Case Study: Kashmir / Punjab / The Delhi Massacre (1984)
The northern Indian states of Kashmir and Punjab have been among the most conflictive regions of the world in recent decades. The killings and "disappearances" have evinced a strong gendercidal component, with younger men overwhelmingly targeted. The violence has spilled over into the rest of India, most notably with the Delhi Massacre of 1984 -- one of the worst gendercidal slaughters of modern times.
The state terror in Kashmir, like the genocide in Bangladesh, has its roots in the partition of the Indian subcontinent after the end of British colonial rule in 1947. The partition created two independent nations, India and Pakistan (the latter divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). Kashmir emerged as one of the flashpoints between the two countries when its "then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, refused to accede to either nation, apparently in a bid to preserve Kashmir's independence. However, an invasion by Pakistani tribesmen in August and September 1947, and an uprising among Kashmiri Muslims in the state's western regions, ultimately compelled the maharaja to seek the assistance of Prime Minister Nehru of India. Nehru agreed to send troops only if Kashmir formally acceded to India. On October 27, 1947, the maharaja agreed to Kashmir's accession to India on the condition that Kashmir be permitted to retain its own constitution. Indian troops succeeded in halting the Pakistani forces, driving them back to the western third of the state, which then came under Pakistan's control as 'Azad' (free) Kashmir." (Human Rights Watch, "India's Secret Army in Kashmir", May 1996. For another good overview of the conflict, see Michael Kolodner, "Chapter One: The Indian Occupation of Kashmir", in Kolodner, "Violence as Policy in the Occupations of
Palestine, Kashmir, and Northern Ireland" [Master's thesis, Amherst College, 1996].) The Indian-held portion became known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with the population of the outlying Jammu region being mainly Hindu and Sikh. Another corner of Kashmir (Aksai Chin) is claimed and occupied by China; the border dispute contributed to a brief but bloody war between India and China in 1962. Although a ceasefire between India and Pakistan was achieved under United Nations supervision in January 1949, the dispute subsequently gave rise or contributed to three wars between the two countries (1947, 1965, and 1971). Heavy fighting broke out again in early 1999. India is a nuclear-armed state, while Pakistan is widely thought to be "nuclear-capable," and many observers believe that Kashmir is the likeliest flashpoint for the outbreak of nuclear war in the Third World.
The recent state of near-civil war in Kashmir is the outgrowth of increasing discontent in the region, reflecting opposition to Indian attempts to interfere in Kashmir's politics and reduce its autonomy. In 1964, a militant organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was created to lead the struggle for independence. Widespread electoral fraud increased popular support for the JKLF and other, newer militant groups. In 1990, emergency rule was instituted, and the Indian government launched a campaign of systematic murders and disappearances of suspected militants. According to Kolodner, "The Indian army has engaged in repeated atrocities on a massive scale in the process of its crackdown. The level of military misdeeds is so high that we can only conclude that it is government policy to terrorize the Kashmiris into accepting Indian rule." (Kolodner, "Chapter One: The Indian Occupation of Kashmir".)
Indian strategy has relied extensively on extrajudicial murders, which usually "occur after 'crackdowns' ... during which all the men of a neighborhood or village are called to assemble for an identification parade in front of hooded informers. Those whom the informers point out are taken away for torture and interrogation, and some are simply taken away and shot." (Human Rights Watch, "India's Secret Army in Kashmir".) In 1999, Human Rights Watch reported that "custodial killings -- the summary execution of detainees -- remain a central component of the Indian government's counterinsurgency strategy. While the difficulties associated with documentation make it impossible to state accurately the number of such killings, human rights groups in the state and elsewhere in India estimate that such summary executions number in the thousands." ("India: Behind the Kashmir Conflict", July 1999.) In Kashmir and Punjab combined, "the actual number of executed and 'disappeared' ... [is] probably in the tens of thousands," according to Cynthia Keppley Mahmood. (Mahmood, "Trials by Fire: Dynamics of Terror in Punjab and Kashmir," in Jeffrey A. Sluka, ed., Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror [University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000], p. 70.)
