It is close to 30 years since the fateful anti-Sikh riots took place in Delhi, but like the ghost of Banquo in Macbeth, they continue to haunt both victim and accused. A Delhi sessions court has set aside a CBI closure report clearing Congress leader Jagdish Tytler of involvement in the riots,
reopening wounds on all sides. This turn of events once again suggests that the scars of riots rarely if ever heal and perhaps the only thing the victims can hope for is some sort of legal closure. Riots over the decades still cast a shadow on us — the 1984 Bhiwandi riots, the 1980 Moradabad riots, the Mumbai riots, the 2002 Gujarat violence, to name but a few.
Given the mobs involved, political complicity and complex socio-economic, class, caste and community factors in riots, it is very difficult to collect evidence both forensic and from witnesses. The people present often come up with conflicting versions of the event and forensic evidence is often lost due to the delay in investigations.
People could be coerced into changing their views or recollections can change over time. All these make securing justice for the riot-hit a very difficult task. Then there is the issue of political interference or complicity. We have had cases in which reports have been mothballed because they have not suited one or other political formation.
The Justice BN Srikrishna Committee report on the Bombay riots in 1992 and the blasts in 1993 were put on the back burner by the Shiv Sena government and till date has not been acted upon by successive governments in Maharashtra.
Ignoring such painstakingly compiled reports only adds to the sense of hurt of the victims. While the legal procedures may be lengthy, the state can do much more in ensuring speedy recompense and rehabilitation for riot victims. Many who lost their livelihoods and loved ones in the 1984 riots have been left to fend for themselves as have those affected in other riots. In the case of the Gujarat victims, many have not even been able to return to the localities where they once lived. The state cannot escape its duty to see that the victims are able to get back on their feet as soon as possible.
Whether the reopening of the 1984 case exonerates the accused or not, if it brings the issue of rehabilitation and compensation to the fore, then at least some good will have come of it.