“…It was not even possible to walk without stepping upon limbs of dead bodies… injured were still lying there… One boy whose stomach was cut open by a knife had been hiding behind a body… I found a girl aged about 20…she was suffering from polio . All the family members were massacred…She had become numb and we rescued that girl…”
– Rahul Bedi , Indian Express Journalist , Trilokpuri , in an affidavit before Nanavati Commission
First and foremost, let me say this from the bottom of my heart : It is a matter of utmost concern, profound shame and a national disgrace that 37 years down the lane, not a single person has been hanged for brutally massacring more than 7000 Sikhs all across India with most killings taking place right at our national capital! This itself is the biggest testimony of the indisputable fact that in our legal system, those who have the necessary push and pull are able to manipulate all laws in their favour and even our Supreme Court is able to do nothing on this score as important evidence is destroyed and witnesses are purchased and what not which only makes an open mockery of our legal system as we have seen in this anti-Sikh carnage that shook our nation in 1984!
It merits mentioning here that HS Phoolka who is a senior and eminent advocate of Delhi High Court writes in his enlightening editorial titled ‘1984 , case closed’ dated November 1, 2014 in ‘The Indian Express’ newspaper that,“Gujarat 2002 was an example of history being repeated. Innocent lives were lost, but thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court, 129 have already been given life imprisonment, 10 awarded the death sentence and one minister sentenced to 28 years in prison. Unfortunately, as far as 1984 is concerned, even the judiciary has failed.” He further writes that,“Seven thousand murders across the country, only 30 punished, guilty leaders rewarded with high positions, guilty police officers given repeat promotions and the victims forgotten. That is the truth of November 1984. No one talks about those 50 soldiers who were beheaded or burnt with tyres around their necks.”
It will be no exaggeration to say that nothing on earth can be more unfortunate than this! The killing of Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards in no manner can justify the mass murders of more than 7000 Sikhs! It is an unpalatable truth that only 49 were handed life terms and the rest got away with murder! Were only 49 involved in killing in most horrifying manner more than 7000 people? The tragedy of tragedy is that here too they also were given only life imprisonment and not death!
I hold the Supreme Court always in the highest esteem but what shocks me most is that here it did not act tough against the worst perpetrators of the crime and for this I don’t blame it rather I blame all those involved in law enforcement who conspired with those accused to destroy all relevant evidence and to render the prosecution case very weak by doing everything in a namby-pamby manner! Why should death penalty be awarded to any person if killers of more than 7000 innocent people are allowed to escape unscathed or only few of them are dished out life term? What about the rest of the accused? Why have they been treated as being above law? Why not a single accused has been hanged? Why should death penalty exist in our penal laws if the killers of more than 7000 Sikhs are allowed to dance openly and brag that,“See we publicly massacred more than 7000 people and yet we are not being hanged even though one poor rapist like Dhananjay Chatterjee who was convicted on circumstantial evidence alone and who could not arrange good lawyers to argue his case and his petition was drafted by none other than the prisoners of Tihar jail and the entire nation bursts fire crackers and celebrates but Indian law can’t touch us!”
To put it simple and straight : Why are they roaming free especially those political leaders who had lead from the front in inciting masses to indulge in free lunch of killing innocent Sikhs? Some of the accused leaders have died a natural death and this is most shocking and hurting to see! Who will respect law if political leaders are allowed to get away so easily inspite of being complicit and leading from the front to kill in most horrifying manner more than 7000 Sikhs all across the country?
It must also be asked: Who will respect law if political leaders are allowed to become not only MPs and MLAs but also ministers and hold high portfolios inspite of having many serious and heinous criminal cases pending against them in various courts? Who will respect our law if as we see now a common man is barred from getting any government job if his/her name appears in a single criminal case even though someone maliciously files a false report but if the same person wants to become MP or MLA or minister, he/she can kill anyone, commit any crime, become a underworld don or a dacoit and yet contest from jail openly, label all charges as “completely false and politically motivated” and win elections by dint of muscle and money power? Supreme Court rightly advised Centre in Manoj Narula v Union of India (2014) to not induct politicians with criminal antecedents in Cabinet but this is nothing and entry of criminals will have to be strictly prohibited in politics just as it is prohibited in other government jobs!
