On the 32nd anniversary of state organised massacre of Sikhs in 1984, the Sikh Forum organised an important panel discussion entitled “Legal Aftermath of 1984 and the Way Forward”. The meeting was held on 1st November 2016 at the India International Center in New Delhi and was attended by a large number of people.
The distinguished panel consisted of Shri Pushpinder Singh, President, Sikh Forum, Dr. A S Narang, Ms. Harminder Kaur, Advocate H S Phoolka, Justice Anil Dev Singh, Advocate Vrinda Grover, Shri S Raghavan, President, Lok Raj Sangathan, Shri Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Prof Uma Chakravarty and Prof Surinder Jodhkar. The meeting was convened by Ms. Harminder Kaur.
Before the meeting began, a two-minute silence was observed in memory of the thousands of innocent victims of the massacre. This was followed by handing of cheques to more than a dozen children and grandchildren of the victims of the massacre to assist them in pursuing their education.
Shri Pushpinder Singh welcomed the gathering and said that the carnage of 1984 cannot be forgotten. He clearly pointed out that what happened in 1984 were not riots but an organised massacre.
Dr. Narang introduced the Sikh Forum as an organisation that came into being after the 1984 massacre with a three-fold objective – to stay engaged with civil society, to provide relief to the victims and to fight for justice. He quoted the then Director General of Police, Kirpal Dhillon when in 2006 he said that ” … the wounds of 1984 will not heal as long as stern action is not taken against those guilty of the carnage.”
Ms. Harminder Kaur said that the pogrom that was carried out in 1984 was with the full support of the administration and therefore all actions of the government including the various commissions of enquiry were meant to hide the truth. She pointed out that Justice Ranganath Misra who conducted the first Commission of enquiry had said that identifying the culprits was not part of the terms of reference of his enquiry! She said that 11 commissions have failed to bring out the truth and the latest special investigation team has already failed to submit its report in time and has been given extension till the eve of elections in Punjab.
Advocate Phoolka, who has been spearheading the legal battles for many of the victims, said that the media keeps on asking him why we should not forget 1984 after so many years. He pointed out that if 1984 was an isolated incident then one could have perhaps forgotten it. But it has been happening again and again with victims changing from Sikh community to Muslim community and other people over a period of time. In every case, the perpetrators are given a free hand in carrying out mass killings and they are not punished. He said that the only satisfactory closure can be for the guilty to be punished so that such horrific incidents do not happen again.
Justice Anil Dev Singh observed that there was a complicity of those in power in these crimes. He talked about the measures that were required if justice were to be served, including protection of victims and their families, victims right to receive reparations, identification and confiscation of assets of those who are responsible, treating those who obstruct justice as accomplices, creation of a commission, independent of the government, whose decision is final and fast track courts for expediting the trials.
Advocate Vrinda Grover talked about the various lacunae in law that come in the way of serving justice to the victims. In her study of 120 cases pertaining to 1984 genocide, only three had led to convictions because of complicity of the state agencies including the police in filing FIRs and botched up investigations. She pointed out that the Indian law does not recognise command responsibility, which is recognised by the International Criminal Law. She emphasised the need of such a law but pointed out that no government is interested in passing such a law that fixes command responsibility.
Shri Raghavan pointed out that Lok Raj Sangtahn conducted a seminar for an effective law to prevent communal and sectarian violence in 2012. Many eminent jurists and activists participated including a few from the present panel such as Shri Phoolka and Ms Vrinda. India ratified the Genocide Convention in 1959. The Government of India is committed to enact a law for the prevention and punishment of genocide under Article V of the Genocide Convention 1948. But so far it has failed to do so. Genocide as a crime is not given any legal recognition in the laws of our country including the colonial Indian Penal Code, 1860. There are just some provisions which make some acts in the nature of genocide be declared as culpable offences. Indian law refuses to entertain the possibility that the state itself is capable of committing offences. In the seminar in 2012, Justice Hosbet Suresh had highlighted the important principles of this Convention, such as no immunity for crimes of genocide, punishment to the guilty even if there was no law at the time of the crime, no statutes of limitation, no limitation of time, no prior sanction to prosecute, no need for a complaint from the victim to investigate the crime, etc. Justice Suresh emphasized that the UN Convention on Genocide was an excellent base to make the law. In India, people do not have any mechanism to initiate legislation. They have to depend on their elected representatives to pass a legislation for genocidal crimes. But how can one expect the very same parties and representatives who were involved in organising these genocides to pass an effective legislation. It is the people who have to organise themselves and demand a mechanism in their hands that will enable them to make sure that an effective legislation against genocide is passed and the guilty are punished.
Shri Mukhopadhyay said that fighting for justice for victims of 1984 was not just the responsibility of the Sikhs but for all the people.
Prof Chakravarty emphasised that the state is supposed to ensure that the right to life is protected but it is actually behind the organisation of such massacres. It awards compensation in cases of train accidents because of its failure to protect people’s lives but in the cases of such massacres, it is not so forthcoming in providing even compensation. She also pointed out that the parliamentary political parties are not interested in providing justice to the people and they look at such incidents only from the angle of gaining in elections. She emphasised that command responsibility must be there in law and it is the people who will have to fight for it since the political class is dead against command responsibility.
The meeting ended with a votes of thanks from the Sikh Forum.