It still shocks me how little Sikhs know about the 1984 state promoted massacre against Sikhs. So I’m reposting this.
After the assassination of prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the ruling Congress party, along with their supporters, engaged in a mass killing of over 10,000 Sikhs in about 3 days. To this day the main guilty have not been imprisoned. The slaughter took place in all areas of India that were ruled by the Congress party, not just the capital city.
Various “truth commissions” were created to uncover the facts behind the 1984 Delhi Riots where thousands of innocent Sikhs were attacked, tortured, and killed by mobs. The apparently spontaneous mob backlash after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was actually a conspiracy devised by top-level politicians. During these pogroms mobs rampaged for three days in many large Indian cities without any police or military check to prevent the massacres. For these events to be considered riots is laughable as the Sikh community alone sustained numerous deaths, rapes, acts of torture, and attacks against their homes, businesses, and holy places. They were pogroms, an organised, one-sided, massacre with the intent to teach the Sikh community to remain in its place… subservient.
Ten judicial commissions in twenty years have resulted in zero convictions of any high level officer or official. There is a need for an independent truth commission lead by persons of integrity vested with all necessary powers to inquire into the pogroms and deliver justice so both the victims and India itself may begin healing from the worst episode of partisan violence in modern India’s history since its founding.
The paper examines the search for justice through various ”truth commissions” that the government or others set up. It shows how roadblock after roadblock was created to protect the guilty. It also details the selfless determination of Sikh lawyer, HS Phoolka, who persevered and to this day still fights for the innocent. The full paper is below. Please spread this information to all so that our community, and others, may be educated about these atrocities and our long wait for justice.
The Lie of the Truth Commissions
Various “truth commissions” have been created in India to uncover the facts behind the 1984 Delhi Riots in which thousands of innocent Sikhs were attacked, tortured, and killed by mobs. The apparently spontaneous mob backlash after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was actually a conspiracy devised by top-level politicians. During these pogroms mobs rampaged for three days in many large Indian cities without any police or military check to prevent the massacres. Ten judicial commissions in twenty years have lead to zero convictions. There is a need for an independent truth commission lead by persons of integrity to inquire into the pogroms and deliver justice so that that both the victims and India itself may begin healing from the worst episode of partisan violence in modern India’s history.
The eighties was a turbulent time in India. The Sikh minority had been successfully conducting non-violent agitations for increased rights that a large segment of their population supported. Fearful of losing voter confidence due to an imminent protest in which Sikh groups planned on stopping grain, water, and electricity exports from Punjab province, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi commenced the final step of a calculated plan of action known as Operation Bluestar. On the pretense that the army was ousting militants from the Golden Temple, the most important shrine of the Sikhs, the Indian army attacked it on June 3, 1984. That very morning the government had lifted a curfew placed upon the city, and pilgrims had poured in to celebrate a holy day. The attack on the Golden Temple left 8-10,000 people dead, 500 buildings destroyed, and 30,000 people homeless. The Indian government simultaneously attacked forty-one other Sikh shrines in an effort to crush the spirit of the Sikh community.
Six months later, on October 31, 1984, two of her Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Some sporadic, isolated incidents of violence occurred afterward. About one day later, the machinery of the ruling Congress party initiated an organised massacre that claimed close to 10,000 lives across India, and over 4,000 in the capital city of Delhi. The property damage inflicted went into the billions of rupees and 72 Sikh shrines were burnt down. Police forces watched and often participated in the violence. An Indian army unit capable of intervening to save lives was ordered confined to barracks when it was discovered that its membership consisted of Sikhs. No curfew was enforced, and for four days, the mobs controlled Delhi.
The Delhi riots are unique compared to previous episodes of communal violence in modern Indian history. First, the violence was completely one-sided, showing that it was not a true communal riot. Second, armed mobs held complete control of the capital city of a powerful democracy for four days and were able to act with impunity. It affected not just ordinary Sikhs, but also top bureaucrats and businesspersons. Third, there was a high degree of organization. Police systematically assisted the mobs. Rioters were provided voters’ lists, uniform-size rods, abundant supplies of fuel and inflammable powder, and government-run buses. Fourth, the uniformity in the sequence of events in Congress-ruled areas across India proves that the congress party masterminded them. No deaths occurred on October 31, the day of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The killings began one day later. Fifth, Hindu neighbors often sheltered Sikhs and in some cases helped organize a collective defence. These facts prove that the riots were not a spontaneous reaction to the prime minister’s death. Sixth, after the riots, due to considerable anti-Sikh propaganda, voters overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Congress party despite allegations of its involvement. Seventh, the death toll was higher than in any communal riot in free India’s history.
