As the sun began to set on 31st October in 1984, the Sikh citizens of India could not have forseen what was about to befall the streets of their capital city. At 5.20pm the first recorded attack on a Sikh took place when President Zail Singh’s car was stoned, as he travelled to the AIIMS hospital where Indira Gandhi had been taken.
The growing crowd shouted ‘blood for blood’ slogans and soon it turned into an unruly mob. Later in the evening, reports started coming in of mobs of young men armed with sticks and bicycle chains searching out Sikh passengers on buses, beating them up and setting fire to their turbans. There were also reports of arson attacks on Sikh businesses and a common factor in all the cases, was the police who stood by as onlookers.
The only exception to the police indifference occurred at the Sabzi Mandi Police station, where two senior policeman co-ordinated the arrest of ninety rioters. Both the arresting officers were Sikhs and they had requested clearance for more aggressive action in order to stop the rioters. Permission was not granted. What they did get was a visit from a senior officer of the second highest rung of the police hierarchy in Delhi. With immediate effect, both Sikh policemen were taken off duty for making the arrests and attempting to stop the rioting, while those who stood by idly, remained on duty throughout the bloody days that followed.
Most of the attacks on Sikhs and their properties on the night of 31st of October, were restricted to the districts around AIIMS hospital. But the mobs began to fan out from this area burning down properties, setting alight any trucks and cars belonging to Sikhs and brutalising any Sikh they came across, most of whom were simply trying to get back home after a day’s work. Apart from the isolated attempt at the Sabzi Mandi station, the Delhi police took absolutely no action to stop the attacks. Top officials had noted the attempts taken at the Sabzi Mandi and consequently, an order was issued that all Sikh policeman (who formed over 10% of the Delhi police force at the time) should be taken off duty immediately and confined to their residential colonies.