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The Truth About the 1984 Sikh Massacres


The Indian Express, Feb. 12, 2005

Photo: 1984 Sikh massacres

The Congress government must place the Nanavati report in the public sphere.

The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots have been victimised twice by the Indian State. Whoever may have been responsible for the riots, the state failed to give the victims protection in any substantial measure. But their tragedy was compounded by the state's failure to bring the perpetrators of those gruesome crimes to justice. Very few convictions have been handed down in proportion to the scale of the horrors inflicted on that fateful day.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission was given so narrow a mandate that it was unlikely to produce justice. The Nanavati Commission has finally submitted its report. Yet the state continues to repeat its pattern of evasion and procrastination. Although the home minister has suggested that the report will be made public at some point, the hesitation in doing so instantly does not speak well. The report must be made public immediately. The victims of the riots deserve at least this much good faith effort on their behalf. And it is a travesty that in a democracy making public reports on such vital issues is a matter of executive discretion.

The contents of the report can be judged only when it is made fully public. There is something of an oddity in the fact that the home minister has been exercising his discretion already in discussing the report with the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. Whether or not, or to what extent, Congress politicians are indicted in the report remains to be seen. But there is something of a conflict of interest at work in the whole situation. The very party whose members are the object of the report will now exercise the discretion to make it public. The only way to maintain propriety in such a situation would have been to make the report public instantly.

The rest of the political class should also rise above narrow partisanship in the way it uses the report. Political parties should demand that the report be made public. They should, if need be, press for more investigations. But they should not lose the larger objective in sight. The point should not be to score facile political points, but to earnestly strive for truth and justice. They ought to remember that it is not the Congress party that is on trial. The whole nation is on trial on every measure of moral decency. Do we care about the victims? Are our institutions sources of justice? Does the state protect its minorities? How can we ensure that the horrors of 1984 do not re-surface as they have, indeed, done in Gujarat? The Nanavati Commission may not have all the answers. It may not even be convincing. But we owe it to the victims; we owe it to ourselves as a nation, to discuss these matters in full measure. Make the report public.