As survivors of the 1984 Sikh massacres continued to protest against the Nanavati Commission report and the government’s Action Taken Report, the police attacked protestors in ways reminiscent of police attacks on civil rights activists in the US in the 1950s and 1960s.  Associated Press Photographer Saurabh Das captured several pictures of Sikhs struggling under deluges of water, similar to the water fired on black protestors in Birmingham in 1963.

As survivors from the worst-hit areas marched from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib towards Parliament, the police lathi-charged them:

As they started marching towards Parliament raising slogans against the Government, police stopped them upon which the protestors allegedly turned violent.

They allegedly broke the window panes of a Police Control Room (PCR) van after which the police lathi-charged them.

Several protestors were injured in the incident and atleast two were administered first-aid on the spot.

Union Minister Jagdish Tytler submitted his resignation and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a speech promising further inquiries.   However, this resignation only impacts one Congress leader who organized the massacres, taking the limelight off of Sajjan Kumar, Kamal Nath (who was let off the hook by the Nanavati Commission) and others:

Tytler resigned hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh to hold the post, tried to calm public anger and promised action after coming under attack from opposition parties and fellow Sikhs.

“Our government will consult the law ministry to bring the guilty to book to the maximum possible extent,” Singh told parliament. “This is a solemn promise and a solemn commitment.”

Despite the strong language, the Prime Minister’s promises remained the same–further inquiries and consultations with the Law Ministry.  Further, the Prime Minister reiterated that no other senior Congress party officials were involved, despite victim and witness statements to the contrary:

Mr Singh, India’s first Sikh prime minister, had said his government would take all possible steps to investigate politicians named in the report and seek the advice of his law minister to punish all those found guilty.

He told parliament the inquiry had “found no evidence” that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi or any high-ranking party leader had any involvement in the riots.

“Keeping in view the sentiments expressed in the house… that wherever the commission has named any specific individual or advised the reopening or re-examination of specific cases – the government will do so,” he said.

Survivors expressed doubts regarding Manmohan SIngh’s statements.   Survivors saw Tytler’s resignation as just a political game:

“This government should go down the drain,” said a riot victim reflecting the strong the anti-government sentiment among the families of the victims for the lack of decisive action to punish those behind the carnage.

Tytler’s resignation, they say, has not brought them any closer to getting justice. They say it’s an eyewash and a political game plan….

“It’s all politics. He might come back to power tomorrow. It’s all an eyewash. We are being deceived,” said another riot victim.

Witnesses to the riots, who saw members of their families being killed, say Congress leaders were directly involved.

Satpal Singh saw his father shot by a police officer and his brothers along with many others burnt alive on the directions of a Congress leader.

Twenty-one years later, as the leaders facing charges of involvement in the riots are yet to be punished, survivors of the riots say they feel let down by a Sikh Prime Minister’s lack of support to their demand for severe punishment to the guilty.

“It’s just a tactic. A new investigation will waste more time. A case should be registered against them and they should be hanged,” said a riot victim.

In an editorial, Kuildip Nayyar, the MP who suggested a commission, discussed the failure of the Nanavati report to address the planning of the violence, while accepting its systematic nature:

Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Dharam Dutt Shastri, named by Nanavati, could only be operators. At worst, they could have conveyed instructions. But who gave the instructions? Nanavati says that the plan was hatched on November 1, after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. Who were the ones who did it? Where did they gather to hatch the plan?

Seema Mustafa summarized the impact of the Nanavati Report in her editorial in the Asian Age:

The Nanavati Commission report, which has failed to fix responsibility for the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, has involuntarily disclosed what can be described as one of the most elaborate cover-up exercises undertaken by successive Central governments for the past 20 years.

Nine inquiries later, the Sikhs demanding justice are no closer to fixing responsibility on specific leaders and officers, many of whom have been exonerated in criminal cases because of “lack of evidence”.

The Newindpress also gave the reactions of the Indian diaspora in the US to the Nanavati and ATR reports.


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