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  • India’s Kristallnacht, 23 years ago


    by Sunny
    2nd November, 2007 at 8:48 am    

    by Parvinder Singh

    India is in buoyant mood of late. And it’s not just thanks to the cricket team’s spectacular win over arch-rivals Pakistan in the World Twenty-20 final. The growth in the economy has already shot through the roof. India has lifted off.

    But there is its dark history, never really confronted. 23 years ago to the day yesterday, a well-organised massacre took place throughout India, an event that is still to be fully accounted for.

    It has been argued that the failure of the Indian state to prosecute the organisers of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres in India after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down, led to years of conflict and further human rights abuses. Almost 20 years later, in the Indian state of Gujarat, a similar pattern of state-organised mass murder was inflicted on the Muslim minority.

    Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, insisting the rule of law would be administered fairly, the Indian judicial remains unable or unwilling to bring the major organisers of the 1984 massacres to trial.

    Many of them were senior Congress (I) leaders and police officers. With a string of commission inquiries over the years, memories have faded and records destroyed by the police. It is a sad state of affairs and brings shame to an India, 60 years after independence, projecting itself as a secular and progressive nation.

    Looking at the events of 1984 and after makes very disturbing reading (pdf). Some have argued the Sikhs were set up by the administration at that time, hungry for the majority Hindu vote bank. Others have argued they brought it upon themselves by seeking independence. Yet no credible Sikh leader was asking for this at the time, only some degree of control over the affairs of the state.

    The Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar was attacked on 6th June, 1984 by the Indian Army on the pretext of flushing out a handful of militants. But the timing of the attack, on a religious day when thousands of pilgrims were in the temple and the scale of the fire-power raises more questions of the real motive.

    Baptised Sikhs became the main target and was officially labeled as “terrorists”. Doordarshan, the state broadcasting station and All India Radio also played their part in stirring up hatred against the Sikhs. It is interesting to note that the Minister of Information & Broadcasting at the time was none other than H.K.L. Bhagat, one of the politicians accused of involvement with the November 1984 massacres.

    Tens of thousands became victims to the Indian Army’s and Punjab police’s methods of torture and ‘fake encounters’ in the subsequent decade. Little wonder then, that many Sikhs came to the conclusion that they were no longer safe in India and opted to join the many militant outfits calling for a separate state.

    As time passed, many of these groups were infiltrated by the police. It has also been argued, notably by Indian human rights activist Ram Narayan Kumar, that state agencies themselves set up terrorist groups in order to lay blame on the doorstep of Sikhs. Sectarian killings of innocent Hindus, many on inter-state buses in the Punjab, were widely condemned by Sikh leaders at the time, but rarely reported.

    However, what is even more disturbing is the accusation by the writer Amiya Rao, that not only had Mrs Gandhi’s assassination brought forward the date of the anti-Sikh massacres in November 1984, but it would have taken place anyway. The use of voter and ration lists to target Sikh homes and businesses, the free availability of kerosene and iron rods (which at the time were not readily available), the laying-on of buses belonging to the Delhi Municipal Corporation and the definite pattern in each locality of disciplined death squads, all points to this massacre being hatched months in advance.

    It is remarkable how the purported organisers of the pogroms, the leaders of the Congress (I) party like H.K.L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Lalit Maken and Jagdish Tytler, were later allowed to contest elections by the new Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and later by Sonia Gandhi and many served as ministers in subsequent administrations. The CBI recently closed the case against former Union Minister Jagdish Tytler.

    Since the terrible events of 1984, many Hindus have spoken out in disgust. Even at the time, many ordinary Hindu saved Sikhs from the mobs, took part in peace marches and helped the survivors in the many relief camps. Heartwarming acts like these gives us all hope for the future.

    India recently celebrated 60 years of independence from British rule. While it should be proud that its constitution remains secular, it should not forget that issues like 1984 still need addressing. It is only then can we bring closure for the victims and their families, and at the same time, rejuvenate the very idea of what India stands for.

    Further reading: 1984 Sikhs’ Kristallnacht (pdf). A 5-part video is also available to view.


