34 years and counting: No justice for victims of 1984 Sikh genocide

Written by Shamsul Islam | Published on: November 5, 2018

For the last 34 years, Indian political outfits have made a mockery of finding out the perpetrators of this massacre and bringing them to justice. No apologies have been rendered by Congress, the ruling party has milked the issue for votes and RSS has justified the genocide in its documents.


Anti Sikh Riots
Image Credit: Sondeep Shankar

“Insan abhi tak zinda hai,
zinda hone per sharminda hai!”
“Human beings are still alive,
they are ashamed to be alive!”
-Shahid Nadeem's couplet on the silence of civil society against communal violence.
For the last 30 years, on the occasion of every anniversary of 1984 massacre of Sikhs, this author has been reminding the nation how the Indian State and judiciary did not bother to punish the perpetrators of this horrendous genocide of the innocent people. The people which form the second largest religious minority in our country. Every anniversary, the author hoped that by next year, justice would be served and he would not have to write the painful story once again as a reminder. It has not happened in last one year either and the saga of the criminal betrayal by the Indian Republic has no end. The author continues to cry before a deaf and dumb Indian State.
Betrayal of governments till 2014.
After giving a free run to the killer gangs, the government appointed a one-man Marwah Commission to find out the perpetrators of the 1984 'riots'. As this exercise was proving inconvenient, it was asked to disband itself within a short period of its existence and a sitting Supreme Court Judge Ranga Nath Mishra was asked to conduct an inquiry into 1984 'riots’. He submitted his report in 1987. Shockingly, this fact-finding (or fact-hiding) commission headed by Misra observed that "The riots which had a spontaneous origin later attained a channelized method at the hands of gangsters".
The 'apostle of justice' and champion of spontaneity, Mishra, was not unable to find out where these gangsters came from. According to Jarnail Singh, author of the book I Accuse: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984, Mishra was awarded a berth in Rajya Sabha for this service to the State.
In the next two decades, not less than nine commissions of inquiry were instituted. For the Indian State, it became a routine to announce the formations of some new commissions or some more compensation to the families of victims in order to deflect the mounting anger during elections. Highlighting the anti-minority bias of such commissions, H. S. Phoolka, a renowned lawyer, commented that instead of getting convicted, many of the political perpetrators get promoted as rulers.
In the latest development, on August 16, 2017, Supreme Court of India ordered the constitution of a panel comprising two of its former judges to examine the justification for closing 241 anti-Sikh riot cases and ordered a probe by the SIT to be completed in the next three months. It is November 2018 (15 months since the order was passed) and these three months are yet to be completed!
Betrayal by the present RSS, BJP rulers
RSS claims to have always stood for Hindu-Sikh unity. It occasionally expresses its gratitude to Sikhism for saving Hinduism from Muslim aggression. It may not be irrelevant to note here that RSS does not treat Sikhism as an independent religion which discarded Casteism and the Brahmanical hegemony, but a part of Hinduism. The RSS/BJP leaders blamed Congress for anti-Sikh violence. Modi while addressing a public rally during last parliamentary elections at Jhansi, UP (October 25, 2013) asked Congress leaders to explain who "killed thousands of Sikhs in 1984" and "has anyone been convicted for the Sikh genocide so far?" Modi, during Punjab elections and 2014 general elections, kept referring to 'qatl-e-aam' or genocide of Sikhs.
After becoming the PM, Modi in a message (dated October 31, 2014) said that anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination were like a "Dagger that pierced through India's chest…Our own people were murdered, the attack was not on a particular community but on the entire nation.”
Hindutva icon, RSS full-timer and PM, Modi lamented the fact that culprits were yet to be booked and tried for this massacre. However, Modi did not tell the nation what the NDA governments, which ruled this country from 1998 to 2004, did to persecute the culprits. Modi also forgot to share the fact that as per the autobiography of LK Advani (page 430); it was his party which forced Indira Gandhi to take an army action infamously named as Operation Blue Star which killed a large number of Sikh pilgrims.
Renowned journalist Manoj Mitta, author of the book ‘When a Tree Shook in Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and Its Aftermath’ straightforwardly tells that "Despite the BJP rule, there has hardly been any will to enforce accountability for the massacres that took place under the Congress. It’s as if there is a tacit deal between the sponsors of 1984 and 2002".