In his first public speech after the massacre, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s son, dismissed calls for an inquiry to explain the deaths by saying “[w]hen a big tree falls, the earth beneath it is bound to shake”. Citizens’ organizations, lead by Dr. Rajni Kothari and retired Justice V.M. Tarkunde issued a report entitled Who are the Guilty?. This report named prominent Congress party M.P.s as leaders of the mobs. A non-official commission was created under a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court named S.M. Sikri. This commission also consisted of retired ambassadors, governors, and senior civil servants. It severely criticised the government for its role in the massacre.
Circumstances forced the prime minister to order an inquiry, despite his attempts to avoid it. Rajiv Gandhi had made an election promise to settle the uprising in Punjab. To achieve this goal he required participation of the Akali political party that represented most Sikhs. However, the Akalis threatened to commence a non-violent agitation and boycott dialogue until a new inquiry was ordered. Two days before the proposed agitation the Prime Minister agreed to this demand.
There have been 10 official inquiries, with most focusing on the shortcomings of the police. The first, called the Marwah Commission, was appointed in November of 1984. Justice Marwah was unable to complete his task of inquiring into the role of the police during the riots on the pretext that the second commission had begun. The records of the Marwah Commission, minus Justice Marwah’s important handwritten notes, were transferred to the second commission.
The Mishra Commission (1985) was charged with discovering if the riots were organised. However, it only diverted blame from those in power to the lower levels of the police. This commission involved no cross-examinations of leaders. Additionally, false affidavits had been filed claiming Congress party members had aided Sikhs. These outnumbered the victims’ affidavits by nearly four times. All of these affidavits followed similar patterns and were bereft of detail or corroboration. After one witness, who was called to corroborate an affidavit purported to be his, stated that that it was a forgery Justice Mishra banned press reports. The Citizens Justice Committee (CJC), created by an advocate named H.S. Phoolka to represent the victims, withdrew from the proceedings in protest when the Mishra Commission excluded the CJC from cross-examining important public officials. This committee, composed of judges and notable lawyers and headed by a former chief justice of India, accused Supreme Court Justice Mishra of “shielding the culprits and suppressing the truth.”
Justice Mishra earned substantial rewards for shielding the perpetrators. Mishra had absolved P.V. Narasimha Rao of any wrongdoing for three days of an administrative vacuum. Rao, as home minister, was responsible for administration of Delhi. After Rao became prime minister, Rao awarded Mishra with leadership of the National Human Rights Commission. Currently, Mishra is a Congress party M.P.
The Kapur Mittal Committee (1987) identified 72 police officers it considered guilty of connivance or gross negligence and recommended dismissal of 30. Since, each officer has received two or three promotions each. One is now the Special Commissioner of Police in Delhi and another is Joint Commissioner of Police. Eventually, some officers were punished, but these punishments were light compared to the gravity of their crimes. The Ahuja Committee (1987) was to determine the number of fatalities. It conservatively estimated the number in Delhi to be 2733, despite the submission of a head count of 3,870.
The Jain Banerjee Committee (1987) was charged with recommending registration of cases. However, the government registered none and those under investigation blocked the committee using a court order. The Potti Rosha Committee (1990), successor to the Jain Banerjee Committee, recommended the registration of cases against prominent Congress party members as well. The judges disbanded it after intimidation from Congress party thugs. Similar recommendations from the Jain Aggarwal Committee (1990) were also disregarded. The Dhillon Committee (1985) was appointed to recommend measures for rehabilitation of the victims. It recommended awarding victims with compensation from insurance companies. The government rejected this measure. Consequently, insurance companies throughout India rejected claims, leaving victims uncompensated. The Narula Committee (1993) was also ignored when it recommended the registration of cases.
