Communalism

What Delhi HC Order On 1984 Anti-Sikh Pogrom Says About 2002 Gujarat Riots

The order mentions how the Gujarat riots were as much a crime against humanity as the 1984 anti-Sikh ones.

New Delhi: With the Delhi high court convicting former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, the BJP has sensed an opportunity to attack its opponent. But it may be overlooking the fact that the same court also mentions how the Gujarat riots of 2002 were as much a crime against humanity.

While upholding the conviction of five other accused in the case, Justices S. Murlidhar and Vinod Goel, categorised the 1984 pogrom as a “crime against humanity”.

The order reads:

“The riots in early November 1984 – in which in Delhi alone 2,733 Sikhs and nearly 3,350 all over the country were brutally murdered [official figures], was neither the first instance of a mass crime nor, tragically, the last […] there has been a familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013 to name a few. Common to these mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies.”

The high court further stated that “the criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment.”

Also read: Congress’s Sajjan Kumar Sentenced to Life Imprisonment in 1984 Sikh Killings Case

Incidentally, in his reaction to the conviction, senior Congress leader and advocate Kapil Sibal recalled how several BJP leaders have been indicted for the 2002 carnage in Gujarat. Stating that the Congress has not allowed Kumar to contest elections or hold any office, he asked “What about the prime minister [Modi], who encouraged Maya Kodnani [riot accused], who was jailed in the 2002 Gujarat riots [she was acquitted in April]?”

The BJP, reeling from its recent loss to the Congress in three major states in the country’s heartland is, however, desperate to use the ruling as a weapon against its rival.

Soon after the judgment was pronounced, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley termed the 1984 violence as “perhaps the worst kind of genocide that we ever saw.” Stating that the Congress government in that period repeatedly indulged in cover-up exercises, he said, “Sajjan Kumar was a symbol of 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The legacy of 1984 anti-Sikh riots hangs around the neck of Congress and Gandhi family.”

Jaitley also used the order to question why the Congress selected Kamal Nath to be the Madhya Pradesh chief minister since he too was tainted in the 1984 riots. He said it is “ironic that this order comes on the day when another person who Sikhs consider guilty was taking over the reins of MP.”

Nath, who was accused of being present outside Gurdwara Rakab Ganj when a mob attacked it and killed two Sikhs, was summoned by the Nanavati Commission but was let off for lack of evidence.

In fact, the Delhi high court order also highlighted how “bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system.”

The court, therefore, called for “strengthening the legal system,” saying: “Neither ‘crimes against humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ are [under the ambit] of our domestic law of crime. This loophole needs to be addressed urgently.” It said such cases “are indeed extraordinary and require a different approach to be adopted by the courts.”

Also read: Will the Ghost of 1984 Sikh Killings Return to Haunt Kamal Nath?

As for the mass killing of Sikhs between November 1 and 4, 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, the high court also held that it was “engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies.”

Responding to the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’, the court said the term was acknowledged for the first time in a joint declaration by the governments of Britain, Russia and France on May 28, 1915, against the government of Turkey following the large-scale killing of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks with the assistance and connivance of the Ottoman administration.

Crimes against humanity were subsequently defined as “…murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds…,” the court added