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    1. sonia — on 2nd November, 2007 at 11:14 am  

      India and the indian subcontinent have a dark history full stop. And that absolutely needs to be acknowledged - but never is, and partly because we have had colonialism to blame in the intervening centuries, so we have never got to grips with our own barbaric behaviour.

      even without the ‘inter-ethnic’ element, ( which seems to spur people to actually write about all this, so no bad thing in itself if it is getting people to think about India critically) the nature of mob and mass violence as it happens in the indian subcontinent is terrifying. it would be useful to understand why and how these things happen.

      on top of that, the way we are ‘tribal’ and treat our co-subcontinentals, either in the same country or not - is absolutely crap.

    2. Muhamad [peace be upon me from the upper-wallah] — on 2nd November, 2007 at 1:00 pm  

      Sunny,
      affluent India is merely an inaccessible microcosm within the juggernaut that is India. Within that microcosm lies the tools to perpetuate the myth of an all-encompassing affluent India.

      I remember my friend Rajbir saying that despite the stereotype of Sikhs being militant, the Sikhs give the impression that they’ve forgiven India for the Amritsar massacre. I don’t know how true that is. Whichever the case, it is one major tragedy amongst many in India.

    3. Jakey — on 2nd November, 2007 at 1:17 pm  

      The anti-Sikh massacres of 1984 and the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 are horrendous. They can’t go unpunished in a civilised society and show the incompetent nature of India’s democratic system. In Western countries Asians, Arabs, Africans and other minorities face racism but overt racism generally leads to some consequences, which may be delayed and sometimes insufficient, but also includes enquiry, punishment and lessons for the future. Western democracy checks certain norms are not violated. Even in the aftermath of 9/11 and the London underground bombings when Muslims immigrants were harassed, things were never allowed to get out of hand like they did in India in 1984 and 2002.

      If India is to emerge as a modern democratic society the marriage between parliamentary democracy and feudal high handedness has to be broken.

    4. Uncleji praise for Sunny — on 2nd November, 2007 at 2:58 pm  

      Well Done Sunny for two great services
      for putting the “riots” for was they really were state sanctioned pograms, which happened not in a farway obscure warzone but in the capital of the world largest democracy.

      And a even greater service that by mentioning this on your blog, that you can be progressive and secular and still condemm the continuing injustices. And not be a pro Khalistani wacko.

      Its just such a shame that all the organised forms of protest in the UK are hardline khalistani and/or fudementalist groups.

    5. Michael Knight — on 2nd November, 2007 at 4:37 pm  

      Manmohan Singh is a spineless excuse for a man.

      Apart from a few token words and empty promises of justice he really couldn’t care less. He’s too busy waiting foot and hand on his master Sonia Ji.

      The least he could have done is expel ministers like Jagadish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar from his Government….instead he made one of them minister for NRIs.

    6. lost — on 2nd November, 2007 at 9:49 pm  

      India will never become dynamic as demands upon demands piles on it.

      We are so fragmented, if we are not Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or others then we are Guj, Punj, Beng, or we are this caste or that caste.

      The identity crisis fuels fire upon every citizen. If everybody identified themselves as Indian first everything else as individual identity then their would be more patriotism and these marauding politicians will not have the upper arm to divide and rule & use every class system as tools to create chaos and conflicts.

      So the bottom line is that every one of us bring it upon ourselves to be labelled and segregated.

    7. kELvi — on 2nd November, 2007 at 11:54 pm  

      http://tinyurl.com/yv49sx Vijay Sazawal quoted here,
      “The killings, rape and plunder of Kashmiri Hindus started in earnest with the death of a prominent social worker in Srinagar on September 14, 1989, now recognized by our community as the “Martyrs’ Day”. Starting with prominent citizens in the valley, including political leaders and government officials, the killings became increasingly random and gruesome. For example, on April 6, 1990, Mrs. Girja Tikoo, a housewife in Kupwara district of Kashmir, was gang raped by Islamic militants and then cut into pieces by a wood saw. The Financial Times of London in a story from Srinagar dated April 1, 1992, described the agony of a Hindu family in Srinagar (sadly in the same precinct where I was born) that gave food and shelter to two armed Muslim terrorists who initially promised no harm, but raped the women folk and killed the family any way.