It must also be asked: Who will respect law if political leaders are allowed to hold close links with terrorists, take money from them to get them deposited in Swiss banks and other foreign banks and invite terrorists for talks, hold dialogues with them, declare ceasefire for them even as they continue to rearm and kill innocents and our soldiers and appoint interlocutors who are generally senior IAS officers to hold talks with them, shake hands with them and sit with them on high table knowing fully well that they have received most advanced training on how best to destroy India and can even attack our nuclear installations by which our entire nation can be destroyed? Did Sri Lanka destroy LTTE by holding talks with them or did Obama invite Laden to USA or his representatives and appointed interlocutors for holding talks with them? Whom are our politicians fooling all the time?
Whom are they helping by such foolish behavior? Was terrorism in Punjab eliminated by holding talks and dialogues? Here again the man who demonstrated the political will to ensure that terrorism is eliminated in Punjab Beant Singh was himself killed in bomb blast by terrorist and the accused Balwant Singh Rajoana inspite of being convicted by the Apex Court and inspite of publicly feeling proud of what he had done was not hanged as the then Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal pleaded mercy and so he got mercy! Same happened with killers of our former PM Rajiv Gandhi who were not hanged inspite of being convicted by Apex Court as the Tamil parties pleaded mercy and so even after decades of years of Rajiv’s assassination, they are still alive and kicking even though in jail! Rajiv’s son Rahul rightly rued that,“When a former PM killers will escape like this and a former PM will not get justice, how can a common man get justice?” Our Supreme Court too apart from our leaders must dwell on this!
It must be asked : Why was a poor Dhananjay Chatterjee hanged just on circumstantial evidence alone way back in 2004 and we have not heard any rich rapist or even gang rapist being hanged? Similarly why those guilty of Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 which claimed more than 4000 lives allowed to escape unpunished and not stopping here, Warren Anderson who was the accused number one and the former CEO of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) Limited was allowed to leave India and die a natural death in Vero Beach in Florida? We all know fully well how the UCC ran the plant from where the deadly methyl isocyanate leaked into the densely populated bastis of Old Bhopal killing more than 4000 people!
Anyway coming back to the main subject, all the reports of nine Committees and several rights groups and NGOs which probed the 1984 riots were unanimous in pointing to police lapses, at times connivance, lack of an institutional response and the dubious role of local Congress leaders in targeted attacks on Sikhs across Delhi especially! Let me point out here that one of the nine Committees, headed by RK Ahuja who was a Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs was tasked to find out the total number of Sikhs killed in Delhi during the riots and it put the count of the dead in the Capital at 2,733. This is official figure and the real figure certainly must be much higher!
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that a tenth probe Committee, headed by Additional Commissioner of Police in November 1984 was asked to probe the role of the police during the carnage. The accused officers moved court and Marwah was told by the Home Ministry in 1985 to wind up the probe. In May 1985, a Committee headed by Justice Ranganath Misra was appointed. In his report that was submitted a year later, he said that the terms of reference did not allow him to identify any individual. He asked for formation of three Committees. Thus we can clearly see that huge political pressure from those in power prevented the truth from coming out and all those politicians whose hands were stained with the blood of innocents escaped unscathed and thus a complete mockery of justice and long arms of justice was made!
Furthermore, in February 1987, Justice (retired) Dilip Kapoor and Kusum Lata Mittal who was a retired Secretary were asked to probe the conduct of the Delhi Police and thus Kapoor Mittal Committee was constituted. The Committee indicted 72 police officers! Jain Banerji Committee was constituted under Justice (retired) ML Jain and EN Renision, a retired IPS officer to examine riot cases. Renision was replaced by AK Banerji who was another retired IPS officer. They could not make any significant progress because of an interim injunction granted by the Delhi High Court. Later, the notification appointing the Committee was quashed!
