Saturday, May 31, 2014

July 1987: Reports from a different India

Posted: July 08, 1987

FATEHABAD, India -Terrorists thought to be Sikh separatists attacked two more buses yesterday, killing a total of 34 people, mostly Hindus, and bringing to 74 the number of people shot to death in two days of highway ambushes.
On Monday, gunmen killed 40 bus passengers, nearly all of them Hindus, in Punjab state.
Police said five extremists struck about 8:30 p.m. yesterday on National Highway No. 10 in Haryana state, which borders Punjab. The attack occurred about six miles from Fatehabad, a small market town in India's wheat belt, and about 150 miles southwest of Chandigarh.
The attackers used a car and a jeep to block a bridge to stop one bus, police said. They boarded the vehicle, began dragging out passengers, and had killed four when a second bus came by from the opposite direction, headed for New Delhi.
The terrorists then rushed across to the second bus and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing 30, police said.
When the gunmen turned their attention to the second bus, survivors on the first fled across nearby fields. Most of the dead were Hindus, and 15 people were wounded, authorities said.
Police said they believed that yesterday's attacks were carried out by the same group that staged Monday's ambush, in which several gunmen forced a bus driven by a Sikh to stop on the main highway from Chandigarh to Delhi. They then drove to a secluded spot before opening up on the passengers.
In that attack, one gunman apparently was shot accidentally by his comrades. His body was found later in an abandoned getaway car.
Punjab Police Chief Julio F. Ribeiro told reporters that the bus driver in Monday's attack was detained for questioning. Ribeiro said that ammunition recovered at the massacre site showed that the militants used Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifles.
Yesterday was the fourth time in a year that Sikh gunmen had targeted bus passengers. In attacks in July 1986 and in November, a total of 38 people, mostly Hindus, were killed. No arrests have been made in those attacks.
The massacre Monday was the worst since extremists began a campaign five years ago to establish an independent Sikh nation in Punjab.
Sikhs slightly outnumber Hindus in Punjab. Officials say the random killings of Punjabi Hindus are intended to drive them out of the state and in turn prompt retaliatory Hindu killings of Sikhs elsewhere in India that would force Sikhs to flee to Punjab.
In June 1984, the army attacked Sikh militants holed up in the Sikhs' holiest shrine, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, killing hundreds. Four months later, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by Sikh assassins, and her son, Rajiv, took over.
In a statement after Monday's slaughter, Gandhi said, "This atrocity should redouble our resolve to fight against the extremists."
He took direct control of Punjab on May 11 when he fired the state's moderate Sikh government for failing to stem terrorist violence.
But his seeming inability to manage the deteriorating situation in Punjab was a key factor in the rout that his Congress-I Party suffered last month in Haryana state elections. A peasant-dominated party swept to power in Haryana in an anti-Gandhi backlash.
More than 500 people have died in separatist violence so far this year. About 640 were killed last year.
All three buses ambushed in the last two days were operated by Haryana
Roadways, the state transportation company. Yesterday, Haryana followed Punjab in suspending nighttime bus services.
Frustrated officials in New Delhi said it was virtually impossible to prevent attacks on buses, thousands of which are on the roads every day.
"You just can't really be watching all the roads and all the buses," one said.
Home Minister Buta Singh, a Sikh and India's top internal security official, went to Chandigarh to visit wounded survivors of Monday's attack and called it "a brutal murder of human values."
Political leaders in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir called for general strikes to protest the bus killings. Schools were ordered closed in Haryana and shops in Chandigarh closed after the first attack.
The right-wing and predominantly Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, defying a police ban on public assembly in New Delhi, said it would organize a march on Gandhi's heavily guarded residential compound in the south of the capital city today.
After last night's attacks, security forces across northern India were put on maximum alert and the army was placed on standby to assist police in preserving calm in New Delhi, the scene of previous backlash attacks by Hindus on Sikhs.


