1984 anti-Sikh riots judgement
Prabjhot Kaur wipes her eye with a corner of her dupatta and lapses into silence when she is reminded of the horrible day when her husband was surrounded by a mob and subsequently ‘necklaced’, which involves a tyre put around one’s neck, which is then set on fire. The time was two days after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Her husband was returning after buying ghee when he was set upon by a frenzied mob. From her first floor balcony, Prabhot watched him burn to death. His dying screams still echo in her mind, she says. Their modest first-floor home in Vikas Puri has a large framed photo of her husband, neatly encircled with marigolds. After that incident, her young son shaved his neatly trimmed beard, discarded his turban, and shed his Sikh identity. ‘It was the only safe thing to do under the circumstances’, she says simply.
The acquittal of Sajjan Kumar for his involvement in the 1984 riots which followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has once again opened old, festering wounds for many Sikh families living in Delhi. Sajjan Kumar was acquitted by a Delhi court in a case related to the killing of five people in the Delhi Cantonment area during violence against Sikhs following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. After Mrs Gandhi died at the hands of her two Sikh bodyguards, anti-Sikh riots erupted on 1 November 1984, and continued in some areas for days; unofficial estimates put the death toll at 3,000. The worst affected areas were Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri, Trilokpuri, and other trans-Yamuna areas of Delhi. Mobs carried iron rods, knives, clubs, and combustible material, including kerosene. The mobs barged into Sikh neighbourhoods, arbitrarily killing any Sikh men or women they could find. Their shops and houses were ransacked and burned. In other incidents, armed mobs stopped buses and trains, in and around Delhi, pulling out Sikh passengers to be lynched or doused with kerosene and burnt alive.
Since that shameful episode, numerous committees were set up to dispense justice to those affected by the riots, such as the Marwah Commission, the Kapur Mittal Committee, the Ahuja Committee, Dhillon Committee, Nanavati Commission, etc. but there was little progress. The cases continue to linger in the courts, a victim of India’s lethargic judicial system. Last month, a Delhi court re-opened a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case against Jagdish Tytler, a former central minister. The court has asked the CBI to reinvestigate allegations that Mr Tytler, instigated a riotous mob, which then murdered three men who had taken shelter in a gurdwara in north Delhi on November 1, 1984.
Terming as “very unfortunate” the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said it will challenge the court order and demanded the setting up of a court- monitored Special Investigation Team to probe the riot cases. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said it was very unfortunate that Sajjan Kumar had been acquitted and it must be challenged in a higher court. He wondered why though there was direct evidence against the Congress leader he alone was left out while all other accused in the case have been convicted based on the evidence against them. He promised he would appeal to a higher court and would continue to fight till justice was done. “The way CBI was used to save the guilty in the coal scam, in Sajjan Kumar’s case and also the whole CBI team was used by the Congress party to save him,” he opined.
The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee also expresses its outrage over the verdict. “We have lodged a strong response with the concerned authorities,’ said their spokesperson. ‘We will continue the fight till full justice has been restored and Mr. Kumar is adequately punished for his crimes,’ he concluded.
Outside of India, too, Sikhs have been making a consistent effort to get more international attention to the lack of accountability for what happened. In the 2005 elections in Britain, for instance, the country’s 700,000- strong Sikh community banded together to make it a campaign issue.
Meanwhile, the news of Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal lead to a storm of protest by various Sikh groups There were throngs of protesters outside the Tilak Nagar police station in west Delhi, which houses a large number of Sikhs. Train services were also disrupted at the Subhash Nagar Metro station in the afternoon as Sikh protesters came onto the tracks with placards and shouted slogans against Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal.
‘We must have been punished for sins committed in our past life,’ says Prabjhot, stoically, clasping her hands. ‘We were sad to hear that he (Sajjan Kumar) has been found not guilty by the court. But we will continue the fight. We will not give up so easily’, she proclaims, a steely glint in her eyes. ‘In the end, justice will prevail. We have faith in our Wahe Guru.’