"Disappearances" have become a byword of life in Kashmir. "Since 1990," notes Amnesty International, "some 700 to 800 people have 'disappeared' after being arrested by police or armed or paramilitary forces. The victims have included men of all ages, including juveniles and the very old, and all professions, including businessmen, lawyers, labourers and many teachers. Almost all of them appear to be ordinary citizens picked up at random, without any connection to the armed struggle." ('If they are dead, tell us' - 'Disappearances' in Jammu and Kashmir" [summary], March 1999.) According to Human Rights Watch, "Human rights groups in Kashmir have documented more than three hundred cases of 'disappearances' since 1990. Lawyers believe the number to be far higher, however, as many relatives do not contact a lawyer out of fear of reprisal. Neither the Indian government nor any of the security agencies operating in the state has provided any information to clarify the whereabouts of the victim in any of these cases. It is likely that in virtually all of the cases of 'disappearances' in Kashmir, the victim was executed and the body disposed of in secret." ("India: Behind the Kashmir Conflict".)
As in Colombia and many other countries around the world, the Indian state has sought to dissociate itself to some extent from rampant murders, "disappearances," and torture by sub-contracting them to death squads sponsored, armed, and assisted by the security forces. This trend began in 1995, and involved arming and training "local auxiliary forces made up of surrendered or captured militants ... These forces, who wear no uniforms and operate outside of the normal command structure of the Indian army and other security forces, nevertheless are considered state agents under international law. These groups participate in joint patrols, receive and carry out orders given by security officers, and operate in full view of army and security force bunkers and camps. Some members ... are even housed in military compounds." (Human Rights Watch, "India's Secret Army in Kashmir".)
Systematic torture, including sexual torture, has been another standard strategy, "used routinely by all the security forces operating in Kashmir. Although the problem is widely known to the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi, neither has ever made any serious effort to curb it." The "severe beatings" that generally feature in such torture may "induce kidney failure, as can electric shocks, because the contractions caused by the shocks as well as the trauma ... [lead] the muscles to release toxins that the kidneys cannot handle in large quantities. ... Since the conflict began in 1990, doctors in Kashmir have documented hundreds of cases of torture-induced renal failure," which is often fatal. "Those who have received treatment for torture-induced renal problems have been mostly young males but have included some older men," the organization notes. "... Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single prosecution in a case of the torture or summary execution of a detainee in the ten years since the conflict began." (Human Rights Watch, "India: Behind the Kashmir Conflict".)
Rape, especially of women relatives of suspected militants or dissidents, has also been commonly employed by both security forces and their paramilitary allies. "In the past, the Indian government has made public a number of prosecutions of members of security forces for rape. However, even these cases amount to no more than a handful; many other incidents of rape have never been prosecuted, and reports of rape and other sexual assaults in Kashmir persist." One resident of the village of Marmal told Human Rights Watch that in October 1998, the army conducted a sweep of nearly two dozen villages in the area, abducting many local women. "They are looking for the militants," the resident reported. "But they are unable to find any. So they harass the local population ... Our womenfolk are taken into the army camp, all separately. ... They come back after two or three days. They are very shy then, and don't want to talk about what has happened to them. The army has pressured them not to speak about what happened." (Human Rights Watch, "India: Behind the Kashmir Conflict".)
As a result of the Indian crackdown, indigenously-based militant activity has been all but wiped out (the JKLF gave up its armed struggle in 1994). Most such activity today consists of guerrillas based along the border with Pakistan and supported by the Pakistani regime. These groups have become increasingly renowned for their terrorist tactics, including gendercidal ones. In June 1998, 25 men were murdered as they headed home from a wedding in the village of Champnagri, Doda district. One survivor of the massacre recalled:
After the wedding we went up to the roadside to wait for the bus by which we would return to our village. There were two wedding parties waiting there, and the men were standing separately from the women and children. We had been waiting for about fifteen minutes when suddenly five armed men showed up. At first we thought they were soldiers. ... They asked us, the men, for our ID cards. ... We showed them our cards. They lined us up in two lines. Then they told us to hand over everything we had. The moment we started opening our bags, they opened fire at us with their rifles. I was standing in the line, and the person next to me was hit and toppled against and over me. This is how I was saved. ... (Human Rights Watch, "India: Behind the Kashmir Conflict".)
