Saturday, August 29, 2009

3 people awarded life imprisonment in 1984 Sikh riots case

It is always said that justice delayed is justice denied, the very fact that the criminal justice system in India takes decades to wind through and deliver justice. In that time, people either give up on justice, die, or implemented their own form of justice; conversely, it becomes easier to thwart justice by either witnesses being bought or scared away, their testimony becoming hazy, or witnesses simply not being present anymore. All these reduce the effectiveness of the judicial system as a way of delivering justice to society.
India has had a history of massive riots in the past, even starting from Partition where riots between Hindus and Muslims were horrendous in terms of casualties. After partition, there were cases of riots where the police and administration either were unable to control the riots, or played a partisan role. It is the cases where the administration played a partisan role that are a blot on society, and the inability to judicially address these crimes is actually criminal.
The 2 biggest such cases were the 1984 Sikh riots, and the 2002 Gujarat riots. In both cases, the administration let the riots happen (and it is accused with a lot of testimony and circumstantial evidence) that functionaries of the ruling party played a big role. In the 1984 riots, after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards (who were Sikh), there were mobs of people (primarily in the city of Delhi) hunting down Sikhs (on the streets, and in their homes) and killing them by burning them or by cutting them down. Congress leaders (primarily HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, and Jagdish Tytler among the more well known) were accused of leading these mobs, and it was only after 2-3 days that the situation was brought under control.
By then, a community had been horrified, but this was not the only crime. The bigger crime was that this situation was never taken quickly through the criminal justice system, and the perpetrators of such a genocide were never brought to justice (even the Gujarat riots cases are having a tough time in being brought to justice, and it is many years now). It is only occasionally that you hear of a court decision in the 1984 cases, or you hear of the CBI deciding that there was no evidence against Jagdish Tytler, so that he could be rehabitilated.
Why all this ? Well, I read of a judgment where a sessions court sentenced 3 people to life imprisonment for their involvement in attempt to murder during the riots (link to article):

A Delhi court awarded life imprisonment to three people for attempting to murder members of a Sikh family here in 1984 anti-Sikh riots and came down heavily on ‘contrived inaction’ of the police and the Government of the day which led to loss of "priceless lives".
The court slammed the Delhi police and the Government for its inability to tackle the riots that followed the assassination of the then PM Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. "History would never forgive the police officials who were at the helm of affairs and the government of the day for their unprecedented slothful and quiescent role.

The court also criticized the role of the police, the administration, and the local Government of the day. However, the fact remains that these were all failures, but how can the court just not comment on the fact that this judgment is being delivered 25 years after the cases; where it is possible that family members of the victims may have died, where society is totally sensitized about the incidents that happened a quarter of a century back. I watched areas of Delhi burning from the top of a high rise, and can never forget the scene, but in the overall memory of society, I believe the 1984 riots are a forgotten incident.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:09 AM