An intense and wide-ranging panel discussion on the “Legal aftermath of 1984 and the way forward” was organised in Delhi by the Sikh Forum on November 1, 2016 – the 32nd anniversary of one of the most dreadful genocides in recent times – the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984. It was part of a series of events being organised by the Lok Raj Sangathan, the Sikh Forum and other organisations to keep up the demand for punishing those guilty of organising the carnage in 1984.
Speakers included prominent lawyers involved in the legal battle to bring the guilt to book, journalists, political activists, human right activists and others. The audience which packed the hall listened attentively to the presentations.
In his opening remarks, the President of the Sikh Forum (Dr Narang) mentioned that the organisation was formed in the aftermath of the heinous attack on the most sacred shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple in June 1984 and the genocide let loose in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31st October 1984. He pointed out that his organisation considered punishing those guilty of the 1984 genocide to be important not only for the victims to get justice and closure, but so that recurrences of targeted attacks like those on the Muslims in Mumbai in 1993 and in Gujarat in 2002 and in UP in 2014 do not recur. He said that several thousands of justice-loving people from all communities have been supporting them – in 2016 as in 1984.
The convenor of the program (Mrs Harminder Kaur) said that 1984 was perhaps the first time in recent decades that a ruling government let loose targeted violence, giving all support to the marauders who killed Sikhs in their thousands and instructing the police and officials to turn a blind eye to complaints from the victims. In a most blatant fashion, national elections were conducted in the wake of the genocide and the Congress Party led by Rajiv Gandhi was declared elected with a thumping majority. She listed the unconcealed attempts to cover-up the genocide so that the guilty would not be punished, ranging from deliberately filing faulty FIRs (first information reports) to setting up “Commissions of Enquiry” which went on record to state that their task was not to establish who was guilty of this most monstrous crime! With a few exceptions, courts of law were compromised save a few judges who dared to stand up for justice.
The Senior Advocate (Mr H S Phoolka) who has been involved in fighting many a case related to the 1984 genocide spoke on the relevance of 1984. He too pointed out that targeted violence as unleashed in 1984 has been unleased many times thereafter – only the targets were different communities such as Muslims, Dalits etc. Thus, punishing the guilty of 1984 is very important even today. Of the 2,733 cases of murder acknowledged by the authorities in Delhi alone for the three-day period 31st October 1984 to 3rd November 1984, even the lower trial courts have handed out convictions in just 3 cases! On the other hand, those politicians responsible for organising the pogroms and those officials who helped them were rewarded with promotions, seats in parliament and ministerial positions, adding salt to the wounds of the victims of 1984. He described how the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) bent over backwards to issue a “clean chit” to one of the prominent organisers of the pogrom, Jagdish Tytler, several times even under the rule of the BJP.
Speaking on the inadequacies of the law in dealing with genocide in India, another senior advocate (Mrs Vrinda Grover) described how the governments of the day tried their best to scuttle the special law against communal violence which was to be enacted following the demand from victims and activists. She also spoke on the need for a law on reparations to victims based on rational principles – since the state has failed in its duty to protect the victims. Another legal professional (Justice Anil Dev Singh) who was one of the few judicial officers who had passed strictures on the government for its failure to protect the lives, liberty and property of the victims of 1984, described the massive level of manipulation that occurred, and demanded that witnesses in cases of genocide should be given full protection and that property of officials who failed to protect the victims in such cases should be confiscated.
(Mr S Raghavan,) President of the Lok Raj Sangathan spoke on the need for an effective law against genocide. He pointed out that there should be no immunity for crimes of genocide, that statutes of limitation or time-barring should not apply to such crimes, that prosecution of officials involved in such crimes should not need prior sanction and that complaints of victims should not be needed to investigate and punish such crimes. Now that the BJP party has publicly admitted that 1984 was genocide, it is necessary to go beyond conviction of individuals in such crimes and focus on the states’ responsibilities. While some countries have passed legislation on the lines indicated by the principles of the Genocide Convention, it hasn’t been initiated in India. It is quite clear that in the present situation, where each parliamentary political party wants to come to power by means fair and foul, the people cannot expect such a law to be passed in parliament. Thus, he underlined the need for sovereignty to be vested in the people. People should be able to initiate legislation and hold elected representatives accountable.
A journalist who has written on the 1984 carnage (Mr Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay) pointed out that the genocide of 1984 was publicly justified by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi. In the wake of persistent demands from justice-loving people, over two decades later, another Prime Minister merely apologised for the carnage! He said it was the duty of Parliament, at the minimum, to thoroughly debate the carnage and adopt steps to prevent recurrences. A prominent civil rights activist (Dr Uma Chakraborty) pointed out that the response of other communities at the time of the carnage was heartening, with many risking their lives to shelter their Sikh neighbours. This gives the lie to the statement that people are communal – when in fact it is the Indian state which is communal. She denounced the political parties for “playing football” with 1984. When a demand for punishing the guilty of 1984 is raised, the stalwarts of the Congress Party conveniently retorted that the BJP had organised similar carnages in 2002, and vice-versa. She too underlined the need to adopt a stringent law on genocide, especially incorporating the principle of “command responsibility” so that the chieftains who actually organise the carnages are punished, not merely their ruffian foot-soldiers.
At the end, the meeting adopted resolutions demanding that the government and authorities be compelled to punish the guilty of the 1984 genocide, to scale up reparations to the victims of 1984 and to enact laws to provide exemplary punishment to those organising such heinous crimes.
This discussion shows how the resolve of the people to fight relentlessly and uncompromisingly for justice and to punish those guilty of organising the genocide in 1984 continues to be as strong as ever. The steel-like unity of the people is necessary to ensure not only that the perpetrators of such crimes fail in their aim to strike terror and rule over a divided polity, but also to bring the guilty to book and to punish them severely for these crimes.