In March 2000, one of the largest gendercidal massacres of the conflict took place in the village of Chattinsinghpura, allegedly at the hands of Muslim militants. "Indian police officials said the massacre, which took place on Monday night about 9 p.m., was carried out by dozens of Muslim militants. They descended on the largely Sikh village of Chattinsinghpura about 40 miles south of the summer capital of Srinagar, ordered people from their homes, then executed the men. Thirty-four men perished on the spot and two more died later at a hospital." (Celia Dugger, "36 Massacred in India, as Clinton Begins Visit", The New York Times, March 21, 2000.)
[Note: For an update on gendercidal killings, allegedly by Pakistan-backed militants, see the Letter to Human Rights Watch, August 22, 2000.]
The 1947 partition of Punjab between India and Pakistan resulted in intercommunal violence that was the worst, and most indiscriminate, that the Indian subcontinent had experienced for centuries. Widespread massacres occurred between Muslims and Sikhs (the latter occupying the western portion of Punjab, the latter the eastern regions). As many as half a million people died, and two million more were left homeless and destitute. Eventually, western Punjab was incorporated into the new Pakistani state, while eastern Punjab became part of India.
Growing alienation from, and claims of exploitation by, Indian authorities spawned a powerful militant movement in the early 1980s, calling for the creation of an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. As in many such conflict situations worldwide, the economic and societal plight of younger males figured prominently the uprising. "Central to the present Sikh unrest is the excess numbers of young male Sikhs over the amount of honorable employment available," wrote Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1988. "To own even a tiny farm is honorable, but the subdivision of the farmland appears to have reached its limit. ... What career is open to a young male Sikh who doesn't have a farm of his own and hasn't been able to get a place in the defense forces or any other branch of government service? That question remains unresolved, and in the meantime there are too many young [male] Sikhs who find no suitable outlet within the law for their abundant energies." (O'Brien, "Holy War Against India", The Atlantic Monthly, August 1988.)
As in Kashmir, "disappearances" have been central to the Indian state's counterinsurgency strategy in Punjab:
The scenario for a disappearance case is familiar. Plain-clothed police officers or members of the paramilitary forces stop a man in the street (disappearance victims are almost always young men who are suspected of being members or having support for one of India's many armed militant groups), or they may pick him up from his place of work or his home. Often the abduction is done at night, but the disregard for the law and the lack of political will to eradicate these practices means the security forces are equally protected if the abduction takes place in broad daylight. ... Many cases of disappearances result in death, disfigured bodies found in canals, by railway tracks and roadsides are testimony to the cover-up of state murder that is so much a part of everyday life in some parts of India. If suspicion of the killing is successfully laid at the feet of the police, it is often denied or invalidated by one of two improbable excuses; that whilst trying to escape he was shot or that he died in an encounter. (Khalsa Human Rights, "'Disappearances' in Punjab".)
According to Joyce Pettigrew, "many young people killed have not been engaged in armed combat. They have been ordinary boys who have disappeared on an errand for their parents, visiting relatives, or while working in their fields, or who have been picked up from their own or their in-laws' home. ... Disappearances occurred primarily in the under-thirty age group. Some villages had lost more than forty young men. Sursinghwala in Amritsar district had lost seventy young men. Buttar Kalan, in Gurdaspur district, lost twenty. Each village has not kept a separate account of its losses. Erring on the conservative side ... it is highly probable that most villages in the Amritsar district would have lost on average ten young men." (Pettigrew, "Parents and Their Children in Situations of Terror: Disappearances and Special Police Activity in Punjab," in Jeffrey A. Sluka, ed., Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror [University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000], p. 211.)
Patricia Gossman cites the comments of an Indian police officer who claimed that when armed conflict broke out between Sikh militants and Indian security forces in the early 1980s, "a profile was developed of who was considered to be antigovernment and pro-Khalistan. Based on that profile, young Sikh men between the ages of 18 and 40, who have long beards and wear turbans, are considered to be pro-Khalistan. Whenever the police receive a report from an informant or any other individual that Sikh militants have visited the home of a Sikh family, the police are dispatched to raid the home of that family. Pursuant to that raid, any Sikh male who fits the profile described above is arrested." (Gossman, "India's Secret Armies," in in Bruce B. Campbell and Arthur D. Brenner, Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability [St. Martin's Press, 2000], pp. 266-67.)
