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32 Years On, Memories Fresh But Justice Still Not In Sight: Conclave On ’84 Sikh Massacre

Posted on June 24, 2016 in Staff Picks, Stories by YKA

By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

“It is a total farce,” H. S. Phoolka, human rights activist and Aam Admi Party member who has been working with the legal cases of the 1984 Sikh massacre, said about the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed in February last year by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for investigation of the massacre. He was speaking at the Justice/Insaaf 84 Conclave organised by Amnesty International India at the India Habitat Centre on June 23. The event included several panel discussions between jurists, activists, academics, and journalists.

The human rights advocacy organisation had organised the conclave to bring back attention to the massacre, in which about 3,000 to 8,000 Sikh men, women, and children were killed (according to various estimates) after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. As the three-member SIT’s term ends in August and it is likely to file a report then, it is being hoped that more accused will be charged and convicted.

As per an RTI reply dated 29th December, 2015, the MHA had stated that the SIT is looking into 18 cancelled cases and 34 files of the Jain-Agarwal Committee. Amnesty’s report on the SIT also adds that the organisation has learnt that no charges have been filed in any case so far as per an RTI application that the organisation had filed in December last year.

The harrowing narratives of the massacre were again recounted at the conclave even as journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay moderating the event insisted that the conversation be taken forward to delivering justice to the victims. Justice Markandey Katju, speaking on a panel with Justice Rajinder Sachar and Justice Anil Dev Singh, said that the judiciary had failed to deliver justice to the victims and that they should form people’s tribunals to file PILs. Justice Singh retorted that the judiciary cannot find evidence on its own when the police have failed to investigate cases in 31 years and that the judiciary could not be blamed if the police “were in connivance”. “Who were the people behind the police? The police did not unearth that,” he said. “Where we (the judiciary) have failed is at the top,” Justice Sachar said, taking a middle-path in what was a heated discussion. Amod Kanth, who was the Deputy Commissioner of the Central district in 1984, later claimed that where the police had acted, there were fewer deaths and that he had been able to contain the massacre with a pro-active approach in the Central district.

Regretting the fact that the judicial commissions and committees constituted to investigate the massacre and compensate the victims had failed to do so, journalist and activist Kuldeep Nayar said, “Till today Hindus haven’t paid the penance.” “This is something on the conscience of the Hindus and they will have to make amends,” he added. Tarlochan Singh, former Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities who has also been a member of the NHRC, said that while former Auschwitz guards were being convicted even today, alleged accused government and police officials of the ’84 massacre were dying natural deaths.

Phoolka, however, was of the opinion that the ’84 massacre wasn’t a communal clash but was organised by all supporters of Congress against the Sikhs. He said that the model of rousing the feelings of the electorate to win elections has since been replicated in ’93 in Mumbai, in ’02 in Gujarat. Adding that the “model is being attempted everywhere” now, he said that if the trend is not checked “anybody can be a target”. Academic Dilip Simeon offered similarly that there was “genocidal complicity” within most people of the country. He said that the civil society should acknowledge and work on the fact that most people did not consider that there was anything wrong with the massacre. “Kitne maare (How many did you kill)?” was a common refrain during the time, Simeon added.

A “political panel” also saw brickbats hurled between AAP’s H.S. Phoolka and SAD’s Delhi President Manjit Singh. Phoolka countered Singh’s claim that the victims were beginning to lose their memory after 32 years and said that Singh’s stand has changed since the BJP-SAD government came to power in Punjab. Singh replied that he was only suggesting that justice be served to the victims soon. He also questioned Phoolka’s association with AAP, which had formed an alliance with the Congress during its 49-day government.

Drawing on the lack of accountability in the Muzaffarnagar riots and the ongoing rumours of an exodus in Shamli’s Kairana, former AAP member Yogendra Yadav said, “We have failed to give the message that ‘if your hands are bloodied, your political career will be destroyed’.” “To stop something which has the tacit support of the majority, we have no instrument,” he added. He suggested the formation of a body like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. He also suggested that “we must work for institutions to educate” the coming generations on the massacres and riots that have taken place in India.

Also speaking at the conclave were lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover, journalists Siddharth Varadarajan, Hartosh Bal, Seema Mustafa, and Harminder Kaur, actor Savita Bhatti, and Prof. A. S. Narang.