When A Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and Its Aftermath

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Item Code: IDK980
Author: Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka
Publisher: Roli Books
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788174366191
Pages: 231 (13 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description


Although the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi dates back to 1984, most of the material on it – spread over 1, 000 official files – came to light incrementally from 2001 to 2004, that is, in the course of a second judicial inquiry into the carnage.

When the inquiry report of the Justice GT Nanavati Commission was made public in 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in the Lok Sabha: ‘Twenty-one year have passed… and yet the feeling persists that somehow the truth has not come out.’

An extraordinary admission, considering that the tacit purpose of appointing the second judicial inquiry in 2000, in an unprecedented development, and with a consensus among the political parties, was to undo the whitewash by the first, the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, which had conducted all its proceedings under a veil of secrecy in 1985-86.

Furthermore, since the Nanavati Commission reiterated the Misra Commission’s clean chit to his political party’s government in 1984, Manmohan Singh could not have possibly had any vested interest in voicing the widespread felling in 2005 that the truth had still not been revealed.

This book seeks to bring out the truth, redressing the failure of the two judicial inquiries conducted by Supreme Court judges. The material available for setting the record straight is abundant. Though its report turned out to be deficient, the proceedings of the Nanavati Commission were themselves a model of transparency, as the body representing the victims, the Carnage Justice Committee, was allowed to photocopy almost all the documents submitted by the government.

Thus, besides the reports of the two judicial inquiries published by the government, this book is based on the plethora of records disclosed during the Nanavati probe. Those include the reports of three administrative probes conducted on the recommendation of the Misra Commission:

The Kusum Lata Mittal Committee report on the delinquencies of police personnel during the carnage.

The Jain-Aggarwal Committee report on the deficiencies in the registration, investigation, and prosecution of cases related to the carnage.

The RK Ahooja Committee report on the death toll of the carnage.

Evidence collected by the abortive Ved Marwah Committee appointed by Delhi Police.

Reports by police officers, from station house officers to the commissioner, on what each of them did during the fateful period.

Log books of police stations and officers.

Log books of fire stations.
Affidavits filed before the Misra Commission, and statements recorded by it, except those of the persons who had dealt with the carnage in various official capacities.

Affidavits and statements from the records of the Nanavati Commission, including the replies filed by political leaders and public servants to specific notices about allegations of their complicity.

The challenge of making sense of such elaborate and complex evidence, and locating places where the reports by Justices Misra and Nanavati had suppressed the truth demanded, sure enough, not only legal acumen but also intimate knowledge of the carnage and its aftermath.

The authors of this book meet both criteria. While senior advocate, HS Phoolka, spearheaded the struggle for justice for carnage victims right from the beginning, legal journalist Manoj Mitta served as a catalyst to the cause by exposing cover-ups at critical stages. Their coming together for this book is, in fact, an extension of their collaboration stretching over two decades.

Phoolka was the convenor of the Citizens Justice Committee, which was the main representative of the victims before the Misra Commission. He also led the legal team of the successor body, the Carnage Justice Committee, in all the proceedings before the Nanavati Commission. Much as he is an interested party and, indeed, the face of the whole fight for justice, this book is by no means a summary of Phoolka’s arguments before the Nanavati Commission. Mitta’s involvement in the book has imparted a necessary detachment to it. While following up the carnage issue in a succession of national publications (The Times of India, India Today, and The Indian Express), Mitta has interacted closely with an array of persons engaged in cover-ups: political leaders, police and military officers, bureaucrats, judges, government lawyers, and defence counsel. Having conceived its structure, Mitta has taken pains to ensure that the book is based mainly on the wealth of evidence that emerged in the course of the Nanavati probe.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is a journalistic reconstruction of the carnage by Mitta, with inputs from Phoolka. The second is a first-person account of Phoolka’s struggle for justice, as told to Mitta. There is also an annexure providing excerpts from testimonies before the judicial inquiries by prominent citizens and a victim. Enhancing the value of the book is a selection of contemporaneous photographs from different sources. The authors assume collective responsibility for the veracity of the entire book.

Given the passion they share for human rights and the rule of law, the authors hope that this book will serve as a reality check on some of the most touted institutions of the Indian democracy.

Back of the Book

“Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.”

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 19 November 1984

“I have no hesitation in apologizing not only to the Sikh community but the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood, as enshrines in our Constitution. On behalf of our government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 11 August 2005

It stands out even in a country inured to mass violence – 3,000 members of a minority community slaughtered over three days in 1984, right in India’s capital. Twenty-three years on, neither the organizers of the massacre nor the state players who facilitated it have been punished, despite prolonged inquiries and trials. This massacre of Sikhs in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination has turned out to be a reality check on India’s much touted institutions of the rule of law.

The book seeks to uncover the truth on the basis of the evidence that came to light during the proceedings of the latest judicial inquiry conducted by the Nanavati Commission. Authors Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka, perhaps the most knowledgeable voices on the subject, present an unsparing account, abounding with insights and revelations, on the 1984 carnage and its aftermath.


Dateline New Delhi 3
Forebodings 8
Disarming Tactics 25
Block 3231
Plight of a War Hero 40
A Tale of Two Gurdwaras 47
Masterly Inaction 58
Rape in the Time of Mourning 67
Under the Army’s Nose 74
False Hero 83
Personal Fallout 91
The Beginning of the Struggle 104
Clubbing the Good with the Bad 114
A Farce of an Inquiry 122
Withdrawal 135
Further Cover-up 147
Turning Point 156
Pitched Battles 166
Travails of Leaders 177
A Fresh Inquiry 189
Late Impact 199
Small Mercy 206
Epilogue 211
Annexure 215
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