The failure to turn up a sufficient quantity of young men for persecution and execution sometimes leads to the detention of female relatives. Though they are rarely killed, rape is common. "When mothers and sisters have been held in custody by the police, their ultimate fate unknown, not all fathers and brothers have been able to cope with the threat of what might happen to them and to remain underground to fight. As one old lady from Sabrawan village, Amritsar district, told me, referring to the many abductions of young girls by the police, 'In every village and each house there is sadness.' Hence, to protect their sisters or indeed some other family member, some young militants and their sympathizers have compromised and become informers." (Pettigrew, "Parents and Their Children," pp. 211, 219.)
Like their Kashmiri counterparts, Punjabi militants have also resorted to terrorism, committing a number of gendercidal massacres as well as indiscriminate attacks against women, men, and children. Buses travelling along rural roads have been a favourite target. One such massacre, "the worst carnage of all in the [then] five-year history of blood, gore and terror in Punjab," took place in August 1986, when 14 Hindu men were killed and seven injured by terrorists brandishing machine-guns and automatic pistols. "There was ... added cruelty this time in the manner the killings were executed, letting out women and children, making the clean-shaven men bury their heads between their knees and then shooting each one turn-by-turn while shouting, for the benefit of the survivors, that they wanted to teach a lesson to 'these fat Hindus.'" (Shekhar Gupta with Gobind Thukral, "Punjab: On a Short Fuse," India Today, August 15, 1986.) Two much larger massacres occurred aboard passenger trains in Punjab in June and December 1991. Some one hundred people, overwhelmingly men, died in the first attack on two trains, when Sikh "gunmen ran alongside the train, ordering women, children and Sikhs to descend" before opening fire on the remaining passengers. (Tony Allen-Mills, "Sikh Train Massacres Derail Poll in Punjab," Sunday Times, June 23, 1991.) In the December attack, "Hardeep Singh was playing cards in his railway compartment when the killers, all wearing distinctive khaki-coloured turbans, burst in. 'While all the Sikhs, women and children were ordered off the train, the others began pleading for mercy. The militants assured us that they would only be taking us somewhere and then letting us go. ... But then they bolted the doors and opened fire.'" Fifty-one people died in the attack. (Tim McGirk, "India Train Massacre Caps Year of Violence," The Independent (UK), December 29, 1991.)
Such tactics turned most of the Punjabi population against the militants, whose struggle has now subsided within the state itself. "The last few years of the Punjab conflict largely consisted of an inter-gang war of unprincipled thugs who had no legitimacy whatsoever in the community," notes Canadian scholar Hamish Telford. "In fact, most citizens in Punjab seem to accept the actions of the police and army because the insurgents became so unscrupulous in the end. The Khalistan option is now only advocated by fundamentalist Sikhs in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K."
The Delhi Massacre, 1984
On June 3-6 1984, in Operation Bluestar, Indian forces laid siege to the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, in the Punjabi city of Amritsar. The temple had been occupied by heavily-armed Sikh militants under the leadership of Sant Bhindranwale. In the massacre, and in dozens of other mass killings that took place simultaneously at religious sites throughout Punjab, thousands of Sikhs were murdered by Indian security personnel. At the Golden Temple, according to Human Rights Watch, "Indian government forces were guilty of outrageous violations of fundamental human rights -- deliberately attacking the temple at a time they knew thousands of religious pilgrims were inside, not offering an opportunity for surrender, and summarily executing those it captured." ("India: Arms and Abuses in Indian Punjab and Kashmir", September 1994.) Many children and women were killed in the assault, along with a preponderance of Sikh men. "Civil liberties organisations, such as the Movement Against State Repression, have claimed that the total number killed in Operation Bluestar exceeded ten thousand. Thousands of young men also went missing in the period after Bluestar." (Joyce Pettigrew, The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State and Guerrilla Violence, p. 24 [n. 10].)
