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The 1984 Sikh riots cases – will they ever be resolved ?




India has a history of riots; small level riots happen all the time and are usually limited in scope to small events that happen in towns all over India, and normally lead to a small number of casualties (dead and injured) before the police and administration intervene – sometimes this needs some people being killed in police firing before the situation comes into control. However, from time to time, there have been riots that have taken on the scale of mass killings and lead to hundreds or more of people dying in such incidents. These have happened in states all over India, the public perception being that of these happening in the Hindi heartland, but that is not totally true, they have happened even in a state such as Assam (the Nellie massacre of 1983). Now, whatever be the reason for these massacres, the fundamental common point common to all of them is the total lack of accountability post the violence. One would expect that with a massacre in which hundreds or even thousands of people dead, there would be a comprehensive investigation, the state government would be shamed to taking quick action including trials and punishment. But the sad truth is that for most of the large riots that have happened, the people in the forefront have not been punished, and it goes without saying that those who were inciting the incident would never have been even investigated, forget charged.
Of the communities in India, in 1984, the Sikh community was in turmoil. Ethnically, they are close to the Hindu community although the ongoing Khalistan movement had increased the tension between the communities, especially in the state of Punjab which has almost an even population mix between these two communities. However, Delhi also has a large population of Punjabi / Sikh communities. During and after partition, the violence that killed large numbers on both sides of the border also impacted the Sikh community massively and as a result, there are sections of the city that have large resettlement colonies populated by refugees from Pakistan. There are parts of Delhi which have concentrations of the sikh community, across income and wealth levels.

By 1984, the agitation for Khalistan was at its peak, the attack on the Golden Temple had taken place just a few months previously that had led to the death of Bhindrawale and the presence of tanks inside the Golden Temple. There were desertions from the army as well. In that timeframe, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards was like a thunderbolt. However, soon after the assassination, there were widespread rumors that were spreading through the city of mobs that were going through Sikh areas and massacring people (men, women, children). At that time, instead of using an iron fist to control the situation, the police seemed to be standing aside, and it was accused, even being involved in the killings and guiding mobs. Further, witnesses who reported the crimes pointed to the involvement of senior Congress leaders, who were leading the mobs and even being involved in killing people.
The incidents in Delhi were incredibly shameful for India as a whole. This was the capital city of the country, the attacks continued not for a few hours but for 2-3 days, the authorities including the police and others were complicit and totally useless, and to increase the shame, there has been no proper investigation that could unravel the various attacks and catch the people who were behind the attacks and those leading the attacks. During the Congress regime of Rajiv Gandhi which came immediately after, it was clear that there would be no investigation (after all, he had made a hugely horrible remark about a big tree falling and some impact and there was the involvement of Congressmen). What puzzles is that even when there were non-Congress regimes at the center or in the state, there was no serious attempt to find the people responsible.
For those who were impacted by the riots, it was an emotional horror to see their kin killed brutally (many of the victims were burnt alive or killed with swords), and it was equally tragic that there has been no closure with the attackers still moving around, no charges and no trials. There have been just a few prosecutions, none of the big fish were caught, and it is impossible to imagine the impact on children who saw their parents killed before them or mothers who saw their children killed. They must also be wondering about what needs to be done to actually get these killings investigated, since it is now 32 years since the incident. The people killed during the Gujarat riots of 2002 are slowly getting closure, with the cases being prosecuted and the guilty being convicted (not all the killings have been prosecuted, but some of the major ones have been).
It is not that there have been no investigation whatsoever, there have been some commissions and investigations, but there has been nothing that has been actionable or on which some action has taken place.
Even though there has been no major action, the Congress leaders who are supposedly involved have seen an impact on their career; the latest manifestation was when Kamal Nath was made the election incharge for Punjab, and the Congress soon realized that this would have a negative impact on the party’s prospects. Even though the Congress has formed Governments in both Delhi and Punjab after the 1984 riots, it is a close call this time and the impact of opposition attacks would unsettle the Congress. Further, the slugfest between the AAP and BJP over doing a proper investigation or the forming of a SIT to investigate the massacre just is a pointer to how there has been no justice served in this particular case.




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