Three Decades of Impunity

manjhunath, Amnesty International India
22 March 2017 12:36 pm

By Sanamdeep Singh Wazir (@sanamwazir) | Campaigner, Amnesty International India

In November 2014, on the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Sikh massacre, Amnesty International India launched a public campaign demanding justice for the victims and survivors of an outrage that shook India’s conscience. Since then, the campaign has received the support of over six lakh people, mostly from Punjab and Delhi.

The objective of the campaign is for authorities to reopen the closed cases related to the 1984 Sikh massacre, and deliver justice to victims and survivors. By actively engaging with the authorities, mobilizing public opinion, and highlighting the continuing suffering faced by families, the campaign aimed to bring the issue back into public focus, and ensure that political parties treated it as a priority.

Between 31 October and 3 November 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered in brutal ways. Sikh men had their necks ringed with tyres filled with petrol or kerosene, and were set on fire. Many Sikh business establishments, homes, gurudwaras, schools and colleges were burned down, and whole-scale massacres took place in Trilokpuri, Sultanpuri and Mangolpuri neighbourhoods in Delhi.

After Delhi, Bihar witnessed the worst communal carnage, in cities including Bokaro, Patna, Dhanbad, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bhagalpur, Jhumritalaya and Daulatganj. Sikh communities in Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were also affected.

In four days, over 3000 people, were slaughtered, raped and rendered homeless. According to official estimates, in Delhi alone, the death toll was 2733.

Civil society rose to the occasion. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) visited affected areas and published a report, Who are the Guilty? The report named Congress leaders who it said had led the massacre. It also said it had found evidence that the carnage was orchestrated.

The NGO Citizens For Democracy published another report, Truth About Delhi Violence: Report to The Nation, which said that it had found patterns in the violence. It said that the violence was not spontaneous, but organised by members of the Congress party, and “was meant primarily to arouse passions within the majority community – Hindu chauvinism – in order to consolidate Hindu votes”. Both civil society groups said the police in many cased had instigated the violence, or were merely bystanders.

On 19 November 1984, Rajiv Gandhi in a public speech in New Delhi, virtually justified the violence, saying, “When a big tree falls, the earth naturally shakes.” Eventually, under public pressure, an inquiry headed by Ved Marwah, the then-Additional Commissioner of Police, Delhi was instituted to look into the role of police officials during the massacre. Since then, at least two judicial commissions of inquiry and nine committees have been established, but justice has eluded the victims.

In February 2015, when the central government accepted the recommendations of a retired Supreme Court Judge and set up a Special Investigation team to reinvestigate closed cases, we at Amnesty India welcomed the move.

The SIT had a chance to finally deliver accountability for the thousands who suffered in the massacre. It raised hopes among victims and survivors that they would finally get justice. But the SIT’s lack of transparency so far has been disturbing.

The team was asked to submit a report in August 2015, within six months of its appointment, but since then it has received three extensions, the last one to August 2017.

Over the last few months, Amnesty International India has met many families who faced violence in 1984. One survivor told us that an FIR had been registered for the killing of her husband. She said she received a call from the SIT in September 2016, which – instead of asking about the details of the case – asked instead if she wanted to pursue her case at all.

According to a status report submitted by the SIT before the Supreme Court of India, it has scrutinized 293 cases, and pursued investigations in 59. Out of these 59 cases, it has completed investigations in 42 cases, of which it has closed 38 and filed chargesheets in four.

Four charge-sheets after over two years. It is beyond baffling that a team of 68 people, including an Inspector General of Police, a retired judge, an additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, four Assistant Commissioner of Police-ranked officers and 10 Inspectors, has made such little progress.

The carnage of 1984 remains a national shame, and the continuing impunity for the massacre has made a mockery of justice. The SIT provided a critical opportunity to set things right, but it seems to be wasting its chance. In some years, the eye witnesses of the 1984 massacre will no longer be alive. Even before their demise, though, the killings of 1984 are at risk of being forgotten.