While welcoming the Supreme Court ordering yet another Special Investigation Team to probe the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that killed more than 3,000 people, eminent citizens and activists urge the top court to ensure justice also for the victims of Gujarat 2002 pogrom against the Muslims and 2008 Kandhamal riots targetting the Christians
Mumtaz Alam | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — Leaders from the Muslim and Christian communities and eminent civil rights activists have welcomed the Supreme Court move to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to re-investigate the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. But they have also demanded the highest court of the land to take steps to also ensure justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom that killed more than 2,000 Muslims and the anti-Christian Kandhamal riots of 2008 in Orissa that claimed more than 100 people.
Welcoming the SC move on yet another SIT into the 1984 pogrom, Navaid Hamid, President, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations said: “I totally welcome the ruling of the Supreme Court to open the cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or genocide whatever you say.”
However, Hamid called on the top court to also ensure justice for the victims of Gujarat 2002 and Kandhamal 2008.
“I also expect the Supreme Court to also review the closing of the cases of the Kandhamal riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots, particularly the clean chit given to a number of people who are at the helm of affairs in the country now. It’s a sincere submission to the honourable Supreme Court to ensure justice to other victims as those of 1984. The SC should go an extra mile to establish neutrality and more transparency.”
Two Standards of Justice?
He said there cannot be different yardsticks of justice. “My submission is that there can be no two parameters in deciding the cases of hate violence on different occasions. Unfortunately, no party and no government is in favour of a universal parameter of giving compensation and extending justice to the victims,” said Hamid.
Mohammad Salim Engineer, Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, said: “The Sikhs had faced brutalities during the 1984 riots but have not yet got full justice. It is good if steps are now being taken to ensure justice to them. We believe that the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots have also not got justice. Victims of the post-Babri demolition riots have also not got justice.
“The victims of the anti-Christian riots of Kandhamal are yet to get justice. I think that all these victims should be treated equally. It would be a good message from the government that it wants to give justice to victims of all religions. The government should do whatever it thinks necessary to ensure justice for Sikhs but equally the major riots against Muslims and Christians should also be properly probed and for this purpose, similar steps should be taken.”
Dr. John Dayal, the spokesman of the United Christian Forum, said: “The 1984 targeted violence against Sikhs has so far been the single most horrendous communal act since the partition riots of 1947. In many ways, it has also become an excuse for Hindutva violence against Muslims and Christians in 1992-93, 2002 and 2008 where the Sangh and the BJP, where it has been in power, has sought to brush away the involvement of its supporters and its own failure in justice, resettlement and recompense to the Muslims and Christian victims.”
Dr Dayal further said: “It is clear, and I was an eyewitness as a journalist and activist, that the 1984 riots had the deep involvement not just of the political elements — both of the Congress and right-wing religious cultural organisations — but also of elements of Delhi police. The Sikh search for justice, and the indictment and punishment of the guilty is now a classic in how the criminal justice system is heavily loaded against the victims. I salute the persistence of the Sikh widows and their lawyers for their persistence and not losing hope.”
What About Gujarat 2002?
He asked how the SC could ignore clean chits in the Gujarat riots cases. “It is not just in the 1984 violence that the court has to act — and SITs are but a beginning. The SIT must be ordered to examine the role of other organisations which have gone under the radar. Even now there are still some witnesses alive,” he demanded.
“In the past it (court) sided with the Congress regime at various times, turning a blind eye to prevarication and delays lower down the rung. It also shut its eyes when clean chits were given to other guilty, especially in Gujarat, and policemen indicted in extrajudicial executions. Cumulatively, they do send down a signal to the policeman with a trigger-happy mind. The sense of impunity increases.”
Eminent civil rights activist Shabnam Hashmi said: “I welcome setting up the SIT and sincerely hope that it will be able to bring the culprits to the book.”
Kavita Srivastava, President, Rajasthan Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) said: “Yes, we welcome it. As the joint report of the PUCL and PUDR had shown, more than 2700 Sikhs had been slaughtered and yet no justice.”
On Gujarat riots, she said: “Modi also failed to perform his duty as CM to protect the right to life of 1000 Muslims and more than 250 Hindus (most of them were killed in police firing). I think the SC must revisit the role of Modi.”
“Till SC does not create a jurisprudence where lapses of due diligence do not have criminal liability, part of a definitive system of accountability of the administration, genocides like 1984, 2002 and Kandhamal will keep happening,” she said.
What Supreme Court Did
The Supreme Court on Wednesday (January 10) ordered constitution of a three-member SIT to re-investigate the 186 closed cases related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. They were closed by a government-appointed SIT. Showing urgency on the issue, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud directed the government to suggest names on Wednesday itself for the SIT.
In the riots that continued for several days following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, around three thousand people from the Sikh community were killed on the streets of Delhi. Several leaders from the then ruling Congress party were accused of leading mobs of rioters.
What Happened in Gujarat
At the order of the Supreme Court, an SIT was set up in Gujarat also and it looked into nine major cases of violence, including those that occurred at Gulberg Society, Ode, Sardarpura, Naroda Gaon, Naroda Patya, Machipith, Tarsali, Pandarwada and Raghavapura. In some of these cases, accused were convicted and awarded punishment. In many others, they were acquitted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the bloody riots took place there. In the Gulberg Society case, he was also made an accused for allegedly not taking immediate action to check the violence. Former Lok Sabha Member of Congress Ehsan Jafri and more than 50 people of the locality were killed and burnt there by the rioters. However, Modi was given clean chit by the SIT and this was upheld by a trial court. Jafri’s widow Zakia Jafri challenged the verdict and the case is now pending with the Gujarat High Court.
In some cases of Gujarat riot, accused were convicted. At least two cases of Sikh riot reached the trial stage. However, there has been no justice in Kandhamal riots case at all, she said. “The community is living in such shock and fear. It has not been pursued nationally. It is very sad. There not only the SC should take cognizance and do some effective intervention. But there should also be mass mobilisation to that effect,” demanded Kavita.
In the June 2008 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district of Odisha, following the killing of a Hindu priest Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, around 100 people were killed and 5,600 houses were looted and torched rendering over 50,000 people homeless.
Need Robust Mechanism To Deal With Communal Violence
The country has witnessed dozens of big communal riots since Independence but in most of the cases, victims could not get justice, mainly because the accused got political patronage. Most of those riots occurred when the Congress was in power in the Centre and states.
“The Supreme Court, and government, must give thought to a permanent mechanism to tackle, prevent and punish the guilty of targeted mass violence against Tribals, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims, the vulnerable minorities,” said Dr. John Dayal.
- Gujarat HC Rejects Zakia Jafri’s Plea Against SIT Clean Chit to Modi in 2002 Riots
- Gujarat Riots: SC Refuses Plea Against Clean Chit to Modi
- 2002 Gujarat Riots Case: 28 Accused Acquitted Over Lack Of Evidence
“The Prevention of Communal Violence Bill was shot down, but its mechanism must be revived in some new and comprehensive law. Perhaps there is also need of a permanent commission, or court like the Green Tribunal, to focus on communal, caste and ethnic targeted crimes,” he suggested.
Salim Engineer, while supporting Dr. Dayal’s idea, stressed the need to make courts or any such systems free from the influence of the government.
“I welcome the suggestion but am not hopeful from the current regime to set up any such tribunal. The problem is that existing institutions like NHRC are getting weakened. Dr. Dayal’s idea is good and we like it. The main point is that credibility of courts and such tribunals should remain intact and beyond the influence of the government. It should be ensured that such tribunal would not toe to the line of the government,” he said.