Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October which led to massive communal riots on the following three days.
Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October which led to massive communal riots on the following three days.(Photo: Lijumol Joseph/The Quint)
  • 1. 1984-1985: Marwah, Misra and Dhillon Commission
  • 2. 1987: Three Committees Set Up
  • 3. 1990-1993: Poti-Rosha, Jain-Aggarwal and Narula Committees
  • 4. 1993: Narula Committee
  • 5. 2000: Nanavati Commission
  • 6. 2015: Pramod Asthana Committee
  • 7. 2018: SN Dhingra Committee
The 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Files: 34 Years, 11 Inquiries & Counting

“When a mighty tree falls, the earth around it is bound to shake”

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous words, spoken at the birth anniversary of his mother Indira Gandhi only a few weeks after she was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, continue to haunt those who were affected by the carnage that unfolded in November 1984. 

Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984, a few months after the former prime minister ordered the Indian Army to march into the Golden Temple as a part of Operation Blue Star. The pogrom that continued for the following three days across Delhi and the adjoining areas saw killings, destruction of property and looting that shook the entire country.

“Anger, grief and hatred” in retaliation to the assassination had seen over 3,000 people dead, most of them Sikhs.

Some of the top leaders of the Congress(I) party such as HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and Lalit Makan, among others, have been accused of inciting violence. Kumar was, on 17 December 2018, convicted by Delhi High Court for conspiracy to commit murder in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentenced him to imprisonment for life.

And 34 years on, with 11 commissions formed and quashed, the families of most of the victims still await justice. Here’s a look back at all the SITs formed to probe the case.

  • 1. 1984-1985: Marwah, Misra and Dhillon Commission

    November 1984: Marwah Commission

    A commission led by the then Additional Commissioner of Police Ved Marwah was set up to enquire into the role of the police during the November 1984 massacre. Having almost completed his enquiry by the middle of 1985 he was asked by the central government to not proceed further and hand over complete records to the Misra Commission which had been put in place in the meantime. However, the most important part of the records, which was the handwritten notes of Marwah containing intricate details of the investigation, were not handed over to the Misra Commission.

    May 1985: Misra Commission of Enquiry

    The commission appointed by Rajiv Gandhi after a lot of public outcry following the riots was headed by sitting judge Justice Ranganath Misra who was asked to “inquire into the allegations in regard to the incidents of organised violence, which took place in Delhi and also the disturbances which took place in the Bokaro Tehsil, Chas Tehsil (both in the present-day Bokaro district of Jharkhand) and at Kanpur following the assassination of the late Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, and to recommend measure which may be adopted for prevention of recurrence of such incidents.”

    Justice Misra took it in his stride to determine whether the violence was organised or not and ascertained that the violence was initially an involuntary action resulting from anger, grief and hatred for Indira Gandhi’s assassins which then transformed itself into a riot “with participation and monitoring thereof by anti-socials” due to police inaction.

    The Commission, in its report, did not point at any particular reason for police negligence in handling the case or in some cases for colluding in the violence. The report gave a clean chit to the Congress party leadership and specifically absolved Rajiv Gandhi and HKL Bhagat from charges of having a hand in this pogrom. At most, the Commission conceded political involvement in this matter by Congress workers who allegedly participated in the violence on their own accord.

    While the commission was operational, the Citizens Justice Committee (CJC), a body of lawyers and jurists, was called upon to assist the Committee in its fact-finding but they withdrew, alleging procedural lapses under Misra’s leadership.

    1985: Dhillon Committee

    This committee was set up to recommend measures for rehabilitation of the victims. Headed by GS Dhillon, the committee’s status report submitted by the end of 1985 suggested that business establishments which could not claim their insurance because the insurance companies denied them on the technical ground that the riot was not covered under insurance, should be paid compensation under the government’s directions. They added that since all insurance companies were nationalised, they be directed to pay the claims. However, the government rejected the recommendation.


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