      Over a thousand Kashmiri Pandits, which represent a significant proportion of their population, were killed by Islamic militants in nearly a two year period. The militants had a clear motive to drive non-Muslim “infidels” out of the State to create the Nizam-e-Mustafa (Muslim paradise), and it was not unusual to see posters and announcements asking Pandits to leave the valley. One such poster is attached with my testimony. A prominent Urdu newspaper, AIsafa, ran the following headline on April 14, 1990, “Kashmiri Pandits responsible for duress against Muslims should leave the valley within two days.” Lest we forget.

    8. Sajn — on 3rd November, 2007 at 12:12 am  

      Do you also remember the tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims raped and murdered by Indian Paramilitaries? Or do they not count?

    9. Paul Moloney — on 3rd November, 2007 at 2:17 am  

      It’s amazing how those of us in the “west” never hear of such thing. I was 14 years old when Indira Gandhi was asassinated and remember the event still, yet never heard of the events that Sunny refers to. Thank you.

      P.

    10. Dalbir — on 3rd November, 2007 at 10:34 pm  

      Although I don’t doubt that some Sikh extremists may well have been behind some atrocities in the Punjab, I can’t help but wonder how much of what we attribute to them may have actually been committed by “Black Cat” infiltrators.

      For all we know the vast bulk of killings attributed to Khalistanis may well have been engineered by the government itself. Will we ever find out?

    11. KSingh — on 4th November, 2007 at 2:11 pm  

      We must all push for enquiries into these killings and expose the killers. Only a small number of Sikh groups have been raising the issues of getting justice for the victims, even after a quarter of a centuary, if others could do the same we may get justice stop these massacres from happening again.As they say ‘better late than never’ to help the victims.

    12. Jagdeep — on 4th November, 2007 at 3:48 pm  

      Support Ensaaf and other Human Rights organisations. Work closely with AWAAZ and those campaigning for justice in the Gujarat pogroms. Contribute to KS Phoolka and others campaigning in India. Delineate this as a universal issue of executive impunity and human rights, and justice and not as a sectarian issue as many do, conflating it with a theocratic struggle, as some do.

    13. KSingh — on 5th November, 2007 at 7:20 am  

      Here is the link to Ensaaf, time for all to start taking part in bringing justice.

      http://www.ensaaf.org/

    14. Desi Italiana — on 5th November, 2007 at 8:01 am  

      “Do you also remember the tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims raped and murdered by Indian Paramilitaries? Or do they not count?”

      Unfortunately, for many Indians (not all), Kashmir is a soft spot and so “no” to your question. Injustices elsewhere in India are reviled; but in Kashmir, Indian security forces get away with murder and all people can do is point the finger to Kashmiri Pundits and some even justify serious human rights violations committed by the Indian security forces as “necessary” because if not, Islamic terrorism will take over India, we’ll “lose” Kashmir to Pakistan, etc. Not saying that the cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits ISN”t something to be condemned because it is, but I think we should equally condemn the wanton killing, raping, and forced encounters of the tens of thousands of Kashmiris who are Muslim. But alas, even human rights violations are sectarianized.

    15. douglas clark — on 5th November, 2007 at 8:29 am  

      Jagdeep @ 12,

      Well said!

      Desi Italiana,

      But you know that that is wrong. If we are ever going to build a consensus on human rights then it is the sectarianism, or groupthink, that has to be challenged. Starting right here, right now.

    16. Parvinder Singh — on 5th November, 2007 at 10:13 am  

      #2: ‘the Sikhs give the impression that they’ve forgiven India for the Amritsar massacre.’
      Muhamed, I have never met one Sikh who would subsribe to this, unless he belonged to the ruling Congress (I) party, the kind of people who would sell their mothers just to hold on to power.

      #4: agree, although Sunny didn’t write this piece.

      #5 : ‘Manmohan Singh is a spineless excuse for a man.’
      Michael, in Feb 1994, he downplayed widespread human rights abuses in India as “aberrations”. This he said at the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Commission. What a prick.

