A Delhi court has charged former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar for the murder of a man and his son in west Delhi’s Saraswati Vihar during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, saying that prima facie he was not only “a participant of the mob but also led it.”
The family members of the deceased -- Jaswant Singh and Tarun Deep Singh -- had alleged that a mob led by Kumar burnt the two men alive on November 1, 1984. They alleged that Kumar “instigated and abetted the unruly mob”. The complainants also alleged that the mob also set their house on fire. The case was registered as FIR 458/91 at Police Station Saraswati Vihar, Delhi where the eye-witness had identified Sajjan Kumar when the eye-witness saw a photograph of him.
On Friday, additional sessions judge MK Nagpal said his view regarding Kumar’s participation “is much stronger and the allegations, along with material, gives rise to grave suspicion”. The court charged Kumar with murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, arson, attempt to culpable homicide, dacoity, voluntarily causing hurt, and causing mischief and robbery.
Advocate Harpreet Singh Hora informed that the court has announced charges under the offences of rioting, murder and dacoity under sections 147, 149, 148, 302, 308, 323, 395, 397, 427, 436, 440 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Sajjan Kumar.He stated that the case was previously closed as untraced in 1994 and the SIT had opened it again.
The assassination of Indira Gandhi led to the retaliatory 1984 Sikh Genocide. Within a period of three days, almost 3000 Sikhs were murdered, and the human rights of thousands more were violated. Ten government-appointed commissions and committees have investigated the deadly attacks against thousands of Sikhs. Independent civil society inquiries found collusion by both police and leaders of Gandhi’s Congress Party. Yet, decades later, barely 30 people, mostly low-ranking Congress Party supporters, have been convicted for the attacks that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries. No police officer has been convicted, and there were no prosecutions for rape, highlighting a comprehensive failure of the justice system.
The Delhi police eventually filed only 587 First Information Reports (FIRs), official complaints, for three days of violence that resulted in 2,733 deaths. Out of these, the police closed 241 cases without investigation, claiming inability to trace evidence. Following a report by the government-appointed commission led by retired Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati in 2005, four of the cases that had been closed were reopened and reinvestigated.
Most investigations by government-led commissions and civil society organizations found that the violence started spontaneously on October 31 but the the following morning it took the shape of a well-organized massacre. The 2005 Nanavati commission said the violence, in different localities, followed a similar pattern, whereby men were beaten before being burnt alive. This therefore contradicts the common media portrayal of the 1984 events as “anti-Sikh riots”, since a “riot” denotes actions that were sporadic and spontaneous. Instead, the atrocities committed are more accurately described as a genocide. Sikhs were deliberately targeted in a strategic and coordinated manner.
The Indian government has hindered investigations and failed to take steps to rectify the human rights abuses that took place. In 1987, the Kapoor-Mittal committee was established to investigate the role of the police in the 1984 genocide. The committee identified 72 negligent officers, and recommended that 30 of those officers be dismissed. However, no action by the government was taken to discipline or dismiss these individuals. In many instances the government closed cases due to a lack of evidence.
India’s failure to prosecute those most responsible for the anti-Sikh violence in 1984 has not only denied justice to Sikhs, but has made all Indians more vulnerable to communal violence. The authorities recurrently congested inquiries to defend the culprits of mayhem against Sikhs in 84 , deepening public distrust in India’s justice system.
Lately, further apprehensions have ascended about the absence of police culpability and alleged police brutality. Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen, was arrested by Punjab Police in November 2017 and has been detained ever since, despite no formal charges being brought against him. Other Sikh activists claim that Jagtar’s arrest is due to him highlighting the events of 1984 and spreading consciousness amongst younger generations through the website NeverForget84.com. Despite UN experts calling for India to independently investigate these allegations of torture, no independent investigation has been established.
Successive Indian governments’ botch to prosecute those most responsible for killings and other abuses during the 1984 anti-Sikh violence highlights India’s weak efforts to battle communal violence. The new Indian government should pursue police reforms and to endorse a law against communal violence that would hold public officials liable for collusion and dereliction of duty.