1984 Delhi Massacre: Justice Denied
It is not easy to come to terms with images of a family member being burnt alive by a mob in front of you. If that happens, psychoanalysts say, you end up living with “death guilt.” Most survivors of 1984 carnage live with this death guilt. Silently they condemn themselves for not getting killed with their family member. Punishment to the guilty can assuage their feelings. This has not happened. Twenty years after the 1984 carnage the guilty politicians who led the riots are members of the parliament and cabinet ministers. The police officers who helped the killing mobs have retired or have been promoted.
Immediately after the carnage a number of human rights organizations documented the violence. People’s Union for Civil Liberties published a list of 200 guilty Congress (I) politicians and policemen who participated in the killings. Twenty years have passed and the Indian government has not punished the guilty. Why has justice been denied for so long to the victims? Where exactly is the criminal justice system failing in India?
To say that Indian government and Indians hate Sikhs and will never do anything for them would be too simplistic an explanation. The 1984 massacre did not occur because of a deep-seated antagonism between Hindus and Sikhs in India. On the contrary, in many parts of North India, during the five days of violence nightly vigils were held by Hindu and Sikh neighbors to protect their colony from mobs. In the days following carnage, 50,000 victims found relief in camps set-up by concerned Hindu citizens.
A Sikh woman whose husband was killed in the 1984 massacre of Sikhs protesting near the Indian Parliament.
Photo: AFP /RAVEENDRAN
In the last 20 years after riots the victims have had two options–commissions of inquiry and judicial courts—to get justice. They have tried both, without success. The commissions of inquiry have no prosecution powers. The best they can do is to come up with a set of recommendations against the guilty police officers and politicians. These recommendations are not binding on the government. Eight commissions have been set-up in the last twenty years to find the guilty. The plight of the commissions is as deplorable as that of survivors of the riots.
Where the Commissions have come up with recommendations, they have been ignored and not implemented. The Kapoor-Mittal committee presented a comprehensive 400-page document, which went into the conduct of the personnel of all the police stations in Delhi, the Delhi Railway Police and the Delhi Armed Police in a detailed manner. It found 72 police officers guilty. It recommended termination of these officers. No action has been taken on its recommendations.
Some policemen on the list of guilty have been promoted. The Jain-Aggrawal committee was formed to replace Potti-Rosha committee. It submitted its report in 1993, which named police officials who shielded the guilty politicians. The committee’s report was never made public. There is no question of implementing its recommendations.
At present, the GT Nanavati commission is probing the riots. It was set-up in May 2000. It was asked to fix the responsibility for any lapses or dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities in taking steps to prevent the incidents. An interim report was not made mandatory; the Commission was asked to make a decision as and when it deemed it fit. In four years the Commission completed its probe. In the first year of its running the Commission managed to examine only 15 witnesses.
One reason for this delay was that it asked the Home Ministry in Delhi for files and affidavits presented to one of the earlier commissions. The Home ministry had lost these important files containing sworn affidavits of the victims with horrific tales about the killings of their loved ones along with correspondence between the army, police and ministers at the time of riots. In the end, the home ministry did manage to salvage some documents from an unclaimed almirah in the home ministry basement from underneath some old files.
Most people, who have been deposing before the commission, admit they are doing so only out of a sense of duty to their family members who died in the riots. They know that the politicians who were behind it have long been acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence or because witnesses turned hostile. Going from one commission to another has become a part of their lives.
An activist lawyer, set about studying the 1984 riot cases in the trial court has come to some revealing conclusions. She has found that in the representative sample of 126 cases only eight cases resulted in conviction while the remaining 118 cases ended in acquittals. Of these 8 convictions, two were overturned by the High Court. On the question of sentencing, the Supreme Court reduced the death sentence awarded in three cases to life imprisonment. In sum, the Indian judiciary has found three people guilty of killing 3000 innocent Sikhs.
The acquittals have been made possible by the police, which carried cursory investigations or deliberately omitted names of guilty from reports. Judges who sat down for judgments have found omnibus First Information Report (F.I.R) being submitted to them by the police. Instead of recording the statement of each victim separately the policemen have recorded murders of 200 people in one information report.
Such reports contain no specific details regarding the names of persons killed or the names of rioters. Where the police have conducted perfunctory investigation they have made no effort to join any other witness apart from the complainant in the case. It is because of this reason that politicians like Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler have been acquitted by the courts. The police, working on the dictates of the ruling political party, has made acquittal of guilty possible.
Riots like 1984 or Gujarat do not take place because Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs cannot live together. The arithmetic of polarized votes at the time of elections leads the politicians to create communal hatred among communities. The 1984 riots made it possible for Congress party to reap the benefits when they overwhelmingly won from almost every seat they contested in the national elections. It is the very democratic politics which makes India the world’s largest democracy that orchestrates domestic violence.