      #6 ‘If everybody identified themselves as Indian first.’
      Lost, the Sikhs were one of the most patriotic of Indians, both pre-partition considering their over-representation in the freedom struggle and also took leads in defending the borders in the series of wars with its neightbours. In the Punjab, it was common for one son to till the land, and the other to join the army. In the Nov 84 pogroms, even army personnel were not spared.

      #7 & #8 regarding the Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir
      Total agree with both. It’s time we drew a line under all these injustices past and present and say to the twats that hold power in India as well as terror groups alike - you will be held accountable by your actions.

      #10 Dalbir, the Scottish anthropologist, Joyce Pettrigrew, through her interviews with militants, police and rural population studied the Black Cats phenomena during her visits to the Punjab in the 90s and I would recommend her work to anyone interested in studying the Sikh militant movement:
      ‘The consensus view, from a wide range of people to whom I talked, was that the strategy of these massacres and killings were planned elsewhere. It was also a general view that they were carried out with a view to discrediting groups that appeared to have roots among the population.’ - The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State and Guerrilla Violence (1995), Joyce J.M. Pettigrew, p 123.
      In a landmark investigative report published in 2003, Reduced to Ashes - The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab, Ram Narayan Kumar notes: ‘My own research on Punjab in that period suggested that the state agencies were creating vigilante outfits in order to infiltrate the Sikh radical movement and generate a climate of moral revulsion by engineering heinous crimes which they then attributed to armed Sikh groups.’ - Reduced to Ashes - The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab (2003), Ram Narayan Kumar, Amrik Singh, Ashok Agrwaal and Jaskaran Kaur The Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab, p104.

      Sonia and Jakey - you’re spot on. KSingh, Jagdeep & Desi, totally agree.

    17. Desi Italiana — on 5th November, 2007 at 7:40 pm  

      Douglas:

      “Desi Italiana,

      But you know that that is wrong. If we are ever going to build a consensus on human rights then it is the sectarianism, or groupthink, that has to be challenged. Starting right here, right now.”

      Yes, I know, which is why I wrote my comment :)

      But from personal experiences, this is a bitch of a challenge. Some folks accuse me of being “anti Indian,” “anti Hindu”, “self hating Hindu,” and blah blah blah when I don’t focus solely on the “plight of Kashmiri Pandits”.

    18. KSingh — on 6th November, 2007 at 7:27 am  

      A film worth seeing and an example of how India deals with the Arts.

      Amu - Award Winning Film On 1984 Anti-Sikh Pogroms: DVD Released

      Amu is a film which the Indian Censor Board and indeed Indian Government did not want the world to see. After delay after delay and then ridiculously giving it an “A” rating and demanding lines of dialog be removed they said: “Why should young people know a history which is best buried and forgotten?”

      When Amu was finally passed by the Censor Board chief, Anupam Kher, he was fired in September 2004. He said that he was fired for passing Amu – which was the last film cleared by him. The government also passed a law that films with an “A” certificate could not be shown on television.

      Critically acclaimed at 50 international film festivals including Toronto and Berlin; Winner of 10 awards including 2 Indian National awards - this is a DVD to own – with many special features including:

      Director Commentary
      Festival Q and A’s
      Making of Amu
      Deleted Scenes with commentary
      Making of the Film maker
      Two 5.1 Dolby digital soundtracks: original and Hindi dub
      Celebrity reactions

      And more…

      Says Shonali Bose, who worked in the relief camps in 1984, “We made this film so that the world would know about this crime against humanity, just as it does about Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq….” Adds Producer and husband, Bedabrata Pain, “1984 is not about the past but about the present. Because justice has still been denied 23 years later in spite of 11 enquiry commissions and a huge amount of evidence.”

      The couple hope that every Indian will support their intention by buying this film not just for themselves but for their friends – Indian or foreign – “who need to know this history if India is to move forward.”

      http://www.amudvd.com

      SYNOPSIS
      Kaju (Konkona Sensharma) a 21 year old Indian American woman is visiting India to get in touch with family and learn about her roots. But she is blocked at every turn when she begins asking simple questions about her past. Aided by Kabir, a young man who is deeply attracted to her and her quest, she embarks on an unstoppable journey to seek the truth. She soon learns that a genocide in the capital city from 20 years ago might hold the key to her mysterious origin.