The tenth and final inquiry, the Nanavati Commission, began with an exhaustive mandate to inquire into the causes and course of violence against the Sikh community, the sequence of events leading up to the rioting as well as all the facts surrounding it, and whether the riots could have been prevented. Was the cause a mere dereliction of duty, or was it something more sinister? The Commission was also to recommend measures to meet the ends of justice. Its first sitting was on October 3, 2000. Repeated extensions led to a closure date of January 31, 2005, although its mandate was to have expired on April 2, 2001.
The Commission received 2, 557 affidavits naming Congress leaders for inciting and leading mobs in Delhi during the riots. It recorded interviews with 89 persons, including journalists, army officers, police officers, and eminent persons who had witnessed either the violence or the government’s inaction. Hundreds cooperated with the Commission hoping for justice. Fresh evidence was heard against senior members of the Congress party. It became clear that senior officers had ordered police to not interfere with the mobs and to disarm and arrest Sikhs for defending themselves.
The Nanavati Commission also contradicted some findings from previous Commissions. For example, the Mishra Commission’s finding that violence had escalated due to police failure to inform senior officers about the situation’s gravity was proven false. Justice Nanavati felt that the violence was organised and involved the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons.
Justice Nanavati named Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Shastri, and H.K.L. Bhagat as the M.P.s who “very probably” led the murderous mobs. All were close to the Prime Minister. He found credible evidence that Dharam Das Shastri had led a mob of 3,000 to secure the release of imprisoned looters from a police station. A senior police officer confirmed eyewitness reports claiming Shastri threatened officers with dire consequences if they interfered with looters. Numerous eyewitnesses saw Jagdish Tytler urge a mob to burn down a Sikh temple and kill Sikhs. Another witness heard Tytler rebuke a group of people by saying that it would be difficult for him to stake a claim in the future as only nominal killings had been carried out contrary to his promise of a large-scale massacre. The evidence against Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat is also strong. Both had incited mobs to burn Sikhs. Many witnesses recorded how Bhagat pressured them to not name him. Furthermore, numerous witnesses issued complaints to the police about Bhagat, but the officers did not record his name. It is strange that despite the overwhelming evidence against these four, the judge was not clear in his statement regarding the extent of their involvement.
Ultimately, Justice Nanavati created excuses to allow prominent politicians to escape justice. He declared that Bhagat ought not to face action due to poor health. He also decided against investigating Shastri, claiming there had been a previous investigation into incidents involving Shastri. Actually, Shastri had never been charged or investigated for instigating attacks. On whether Tytler should be prosecuted, Nanavati claimed that a person could not be prosecuted based on probability in criminal cases. Actually, criminal cases can be prosecuted on the basis of probability, and the vast majority in India are, it is conviction that requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Justice Nanavati contradicted himself by stating that violence was not systematically organised by the Congress party, and that the Congress party members were only involved for personal reasons. Once again, blame shifted to the police and administration.
Justice Nanavati found that officers posted in numerous districts either watched the massacre, or actively incited mobs. There was a systematic pattern of officers disarming Sikhs while allowing rioters to roam free with weapons. In an interview, Nanavati maintained that this practice was an acceptable pre-emptive measure. The CJC contended that disarming victims would have been acceptable only if rioters had been disarmed as well. Nanavati, ignoring the facts, challenged the CJC to provide evidence that the rioters were armed.
Nanavati decided against taking action to investigate most officers either because police department inquiries had exonerated them in the past, or because officers had improperly filed reports making investigation too difficult. His final reason for inaction was that many officers were retired, and so no action could be initiated against them. Interestingly, an officer in charge of one of the worst affected areas now occupies the second most important position in the Delhi police while his counterpart from another area was charged. The former was not charged because a departmental inquiry had exonerated him, but his counterpart, who had also been exonerated by a departmental inquiry, was charged because Justice Nanavati clamed his commission had a much wider scope for inquiry than a departmental inquiry. The Lieutenant Governor and former Police Commissioner were found guilty for dereliction of duty, but they could have acted in this way only with the connivance of superiors. It appears that charges were laid only against low ranking officers or those who had fallen out of favour.
