1984 anti-Sikh riots case: 39 years on, no end to trauma

In due course of time, the Central government in a notification issued on May 8, 2000 appointed Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry to submit its report on the riots.
FILE - Family members of the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots (File Photo | PTI)
FILE - Family members of the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots (File Photo | PTI)

Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena on Saturday gave his approval for the prosecution to appeal in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court’s order acquitting 12 murder accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

L-G Saxena approved the Delhi government’s home department’s proposal to file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the top court challenging the August 2023 judgment of the High Court, which acquitted all the accused in the case involving the murder of eight people in the Nangloi area of West Delhi in 1984.

In its order, the high court noted that there was no explanation for the inordinate delay of 27 years in filing the appeal against the trial court’s acquittal order in April 1995. It also stated that the grounds presented by the state were not justifiable.

The Delhi government’s proposal to file the SLP stated that the High Court had not considered the merits of the case and instead dismissed the state’s appeal solely on the grounds of the inordinate delay in filing the appeal.

This case was one of the 186 cases related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that the Supreme Court ordered to be re-examined in 2018. Subsequently, a Special Investigation Team (SIT), comprising Justice (Retd) SN Dhingra and an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Abhishek, was constituted.

A view of the colony where some
of the riot victims’ families were
relocated | Express

The SIT’s report in 2019 noted that this was a case where the prosecution should have appealed immediately after the trial court’s judgement. However, the committee recommended filing an appeal with an application for condonation of delay.

In a report in August this year, the Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) expressed the opinion that an SLP can be filed before the Supreme Court because the High Court ignored the fact that the challenge against the trial court’s verdict was filed based on the recommendations of the commission constituted by the court.

The AAP also pointed out that, in this case, there is a crime against humanity, and the observations of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in a similar matter relating to the mass killing of Bangladeshi citizens in 1971 by sympathisers of Pakistan are relevant.

Meanwhile, the Standing Counsel of Delhi High Court noted that there is a delay of only 274 days, not 27 years, as it should be calculated from the date of the SIT report and not from the trial court judgment.

The 12 accused persons in the case are Maikale Ram, Ramesh Chandra Sharma, Bishan Datt Sharma, Des Raj Goel, Anar Singh, Jagdish Prasad Sharma, Mahavir Singh, Balkishan, Dharampal, Om Pal Chauhan, Gyan Prakash, and Ved Prakash.

The individuals killed were Avtar Singh, Jagir Singh, Darshan Singh, Kulwant Singh, Baldev Singh, Sharvan Singh, Balwinder Singh, and Harcharan Singh. One person named Dharmendra Singh was injured
Families continue to be traumatised 39 years after communal riots rocked the national capital, in which an estimated 3,900 people lost their lives, many families continue to be traumatised by the event, which took place in the aftermath of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984.

“Too much smoke was seen from the neighbouring colony at about 11.00 am on 1.11.84. That smoke started coming nearer slowly...” recalled one such eyewitness. That morning, Harvinder Singh saw a crowd of 200 to 250 people who reached the Gurdwara at his colony and set it on fire.

“On reaching home, I found my father who had sustained a rod injury. He was lying unconscious. His entire body was blood-stained. A mob of about 200/250 culprits attacked the house of Nath Singh, the president of our colony when I was still helping my father. They started beating the members of his family and set the truck parked outside on fire. I and the members of my family saw the incident peeping through the holes of the rear door of our house,” he said in a statement in the court. The mob threw Nath’s teenage son into a burning truck, but the residents of the colony saved him later.

“We were so scared that we ran away leaving the doors of the house open. My Jeeja Ji (husband of my sister) and my father went to the house of an old Hindu lady who locked the house from the outside. There, I came to know that some Hindu brother had got my injured mother admitted into the Rana Nursing Home, Rajouri Garden. The noises of arson and looting were heard by us while sitting inside the closed room,” it was stated.

Later, the three of them borrowed two bicycles and tried to move out of the city where on the way they were attacked and badly beaten up with rods. Harvinder could run up to a police post from where he had escaped while the two others could not.

“My brother-¬in-¬law and my father lost their lives during this incident. My sister who had only a 27-day-old son at that time became a widow. I have been disabled due to the injuries to my hands. We have been paid Rs.10,000¬ each for the loss of lives and Rs.2,000¬ each for injuries,” his statement read.

Aftermath of the horror

As per the official figures 2,732 Sikhs were killed in the riots —2,146 in Delhi and 586 in some other towns in the northern region. The Sikhs suffered loss of homes and property on an unprecedented scale.
However, the police had registered only 587 FIRs against the mobsters and even among these, the police declared over 240 cases as “untraced” and around 250 cases ended in acquittals.

Further, 11 FIRs were quashed and in another 11 cases, the accused were discharged. There have been several commissions/committees — from Ved Marwah in 1984 to Nanavati Commission in 2000 besides
Misra Commission, Kapur Mittal Committee, Jain Banerjee Committee, Potti Rosha Committee, Jain Aggarwal Committee, Ahuja Committee, Dhillon Committee and Narula Committee.

