It was today, 23 years ago, that the vengeful, violent horror unleashed against Sikhs in New Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi slowly began abating. It was not that reason prevailed over the bloodthirsty mobs prowling the alleys and gallis of Delhi but the fact that the armed forces were out in full force as slain Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began her final journey to Rajghat. It was her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi who may have inadvertently triggered off the cataclysmic events following Indira Gandhi’s death at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. "When a great tree falls, the earth will shake," said Rajiv, then a political greenhorn. The lumpen mobs and their political masters needed no further encouragement.
Over 3,000 Sikhs perished over those three fateful days. As we look back today, we find that it is a tragedy that has had no closure. Right in the heart of the capital, those displaced that day, those who lost their loved ones, those who were injured still remain in a state of suspended animation. The State has not fulfilled its promises of compensation and rehabilitation. All the victims can take comfort in is the fact that in 2006, India’s first Sikh Prime Minister and head of a Congress-led government, Manmohan Singh, publicly atoned for the violence visited on the Sikhs. The stories of what happened to those hapless people that day are well-documented in the Nanavati Commission’s report. But so far, we have seen little political will to ensure that justice, howsoever delayed, is done to these people. Only 13 people have been punished so far, with the powerful having largely got off scot-free.
The violence was organised, as the Nanavati Commission records. Yet today, it has become nothing more than a political football among political parties. Political and police complicity has been proved. Those who lived through the horror are still to come to terms with the fact that it was not some remote killing machine that they had to confront but friends and neighbours whom they had lived with and who had been incited by vested interests with the blood-chilling slogan, "Khoon ka badla khoon". It is something that the enhanced compensation of Rs 7 lakh per family of the dead cannot erase.
It is now clear from several independent inquiries that the riots could have been prevented had the government acted swiftly. It did not. Subsequent governments, Congress and non-Congress, had the chance to ensure justice for the victims. They did nothing. Even now, the disbursal of compensation has been patchy. A generation of Sikhs has grown up on the margins refusing to give up hope. The story of the riots was not one of Hindus vs Sikhs. It was one of the consequences when the State abdicates its responsibility. It is a story that, all too sadly, is still repeated across India.