      With standout performances by National Award winner Konkona Sensharma and activist Brinda Karat, this film has been praised by critics and audiences alike in its theatrical release in India, Canada and the United States.

      VOICES ON AMU

      “Having lived through the experience I can say this film is a MUST.”
      Khushwant Singh

      “Brilliant and courageous. A must see.”
      Mira Nair (Director, The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, Salaam Bombay)

      “A very moving and poignant film that delivers much needed exposure of the State’s collusion in the killing of its citizens.”
      Kavneet Singh, Managing Director, SALDEF

      “Most significant Indian film of recent years.”
      Z magazine

      “Amu combines an untold history with the magic of fiction in a chilling story that is all too familiar to Sikhs around the world. Bose’s depiction has brought Sikh suffering to the global stage. The film is a reminder of the true meaning of Sikhi.”
      Neha Singh Gohil, Sikhchic

      “Hardhitting, incisive and entertaining.”
      Verve Magazine

      “Every Sikh, indeed every human being should see Amu. It compellingly tells the forgotten story of state-organized anti-Sikh violence in 1984.”
      Amardeep Singh, Executive Director, Sikh Coalition.

      “Powerful…a film maker to watch.” (Critics Pick)
      LA Weekly

      “Awesome, creative, moving and relevant.”
      Harinder Singh, Executive Director, Sikh Research Institute
      “Heartwrenching…made more powerful by the fact that the Indian government tried very hard to suppress the story.” (Critics Pick)
      NY Magazine

      “Amu calls for an end to genocidal killings in India, for the rule of law over the rule of men.”
      Jaskaran Kaur, Co-Director, Ensaaf

      “Boldly rips away a tapestry of lies and cover ups…a first rate detective story.”
      Hollywood Reporter

      Amu is compelling, passionate and truthful; a world class production. As a Sikh, you need to not only see it, but own this film, this critical piece of our history – that has been created and given to us by a non Sikh.
      Mirin Kaur, Kaur Foundation

      “A bold and heartrending film, extremely well made and deeply moving. It’s an important film as it is very relevant to our times.”
      Aamir Khan, Actor.

      “As a Sikh-American, I was personally and profoundly affected by the film. It is a brave film told in a beautiful way bringing out the humanity behind the tragedy. It gave me strength, it made me weep, it made me want to shout out from the rooftops: Everyone watch Amu!”
      Geetanjali Dhillon; Executive VP, Jaman.com

      “I absolutely loved Amu. A thoughtful and important film with a universal theme. I was profoundly affected by it.”
      Deepa Mehta (Director, Water, Fire)

      “Amu is 1984 immortalized. Every Sikh home should have this film.”
      Inni Kaur, Nishaan

      “I really loved Amu and I think everyone should watch this film.”
      Hema Malini, Actress.

      http://www.amudvd.com

    19. Mangles — on 6th November, 2007 at 9:16 am  

      Parvinder: a really thoughful and balanced piece. Peace

      K Singh: are any of these films showing locally (in UK) anytime soon.

      Rab Rakha

    20. Parvinder — on 6th November, 2007 at 10:26 am  

      K Singh: good of you to plug ‘Amu’. I would strongly urge everyone to order the dvd. Shonali Bose has done a great service and should be congratulated.

      Also, if anyone has any contacts in the media, particularly in TV, please approach them to get Amu aired.

      http://www.amudvd.com

    21. Jagdeep [not the usual one] — on 6th November, 2007 at 9:04 pm  

      Also check out Widow Colony.

      http://www.thewidowcolony.com

      “The Widow Colony is a film that takes an in-depth look into the lives of the widows of the Sikh men who were killed in the anti-Sikh massacre of November, 1984. The film, directed by Harpreet Kaur, explores the suffering of these women, their battle for justice and their struggle for survival in India”

      This isn’t currently scheduled to screen in the UK at the moment however, which is a shame. If you do know of anyone who may be interested in helping arranging some screenings, please holla!

