Memories of a carnage unleashed

Justice delayed is justice denied. And 25 years is a long time for people waiting for justice. This is so with the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and many other towns in norther

Published: 13th December 2009 09:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 09:53 PM   |  A+A-

Justice delayed is justice denied. And 25 years is a long time for people waiting for justice. This is so with the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and many other towns in northern India. There is a lot of talk, in recent times, of reconciliation and peace. But the simple point is that peace and reconciliation can be brought about only after justice is meted out.

On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. In the aftermath, Delhi and some other places in the country witnessed extensive violence that left over 3,000 Sikhs dead, their establishments looted and burnt down. Rajiv Gandhi, who took over as prime minister just hours before the carnage began, shamelessly approved of the pogrom. He said: “When a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the Earth around it does shake a little’’. Eviden­tly, the slaughter of more than 3,000 people seemed a

natural course to him!

And if anyone argued that Rajiv Gandhi’s was

an innocent statement in his hour of grief, evidence that it was not came soon after. The Congress leaders who organised the pogrom and orchestrated some

of the mobs were rewarded with positions in Parliament and even in the Union Cabinet. All the while, the Sikhs were denied justice.

Jarnail Singh, an 11-year-old boy in November 1984, would not have thrown a shoe at Union home minister P Chidambaram in 2009 when he was 36, if justice had not been denied. For that matter, he would not have written this book, I Accuse. The writer is a journalist with Dainik Jagran who has reported extensively on Sikh politics and defence. The shoe incident made him (in) famous instantaneously.

While some felt he violated journalistic ethics that day, few others connected it to the plight of the Sikh yearning for justice. The book is a detailed account of the 1984 violence and the brazen miscarriage of justice thereafter. The author interviewed some of the victims extensively and presents the carnage through their eyes. He narrates the brutal killing of an ex-army man in vivid detail: “The mob was chanting; ‘kill these Sardars, traitors of the country’. They first surrounded Mahan Singh and pulled off his pagri...

“He is an old army man, he has fought for the country”, neighbours said.

“How does it matter… sardars are traitors”

Mahan Singh was murdered and his 11-year-old son Harkirat cut into three pieces.

This is only one of several stories. In many cases, all the men in a family were killed. Gurdwaras were ransacked and set on fire. The police were either passive onlookers or helped the mobs, the author says.  

A number of the survivors have clearly identified the political leaders who led the mobs on their killing spree. H K L Bagat, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Sastri are names that figured in the depositions by survivors before the enquiry commissions. There were many commissions and as many reports. The Nanavati Commission, which submitted its report in August 2005, recommended registering cases against Sajjan Kumar. But no action has been taken. For the Sikh community justice is still far away. And you cannot talk about peace when justice is denied. It is their incredible endurance that has enabled them to get on with their lives.

Reading through Jarnail Singh’s account is bound to horrify anyone and leave them revolted at the government’s inertia. It should be prescribed as a textbook so that generations to come will learn from it not to repeat it. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

— The writer is a development consultant.


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