The 1984 Sikh Massacre: 33 Years of Injustice And Apathy 

This week marks 33 years of successive govts failing generations of survivors who have been battling for justice

Updated
Opinion
3 min read
The 1984 riots led to the killing of nearly 3,000 Sikh men, women and children.
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“My husband tried to hide in our kitchen. But the mob dragged him out by his hair, wrapped a quilt around him, and put a tyre around his neck. Then they set him on fire. The police refused to help, saying they didn’t have orders.”

Darshan Kaur was 21 when she saw 12 members of her family killed outside her home during the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984. Like many of the survivors of the massacre, she is often advised to forget about the past, and to look to the future. Her response now, as always, remains: “I deserve justice too, don’t I?”

This week marks 33 years since one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of independent India. It also marks 33 years of successive governments failing generations of survivors who have been battling for truth and justice.

In 2014, on the 30th anniversary of the massacre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “a country that forgets its history can't make history... [The Sikh massacre] was not a wound in the heart of any community. It was a dagger in the centuries-old fabric of India's unity... our own people were murdered.” Yet in terms of showing the political will to deliver justice, the NDA government has failed to deliver, just like its predecessors.

In February 2015, the central government announced the setting up of a Special Investigation team (SIT), comprising two police officers and a retired judge, to look into closed cases related to the killings in 1984.

At least 11 official inquiry committees and commissions had been appointed earlier to look into the massacre, but had not led to justice for most victims.

The SIT promised to be different. Although nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi in 1984, the Delhi Police had registered only 587 FIRs, and had closed 241 cases without investigation. The SIT was the first body set up that was empowered to reopen closed cases and file chargesheets, and raised hopes among survivors that justice would finally be secured.

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The SIT was given six months to complete the exercise. From the beginning, however, its functioning was marked by a lack of urgency and transparency. In August 2015, the SIT received an extension of its term by one year.

When Amnesty India filed an RTI application asking why, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the information was not covered by the RTI Act.

Home Ministry officials were quoted as saying that the SIT was going to reopen scores of cases. But the MHA continued to turn down RTIs from Amnesty India seeking details of the cases being investigated. The SIT published advertisements calling on victims to contact it, but did not reveal any other details of its investigations.

In August 2016, the SIT’s term was extended a second time, and in February 2017, a third time. In March this year, the SIT finally told the Supreme Court that it had closed 199 cases it was looking into, and in August, the government stated that another 42 had been closed.

After over two years of investigation, the SIT had filed chargesheets in only 12 cases.

In August, the Supreme Court constituted a supervisory body comprising two former Supreme Court judges to see if the closure of the cases by the SIT was justified. Once again, accountability for the 1984 killings has to wait.

The agony of those who survived 1984 has not ended. Their children continue to live with the pain and injustice that followed the violence. During the massacre, many state institutions, including the police, failed miserably in carrying out their duties. But the lack of accountability for 1984, rather than being addressed, has instead been used to justify police and government inaction subsequently in other incidents of mass communal violence.

It is time for the politics over the 1984 massacre to end. The victims and survivors’ children, and their children’s children, have grown up in the shadows of impunity for crimes against their loved ones. We cannot let another generation go by without seeing justice.

(Sanam Sutirath Wazir is a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India.)

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