Ultimately, there are three key facts to be learned from the Nanavati Commission. First, that dozens of Congress leaders and followers had instigated and participated in the riots. Second, there was a race among the Congress M.P.s to show how many Sikhs they could kill. Third, after the massacre, there was a collaborative effort by the party machinery and police to weaken cases, delete names of accused persons, and to collect affidavits under pressure. Unfortunately, Justice Nanavati did not suggest the need for any further investigation to determine whether the massacre was a collaborative effort or to determine how far the conspiracy extended.
After numerous commissions and prosecutions, the upper echelons of the ranks of the guilty remain free. Although public outcry has forced Kumar and Tytler to resign their posts under pressure, it is far from true justice. Dozens of prosecutions launched ended inconclusively. Several Commissions resulted in whitewashes. Participating eyewitnesses often recanted under pressure, or withdrew when they realised they were participating in a farce. There is a need for a final commission to end the matter.
Justice Nanavati has asked many witnesses about the viability of a commission similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by South Africa. South Africa’s commission allowed people to confess their crimes in return for immunity from prosecution. The aim was to heal a scarred society and to move forward. While a lofty idea, Sikhs are not willing to accept this. The main body representing Sikhs is keen on punishing the culprits, as are the majority of Sikhs. If Sikhs were willing to accept a similar commission, it is likely the main culprits would continue concealing their crimes as they have little to gain through honesty.
Any future commission must overcome numerous challenges to be successful. These issues include corruption, credibility, transparency, dulled memories, deaths of witnesses and suspects, and the destruction of documents. Moreover, a workable commission needs the capability to create change.
A viable commission requires a government that is willing to appoint it. The Congress government will never do so. Appropriate pressure can compel a different government to create an effective commission. Unfortunately, appointing commissions is a political game. The BJP, who appointed the Nanavati Commission, are accused of masterminding the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. Past Commissions often have not been properly tended to. When nearing conclusion a less favorably disposed party may refuse requests for increased funding or time. Granting adequate time and a package of funding under the inquiry’s control can prevent this potential problem. The above suggestions, combined with a broad, independent mandate, will protect the commission’s integrity if those on the commission were honest.
Appointing eminent persons such as former Supreme Court Chief Justice S.M. Sikri and other eminent judges and lawyers helps to address the need for credibility. It would enhance the commission’s credibility to be lead by highly ranked judges experienced with the 1984 issue. A panel of judges grants greater credibility and further decreases chances of corruption more than a lone judge can. The chance of corruption derailing the process is minimised by including only those with proven good character. To ensure that appropriate persons are appointed, all political parties should have votes regarding which judge is appointed. Additionally, the main organisation representing the affected community should have a veto in case a corrupt or undesirable individual is appointed. Strict time limits to vote for the appointments would prevent stalling by politicians.
Transparency ensures authenticity. Representatives from the Sikh community and the legal community should be appointed in an oversight committee to monitor the Commission’s activities. This helps prevent the community’s interest in the commission’s findings from being derailed by politics. Such Sikhs should be persons deemed by the ordinary Sikh community to be of good character, and may be appointed by various organisations representing the Sikh community. All members of the legal community must also be in good standing, with no serious allegations against their character.
The oversight committee’s powers will be limited to observing all aspects of the investigation and reporting them to the public. It will not be able to order most types of inquiries or control the direction of ongoing inquiries. This will dampen potential allegations that members of the Sikh community are influencing the commission to gain vengeance on those politicians who they feel have wronged their community.
There is a need to hold judges accountable. The oversight committee needs the power to initiate inquiries into the action of a judge for deviant behavior. A judge would appear before a panel of peers if this situation were deemed to have occurred, not in front of the oversight committee. If the judge’s behavior were deviant, than that judge would be immediately dismissed from the commission.
The effects of dulled memories and the death of many witnesses and suspects cannot be completely overcome. These effects they can be mitigated by using the collected works of the CJC and CJC-II (Carnage Justice Committee), which was created to represent victims before the Nanavati Commission. These factors highlight the urgent need for a fresh inquiry to be appointed immediately.
Any future commission must have power to succeed. An honest inquiry counts for little if it cannot place charges against the prime suspects of the massacre. It must be able to order new investigations and compel cooperation from anyone. Additionally, it needs the authority to order the presentation of any documents it deems relevant. Finally, the commission should have the additional power to create judicial orders and the right to pass down any sentence deemed fit under the law.
