1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom Bring Genocide Architects To Account!


Jun 1, 2004
The is the 57th article in sikhchic.com's "1984 & I" Series, which is being presented to you through the 12 months of this year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of India's crimes of 1984.

Twenty five years ago, on the morning of 1 November 1984, I woke up in London to get ready for school. My parents - Sikhs - sat staring at the television screen. Nobody told us to brush our teeth, or to stop messing around with our Ready Brek. Shocked phone calls replaced our daily routine.
The massacre of 4,000 innocent Sikhs in Delhi, and beyond, had begun. Much of the world's media has allowed the Indian government to portray what happened as an "explosion of grief" in response to Indira Gandhi's assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards following her orders leading to the military assault on The Golden Temple.

The truth, however, is far more chilling.

The 10 days that followed Gandhi's assassination are documented extensively in eyewitness testimony.

Unsubstantiated rumours began to spread on the night of 31 October that Sikhs were celebrating Gandhi's murder. By early the following morning, gangs of young men were setting alight parts of south Delhi that today are among the most elite residential neighbourhoods of the city. In Delhi, in Kanpur and in Calcutta, the police and political forces stood by while the fury of part of the population was unleashed in burnings, killings and horror. Women were gang-raped - a tactic later employed in Gujarat - and gurdwaras, homes and Sikh businesses were destroyed.

There is evidence that Delhi's public buses were used to transport the gangs from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. The army was not called on to the streets on the morning of 1 November. No curfew was imposed until most of the damage was done.

No credible explanation for this has ever been provided.

Two and a half decades later, the language used to describe that night remains as blurry as ever. Was it a genocide? Who drew up lists of identification? Why did the police disappear or intervene to protect the mobs rather than the victims? Did Rajiv Gandhi, the incumbent prime minister, encourage the murders through his statements on the radio? Did members of Congress incite the killings? Why did ministers fail to act when they had been warned by the army that a "holocaust" might be unleashed that very night? Who kept the army at bay?

In short, was this state-sponsored violence of the order that led to another decade of brutality in which some 10,000 Punjabi Sikhs, mostly men, were "disappeared" by the state?

India is right to trumpet its many achievements over the last decade. They are well documented. But the country's progress is littered with reminders of a dangerous past which its own government has planted and then tried to bury.

Unfortunately, the secular credentials of prime minister Manmohan Singh's Congress government are not all that they appear to be.
The Nanavati Commission was set up in 2000 to investigate the events with broad terms of reference. Four years later it reported back that the state had been involved. Politicians were implicated heavily, but no action taken against them.

International organisations have heavily criticised the state's actions and the impunity with which the police have proceeded in Punjab and Delhi over this period, and the subsequent episode of so-called counter-insurgency operations in Punjab.

In 2007, India's CBI finally announced that it was closing the case on 1984 for lack of evidence, in spite of extensive eyewitness testimony both to the violence, as well as to the involvement of police and politicians. In the 1994 report, Dead Silence: Legacy of Abuses in Punjab, Human Rights Watch Asia and Physicians for Human Rights described the government operations in Punjab during the 1980s as "the most extreme example of a policy in which the end appeared to justify any and all means, including torture and murder".

Still the Congress government of India stays quiet. Indeed, Manmohan Singh even described the torture, killings and disappearances as "aberrations" in the fight against terrorism.

Insaaf means justice in many Indian languages. No justice has been done for India's Sikhs, who represent just 2% of the population but whose culture, language and music now form the background to hit after Bollywood hit.

The Indian government, even with a Sikh at its head, has studiously refused to contemplate the truth of what has happened. For many of India's political and social elite, it is more convenient to forget than to confront. Why dredge up memories that are painful, and which threaten a peaceful coexistence between ethnic and religious communities, they say.
The danger in that path is that what has happened before can happen again. It happened in Godhra in Gujarat in 1992, and still Narendra Modi - who is said to be the chief architect of that genocide against the Gujarati Muslim population - retains power.

International law and principles demand that states conduct effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable. In country after country where a population has brutalised its minority, and in the case of South Africa its majority, there has needed to be an open reconciliation with the truth. It can take the form of truth commissions, like those in South Africa or in Salvador or Guatemala, or it can take the form of court actions like in Rwanda, Argentina and Chile, where the most powerful members of society, including army generals or even Pinochet himself, have been successfully prosecuted for their pivotal role in the disappearances of so many thousands of men.

It is not enough that the Delhi courts very recently convicted local small fry for their complicity in murder and criticised the Indian police for their role in the 1984 killings. The Indian government needs both to bring accountability and to be accountable in order to ensure that the architects and orchestrators are not allowed to get away with their actions.
Last week, Human Rights Watch urged India, as the world's largest democracy, to take a global role in influencing Burma, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
But until the truth of the extent of state-sponsored murder on ethnic lines, both in the 1984 pogroms and the subsequent disappearances that ripped through Punjab's male population, is revealed, the country's reputation will remain besmirched.
[Courtesy: The Guardian]

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