1984 remains one of the darkest years in modern Indian history. In June of that year, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military assault on the most significant religious center for the Sikhs, Darbar Sahib (i.e., the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab. The attack killed thousands of civilians. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
Her assassination triggered genocidal killings around the country, particularly in India’s capital city, New Delhi. TIME reported on the massacres just days after the violence subsided:
Frenzied mobs of young Hindu thugs, thirsting for revenge, burned Sikh-owned stores to the ground, dragged Sikhs out of their homes, cars and trains, then clubbed them to death or set them aflame before raging off in search of other victims.
Witnesses watched with horror as the mobs walked the streets of New Delhi, gang-raping Sikh women, murdering Sikh men and burning down Sikh homes, businesses and Gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship). Eyewitness accounts describe how law enforcement and government officials participated in the massacres by engaging in the violence, inciting civilians to seek vengeance and providing the mobs with weapons.
The pogroms continued unabated, and according to official reports, within three days nearly 3,000 Sikhs had been murdered, at a rate of one per minute at the peak of the violence. Unofficial death estimates are far higher, and human rights activists have identified specific individuals complicit in organizing and perpetrating the massacres.