Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

Nanavati: 1984 Sikh Massacre Was Organised


Deccan Herald, Feb. 23, 2005

Photo: Kuldip Nayar

Riots were 'organised,' some Congressmen instigating the anti-social elements to 'target the Sikh community' without any 'meaningful intervention' by the police. This is the import of the report by former Supreme Court Judge G.T. Nanavati on the 1984 riots.

Understandably, he is reluctant to reveal the contents of the report because the Home Ministry, to which he has submitted it, is yet to place it before Parliament. But he makes no secret of his unhappiness over the nexus that has formed between some Congressmen and the police. He describes one as exploitative and the other indisciplined.

Nanavati's observations more or less confirm what some N.G.O.s had said in the pamphlet, Who Are the Guilty? published soon after the killings in Delhi. The pamphlet said that 'the attacks on members of the Sikh community in Delhi and its suburbs during the period, far from being a spontaneous expression of 'madness' and of popular 'grief and anger' at Mrs. (Indira) Gandhi's assassination as made out to be by the authorities, were the outcome of a well-organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commissions and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by the authorities in the administration.'

Nanavati believes what happened in Delhi can happen anywhere in India and at anytime because the police knows no limits and politicians no norms of behaviour. 'I have seen the same pattern in Gujarat' where he is currently investigating into the rioting which had made Muslims as the target. He sees many similarities between the happenings in Delhi and Gujarat and he has no good word, either for the politicians or the authorities.

'The army was late to arrive,' says Nanavati. It was not familiar with Delhi and hence took some time to get acquainted with the different localities. To begin with, according to Nanavati, the army wanted to go only into the two areas that were adjacent to the Cantonment. However, he does not comment on the allegation that the government had purposely delayed the induction of the army. He is particularly harsh on the prosecuting agency. 'There should be something like the National Prosecuting Agency for the country' so that prosecution is independent, without any outside pressure.

Nanavati has no hesitation in saying that the authorities were not obeying instructions from above. 'I have seen the orders issued by the top but there was no implementation.' This is, indeed, a serious charge which suggests that the authorities, particularly the police, had become itself a mob, without any check or control. Connivance is bad enough but participation is something horrendous to contemplate in a democratic society.

When it comes to action against the guilty, Nanavati expresses helplessness. After 20 years, he says, there was no concrete evidence to pursue, nothing to bring the killers to book. Still he has named four, five Congressmen, including a member of Parliament. Nanavati opened five or six cases from the many the police had closed but gave up because he found it to be a wild goose chase. Two or three cases were going on in the court against some police officials, he says. Apparently, he had not gone beyond.

Nanavati's report says that the first incident took place around 2.30 pm on October 31, 1984 in the neighbourhood of All India Institute of Medical Sciences when some Sikhs were dragged out from their vehicles. The then President Zail Singh's motorcade was stoned around 5 p.m. Hell broke the following day, according to Nanavati. He is of the view that the fury lasted for one day, although some stray incidents took place subsequently. This is contrary to the general belief that the rioting continued for three days.

Nanavati admits that he is conscious of 'limitations' in the report. To pick up the thread two decades later was not easy. Many people had died in the meantime and the court had given its verdict on several cases. Still he had done his best. 'I have not tried to whitewash anything. The report has to be read in its entirety to know where the blame lay,' says Nanavati. 'Some in the media were unfair to me because what was used as a leak was partly concocted and partly torn out of context.'

He takes the credit for suggesting two steps for the rehabilitation of victims and their families. One recommendation is to pay the same compensation in other parts of India as has been done in Delhi Rs. 3.5 lakh [1 lakh = 100,000] for every person killed. The second is to ask the government to provide a job to the son or any other person of the family which lost its breadwinner.

I wish the Nanavati Commission had gone beyond the rioting. I had something else in mind when I raised the demand in the Rajya Sabha for another commission. I wanted something on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by South Africa to go over the period of apartheid. The whites were asked to confess what they did and were promised that no action would be taken against them. Many came forward and told the truth. For example, one said that he tried to kill Nelson Mandela.

Had New Delhi gone about the same way, some from among the politicians and authorities might have come forward to tell the truth. We would not have been clueless as we are today even after several inquiry reports. Probably, our laws do not permit this. Even then, the commission's terms of reference should have been different. None expected any new evidence or something clinching to get at the guilty.

Nanavati was also for a similar commission. He says that he tried to pursue the same path but did not succeed in his efforts. 'I asked many witnesses and others who appeared before me to rise above politics. But it looks as if I did not succeed.' (The Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee was keen on finding the culprits and hanging them. It was not willing to condone their guilt even if they were to come out with the truth.)

Still we have the right to know why those who indulged in the rioting did so and how 'the organised' killing came to be planned and executed. The pattern in Delhi and elsewhere was the same: looting and burning the property and then setting it on fire and even killing or burning the owners and occupants along.

The report, I am afraid, may not satisfy the Sikh community that has been wronged. But then even the most critical report cannot heal the wounds. Yet the government owes an explanation to the Sikhs or, more so, to the country. Let the prime minister say in Parliament at the next session that however limited the Nanavati report, the government seeks forgiveness from the nation and the victimised community. This will be statesmanship even though it may not serve the calls of politics.