The decision to re-investigate the 1984 anti Sikh riots gives so many victims hope
The anti-Sikh riots shattered thousands of families. Scores of orphans, too young to remember how their fathers were killed know each gruesome detail of how burning tyres were thrown around the necks of thousands. Many of them have turned into drug addicts even as their mothers try to eke out a living between numerous trips to different courts where cases continue to languish.opinion Updated: Jan 11, 2018 19:24 IST
Let’s start with a disclosure. I’m not religious, much to my family’s dislike. The savage, large-scale burning of Sikhs in 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi disturbed me deeply and invoked feelings of humanity not religion. I had just begun my journalistic career and was out on the streets of Delhi, reporting on the violence. The methodical planning and the cold-blooded killings left me appalled.
Before I left home on the three mornings that Delhi burnt, I would put a large lock on the door to secure members of MY family. My father, a practising Sikh and proud Indian Air Force officer, had to discard his turban and wear a helmet. That was the only way to escape the murderous mob. My brother, chased by one such mob, ran with all his might and hid in a water tank before returning home, shivering with cold and fright.
This piece is not about them. They are both dead — one of a cancerous brain tumour and the other of a cardiac arrest.
The memories have a habit of surfacing each time I read about 1984. Now, 33 years after nearly 3000 Sikhs were killed – only because of their religion – the Supreme Court has ordered the re-investigation by a special investigation team of 186 cases that were closed.
What is this special investigation team going to find, three decades later? The question is not a cynical one; many witnesses have died and more importantly, police records, meant to detail the violence are just blank.
Ask Ved Marwah, a former Delhi Police commissioner who was appointed by the then Rajiv Gandhi government to probe the role of the police and he will tell you he had seized all records of the police stations in whose jurisdiction the killings had taken place and it as clear as daylight that the men in uniform had vanished from their police stations for the period that the massacres were on. “According to police rules, all movements of police officers are recorded minute by minute in the thana daily diary, but the diaries were totally blank,’’ he had said in a previous interview.
He also found that the mob usually comprised groups of 20 to 30 and as he said, “the police could have intervened and stopped the groups from setting Sikhs ablaze.” But alarmed that Marwah had asked for police records, Delhi Police officers filed a writ against his inquiry in the High Court. The court didn’t stay the inquiry but the government did. Marwah received a written order asking him to stop the inquiry.
Apart from the Marwah inquiry, several other commissions probed the role of prominent Congress leaders named by eye-witnesses. After over three-decades, only junior accomplices have been sentenced, despite the brave testimony of several women who saw their husbands and sons being pulled out of their homes after being exhorted by the senior leaders to avenge the killing Indira Gandhi, their ‘mother’, who was shot by her Sikh bodyguards.
Investigations into the role of leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler were re-opened after commissions of inquiry found what they termed ‘credible evidence’.
Kumar was tried in one case but was acquitted by a lower court in 2013, 29 years after the violence. The acquittal has now been challenged by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
It is hard to argue against the pursuit of justice, though, despite the fact that 33 years have failed to deliver much (unlike in Gujarat where a minister was convicted for her role in the 2002 riots)
The anti-Sikh riots shattered thousands of families. Scores of orphans, too young to remember how their fathers were killed know each gruesome detail of how burning tyres were thrown around the necks of thousands. Many of them have turned into drug addicts even as their mothers try to eke out a living between numerous trips to different courts where cases continue to languish.
Justice is the only balm for the widows who have stood steadfast against money and muscle-power. The fight to punish the guilty can’t be theirs alone.
They have been let down by the police and by successive governments in the past but the silver lining – even 33 years later – is that the Supreme Court has stepped into the picture.
That alone is giving many victims hope.