Going ahead, in March 1990, Poti Rosha Committee was constituted. It comprised Justice (retired) P Subramanian Poti and retired IPS officer PA Rosha and they were asked to examine “cases of omission to register or properly investigate offences.” It was reconstituted after Rosha opted out and another retired IPS officer Aggarwal was brought in. Poti and Aggarwal relinquished office in September 1990 without making any headway!
Let me also enlighten my esteemed readers here that the Jain Aggarwal Committee was constituted in December 1990 to probe into the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage. Justice (retired) JD Jain and DK Aggarwal, who began their probe in December 1990, took into consideration 669 affidavits filed before the Misra Commission. It also received 415 affidavits from affected people in riots. The Committee found that in most cases, investigation carried out by the police was “absolutely casual, perfunctory and faulty”. I very strongly feel that the guilty policemen should have been awarded the strictest punishment so that none of them could dare to protect the guilty offenders in future and performed their job without any lure , fear or favour. But sadly, that has not been the case!
Moving on, the Dhillon Committee was constituted under GS Dhillon in 1985 and was asked to recommend measures for rehabilitation of the riot victims. Narula Committee was constituted in 1993. It was asked to recommend measures for Central sanction to prosecute the guilty.
As we then saw, the Nanavati Commission was constituted in 2000. Justice (retired) GT Nanavati was asked to probe the cause of the riots, the sequence of events and “recommend measures which may be adopted to meet the ends of justice”. Nanavati Commission which was constituted because of dissatisfaction over the findings of earlier probes conducted by various Committees appointed for the aforesaid purpose highlighted in no uncertain terms the dubious role of the police, local Congress leaders and “the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons” during the riots.
To be sure, this is exactly what the Nanavati Commission concluded after going through all the details of the anti-Sikh riots that shook our nation in 1984 and examining the eye witnesses and riot survivors when it said:“The attacks were made in a systematic manner and without much fear of the police; almost suggesting that they were assured that they would not be harmed while committing those acts and even thereafter. Male members of the Sikh community were taken out of their houses. They were beaten first and then burnt alive in a systematic manner. In some cases, tyres were put around their necks and then they were set on fire by pouring kerosene or petrol over them. In some cases, tyres were put around their necks and then they were set on fire by pouring kerosene or petrol over them. In some cases, white inflammable powder was thrown on them which immediately caught fire thereafter. This was a common pattern which was followed by the big mobs which had played havoc in certain areas. The shops were identified, looted and burnt. What had initially started as an angry outburst became an organized carnage.”
As it turned out, Nanavati Commission also further noted that,“…Large number of affidavits indicate that local Congress(I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs. But for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened. In many places, the riotous mobs consisted of outsiders… Outsiders in large numbers could not have been brought by ordinary persons from the public. Bringing them from outside required an organized effort. Supplying them with weapons and inflammable material also required an organized effort. There is evidence to show that outsiders were shown the houses of the Sikhs. Obviously it would have been difficult for them to find out the houses and shops of Sikhs so quickly and easily.” What I really fail to understand is that why are such influential and resourceful persons as also those local Congress(I) leaders and workers who had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs not given an exemplary punishment like hanging or life imprisonment even though personally I am against both of these but as long as they exist in our penal laws why are such big sharks who have swallowed thousands of live allowed to live in 5 star hotels and roam in Mercedes car? Why has the long arm of law spared them? They too ought to have been sent behind the bars long time back but, most unfortunately, nothing of that sort has happened with them.
It is worth noting that Nanavati Commission also noted in its observations that,“…There is enough evidence on record to show that at many places the police had taken away their (Sikhs) arms or other articles with which they could have defended themselves against the attacks by mobs. After they were persuaded to go inside their houses on assurances that they would be well protected, attacks on them had started. All this could not have happened if it was merely a spontaneous reaction of the angry public. The systematic manner in which the Sikhs were thus killed indicate that the attacks on them were organized.”
