Killers At Large
Patwant Singh, Sikh Review, May 1995
Amongst the many sad reminders of our drift from the rule of law and the decencies that distinguish civilised states from barbaric societies, none is more illustrative of India’s moral decline than the government’s cover-up of the massacre which claimed over 3,000 Sikh lives in just four days from 1 to 4 November, 1984. Since Sikh lives were considered worthless in the days following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, most killings took place in New Delhi- not faraway Mizoram, Bihar or Bhiwandi, but in our secular Republic’s very capital. That was nearly eleven years ago.
Despite its proliferating intelligence agencies, committees, commissions and the entire extravagant paraphernalia of government, why haven’t those responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent men in the capital been brought to trial, or even one of the criminals hanged for his crimes?
Because, incredible as it may seem, they have been shielded by several Prime Ministers, home ministers, Delhi’s Lt-Governors, the administrative and police services and politicians. For ten years, these men in exalted positions have connived in the cover-up. Including the present Union home minister and Delhi’s Lt-Governor. I do not place any confidence in the secular credentials of the likes of the home minister, but the amazing conduct of the Lt-Governor who, after a long and honourable career, is now systematically obstructing the course of justice, is particularly disillusioning.
It would enable us to better understand our depravity if at least one case history from those dark days is narrated here.
Hazara Singh and his three sons, Kulwant Singh, Jagtar Singh and Harmit Singh, along with their families, lived in a double-storeyed house in Hari Nagar Ashram, New Delhi. They had built a business as electrical contractors and worked for clients like the Oberoi Hotel, Hyatt Regency and the Delhi Development Authority. On the morning of 1 November, 1984, they found their house surrounded by a mob. Soon, their new Ambassador car (number DEB-4463) was set alight and the front part of the house looted. The family, caught unawares and unarmed, remained trapped in the rear room from 10 am till 10 pm, hoping against hope for police help. The police did come. And this is how the subsequent plaint to the Delhi High Court described their visit:
"Later, defendants No. 11 to 13 (the station house officer and sub-inspector of upon. police, Sunlight Colony police station) along with a posse of armed policemen, came to the spot in a police vehicle. They were in uniform. After getting down from their official vehicle, they first talked to defendants No. 1 to 10 and some others in a friendly manner…then shook hands in a most friendly way. Most of the defendeants…(then) jointly raised slogans " Khoon ka badla Khoon " and " Sardar quom ke ghaddar "…
"At around 10 pm, the defendants mentioned in the plaint poured kerosene oil through ventilators in the rear of the house and set it alight. The first to come out was Hazara Singh, who with :
"…folded hands (asked the crowd) to spare the lives of his helpless family members as they were absolutely innocent. Thereupon someone from amongst the defendants…(most of them were armed with daggers, swords and iron rods) severed both the folded hands of Hazara Singh which dropped down. The said defendants along with their associates then attacked him with iron rods.
"His sons, Kulwant Singh, Jagtar Singh and Harmit Singh were also set upon. The plaint reads on :
After making a heap of the half-dead adult male members, all of them were doused in kerosene oil and set on fire. Defendants No. 1 to 10 danced around and celebrated the bonfire in a very gay mood.”
And now, a word about the plaintiffs – or the survivors of this holocaust (I hope the use of this word is appropriate)-Sarabjit Kaur , 25, widow of Kulwant Singh, was left with two sons, Parminder Singh 6, and Ravinder Singh 5, and daughter Anshu 2. Harvinder Kaur, 21, widow of Jagtar Singh, had a three-month-old son Jasbir Kaur, 19, Hazara Singh’s daughter, was unmarried. Left orphaned, widowed, bewildered and bereft, troubled forever by the savagery with which their world was destroyed, unable to understand why, they will never be able to lead normal lives again. Not one of the culprits named in the plaint, has been criminally prosecuted.
Can the Prime Minister, home minister and the Lt-Governor see themselves in the vortex of such a horror as unfolded around Hazara Singh and his family, none of whom, in the words of the plaint, had any concern with politics? His sons, aged, 27, 23 and 20, were young, hard-working and hopeful of a future in which their business and fledgling families would grow and prosper. With opportunity, dignity and equality for all. In a free India!
Indian politicians are known to indulge their sons,; bend the rules, ignore proprieties and use their influence to help them escape punishment for their misdeeds. Official protection has now come to be extended not just to the sons of politicians, but also MPs, police officers, party workers and others willing to commit crimes for men in power. This became glaringly obvious after the 1984 massacres. Despite the cold-blooded, pre-planned nature of the killings, government refused to appoint a commission of enquiry. When an Independent Citizens’ Commission, under a former Chief Justice of India, investigated the events, government refused to cooperate, or acknowledge its report. The reports of the Citizens for Democracy and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties were similarly ignored. The People’s Union for Democratic Rights’ writ petition in the Delhi High Court seeking its direction for appointing a commission of enquiry, was opposed in court. When a highly-regarded journalist, Rahul Bedi, filed another writ petition praying for action against erring police officials, government sought and secured the petition’s dismissal on the grounds that Ved Marwah, a police official, had been appointed to report on police conduct. Before Ved Marwah could complete his report, he was topped and told that the Ranganath Misra Commission would now take over. Even though a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, Ranganath Misra was refused access to Marwah’s nearly-completed report – which no one has seen till today!
The Misra Commission report, submitted in August 1986, took six months to reach Parliament. Following its recommendations, government appointed the Jain-Banerjee Committee, the Potti-Rosha Committee, the Jain-Aggarwal Committee, then Ms Kusum Mittal, IAS (Retd). Each recommended action against several MPs and others. The action actually taken can be assessed from the following listing. By no means complete, it still shows how the criminal justice system works in present-day India:
In ten years, only three murder cases have resulted in conviction.
The government has filed an appeal against these convictions.
It has filed no appeal in the murder cases in which the accused were acquitted.
Murder charge in cases involving over 2,500 deaths are still to be filed.
In the case of Sajjan Kumar, Congress MP, government took five years to register the case and two years to investigate it. It has been in the home ministry since two years awaiting a decision on Kumar’s prosecution.
The Jain-Aggarwal Committee recommended the registration of a murder case against H.K.L Bhagat, former Union minister and MP. Nothing has been done.
Ms Kusum Mittal, in her report, identified 72 police officials for participating in the crimes. While charge-sheets were served against them in 1992, no action has since been taken. Some have even been promoted.
The Jain-Aggarwal Committee found 292 police officials guilty of negligence of duty, faulty investigations, etc. No action taken.
This is only a partial record of ten years during which an elected government used every contemptible trick to thwart the ends of justice and made a mockery of secularism and humane governance – the very same government which gloats over the number of extradition treaties it has signed with other nations so it can bring back alleged criminals, even as it allows known criminals to go scot-free under state protection in the country’s capital. Chief Justice R.S. Narula (Retd), whose advisory committee’s report on the November 1984 killing was submitted to the chief minister of Delhi in January, recently told me:
"If a state fails in the honest discharge of its duty, it will pave the way for the victims of their sympathisers to revert to the primitive mode of private justice by taking the law in their own hands."