OPINION
GHOSTS OF 1984
It is for the rest of India to seek justice. The Sikhs are done with it.
- SP SINGH
It is for the rest of India to seek justice. The Sikhs are done with it.



UNSPEAKABLE ACTS OF cruelty occurred on the streets of India's national capital 34 years ago. Nearly 3,000 died. A frustrating pursuit of justice fell way short of the objective. The complicity of powers within the regime was the country’s worst-kept secret, and closure eluded the victims. It's a story lived by every Sikh, a story most Indians know and much of the world is aware of.

The recent sentencing of a senior Congress leader by a fairly superior court seems to have triggered a slew of predictable commentary: a recall of events, creatively drawn timelines, talk about need for institutional reforms, new legal definitions for a certain variety of crimes, the need to peruse other pending cases and, finally, to see the wider menace that underpins 1984, 1993, 2002, and 2013 Muzaffarpur.
 

The judgement of the Delhi High Court has convicted more than Sajjan Kumar. It has squarely convicted the Delhi police, though no journalist seems to have reached out to the force to seek its reaction. It has convicted India's political class since the specificities of this particular case before the court, as also the legal fight being waged in several other cases, clearly show that much of the dogged fighting was done by the direct victims.
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The judgement of the Delhi High Court has convicted more than Sajjan Kumar. It has squarely convicted the Delhi police, though no journalist seems to have reached out to the force to seek its reaction.
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We did not see the political class—including those thrusting their faces into the news television cameras today to claim credit—taking up the cudgels and fighting the cases, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the victims. If your idea of support to people whose fathers, brothers and sons were burnt alive merely because they identifiably followed a particular religion is to issue occasional press releases, then you are putting a premium on selling the pain of the survivors to garner a chunk of their votes. Period.

Should all those involved directly or indirectly, no matter how influential they are, be brought to book, no matter how late it is? That's a no-brainer. Is justice being delivered criminally late? Yes, but it must be done.

But we should be clear who this justice is meant for. It will serve little purpose if we think the victims of the 1984 pogroms are still looking for justice. No one can deliver justice after three-and-a-half decades, and no one seeks it. The young teenager who wanted justice then is a middle-aged man now. The middle-aged woman who began the search for justice has too much silver in her hair and is facing issues of mortality. The old father who saw his son being burnt to death was cremated years ago.
 

Those who sought justice are no longer there. A small clutch of people adamant on hanging on—in spite of all the frustrating procedural booby traps that our justice-dispensing system is riddled with—are exceptions. A Nirpreet Kaur, a Jagdish Kaur or a Jagsher Singh are aberrations. Sajjan Kumar, who eluded justice and is now headed for jail, merely proves the rule.
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The narrative that "Sikhs have been denied justice" belittles, shames and negates the sense of justice of all others.
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It is for the rest of India to seek justice. The Sikhs are done with it. One of the most hurtful statements that became a part of the public discourse in the last three decades is that the "Sikh community has been denied justice in the case of 1984 pogroms". If some people assault, maim, rape, kill and burn alive hundreds of innocent citizens on the roads of the country's national capital during days when the entire political establishment is in town and the police and Army are at hand, then how is it the responsibility of just the Sikh community to pursue justice?

The narrative that "Sikhs have been denied justice" belittles, shames and negates the sense of justice of all others. It is for the rest of India to decide if it wants to live with the fact that a section of its people—who had done no wrong—were dealt with in such a way, and were then denied justice and closure for so many years.

Children born today will be in the prime of their youth when India marks 100 years of its independence in 2047. They will be middle-aged women and men when the Sikh community marks 100 years of the 1984 pogroms in 2084, just 66 years from today. Do you want your children to read about how the task of seeking justice for barbecuing children, women and men was left to a small group of victims of a tiny community?   

Bhisham Sahni's Tamas on TV (1988)

 
When Tamas aired on television in the 1980s, in many households, young girls and boys watching it with their families on television had turned towards the family elders and asked, "Did you do this to other people? Do you know people who did this to Muslim women?" I know because I went through this, suspecting every uncle, and everyone my parents or uncles knew. It weighed heavy because there wasn't closure, and none seemed on the horizon.
 

It is time for India to shoulder the burden of justice, and closure.
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The Sikh community has, unfortunately, lacked a leadership with enough moral standing that could have prodded its people into introspection and reconciliation with those who grew distant.
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As for the Sikhs, the closure will need more than sending everyone of the tribe of Sajjan Kumar or Jagdish Tytler to jail. It will need an engagement with the counter-narrative that helped India rationalise the unspeakable violence. Vast sections of the Indian populace—far removed from the complex narrative of the Punjab imbroglio that saw the rise of Bhindranwale and militancy—viewed the Delhi pogroms of 1984 as a reaction to what had happened in Punjab. True, they might not have condoned the violence in Trilokpuri but it made it possible to rationalise it.

Sikh protestors during a sit-in in front of the United Nations's Geneva HQs. November 1, 2013 

 
The Sikh community has, unfortunately, lacked a leadership with enough moral standing that could have prodded its people into introspection and reconciliation with those who grew distant.

The problem with riots is that these always have a political component and a partisan ownership of the fight for justice. Since there is a political premium involved, it becomes necessary to keep any such fight partisan.
 

It’s happening again in the wake of Sajjan Kumar going to jail, as we see certain parties claiming credit and politicians on one side of the fence proclaiming that it could not have happened four years ago. This is the turf on which an opportunity for a moral and ethical engagement is lost.
 

Sikhs, as a community, and Indians, as a people, are set to condemn themselves again to that fate. You will listen to the same narrative in 2047, and your kids in 2084. We need to get down to the brass tacks for the much larger task that the Delhi High Court judgement has listed for us: by joining the dots between various massacres and prodding us to touch base with our conscience. Until then, we are doomed to live with the ghosts.
Courtesy: newslaundry.com
 

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