After going through this observation, some questions immediately knock my mind which I would certainly like to share with my eesteemed readers. Why are those policemen who had taken away the arms of Sikhs by which they could have defended themselves from the unruly mob not hanged for such naked abuse of uniform and conspiring openly with the mob to kill innocent Sikhs? Why should death penalty remain in our law books if mass murderers and policemen neck deep in helping them to disarm Sikhs so that they could be most brutally murdered cannot be hanged? We need to honestly introspect on it!
We also must introspect and ask ourselves: What justice is served by just hanging one poor Dhananjay Chatterjee whose petition was drafted by prisoners of Tihar jail and who was hanged on circumstantial evidence alone as the senior lawyer of Supreme Court and human right activist Colin Gonsalves had revealed while sparing lakhs and lakhs of rapists and gang rapists and mass murderers and such policemen who actively participated in killings of innocents? This is something that I find most disgusting and completely unacceptable! This is something that must change now!
Be it noted, the Nanavati Commission also minced no words in saying unambiguously that,“ …Lack of the fear of the police force was also one of the causes for the happening of so many incidents within those 3 or 4 days. If the police had taken prompt and affective steps, very probably so many lives would not have been lost and so many properties would not have been looted, destroyed or burnt.” It is a very sad commentary on the prevailing state of sorry affairs in our country! Such guilty policemen should have been promptly arrested, dismissed from service, sent to jail and cases against them for criminal conspiracy, murder and other charges under various Sections of the IPC should have been instituted immediately!
Adding more to it, I must also point out here that the Nanavati Commission stated quite explicitly that,“…There is absolutely no evidence suggesting that Shri Rajiv Gandhi or any other high ranking Congress(I) leader had suggested or organized attacks on Sikhs. Whatever acts were done, were done by the local Congress(I) leaders and workers, and they appear to have done so for their personal political reasons. They do not appear to have done so purely for personal reasons. If they were the acts of individuals only, then the killing of Sikhs and looting of properties of Sikhs would not have been on such a large scale. Therefore, what those local leaders appear to have done is to take the help of their followers and supporters in inciting or committing those acts.” Yet the Nanavati Commission made it known in plain words that,“It is not in a position to recommend any action against them except to the extent indicated earlier while assessing the evidence against them.”
Needless to say, I struggle to understand that why such local Congress(I) leaders and workers not immediately sent behind bars and why so much of undue leniency was exhibited towards them! I would go further to say that it was the bounden duty of all top Congress leaders including the late Rajiv Gandhi to have gone the extra mile to at least attempt to check the raw massacre of innocent Sikhs who had nothing to do at all with the murder of late Mrs Indira Gandhi! If proper steps had been taken and security beefed up well in time, the damage could have been reduced greatly and Punjab would not have witnessed the ugly spell of terrorism which again enmeshed the lives of lakhs of innocents! Also, the Nanavati Commission expressed its helplessness when it said that it is not in a position to recommend any action against them except as indicated earlier. Needless to say, it should have been empowered to recommend action against them whom it wanted to but could not as it was not empowered to do so!
On the role of the police, this is what Nanavati Commission said:“…Commission agrees with the findings recorded earlier by Justice Misra Commission and by the committees which had looked into their conduct. The Commission has nothing further to add and, therefore, does not think it necessary to burden this report by referring to the evidence and instances which go to show that either they were negligent in performance of their duties or that they had directly or indirectly helped the mobs in their violent attacks on the Sikhs. As appropriate actions were initiated against them, the Commission has thought it fit not to recommend any further action against them.”
It also made clear in no uncertain terms that,“However, the Commission would like to emphasise that as a result of not recording separate FIRs, not recording statements of witnesses as stated by them and not investigating the cases properly, it has now become difficult for the Commission to make any recommendation against many of the persons who have been named by the witnesses as the persons who had indulged in violent acts against them or their family members or had facilitated the same.”
Adding more to it, I must also disclose here that the Nanavati Commission while not recommending “further action” against Congress leader HKL Bhagat “in view of his physical and mental condition” wanted the government to probe the roles of his colleagues Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. About Tytler, it said:“Commission considers it safe to record a finding that there is credible evidence against Shri Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organizing attacks on Sikhs.” About Sajjan, it said:“Commission is inclined to take the view that there is credible material against Shri Sajjan Kumar and Shri Balwan Khokhar for recording a finding that he and Shri Balwan Khokhar were probably involved as alleged by the witnesses.”
