October 31, 1984
9.20 am: Indira Gandhi was shot by two of her security guards at her residence No. 1, Safdarjung Road, and rushed to All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
11 am: Announcement on All India Radio specifying that the guards who shot Indira Gandhi were Sikhs. A big crowd was collecting near AIIMS.
2 pm: Though her death was yet to be confirmed officially, it became common knowledge because of BBC bulletins and special afternoon editions of newspapers.
4 pm: Rajiv Gandhi returned from West Bengal and reached AIIMS. Numerous incidents of attacks on Sikhs in and around that area took place.
5.30 pm: The cavalcade of President Zail Singh, who returned from a foreign visit, was stoned as it approached AIIMS.
Late evening and night: Mobs fanned out in different directions from AIIMS. The violence against Sikhs spread, starting in the neighbouring constituency of Congress councillor Arjun Dass. The violence included the burning of vehicles and other properties of Sikhs. That happened even in VIP areas like the crossroads near Prithviraj Road where cars and scooters belonging to Sikhs were burnt.
Shortly after Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister, senior advocate and Opposition leader Ram Jethmalani met home minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and urged him to act fast and save Sikhs from further attacks. Governor P.G. Gavai and police commissioner S.C. Tandon visited some of the violence-affected areas. Despite all these developments, no measures were taken to control the violence or prevent further attacks on Sikhs throughout the night between October 31 and November 1.
November 1, 1984
Several Congress leaders held meetings on the night of October 31 and morning of November 1, mobilising their followers to attack Sikhs on a mass scale. The first killing of a Sikh reported from east Delhi in the early hours of November 1. About 9 am, armed mobs took over the streets of Delhi and launched a massacre. Everywhere the first targets were Gurdwaras – to prevent Sikhs from collecting there and putting up a combined defence.
Mobs were armed with iron rods of a uniform size. Activist editor Madhu Kishwar saw some of the rods being distributed among the miscreants. Mobs also had an abundant supply of petrol and kerosene. Victims traced the source of kerosene to dealers belonging to the Congress party. For instance, a Congress worker called Brahmanand Gupta, a kerosene dealer, figures prominently in affidavits filed from Sultanpuri.
Every police station had strength of about 100 men and 50-60 weapons. Yet, no action was taken against miscreants in most places. The few places where the local police station took prompt measures against mobs, hardly any killings took place there. Farsh Bazar and Karol Bagh are two such examples. But in other localities, the priority of the police, as it emerges from the statement of the then police commissioner S.C. Tandon before the Nanavati Commission, was to take action against Sikhs who dared to offer resistance. All the Sikhs who fired in self-defence were disarmed by the police and even arrested on trumped up charges.
Mobs generally included teams attending to specific tasks. When shops were to be looted, the first team that gets into action would kill and remove all obstacles. The second team specialises in breaking locks. The third team would engage in looting. And the fourth team would set the place on fire.
Most of the mobs were led by Congress members, including those from affluent families. For instance, a Youth Congress leader called Satsangi led a mob in the posh Maharani Bagh. The worst affected areas were however far flung, low income colonies like Trilokpuri, Mongolpuri, Sultanpuri and Palam Colony.
The Congress leaders identified by the victims as organisers of the carnage include three MPs H.K.L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Dharam Dass Shastri and 10 councillors Arjan Dass, Ashok Kumar, Deep Chand, Sukhan Lal Sood, Ram Narayan Verma, D.R. Chhabbra, Bharat Singh, Vasudev, Dharam Singh and Mela Ram.
November 2, 1984
Curfew was in force throughout Delhi – but only on paper. The Army was also deployed throughout Delhi but nowhere was it effective because the police did not co-operate with the soldiers who were not empowered to open fire without the consent of senior police officers or executive magistrates. Meanwhile, mobs continued to rampage with the same ferocity.
November 3, 1984
It was only towards the evening of November 3 that the police and the Army acted in unison and the violence subsided immediately after that. Whatever violence took place the next two or three days was on a much smaller scale and rather sporadic.