    22. KSingh — on 15th November, 2007 at 8:51 pm  

      Interview with Sikh Advocate Harvinder Singh Phoolka

      a tireless campaigner for human rights

      An advocate and his wife have devoted two decades to fighting the cause of the 1984 riot victims. Phoolka recounts his fight for justice in an interview to Naresh Taneja & Josy Joseph.

      IF one person can be credited with keeping alive the fight for justice for the 1984 riot victims, it is Advocate Harvinder Singh Phoolka.

      He has been the force behind setting up of the Citizen’s Justice Committee and has spearheaded one of the longest and most torturous legal battles for the riot victims.

      The visit changed the life for Phoolkas. The advocate and his wife have devoted two decades to fighting the cause of the victims. Phoolka recounts his fight for justice in an interview with the Newspaper.

      Where were you on October 31, 1984? Were you caught up in the riots?

      I was at the High Court when I heard of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. I picked up my pregnant wife from my office and was driving to our home in south Delhi on my motorbike. At a traffic crossing, a friend called to warn me about attacks on Sikhs a few meters ahead.

      Skirting the main roads, I drove through slum clusters of Kotla Mubarakpur to reach home safely. But looking back we could see smoke bellowing from the South Extension market. The Kotla gurdwara was burning and bodies of the dead had begun to pile up.

      We decided to return to Chandigarh immediately after the riots, traveling in the cockpit of an Indian Airlines plane.

      But when I came to wind up my practice, I heard that lawyers were needed for writing affidavits of the victims. I went to Farsh Bazaar camp where riot victims from Trilokpuri were living and it changed my life for ever.

      So your tryst with the 1984 riot cases began by chance, didn’t it?

      I was preparing affidavits for the riot victims when an elderly person told me that in his family only four minor girls are left. Their father, mother, brother and uncle had been killed. His grand daughters had sent to the Nari Niketan. He wanted to take them in his custody but did not have any money to pay the court fees. That was the first case I filed in the High Court. After that I followed each and every case that Justice Kirpal heard, whether I was involved or not.

      How did you come to play such a critical role?

      In May 1985, when the government appointed Mishra Commission, I suggested we float an organization so that we could pool our resources to take on the government.

      My response was that if on Oct 31, 1984 I could pass through a burning gurdwara, this was certainly less dangerous.

      INITIALLY people were not very enthusiastic and in the end I got Khushwant Singh and General (Jagjit Singh) Arora to endorse the idea. Various human right groups met at Soli Sorabjee’s house and formed Citizens Justice Committee. Soli Sorabji, General Arora, Tarakunde, Khushwant Singh and Justice Narula all signed up as members. Justice Sikri was made the president. I was appointed the secretary. That is how a lawyer of three years’ standing became the secretary of the organization.

      I became the main counsel of the (Justice Ranganatha) Mishra Commission. Soli Sorabjee really gave a lot of time. I had to virtually give up my practice for a year and spend hours at our office in North Avenue - Akali Dal’s Gurcharan Singh Tohra allowed us the use of his MP’s flat.

      What kind of challenges you had to go through during fighting for this cause?

      HKL Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar were very powerful those days. My wife gave me her full support though other member of my family had some apprehensions and said this is too dangerous a work. But my response was that if on October 31,1984 I could pass through a burning gurdwara, this was certainly less dangerous. Slowly young boys and girls joined our team. They visited areas dominated by Sajjan Kumar and HKL Bhagat and worked day and night. We were getting threatening letters, but nobody got scared. Soli Sorabjee, Tarkunde and Sikri were there with us through all this.

      Hundreds of survivors, scared witnesses and powerful political leaders. It must have been a difficult time in court.

      Yes, victims are victimized in the courts too. Mishra commission’s terms of reference were very limited. It had only to ascertain whether the violence was premeditated. Soli Sorabji advised me to concentrate on this rather than filing thousands of affidavits. I had interviewed more than 3,000 victims and prepared affidavits. Ultimately, I filed only 575 of them.

      How much time did it take you to interview these persons?

      It took two months. But it was not just me, but a team. I cross examined these 575 persons to check whether they would stand scrutiny.

