Sikh riot victims of 1984 yet to get justice in India | Asia Pacific

Sikh riot victims of 1984 yet to get justice in India

Sikh riot victims of 1984 yet to get justice in India

Updated 9 November 2012, 22:00 AEDT

It's been almost three decades since deadly riots in the Indian capital New Delhi saw more than three-thousand Sikhs killed by organised mobs.

The riots erupted after the assassination in October 1984 of the country's then-prime minister by her Sikh guards.

A few months before Indira Gandhi was killed, Indian trooops had put down a separatist rebellion by storming the Sikh religion's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Correspondent: Murali Krishnan

Speakers: Vrinda Grover, Lawyer; Jarrnail Singh, organizer, Forgotten Citizens 1984 Justice Campaign; Tarvinder Singh and Gurpal Singh Kalsi, riots survivors.

KRISHNAN: Tarvinder Singh, a trader, prays faithfully at the local gurudwara or the Sikh house of worship everyday. His prayers always end with a wish that the perpetrators behind the 1984 riots in New Delhi are punished.

He was just 12 years old when an organised gang entered his house and massacred six members of his family including his father.

TARVINDER: We will continue to fight. If I die, my son will carry on the fight for justice and then maybe his son. Every generation will fight. We fight for others and this is an incident we will never forget.

KRISHNAN:The guilty behind the worst riots since partition are yet to be identified, much less punished. Many of the eye witnesses have died including those who carried out the murders of innocent civilians. Mobs, reportedly backed by the police and the political class, had a free run as they trawled the streets for almost four days.

Various governments set up committees and commissions to try and secure justice. But with powers to just make recommendations, nothing has been achieved so far.

Gurpal Singh Kalsi was just 4 years when prowling mobs killed four members of his family. He is lucky to be alive.

KALSI: There is no justice. The courts have given capital punishment to 31 persons and life imprisonment to over 100 people when the sectarian riots happened in Gujarat in 2002. Our community has also sacrificed a lot. I am ashamed to be a citizen of India.

KRISHNAN:The story of the investigation has been a obvious example of how the political establishment has used the administrative machinery to conceal the truth, protect the guilty and obstruct the course of justice, say lawyers and civil rights activists who have been following the investigation trail.

Vrinda Grover, a lawyer, who has been chronicling the riot cases, explains.

GROVER: It is impossible for a case to reach any kind of conclusion ending in a conviction when those who are meant to investigate become totally complicit. This goes to prove how it was state engineered. In fact there are judgments of the trial court while trying the case said that it seemed that what was left to be done by the rioters was then completed by the police.

KRISHNAN: Except for a few unimportant convictions, some who have subsequently been acquitted, not one politician or senior police official has been punished in the killings that took place in full public view in the days following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984. A majority of cases have led to acquittal.

Jarnail Singh is the organizer of the Forgotten Citizens 1984 Justice Campaign.

SINGH: 28 years have gone but nothing has happened. And the Prime Minister of India is saying forget about it. No we cannot forget about it. The widows are crying, the orphans are crying. Their hearts are bleeding. They cannot forget what happened. Our community is hurt. They feel there are two sets of law and they have lost confidence in the rule of law.

KRISHNAN:The government, on its part, has so far doled out compensation to relatives of those killed in the sectarian violence after a commission headed by retired judge submitted its report in August 2005. Though the report claimed there was evidence against Congress leaders for instigating the mobs to attack and kill Sikhs, it failed to pinpoint the role of the leaders.

Ms. Grover explains the deficiency in the law.

GROVER: There is a gap in Indian law where the law is unable to secure conviction if those who are sponsoring or masterminding or committing acts of commission or omission are in positions of power and authority, Indian law is not yet competent to secure criminal convictions. And therefore the whole debate to bring in a new law against communal violence which creates accountability in this sector.

KRISHNAN:Almost three decades after the massacre, the community feels the country has let them down. The long wait for justice continues.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.