Hindu men rampage through the
streets of Delhi, November 1984
On October 31, 1984, the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had ordered Operation Bluestar, was assassinated in a revenge attack by her two Sikh bodyguards. Over the following five days, one of the worst gendercidal massacres of modern times took place in the Indian capital, Delhi. The victims were Sikh males of all ages. At 10 p.m. on the evening following the Prime Minister's assassination, widespread killings broke out across Delhi, apparently organized by the Hindu extremist parties that have become prominent players in Indian politics. Hindu men roamed the streets, declaring an open season on Sikh males (those who were religiously observant were easily identified by their long hair and turbans). The gendercidal character of the killings was indeed almost total. According to the Indian feminist Madhu Kishwar,
The nature of the attacks confirm[s] that there was a deliberately plan to kill as many Sikh men as possible, hence nothing was left to chance. That also explains why in almost all cases, after hitting or stabbing, the victims were doused with kerosene or petrol and burnt, so as to leave no possibility of their surviving. Between October 31 and November 4, more than 2,500 men were murdered in different parts of Delhi, according to several careful unofficial estimates. There have been very few cases of women being killed except when they got trapped in houses which were set on fire. Almost all the women interviewed described how men and young boys were special targets. They were dragged out of the houses, attacked with stones and rods, and set on fire. ... When women tried to protect the men of their families, they were given a few blows and forcibly separated from the men. Even when they clung to the men, trying to save them, they were hardly ever attacked the way men were. I have not yet heard of a case of a woman being assaulted and then burnt to death by the mob. (Kishwar, "Delhi: Gangster Rule," in Patwant Singh and Harji Malik, eds., Punjab: The Fatal Miscalculation [New Delhi, 1985], pp. 171-78.)
A typical account of the atrocities was provided by a female witness whose "husband and three sons ... were all killed on 1 November." As investigators summarized her testimony:
When a mob first came the Sikhs came out and repulsed them. Three such waves were repulsed, but each time the police came and told them to go home and stay there. The fourth time the mob came in increased strength and started attacking individual homes, driving people out, beating and burning them and setting fire to their homes. The method of killing was invariably the same: a man was hit on the head, sometimes his skull broken, kerosene poured over him and set on fire. Before being burnt, some had their eyes gouged out. Sometimes, when a burning man asked for water, a man urinated on his mouth. Several individuals, including her sister's son, tried to escape by cutting their hair. Most of them were also killed. Some had their hair forcibly cut but were nevertheless killed thereafter. (Quoted in Khalsa Human Rights, "Cases of Victims".)
The estimate of 2,500 dead offered by Kishwar (above) is almost certainly too low. The New York Times in 1996 cited the research of Sikh activist Gurucharan Singh Babbar, who "has piles of affidavits from victims' families that prove, he says, that 5,015 Sikhs were killed, more than double the official figure ..." Whatever the exact death toll, it was "one of the darkest chapters in [India's] half-century of independence." (John F. Burns, "The Sikhs Get Justice Long After A Massacre," The New York Times, September 16, 1996). Throughout the massacre, Indian police and security forces stood by or assisted in disarming Sikhs, rendering them defenceless. An Indian Supreme Court Justice, V.M. Tarkunde, stated in the aftermath of the slaughter that "Two lessons can be drawn from the experience of the Delhi riots. One is about the extent of criminalisation of our politics and the other about the utter unreliability of our police force in a critical situation." (Quoted in Khalsa Human Rights, "The Delhi Massacre: An Example of Malicious Government".)
A Sikh woman weeps after her husband
was burned to death in the Delhi massacre.
It is important to note that while few if any Sikh women were intentionally killed, hundreds, if not thousands, were raped -- sometimes repeatedly -- by rampaging Hindu men. Many of the female survivors of the massacre today live in Tilak Vihar, a quarter of Delhi that has become known as the "Widows' Colony." Since 1984, they have pressed for justice in the killings, and finally achieved some success in 1996, when "a magistrate ... imposed a death sentence on a butcher found guilty of two Sikh murders in the riots. Evidence presented in court indicated he was also involved in at least 150 other killings." The justice in question, Shiv Narain Dinghra, has led a "personal crusade" of his own, sentencing dozens of rioters to five years' "harsh imprisonment." Nonetheless, official Indian attitudes toward the slaughter reflect a belief that "the massacre was necessary to teach a lesson" to the Sikhs, according to Dinghra. (Burns, "The Sikhs Get Justice.")
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