This year marks the 36th anniversary of the genocide of Sikhs in Delhi which began on 31 October and went on till 4 November. The genocide spread to 40 cities. Official figures state that 2700 were killed in Delhi. Unofficial estimates state that the total number of deaths across India were closer to 10,000. The number of those convicted has been very low, and the process of getting justice tortuous. The systematic denial of justice already established in previous inquiry commissions and committees has most recently been highlighted in the Justice Dhingra SIT Committee Report which submitted to Union Law Ministry in end-April 2019, and, presented to Supreme Court only in November 2019. This report draws attention to:
- Systematic protection and granting impunity to police in 1984: The Dhingra Committee indicted impunity granted to guilty policemen and among other recommendations has specifically asked for action against Inspector Shoorvir Singh Tyagi, SHO of PS Kalyanpuri, who was suspended for his active role in the Kalyanpuri massacre, then reinstated, promoted to ACP. No action has been taken him so far. It might be recalled that the first inquiry commission into 1984 riots, Marwah Commission (1984-1985), was hastily wound up after it became known that it had gathered evidence that clearly indicted the police. The Kusum Mittal (1987) and Jain-Aggarwal (1990) Committees had indicted a total of 147 policemen, but nothing came of it.
- Malafide investigations: The Dhingra Committee has noted that in one case, the DCP sent 337 complaints he received soon after incidents of burning, looting, injuries and murders to PS Sultanpuri where an ‘omnibus’ FIR was recorded including 498 incidents. A single Investigating Officer was appointed to probe this case. Such clubbing together of several murders/incidents in different locations was done in other instances as well and ensured that investigation and prosecution failed to nail the guilty.
- Role of the Judiciary: Justice Dhingra has indicted Courts for not directing the police to follow stipulated procedure of filing separate challans for crimes. In the case of PS Kalyanpuri clubbing 56 murders, and many incidents, for instance, the trial court framed charges for only 5 of the murders, despite the eyewitness identifying perpetrators in other murders. The routine response of the judiciary was to acquit the accused.
Justice Dhingra Commission has recommended that the state explore the possibility of filing appeals in more than 10 cases, including several of those decided by then Additional Sessions Judge S.S Bal who was in charge of all 1984 cases in Delhi, between 1984 and 1995.
It is for these reasons that struggle of 1984 victims and survivors for justice has been so hard. Of the 13 policemen and 196 others named on the basis of victims’ accounts in the PUDR-PUCL report ‘Who are the Guilty?’ (1984), only one of the named Congress I leaders, Sajjan Kumar was sentenced after 34 years. The case against Jagdish Tytler continues and the key witness is receiving death threats. It is true however that at least a few of the accused have been arrested and sentenced – only because of the truly heroic collective struggle of the survivors.
The genocidal violence against the Sikh community offers one of the starkest instances of the State’s denial of rights to citizens in the history of independent India. However, the pattern has been replicated in several other subsequent instances – most recently in the 2020 NE Delhi riots where large scale communal violence against Muslims was perpetrated with state connivance.
The message of the genocidal violence in 1984 and the struggles of victims/survivors is that it is only through collective struggles and an unwavering insistence on the complete accountability of state institutions to democratic rights, can justice be achieved.
- Priority trial of cases in the genocidal violence against the Sikh community.
- Investigations against accused personnel of the police – including Insp. Shoorvir Singh Tyagi and others specifically indicted by the Dhingra Committee and of government officials guilty of shielding culprits and sabotaging investigations.
- Inquiry and action against members of the judiciary who colluded with the police to shield the guilty.
Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar