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.
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.

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.
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.
a statement after Monday’s slaughter, Gandhi said, “This atrocity
should redouble our resolve to fight against the extremists.”
took direct control of Punjab on May 11 when he fired the state’s
moderate Sikh government for failing to stem terrorist violence.
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.
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.
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
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.

Source: http://articles.philly.com/1987-07-08/news/26201308_1_sikh-militants-punjabi-hindus-independent-sikh-nation

Posted: July 09, 1987

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.
wiry corpses were the latest victims of the war raging between militant
Sikhs and India’s Hindu-dominated central government.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”

Source: http://articles.philly.com/1987-07-09/news/26198088_1_independent-sikh-nation-fatehabad-haryana

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.

Brown Pundits