      Justice Mishra, however, concentrated on the flaws in the affidavits. He put these to investigating agency. They focused not on getting the culprit, but on errors in the affidavits.

      It was primarily a team headed by a police officer from outside Delhi, wasn’t it?

      Yes, an IPS officer from Orissa cadre, Mr Meena, was heading it. Justice Mishra started calling evidences at random. We had filed 575 affidavits but some came directly also to the Commission. So as a total some 620 affidavits had come before the commission.

      But there were 2,200 affidavits filed against these victims. Sikhs had sworn in these affidavits how the police and their MP had saved them from mobs.

      Justice Mishra decided to call 25 witnesses from both sides every day. On the first day, all witnesses from victims’ side appeared but only one from the other side and he too said that he had filed no affidavit. The one filed in his name was a forgery. This was widely reported in the newspapers.

      Next day Justice Mishra banned press reports as the hearing was in-camera. But in-camera proceedings does not mean a press black-out. Nobody protested. Rajiv Gandhi had two-third majority in Parliament.

      One of the state witness said, ‘Forget about saving me, nothing is left of me. My house, hotel … everything had been looted.’ When shown his signed affidavit, he said a policeman had come to him and asked for his signature for compensation of his house.

      After that Justice Mishra decided he will not call those witnesses. In his report too he wrote that he would ignore all those affidavits. But in the end we realized that Mishra had examined many witnesses in his chamber and did not tell us. He did not give us their statements nor did he allow us to cross examine them.

      There was only one way we could tell the world what was happening: Citizen’s Justice Committee had to withdraw from the commission. That was duly published in the newspapers and we could give our reasons of withdrawing. They then approached the victims. They pressurized them to procure counter-affidavits.

      Though the last date of filing such affidavits was September 9, 1985 Justice Mishra accepted affidavits even in December, 1985. I intentionally filed a bunch of affidavits on September 9 at 5 pm because I knew they would be leaked. And I did not want to give them the opportunity to pressurize the victims to file counter affidavits. He accepted counter-affidavits in December without even informing us.

      So Ranganath Mishra became first of the many to perpetuate the misery of the victims?

      That’s right. We were not to given a right to cross examine their witnesses. Some other parties with dubious credentials were also present at the inquiry. They were front men of HKL Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar. They were made to ask embarrassing question from the victims before the commission.

      Was Mishra so insensitive? He became Chief Justice of India and also the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. And later was a Rajya Sabha member.

      See that was a rare case. Generally, judges favor the government in these types of cases. And if you see the role of the judiciary in 1984 riot cases you will be shocked. Its role is so terrible. They have been a party to an eyewash.

      But many more commissions and committees came up after Mishra Commission.

      Nine commissions and committees. First came Mishra. He said it was not part of his terms of reference to identify anybody. ‘You appoint another committee to identify the people but HKL Bhagat is not involved.’ He said that in his report.

      If this was not part of his terms of reference how was he saying that HKL Bhagat was not involved? He said people like Congress leader Tara Singh (a Sikh) had supported the Congress and HKL Bhagat during the elections and it clearly shows that if Bhagat had been involved, these people won’t have supported him.

      In the second part, which is the report of the investigating agency, you will see that the focus is on finding loopholes in the affidavits (of victims). It was then I realized how right Soli Sorabjee was.

      I was told,‘You appoint another committee to identify the people but HKL Bhagat is not involved.’

      IF we had filed even 20-30 weak affidavits, Justice Mishra would have based the whole of his report on that. But they could not break even a single victim in cross examination. Everybody stood the cross-examination. But even Justice Mishra said the cases had not been registered and wherever victims had named a political leader, they refused to register the FIR or the politicians’ names were deleted. Therefore, another committee should be appointed which should go into all this material and recommend fresh registration of cases.

      Mishra recommended three separate committees. Jain-Banerjee panel to recommend registration of fresh cases, another committee on the role of the police and the third was to ascertain the number of killings.

      These committees were appointed in February 1987, but two and a half years later not even head counts had been done. We submitted a list to Justice Mishra containing names, addresses and complete details of 3,870 people killed in Delhi. But police said 1,419 were killed. Cases of only these people were registered. And Delhi government filed a list of 2,300 people killed.

