Thirty three years after the Sikh riots, there is still no closure for the victims
We both joined the Indian Foreign Service on the same day, July 11, 1974. We were both serving in different European cities when the horrific events of 1984 took place. We shared the disgust at the developments that unfolded. Both our careers took different turns. One of us resigned after Operation Blue Star. Our thinking, however, converges with even greater clarity today.
Around 4,000 innocent Sikhs were massacred in early November 1984. The assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was tragic. The reprisal killings were no less condemnable.
Since the partition riots of 1947, there has not been carnage anywhere in India on the scale seen in 1984. This was a mass atrocity and could attract any of the four labels normally associated with such heinous crimes: genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little”- Rajiv Gandhi.
The insensitivity in the above statement soon turned into contempt in respect of those killed and their survivors.
Thirty three years and innumerable commissions later, not a single political leader has been brought to justice. To suggest that the killings were a spontaneous expression of anger against members of Sikh community defies comprehension.
By no means can the carnage of 1984 be described as a ‘riot’. A ‘riot’ presupposes countervailing action by the other side. In this case, Sikhs were disarmed. Marauding gangs, led by local leaders identified Sikh households, and their occupants were then subjected to looting, plundering, arson and killing.
Years after the SITs have closed a large number of cases, two political leaders are on the scanner. In one case, a former business partner of one of the accused stands ready to give evidence about the role of the erstwhile leader.
1984 represents both the failure of governance and a diabolical cover up by the government of the day and, in particular, its agencies. The system of justice was subverted. The culture of impunity was given a free run.
A mass atrocity cannot, by definition, occur unless agencies of the State actively collaborate. This is what happened in 1984.
Is it not strange to conclude that Congress workers acted on their own without any leaders? Justice Mishra did not call any of its leaders for questioning. This was in sharp contrast with the conduct of other such enquiries held into similar events . The Srikrishna Commission that enquired into the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 i s one example.
A committee was established to look into allegation that many cases were either not registered or properly investigated. It recommended registration of a murder case against Sajjan Kumar. The police did not act on the instructions. An associate of Sajjan Kumar obtained a stay on the very functioning of the Committee. The High Court later quashed the appointment of the committee in October 1989. Subsequently, a new Committee was constituted by the VP Singh government. Of the many cases that came up before the Committee, less than 5% resulted in convictions and even these did not include a single political leader.
Another committee, again recommended by the Mishra Commission, recommended various degrees of punishment to 72 police officials including 6 IPS officers. Again, no action has been taken so far.
The Justice Nanavati commission constituted in May 2000 provided a ray of hope for the victims. Hundreds responded by filing affidavits and producing evidence. The two cases registered in pursuance of its recommendations are still pending.
While there has been a total failure to secure justice for the victims, there has been some progress on the issue of compensation to them. It will not be possible to get closure on 1984 unless those against whom there is clear evidence for the heinous crimes committed, are brought to justice.
HS Khalsa is a member of the Lok Sabha and HS Puri is minister for housing and urban affairs.
The views expressed are personal