It goes without saying that the worst form of injustice is not the crime perpetrated by the perpetrators but in the fact that the offenders cocked a snook at law and even as 363 chargesheets were filed, 324 cases ended in acquittal of all accused. Only 3 got 10 years and above in jail, 5 got 5 to 10 years in jail, 156 got 3 to 5 years in jail, 67 got less than 3 years in jail and 117 escaped only with fine and warning! 3081 people were arrested by Delhi police and 442 have been convicted till date. Nothing can be more shameful! It ought to be mentioned here that Mansa Singh who was a survivor saw himself how Kishori Lal who was a butcher and whom he never suspected used a knife to chop off his son Darshan’s arms. Not stopping here, he led a frenzied mob who attacked them with knives and iron rods. Mansa who is now 74 years old says:“I lost three sons in front of my eyes. They were cut to pieces and beaten to death with iron rods. I could not save my children. I don’t know why God has kept me alive. I don’t wish this on my worst enemies.” Photographs of his 3 sons, his brother Kripal Singh and eldest daughter-in-law Amarti Kaur adorn the otherwise barren walls of the house. It is a national shame that such mass murderers are still not hanged even after more than 30 years of that carnage! Such stories of similar Sikh people losing all their near and dear ones is endless but yet not a single accused has been hanged till now!
Simply put Vrinda Grover who is a senior lawyer and human right activist points out that,“In 1984, we had not developed the idea of the state being totally complicit…that this violence was being sponsored, masterminded at the behest of the state…” Prashant Bhushan who is known for his anti-corruption fight and who is a senior Supreme Court lawyer hits the nail on the head when he says bluntly that,“1984 was very bad in terms of institutional response. The system failed. The perpetrators had connections and got away.”
Truth be told, HS Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court rightly sums up by saying that,“The main endeavour has always been to shield the guilty politicians and unfortunately, it has been successful. Apart from two politicians, no other leader from that time–some are believed to have been actively and physically involved in the riots–has been prosecuted or even questioned. Police complicity has gone completely unpunished. Every state agency in November 1984, for two whole days, worked towards facilitating the riots. But there have been no questions, let alone answers. For 3000 murders, only 30 people have been convicted till now. When there are acquittals, no one stops to ask, then who killed 3000 people in just two days? We saw that our Parliament erupted over the beheading of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistan army. But it has not had the time in 37 years to even pass a resolution condemning the killing of its soldiers by its own citizens. The ministers of defence has not bothered to so much as come out with a list of soldiers killed in November 1984. No one raised a protest against the killing of these soldiers. No trials, no convictions, no justice.”
Another senior and eminent advocate ND Pancholi who has been associated with the civil society groups Citizens for Democracy and the People’s Union for Democratic Rights too minced no words in stating the palpable, unpalatable truth that,“How many people do you think it would take to kill 3000 men? There were at least 15000-20000 people involved in the rioting but they didn’t arrest the real culprits. They arrested the bystanders and picked up the people off the road. That’s why there were so many closures and acquittals.” What a supreme irony that of the 147 cops indicted by Kusum Lata Mittal Committee and Jain Aggarwal Committee, no action taken against half and many had either died a natural death or retired or action was time-barred!
To conclude, I am happy to learn that the NDA government has announced payment of Rs 5 lakh relief for each life lost in 1984 riots. A beginning has been made for them to restart their life even though it has come after more than 30 years but until and unless those guilty are not given the maximum punishment permissible under our law, the victims wounds can never heal completely! Death penalty must be abolished if those involved in such gruesome acts of merciless killings which will ashame even a terrorist are not hanged immediately. A special SIT monitored by Supreme Court should be formed immediately to reopen and investigate these cases completely and those found guilty must be given the toughest punishment and under no circumstances should be allowed to escape lightly as most unfortunately we saw earlier! This will be the real tribute to those killed in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots most ruthlessly!