This is not what outsiders or critics of the RSS have been telling. The perusal of the contemporary RSS documents shows that the major focus was on condemning the Sikh extremism, eulogizing Indira Gandhi and welcoming the coronation of Rajiv Gandhi as the new prime minister.
RSS ideologue Nana Deshmukh’s dehumanised attitude towards the Sikh massacre
The most important proof of such a dehumanized attitude towards the massacre of Sikhs is a document circulated by Late. Nana Deshmukh, a prominent RSS ideologue. This document, titled a 'Moments of Soul Searching’ circulated by Deshmukh on November 8, 1984, may help in unmasking the criminals involved in the massacre of innocent Sikhs who had nothing to do with the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This document may also throw light on where the cadres came from, who meticulously organized the killing of Sikhs. Nana Deshmukh in this document is seen outlining the justification of the massacre of the Sikh community in 1984.
This document also shows the true degenerated and fascist attitude of the RSS towards all the minorities of India. The RSS has been arguing that they are against Muslims and Christians because they are the followers of foreign religions. Here we find them justifying the butchering of Sikhs who according to their own categorization, happened to be the followers of an indigenous religion. In this document, we will hear from the horse's mouth that the RSS like the then Congress leadership, believed that the massacre of the innocent Sikhs was unavoidable.
This document was published in the Hindi Weekly Pratipaksh edited by George Fernandes, who later became the Defence Minister of India in the NDA regime, in its edition of November 25, 1984, titled 'Indira Congress-RSS collusion' with the following editorial comment:
“The author of the following document is known as an ideologue and policy formulator of the RSS. After the killing of Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi) he distributed this document among prominent politicians. It has a historical significance that is why we have decided to publish it, violating the policy of our Weekly. This document highlights the new affinities developing between the Indira Congress and the RSS. We produce here the Hindi translation of the document.”
Deshmukh in his document 'Moments of Soul Searching’ is seen outlining the justification of the massacre of the Sikh community in 1984. His defence of the carnage can be summed up in the following:
1. The massacre of Sikhs was not the handiwork of any group or anti-social elements but the result of a genuine feeling of anger.
2. Deshmukh did not distinguish the action of the two security personnel of Indira Gandhi, who happened to be Sikhs, from that of the whole Sikh community. According to his document, the killers of Indira Gandhi were working under some kind of mandate from their community.
3. Sikhs themselves invited these attacks, thus advancing the Congress theory of justifying the massacre of the Sikhs.
4. He glorified the Operation Blue Star and described any opposition to it as anti-national. When Sikhs were being killed in thousands, he was warning the country of Sikh extremism, thus offering an ideological defence of those killings.
5. Sikh community as a whole was responsible for violence in Punjab.
6. Sikhs should have done nothing in self-defence but showed patience and tolerance against the killer mobs.
7. Sikh intellectuals and not killer mobs were responsible for the massacre. They had turned Sikhs into a militant community, cutting them off from their Hindu roots, thus inviting attacks from the nationalist Indians. Moreover, he treated all Sikhs as part of the same gang and described attacks on them as a reaction of the nationalist Hindus.
8. He described Indira Gandhi as the only leader who could keep the country united and after the assassination of such a great leader, such killings could not be avoided.
9. Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded Mrs. Gandhi as the PM justified the nation-wide killings of Sikhs by saying, “When a big tree falls the earth shakes.” He was lauded and blessed by Nana Deshmukh at the end of the document.
10. Shockingly, the massacre of Sikhs was being equated with the attacks on the RSS cadres after the killing of Gandhiji and we find Deshmukh advising Sikhs to suffer silently. Everybody knows that the killing of Gandhiji was inspired by the RSS and the Hindutva ideology whereas the common innocent Sikhs had nothing to do with the murder of Indira Gandhi.
11. There was not a single sentence in the Deshmukh document demanding, from the then Congress Government at the Centre or the then home minister Narasimha Rao (a Congress leader dear to the RSS, who later silently watched demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindutva goons as the PM of India in 1992) remedial measures for controlling the violence against the minority community. Mind it, that Deshmukh circulated this document on November 8, 1984, and from October 31 to this date, Sikhs were left alone to face the killing gangs. In fact, November 5-10 was the period when the maximum killings of Sikhs took place. Deshmukh was just not bothered about any of this.
