The 1984 Sikh Massacre As Witnessed By a 15 Year Old

Amnesty International India
31 October 2015 9:12 am

By Sanamdeep Singh Wazir (@sanamwazir) | Campaigner, Amnesty International India

“My parents tossed me and my siblings to our neighbours. They safely caught us with some bedsheets and promised us safety and refuge. We could see our parents hopelessly waiting for the inevitable. Tears rolling down from their eyes and bodies shivering, they were relieved that their children were safe, yet scared as they saw the mob which wanted to set our car on fire to try and kill us”. A sense of fear took over Nirmal Kour as she recounted that fateful night to me 31 years since it happened. She was only 15 then.


I met Mrs Nirmal Kour while collecting 30-year old case studies for an Amnesty International India campaign seeking justice for the massacre. In between October 31 to November 2 in 1984, around 3000 people were massacred in the capital city. Mobs swarmed into Sikh homes, brutally killing men, women and children.

Mrs Kour gave me chilling details from the night that she vividly remembers till today. “A group of over 100 people wearing red shirts and black pants marched towards our house. Some of them were carrying torches. We could hear the mob questioning our Punjabi tenants on the ground floor. When asked if any Sikh family lived on the first floor, our tenants said no”.

Despite the tenants’ denial, the mob persistently asked them to hand over the Sardar family. Mrs Kour told me that the mob knew about their whereabouts. “They wanted to set our car on fire, but some of them suggested that they burn down the Sikh Gurudwara first. After they were done looting and pilfering the nearby Gurudwara, they left our street and marched on to the next street, to our surprise”.

There, Mrs Kour said, the mob attacked other Sikh families, harassed the women and tried to cut the hair of Sikh boys. They lit fire to rubber tyres and threw them on the innocent Sikh boys. I asked her if she still feels scared. “My mother till today panics if the door is closed forcefully. She cannot help but cry when she is asked about these events. I, too, feel horrified remembering that night. Those who saved us were Hindus. My cousin sister and her kids were saved by a Muslim family, who stayed with them for almost a week”.

While recording Mrs Kour’s statement, I saw tears rolling down her eyes. She seemed more anguished than scared. Her family had not lost money or property during the 1984 violence. What they did lose was their hope in the system. Today, she lives with her family in Patiala and never wants to go back to Delhi.

Thirty-one years have passed since the 1984 Sikh massacre. In February, the central government formed an SIT (Special Investigation Team), authorized to reopen closed cases and file charges. Many of those awaiting justice are no longer with us now. There are only a handful of cases pending in courts. Justice is long overdue. It is time for India to know who was responsible for the killings that have forever stained our history and politics.

The failure in delivering justice for the 1984 massacre has been used to downplay other incidents of mass violence, notably in Gujarat in 2002 and Muzzafarnagar in 2013. As long as 1984 goes unpunished, there will be those who try to justify impunity elsewhere too.