What A Young Army Officer Saw In 1984
(Colonel (retd) Bhupinder Malhi joined the army in 1983. He retired in 2009. He now runs a security agency in Delhi)
We, a group of young Army Officers of Armoured Corps, were on board the Jhelum Express to attend the Young Officers Course at Armoured Corps Centre and School (ACCS) at Ahmednagar and happened to witness the Sikh Genocide at very close quarters.
I boarded the Jhelum Express at Ambala Cantt early morning on 01 Nov 1984 along with few other course-mates. By the time our train reached outer Delhi near the Sabji Mandi area, we could see that Delhi was burning. Lots of trucks were on fire and smoke could be seen rising from buildings.
When the train reached the New Delhi Railway Station, we got down to enquire about the situation. We spotted many Sikhs lying injured on the platform and no one was willing to provide any first aid or help. We tried to help a few of the injured but our train was immediately moved out of the station.
The train was forcibly stopped near the Nizammudin Railway Station by an unruly mob. They started pulling out Sikhs from the train and there was chaos all around. We all quickly put on our uniforms and got down to help the Sikhs. We could not help most, though we managed to save a few. Some Sikhs had been set on fire; cycle rubber tyres were placed around them.
Some of us tried calling the police using the railways phone but there was no response. We also tried calling the Army headquarters' Duty Officer but could not reach them. We spotted an injured Sikh who was thrown on the railway track; two of us rushed to help him, but by the time we reached him, an approaching train over-ran him and we saw his body cut into pieces. We collected his body parts in a bed sheet and brought it to the railway platform to be handed over to police.
The train moved a bit and was again stopped near the Okhla slums. Another group of mob entered our AC 2 tier compartment by breaking the window glass as there are no iron grills in AC compartment. The mob systematically started searching the compartment and pulling Sikhs out of the train. We tried to reason with rioters and managed to save few fellow Sikhs. Unfortunately we could not save all. Capt Gill of 89 Armoured Regiment was stabbed at a distance of 1 ft from me. We requested rioters to spare his life as he was a soldier but the rioters argued that the person who killed Mrs Indira Gandhi was also a soldier.
We handed over Captain Gill's body to Army authorities at the Mathura railway station at night. Another Sikh officer named Sahota from GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) was made to hide under the berth in our compartment. He was spotted by the mob and was killed there itself after he was hit by iron rods.
We were lucky to save my course mate Harinder (86 Armoured Regiment) who was being pulled out of the train but some of us held on to him and managed to free him from the clutches of death.
Another newly-wedded young officer from Artillery who was travelling with his wife was saved by shaving his beard and cutting his hair.
We repeatedly requested railways authorities for help but no one was willing to oblige. On the contrary, one TTE was seen indicating to the mob about the location of Sikhs hiding in the compartments.
Two officers Yadav (75 Armoured Regiment) and AP Singh (9 Horse) managed to get hold of a 12 bore rifle which was being carried by a soldier proceeding on leave. They fired a few rounds at the mob and the mob retreated. They were awarded subsequently for this bravery.