happening. It's all over. Maybe one or two people had been killed.'' Bedi and the other reporter made their way to Block 32 and found the road leading to the temple ''carpeted with bodies, two or three deep, for a distance of nearly 50 feet.''
Trilokpuri's Hindus and Muslims say that at least five trucks left the settlement piled high with bodies - before the police arrived and after the Indian Express continued to insist that something was horribly wrong.
According to eyewitnesses, a number of the ranks of the almost exclusively Hindu police pinpointed Sikh homes and businesses to the increasingly frenzied mob. The entire Sikh constabulary had been withdrawn from the streets of New Delhi hours after Gandhi was killed.
When the Army finally arrived late Friday evening, Blocks 27, 31, 32, and 36 were largely deserted. The military escorted Trilokpuri's surviving Sikh women and children to makeshift relief camps.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is understood to have wanted to send the Army into east Delhi on Thursday night, but was reportedly advised by his home minister, Narasimha Rao, ''to wait a while.''
Official inquiries have been ordered into the roles of Congress Party workers and of the police. But they may be too little, too late to heal the wounds and trauma of many of the capital's displaced Sikhs.
In relief center after relief center, Sikhs say ''they would go anywhere - Punjab, America, even Pakistan.'' They just don't want to remain in New Delhi, they say, and, by implication or utterance, that means India.
Mass migration of Sikhs back to the Punjab, where they are 52 percent of the population, and efforts to force Hindus out of the state could become the most serious consequence of the post-assassination violence.
Such moves would inevitably strengthen Sikh demands for greater autonomy in the Punjab, or even an increased call for a separate Sikh homeland.
''It was not our Hindu neighbors who attacked us,'' said a Sikh woman who had lost her husband and three sons. ''But, even though they were not our neighbors, they were Hindus nonetheless.''