Cases against politicians

There are five important cases still pending against the veteran leaders of Congress including one against former Union minister Jagdish Tytler and four against former MP Sajjan Kumar. Tytler has been accused of involvement in a case related to the riots, a charge that he has denied.

The present case against him goes back to four decades ago on November 1, 1984, when three persons named Badal Singh, Sardar Thakur Singh, and Gurbachan Singh were allegedly burnt to death near Gurudwara Pul Bangah.

Photograph of a young girl,
daughter of a man killed in the riots,
holding the Tricolour | Express

Tytler stated that he was present at Teen Murti Bhavan for the funeral ceremony with Indira Gandhi’s body and was in mourning at the time when these events occurred near Azad Market in the city. After completion of the investigation by Delhi Police, a chargesheet was filed against 31 accused persons, who were acquitted by a trial court on April 10, 1992.  

In due course of time, the Central government in a notification issued on May 8, 2000, appointed Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry to submit its report on the riots. The commission submitted its report on February 9, 2005 and upon its recommendations, the Central government directed CBI to conduct investigation/re-investigation of the present case against Jagdish Tytler and others and accordingly, a case was registered by the CBI on November 22, 2005 and investigation was initiated.

On September 28, 2007, a chargesheet was filed by CBI. However, with respect to Jagdish Tytler it was stated that no material evidence was found. What followed in the next decade and a half was filing of a series of closure reports by the CBI with respect to accused Jagdish Tytler and opposing protest petitions filed by victim Lakhwinder Kaur, widow of deceased Badal Singh.

Out of four cases against Sajjan Kumar, two are on trial and one in conviction while another is appeal against conviction. He was recently acquitted in one of the cases.78-year-old Sajjan Kumar is currently lodged in Tihar and under medication due to health conditions related to his age.

In the September 20 order, Special Judge Geetanjli Goel said, “The accused Sajjan Kumar is given the benefit of doubt and acquitted for various offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc. (Section 153A), abetment of any offence (Section 109), murder (Section 302) and rioting (147).”

He was also acquitted of rioting armed with deadly weapon (148), unlawful assembly (149), damage of worship place (295), mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc (436). Besides Kumar, the special court also acquitted two other accused -- Ved Prakash Pial and Brahmanand Gupta -- holding that the prosecution failed to prove the case of murder and rioting against them.

Last month, the court had framed charges against Kumar terming him as ‘principal abettor’ in the case. Kumar was a part of the violent mob with a clear objective to set ablaze the gurdwara located in Gulab Bagh in Delhi’s Nawada area on November 1, 1984, the court had held earlier.

About the decades-old incident, the court had observed that Kumar had prima facie instigated other unidentified members of the mob to commit illegal acts, including burning down of the Gurudwara, damaging or looting articles, burning homes, and inflicting injuries on individuals. The mob’s objective was to set the Gurudwara on fire, loot its contents, destroy Sikh residences, and harm or kill Sikhs in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it was noted.

‘Day of forgiveness’

A documentary film titled ‘1984, When the Sun Didn’t Rise’ on the riots made by Mumbai-based filmmaker Teenaa Kaur Pasricha won the National Film Award for Best Investigative Film in 2018. Talking about the delay in justice, Pasricha said though there are a considerable amount of cases pending, people are not going for court hearings after nearly forty years. One cannot be able to fight forever and going into their past repeatedly is also painful.

“Delhi has chosen deliberate amnesia. Any person living in Delhi who chosen to forget the past is also an injustice. One needs to be asked about restorative justice,” she says, adding that it will give a bad example if accused people have not been tried by the courts and put behind bars as the history of violence can repeat at any time.

Pasricha adds, “People can choose to forgive and forget, and that is rightful. But that is also mindful that it is their conscious that allows them to choose and forget. But with that declaration that they are forgiving and forgetting with compassion. And how will the message reach the people who are perpetrators who are the criminals, it will reach when October 31 to the 4th of November is celebrated as a forgiveness day in our country.”

“When in Delhi, people do candlelight marches, hug each other serve free lungers..distribute flowers. And other people should also participate in this. Choose the day to commemorate it as a day of forgiveness and compassion. Because that is what we need. As a generation as a humanity. That’s what we need. We don’t need revenge, we need forgiveness,” she said.

Only 587 FIRs, 250 cases ended in acquittal

As per the official figures, 2,732 Sikhs were killed in the riots —2,146 in Delhi and 586 in some other towns in the northern region. The Sikhs suffered loss of homes and property on an unprecedented scale. However, the police had registered only 587 FIRs against the mobsters and even among these, the police declared over 240 cases as “untraced” and around 250 cases ended in acquittals.  Further, 11 FIRs were quashed and in another 11 cases, the accused were discharged.

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com