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1984 Sikh Massacres: No Longer In Denial


The Indian Express, Aug. 12, 2005

Photo: 1984 Sikh Massacres

Is our history of abdicating responsibility for riots finally coming to an end?

Jagdish Tytler's resignation - albeit a reluctant one - has set some new benchmarks for the pursuit of justice in Indian democracy. We are now sending a strong signal that politicians who appear to be complicit in riots will have to pay the political price. It is also not insignificant that the Congress has acted upon some of recommendations of the Nanavati Commission. While many parties, including the Left, have expressed some doubts over the Commission's findings, the Congress was at least responsible enough not to impugn the Commission simply because it was appointed by the N.D.A. government. Cynics might argue that this was largely due to the fact that the highest echelons of the Congress leadership had been exonerated by the Commission. But this should not detract from the fact that the Commission's findings are being respected and acted upon; that the Commission is not itself being targeted for partisan reasons.

No one should be under any illusions that the events of the last few days come anywhere near bringing a substantial measure of justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh carnage. The cases originally filed against alleged perpetrators produced few convictions. And even with brand new investigations the passage of time and the deteriorating quality of evidence will make securing legal justice an enormous challenge. The government should ensure that it now does the best it can to ensure these cases are investigated and prosecuted properly. But, in the meantime, assigning some measure of political responsibility for those events is at least a beginning.

Unfortunately, even small political steps are missing when it comes to other riots. A number of reports of other commissions still await action. The Srikrishna Commission Report, to take one example, has still not elicited a proper response from successive governments. So many riot victims in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhagalpur - to name a few prominent instances - still await justice in any form: legal, political or moral. Will the tide finally turn? Will we finally get over the history of denials, partisan politics and abdication of responsibility that mark our attitudes towards riots? Our task is to ensure that Jagdish Tytler's resignation is not just an anomaly in the struggle for political justice.