To prevent a repetition of such massacres, and to prevent another subversion of a democracy ruled by law and order, the perpetrators of the pogrom must be found and punished. If a class of people can behave with impunity for human rights, such events will reoccur. This truth has been shown in Gujarat where over 800 Muslims have been killed in rioting planned by the governing party. Such evil can still arise only because people choose to forget previous massacres that provide the basis for future occurrences.
 A.R. Darshi, The Gallant Defender, 2d ed. (Ludhiana: Darshi, 2001). A.R. Darshi is the former Joint Secretary to the Punjab Government.
 Ensaaf, “Context,” ¶ 4, online: Ensaaf .
 Khuswant Singh, “1984 Sikh Massacres: Victory to the Mob” Outlook (22 August 2005) ¶ 4, online: Sikh Times <www.sikhtimes.com—news_082205a.html>.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 3.
 Stanley Tambiah, “Presidential Address: Reflections on Communal Violence in South Asia” (2006) 49 J. Asian Studies 747.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 8.
 H.S. Phoolka, “Frequently Asked Questions,” ¶ 1, online: Carnage 84 . [Phoolka].
 Ravindra Kumar, “Ashes to Ashes: If Nanavati Doesn’t Save You, the Government Must” Statesman (10 August 2005) ¶ 4 (Lexis) [Kumar, “Ashes I”].
 PUCL & PUDR, “Who are the Guilty?” (November 1984) ¶ 2, online: People’s Union for Civil Liberties .
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 12.
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 20.
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 2.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 7.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 7.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 10.
 H.S. Phoolka, “Commissions and Committees,” ¶ 17, online: Carnage 84 [Phoolka, “Introduction”].
 H.S. Phoolka, “Frequently Asked Questions,” ¶ 1, online: Carnage 84 [Phoolka, “Commissions”].
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 1.
 “Phoolka, “Introduction”, supra note 16 ¶ 24.
 “Phoolka, “Introduction”, supra note 16 ¶ 27.
 “Phoolka, “Introduction”, supra note 16 ¶ 28.
 “Phoolka, “Introduction”, supra note 16 ¶ 29.
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 4.
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 8.
 Joseph, supra note 20 ¶ 31.
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 5.
 V. Sundaram, “A Panoply of Orchestrated Fraud” (12 November 2006) ¶ 26, Online: Bolo Ji .
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 8.
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 9.
 “Phoolka, “Commissions”, supra note 17 ¶ 10.
 “Report on 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Submitted” The Hindu (10 February 2005), online: The Hindu <www.hinduonnet.com—2005021005880900.htm>.
 “Phoolka, “Introduction”, supra note 16 ¶ 33.
 Siddharth Varadarajan, “Moral Indifference as the Form of Modern Evil” (12 August 2005) The Hindu ¶ 3 (Lexis).
 “The Farce of Inquiry Commissions” (18 August 2005) Statesman ¶ 2 (Lexis).
 Ravindra Kumar, “Ashes to Ashes II: Damning Evidence of a Very Probable Massacre” (11 August 2005) ¶ 2 (Lexis) [Kumar, “Ashes II”].
 “Kumar, “Ashes II”, supra note 37 ¶ 2.
 “Kumar, “Ashes I”, supra note 8 ¶ 1.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 2.
 Mustafa, supra note 33 ¶ 7.
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 2.
 Manoj Mitta, “An Encounter with a Judge” (12 June 2003) Indian Express ¶ 5, online: Counter Currents <awww.countercurrents.org—gujarat-mitta120603.htm>.
 Justice G.T. Nanavati, “Part of Nanavati Report: Part IV Assessment of Evidence and Recommendations for Action” ¶ 4, Online: Carnage 84 .
 Mustafa, supra note 33.
 Manoj Mitta, “Nanavati Let Off all Police Officers from Worst Massacre Site” (20 August 2005) ¶ 2 (Lexis).
 Singh, supra note 2 ¶ 12.
 “Kumar, “Ashes II”, supra note 37 ¶ 2.
 “Kumar, “Ashes I”, supra note 8 ¶ 4.
 Nayar, supra note 50 ¶ 9.
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 2.
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 18.
 Phoolka, supra note 7 ¶ 2.