      The Jain-Banerjee committee had instructed the police to register a murder case against Sajjan Kumar, but it was initially scuttled, wasn’t it?

      Yes. Initially the case was not registered. We protested. Then Brahmanand Gupta (a co-accused) filed a writ petition in the High Court. The government lawyer did not oppose and a stay was imposed not only on registering a case against Sajjan Kumar but also on registration of cases on the recommendation of this committee.

      You sound dissatisfied with the role of the judiciary.

      Not at all, particularly in regard to the 1984 cases. I have not been closely following the Gujarat cases but I believe something similar is happening. But fortunately the Supreme Court is monitoring things.

      Did judiciary actively support a cover up?

      Yes it has. The first writ was filed by Rahul Bedi (on the role of police). That writ was dismissed by the high court on the pretext that Ved Marwah Committee will be looking into it. The second writ was filed by PUDR (Peoples Union for Democratic Rights).

      During the hearing, Justice Yogeshwar Dayal made abusive comments about journalists and professors. Defamation cases were filed against him. That was the kind of attitude of the judiciary. Justice Dayal dismissed the writ petition saying that the court had no power to direct the government.

      Then there was Justice Ranganath Mishra. When Ved Marvah was about to submit his report, the High Court stayed it.

      After the Jain-Banerjee committee’s recommendation was stayed, Sajjan Kumar was granted bail.

      In the Shahdra court, Judge SS Bal finished so many cases as fast as he could. In none of the murder cases, was there any conviction.

      That was how we fell to the ploy of asking for the special courts (in late 1980s when VP Singh government came to power). Had it been divided amongst all the courts - there are honest judges like JD Kapoor and JB Goyal — we would have got convictions in many more cases.

      What was the general attitude of the legal community?

      The Congress leaders and other people in responsible positions did not want to come to any conclusion.

      It was very hostile. Most of the Congress people use to call me the lawyer of terrorists, though I have not done any TADA work. Some of the lawyers loyal to Congress use to call me a terrorist. This changed when during the VP Singh government, I was appointed Union government’s standing council.

      Now after 20 years what do you expect from Nanavati commission? You are again the leading counsel for the victims.

      Firstly, all the cases have not been even registered. Many of those registered were closed by the police and did not reach the courts. From Nanavati Commission, we are expecting two things: registration of murder cases and reopening of about 300 cases which were closed without any challan or charge sheet being filed.

      ALSO, there has not been any exhaustive inquiry on who is responsible and how all this happened. We have submitted voluminous evidences before the Nanavati Commission and we expect some answers now.

      Twenty years and only 10 convictions. Why did the cases drag on for so long?

      With the passage of time, justice just dries up. First, don’t allow the registration of cases and then cover up. Most riot cases do not survive more than two or three years. This is the first instance I think where the fight has continued for 20 years.

      The Congress leaders and other people in responsible positions did not want to come to any conclusion. They planned to delay things till the cases died its own natural death.

      What stopped the NDA government, which promised to deliver justice?

      During the short tenure of VP Singh government, few decisions were taken on the basis of which the cases continued. By 1998, when the BJP-led government came to power, most of these cases were spoilt to such an extent that it was difficult to revive them. That is why a new commission of inquiry (the Nanavati commission) was appointed in 2000.

      During these 20 years of fight of justice, were there any mistakes on your part?

      To agree to special courts was our biggest mistake. Many times we were told to file a PIL on the high court but we did not do it. We thought if the high court passes a judgment in a single case that affects hundred other cases. This was conscious decision and we were right.

      Jagdish Tytler has accused you of exploiting the riot cases for money and fame. How much did you charge for these cases?

      I have not charged a single penny from any riot victim. All expenses I have incurred are from my own pocket. Initially, there was Citizen’s Justice Committee. But it was virtually defunct by the late 1980s.

      By the 1990s, my own practice was flourishing. It is not that I am handling only these cases.

      Amongst Sikhs it is common practice to dedicate one-tenth of one’s earnings for Daa-Dharam. I utilized this money for that purpose.

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