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True Heroes of 1984

Simar Kaur Goraya is a human rights activist. She has interviewed human rights victims as well as prominent Sikh politicians such as Simranjit Singh Mann.

The Sikh Times, Mar. 4, 2003

On Dec. 23, 2002, Sajjan Kumar walked out of court, acquitted of charges filed against him for his well-documented role in the 1984 genocidal attack on Delhi's Sikhs.

In their report entitled Who Are the Guilty?, the People's Union for Civil Liberties (P.U.C.L.) offered a damning indictment of the Congress Party for having stage-managed the Sikh massacre in the days that followed the Oct. 31 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the hands of her own Sikh bodyguards. Earlier that year, Indira Gandhi had ignited Sikh sentiments by sending the army into the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib, to flush out Sikh militants.

Kumar is one of three senior Congress Party members that faced the prospect of charges in relation to the massacre of over 3,000 Sikhs. Of the other two, Jagdish Tytler escaped charges altogether and Union Minister H.K.L. Bhagat was acquitted in the last of the four "anti-Sikh riots" cases filed against him on Dec. 23, 2000 by the same judge, Manju Goel, who has now acquitted Sajjan Kumar.

The casual observer of these trials could hardly be faulted for arriving the conclusion that the killings of nearly 3,000 Sikhs never took place. The carnage has been handled just as if it was an ordinary misdemeanor and that the brutality which was unleashed on innocent people, including women and children, and recorded extensively by the media, never happened.

However, large sections of the media reported on what really happened and the blatant complicity of Congress politicians and government officials in the pogroms. India Today became a major national magazine almost overnight because of its coverage of the massacres. The magazine contained reports that actually named Congress politicians involved in the anti-Sikh genocide. Reports have also accused former Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao of withholding information that could have helped to bring the guilty to justice. Bhagat, Tytler and Kumar are free today only because they enjoy the patronage of India's political leadership.

The Nuremberg trials successfully brought the Nazis to justice due in large part to the fact that the Allies were victorious after World War II. The Sikhs are a minority community and that status has put them in a precarious position where meting justice to the guilty is seen as acceding to Sikh demands rather than enforcing the rule of law in the world's largest democracy.

As a result, the 1984 massacres have turned out to be a pre-cursor to similar incidents all over India. The absence of justice for 1984 has translated as a free ticket to those in power to use any means for garnering votes to get into and stay in public office. The Bombay and Gujarat riots and Ayodhya's Babri masjid [mosque] episode take their cue from 1984.

One cannot help but despair when one looks at the character of Indian leadership. The presence of proven criminals like Bhagat and Kumar in every major political party. Party leaders like Sonia Gandhi who continue to support bad elements for the sake of votes. Judges like Manju Goel who serve to weaken the judiciary with their spineless verdicts. The law enforcement officials who protect the guilty.

Clearly, the true heroes in this saga are, in fact, the victims who never gave up the fight for justice even under very hostile circumstances. Women like Darshan Kaur and Anwar Kaur, now in their 50s and working as peons to support their families, demonstrated the courage to bring charges against powerful men like Bhagat and Kumar. Brave folks like Salawati Kaur and Fota Singh stuck to their testimonies until the very end in the Sajjan Kumar case. Lawyers like H.S. Phoolka put up a great fight for the victims. These true heroes of 1984 deserve our unflinching support. They are endeavoring on our behalf to ensure that the guilty do not go unpunished. The utter absence of justice in eighteen long years has failed to discourage the true heroes of 1984.