Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Justice denied

by Joginder Singh,

The assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, was both condemnable and regrettable, but the then Government winked at, if not exactly encouraged, the anti-Sikh riots, which led to the massacre of 2,733 Sikhs in Delhi alone and more than 3,000 all over the country.

It is both shocking and deplorable that the riots should have happened under the nose of the Central Government. Comparisons are odious, but the fact remains that the Central Government, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, did take steps to ensure that no harm was done to Tamilians in Delhi and North India.

A top official told me that in order to prevent any backlash, the then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar held a midnight meeting at his residence. He ensured that the Army and the police were out on the streets of Delhi by 5 am. Incidentally, the Gujarat riots stopped after the Government decided to give a free hand to a former Punjab Police chief to deal with the situation as he deemed fit. It was the same Gujarat Police which brought the situation under control in less than a fortnight in 2002.

If there is political will, there is neither any trouble nor riots. During the anti-Sikh riots the image of police was tarnished. It is easy to condemn the police. But having said so, it must be mentioned that it is an uphill task for the police to deal with Government-approved or sponsored agitations, riots, mass killing or even crimes. It is not as if the problem is insurmountable but the fact remains that in our country it is action and not inaction that is penalised.

In 1984 riots were so pervasive, that no Sikh, regardless of his position, felt safe. In fact, a top Sikh Communist leader whose credentials cannot be doubted had to face the wrath of a mob when he went to condole the death of Mrs Gandhi. It will not be fair to name him except to say that he was a deputy to the chief of the Communist party for a number of years.

Commissions after Commissions have been set, but the victims have remained unredressed. The Nanavati Commission Report and the Action Taken Report had to be revised under pressure from the Left. The Prime Minister has assured that action would be taken against all those mentioned in the report.

One junior Central minister who was mentioned in the report had to go unsung and unremembered. In an infantile attempt at defence, the Congress spokesman of whom no notice was taken by the media reportedly said that it was the Congress which gave the country its first Sikh Prime Minister and first Sikh Chief of the Army Staff. I cannot fathom whether he implied that it was the Congress's way of expiating for its sins in the 1984 riots.

The best way to wash one's hand of any problem is to set up a Committee or a Commission. The members sit on the reports for years on the pretext of examining them. This is all that has been happening for the last 21 years. It is not the victims but members of Commission who have derived the maximum benefit and mileage from the appointment of these commissions. Most such bodies are headed by retired officials. None of them has the authority of a court of law or power the power to punish anybody. Their recommendations and observations are not binding either in a law court or on the Government.

A newspaper had reported in 1984 that SHO, Karol Bagh, was roughed up in his office by a Congress leader. The ugly incident followed a heated argument between the leader and the police over the arrest of a large number of suspects, who had allegedly looted property. In a drive, the police raided several areas around Karol Bagh and seized looted articles worth several lakhs of rupees. The then MP had said, "Let them take away the recovered property but there is no need to arrest. These people are not criminals."

The Nanavati Commission has noted that there is "credible material" against some people in Government, Parliament as well as a former Minister and his supporters. This report is almost on the same lines as the reports of the previous commissions. None of them fixed responsibility for the massacre, treating the riots as the handiwork of a few stray individuals.

The fundamental questions, what should be done and who should be held ultimately responsible for these riots, have been carefully avoided in the present report. Thus, justice still remains a chimera for the victims of the holocaust of 1984. However, tribute must be paid to the media for not allowing the issue of anti-Sikh riots to be put swept under the carpet. It is the media which has kept the hope for justice still flickering among the riot victims.

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