The Centre’s special investigation team (SIT) is set to reopen and reinvestigate around 75 closed cases related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the national capital, a move that could ring political resonance in poll-bound Punjab.
The riots that killed more than 3,000 people were in retaliation against the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
Delhi alone accounted for 2,733 deaths and most of those killed were Sikhs, the leading community in Punjab where assembly polls are due in 2017.
“Delhi had 237 anti-Sikh riot cases that were closed because of non-availability of victims or lack of evidence. After reviewing their documents, the SIT has decided to reopen about 75 cases so far,” a government official involved in the review process said.
The SIT will issue advertisements regarding these cases and ask victims and witnesses to join the probe.
“The SIT plans to hold public hearings as well in the next couple months in order to enable people, connected to these cases, to provide information,” the official said.
Delhi Police registered 587 cases in connection with the riots. Later, it closed 241 cases but four were reopened in 2006 and one in 2013, which led to the conviction of 35 people. The rest of the 237 cases remained closed.
The SIT’s decision comes a week after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a status report of the probe. His Aam Aadmi Party is locked in a triangular electoral battle with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress in Punjab, where the 1984 riots are a sensitive issue.
“We will have to wait and see the details of the cases being reopened by the SIT. The point is whether they are against the organisers of the riots or just eyewash like previous probes,” said AAP leader HS Phoolka, who works for the riot victims and survivors.
“Another point is why they waited so long to decide on reopening the cases. They should have opened the cases one by one rather than wait till now.”
Leaders of the Congress, which has been accused of having turned a blind eye to the riots and instigating mobs to kill in some instances, reacted positively to the move.
“I welcome the move because I have always stood for justice to the riot victims. The SIT must look into all aspects, including the involvement of several RSS workers in the riots against whom cases are registered in police stations,” said Captain Amarinder Singh, the party’s state unit president and former chief minister.
Former Union minister and chief of the Congress in Delhi, Ajay Maken, said the party wouldn’t mind another probe into the riots as long as it’s fair and based on fact. “Probes have been conducted in the past and we are not against any probe ... But should not be backed by political motives and vendetta.”
SIT chief and senior IPS officer Pramod Asthana refused comments when contacted by Hindustan Times.
The SIT was set up in February 12, 2015, for six months following a recommendation by a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice (retd) GP Mathur. After its term ended, the Union home ministry extended it for a year.
“In many cases, the SIT had to get the documents laminated as they were in a fragile state as they are more than 30 years old. Many documents were scanned to preserve them digitally,” an official said.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination was carried out in revenge for her decision to send the army to flush Sikh militants out of the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, in Amritsar in June 1984. The operation damaged the shrine, enraging Sikhs who make up around 2% of India’s population.