Posted: July 09, 1987

FATEHABAD, India — They lay on slabs of ice in the front corridor of the general hospital, lifeless men and boys who only hours before had been on the wrong bus at the wrong time.
At first there were 32 of them, so many that the floor was covered with fresh blood. By yesterday afternoon more than half were gone, claimed by relatives for cremation.
The wiry corpses were the latest victims of the war raging between militant Sikhs and India's Hindu-dominated central government.
They were gunned down Tuesday night - apparently by Sikh terrorists - on two buses just outside this parched market town 150 miles northwest of New Delhi. Were it not for a similar bus slaughter Monday, in which 40 passengers died, the killing would have been the bloodiest civilian massacre since the beginning of the Sikh terror campaign.
The two incidents touched off a round of revenge violence in several Indian cities yesterday. Six Sikhs were reported killed, including one Fatehabad merchant who was burned to death.
In addition to the sheer numbers of dead, the Hindus were outraged because the Tuesday massacres were the first outside the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab, where militants have been fighting for five years to establish an independent Sikh nation. That massacre was in neighboring Haryana state, which is predominantly Hindu and increasingly anti-Sikh.
Fatehabad is in Haryana, and 90 percent of its residents are Hindu. Although they and their Sikh neighbors have lived amicably for years, the peace was shattered yesterday morning.
Hindu rioters stormed Sikh-owned shops and businesses, gutting about 15 of them, police said. A mob chased a Sikh merchant and burned him to death, said Munish Chandra Gupta, Haryana's home minister. News photographers saw Hindus dispassionately watching the victim's death throes.
Seven Hindus in the town were injured when a Sikh storeowner opened fire on a mob coming to torch his business.
The violence ended with the arrival of government soldiers, who imposed an immediate curfew, emptying the streets and filling the town with an eerie, frightened silence.
By mid-afternoon, shops were shuttered, and soldiers patrolled the streets in convoys with their Sten guns pointed outward. Occasionally a civilian could be seen scurrying across a road on some errand before he was ordered back indoors.
Fires continued to smolder at a gas station and a general store, adding to the brutal heat and dust of India's dry season.
Parked in front of the hospital were the two buses attacked in Tuesday's massacre, one driven there by its uninjured driver and the other by a 16-year- old boy who survived the massacre by hiding under a seat.
Through a translator at a hospital, the terrified youth, Zile Singh, gave this account:
It had just become dark as the bus traversed a plain - fertile when wet, but now parched by the blazing, pre-monsoon sun - when it had to stop at a small irrigation bridge, several miles outside Fatehabad, because a car or jeep was in the way.
Four men stormed the bus, brandishing weapons. They did not wear the turbans or long beards that usually characterize Sikhs, but no one in Fatehabad appeared to doubt that they were Sikhs.
The four then told two Sikh passengers to collect the passenger's valuables. Then, three women at the back of the bus were ordered to come forward and take off their clothes.
After they had done so, the boy said, the terrorists opened fire, ultimately killing 27 people on the bus and injuring two dozen, as well as killing a taxi driver who stopped at the bridge. The women were abused, but no women or children were among those killed.
Singh crouched under the seat for about 10 minutes, then peered cautiously out. When he saw one of the wounded people moving, he climbed into the driver's seat and drove the bus to the Fatehabad hospital.
He was not aware that a few minutes later the terrorists attacked another bus at the same place, spraying it with machine-gun fire and killing four people. The driver of the second bus also brought his passengers to the hospital.
As news of the latest killings spread, anti-Sikh violence exploded across Haryana and another Hindu-dominated state in northern India, Uttar Pradesh.
Three Sikhs died in Haryana, police said. Two more were slain in Rishiskesh, the Himalayan Hindu city on the banks of the revered Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh, the United News of India reported.
At least 25 Sikhs were injured in mob violence in Rishikesh, and at least 62 were injured in Haryana and elsewhere in north India.
Along Highway 10 in Haryana, roving mobs of Hindus could be seen as shimmering objects in the distance through the heat waves coming off the blacktop road. They stopped and surrounded cars, peering in, wild-eyed and shouting, at their occupants, hoping to find Sikhs they could kill with the bricks and thick wooden clubs they carried.
Convoys of soldiers patrolled the road, the major one in the state, trying to halt the cycle of killing. Along the road the burning skeletons of trucks waylaid by the mobs attested to their ferocity.
Back in the hospital, about a dozen men injured in Tuesday's attack lay on hastily assembled cots in a hot, dusty side room.
Government officials and dignitaries arrived at regular intervals to witness the carnage. They were escorted over the corpses in the center hall and past the mounds of bloody clothing left in the corridors.
Because the ice under the bodies was melting, they also had to endure a terrible stench.
"We must do something with the bodies quickly," said Kuldeep Kumer, chief medical officer of the hospital. "It is a terrible thing, but if they are not picked up by tomorrow morning, we will have to take them out ourselves to have them cremated."


PS: I was raised in the same town (Fatehabad). But by the time, I could follow the happenings, Punjab's insurgency had ended. But my Mother recalls armed Khalistan militants visiting her village (in Rajasthan) every evening for area domination, while my father  barely escaped a militant attack in Abohar (Ferozepur District of Punjab).  Apart from State and political actors inside Punjab, ordinary Sikh community outside Punjab and ordinary Hindu community inside Punjab feared for their lives all through 1980s & early 1990s- thousands of families had to leave their ancestral places  (Hindus out of Punjab, Sikhs out of India or into Punjab). At the height of militancy, our family too bought some land deeper inside Rajasthan, just in case the shit hit the fan-which thankfully didn't happen. Nevertheless, The brutal insurgency and counter-insurgecy dragged on for years, ending only by Mid 1990s.

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