12. It is generally believed that the Congress cadres were behind this genocide. This may be true but there were other forces too which actively participated in this massacre and whose role has never been investigated. It could be one of the reasons that the actual perpetrators remain unknown. Those who witnessed the genocide were stunned by the swiftness and military precision of the killer/marauding gangs (later on witnessed during the Babri mosque demolition, burning alive of Dr. Graham Steins with his two sons, 2002 pogrom of the Muslims in Gujarat and cleansing of Christians in parts of Orissa) which went on a killing spree killing scores of innocent Sikhs. This, surely, was beyond the capacity of the thugs led by many Congress leaders.
The Deshmukh document did not happen in isolation. It represented the real RSS attitude towards the Sikh genocide of 1984. It may be relevant to know here that the RSS cadres did not come forward in defence of the Sikhs. The RSS is very fond of circulating publicity material, especially photographs of its khaki shorts-clad cadres doing social work. For the 1984 violence, they have none. In fact, Deshmukh's article also made no mention of the RSS cadres going to the rescue of Sikhs under siege. This shows the real intentions of the RSS during the genocide.
The RSS English organ, Organizer, in its combined issue dated November 11 and 18, 1984, carried an editorial titled 'Stunning Loss' which praised Indira Gandhi in the following words: "It will always be difficult to believe that Indira Gandhi is no more. One had got so used to hearing her myriad voices for so long, that everything looks so blank without her. The violent manner of her death is the most shocking horror story, giving the nation the creeps…It is a case of treacherous fanatics stigmatizing the whole nation by butchering a remarkable specimen of Indian womanhood…She literally served India to the last drop of her blood according to her own lights." The same editorial ended with the words supporting the newly installed PM, Rajiv Gandhi who "deserves sympathy and consideration".
Organizer also carried a statement of RSS Supremo, Bala Deoras titled 'Balasaheb condemns assassination, Delhi carnage' in a single column. He mourned and condemned the carnage but not even once referred to the fact that Sikhs were under attack. For him, it was "infighting in the Hindu Samaj". He also overlooked the fact that it was not only Delhi where Sikhs were butchered/burnt but in many other parts of India. According to this statement "Swayamsevaks have been instructed to form or help in forming Mohalla Suraksha Samitis," for restoring peace and victim rehabilitation. However, there are no documents available in the contemporary RSS archives to show how these Samitis functioned. It is a fact that RSS, which is fond of displaying photographs of its cadres doing social work, did not publish any visual of the activity of these Samitis.
In the same statement, Deoras, reacting to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, stated, "It is shocking beyond words to express the feelings on the murder of PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi by some fanatic elements. She had been carrying on almost the entire burden of the country since 1966. She was loved and respected not only in this country but all over the world. Her passing away at this critical juncture will create a void in India and also in the world."
According to the above-mentioned Organizer "RSS Sarkyavah, Rajender Singh issued instructions to all the branches in the country to hold a special meeting in their Shakha’s condemning the dastardly murder of the PM and paying homage to the departed soul. He also issued instructions to cancel all public functions to be held by RSS during the period of mourning". Of course, RSS archives do not contain any instructions from RSS top brass ordering to mourn the Sikh martyrs.
RSS against former PM Manmohan Singh’s apology for 1984 Massacre
The RSS continuous downplaying of 1984 Sikh massacre will be clear by the perusal of their charter of demands submitted to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) last July. The senior RSS ideologue, Dina Nath Batra, on behalf of RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas submitted five pages containing the list of items to be removed from school textbooks. Batra demanded that any reference to violence against minorities in the textbooks should be removed which included references to a simple apology tendered by the former PM Manmohan Singh over 1984 violence. It is to be noted that in an apology in Parliament on August 12, 2005, Manmohan Singh, the then PM of India stated:
“I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community. I apologize not only to the Sikh community but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution.”
Thus, the search for finding the perpetrators of the Sikh massacre of 1984 continues endlessly. The present RSS/BJP rulers who claim to be co-religionists of Sikhs prove no different from Congress. The only hope is that Indians, who have stakes in continuation of democratic-secular Indian polity, will come forward to force the Indian State to identify and punish the killers.