The Justice Nanavati Commission has completed its 200-page report on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and presented it to Home Minister Shivraj Patil on February 9. Since receiving it, the Home Minister has revealed that the report does not indict the top Congress leadership.


The NDA government set up the Committee in 2003 to investigate the 1984 pogroms. Volume I of the report discusses the events of November 1984 while Volume II consists of the evidence the Commission collected. The report gives its findings for the causes and the course of the violence, how it could have been avoided, and how its recurrence can be avoided. The report also examines the role of the politicians and police responsible for maintaining law and order at that time.


According to leaked news sources, although the Commission felt that the violence was “organised” and “systematic” in several areas, it neither directly indicted the Congress party nor the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for their role in the violence. The report maintains that the entire Congress party cannot be held responsible for the acts of individual politicians and local gangs.



“How can a prime minister be held responsible for each and every action in a police station or a particular district of Delhi?” is the explanation being given.


However, according to these sources, the Commission has been critical of the late Narasimha Rao, Home Minister at the time, for his failure to react quickly to maintain law and order. The Commission also has enough evidence from witnesses to recommend a re-investigation of cases against some party leaders.



These include sitting Congress MP from outer Delhi, Sajjan Kumar, former union minister H K L Bhagat and another former Delhi MP, Dharamdas Shastri.


Ironically, Kumar is the only active politician who could face embarrassment and even he has been acquitted by the Delhi High Court in one major case.


And Bhagat is now medically unfit and cannot make a statement.


The Commission is also likely to pass strictures against senior Delhi police officers at the time and recommend departmental inquiries against them.


But here again, Commission sources maintain, “you cannot blame the police as an institution for the failure of individual officers.”


Despite these small steps towards justice for victims of the pogroms, the Commission cannot actually pronounce on the guilt of anyone; instead, it can only ask for re-investigation in cases that the police have filed as “untraced” but where witnesses have come forward to depose against individuals who perpetrated violence.



The other category is the cases where people were named by witnesses but not made accused.


The Commission received more than 10,000 affidavits and examined 197 witnesses.


But there is a question mark over whether it has come any closer to providing real justice to the victims of the 1984 riots.


Further, the remarks of the Home Minister have made it clear that the Centre is in no hurry to make the report public or to table it in Parliament.



“It is a question mark on the government’s policy and its intention,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP Spokesperson.


But judging from the home minister’s remarks, the Congress appears confident that the Nanavati report is not likely to revive the ghosts of 1984 in a manner that will politically damage the party.


Over the last 20 years, a commission of inquiry and eight committees have been set up to investigate the pogroms. Officially, 2,733 people were killed but only nine people, none of them Congress workers, have received life sentences.


The families of the victims of the massacres do not express much hope in the Commission’s ability to win justice for them.



“Murderers are roaming free.Our innocent husbands and children were killed. We haven’t got justice in 20 years. And we don’t expect it from Nanawati,” rants Nanki Kaur, an old widow who lost half a dozen family members including her husband in Jagjit Nagar, a colony in the trans Yamuna area of the capital in the mob violence following the assassination of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.


All murders have gone unpunished. Nanki does not recognise any of the killers. “There were more than 500 people and there were policemen in civil clothes. How do we recognise them?” she says, wrinkles puckered up on her forehead.


Besides the difficulty in identifying all those who perpetrated the violence, the role of the police in the violence has resulted in a lack of documentation and evidence. Baby Kaur’s husband was burnt alive before her eyes.



“They registered only one FIR in a police station and clubbed all the cases and the statements under it and cremated all the bodies in an electric crematorium near Rajghat (Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi) without postmortems,” says Mohan.


Commissions are a farce, constituted to delay justice. “What’s the need for investigation and reinvestigation? Why don’t they listen to witnesses?” she wants to know. Similar questions were asked earlier when successive governments constituted one committee after another.


1984 widows, orphans (total of 1,300 in Delhi alone) and senior lawyer H S Pholka who has fought for justice for 20 years do not have much hope. They have, after all, seen the fate of the Kusum Mittal Committee, which suggested dismissal of 35 police officials and action against 37 others.


“Till date, not a single police official has been convicted. Some of them have even been given three promotions,” says Pholka. Widows feel the Sikh riots have become a good excuse for reemploying retired judges. Will the Manmohan Singh government prove them wrong and act promptly on the recommendations of Justice Nanawati?


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