[In more than the last three decades, on every anniversary of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, this author has been reminding the Nation how Indian State and judiciary did not bother to punish the perpetrators of this horrendous mass killing of the innocents of the second largest religious minority of our country. On every anniversary the author hoped that now justice would be done and he would not have to write the painful story once again as a reminder. It has not happened in the last one year also; the saga of the criminal betrayal by the Indian Republic has no end and the author like the victims continue to cry before a deaf and dumb Indian State.]
Inssan abhee tak zinda hae, zinda hone per sharminda hae!
Human beings are still alive; they are ashamed to be alive!
[Shahid Nadeem’s Urdu couplet on the silence of the civil society against communal violence. He received forty lashes for writing and singing these lines by the Zia regime in Pakistan]
Two Kinds of Justice
Whenever the country witnesses the large-scale violence against the minorities and Dalits, the search for perpetrators continues endlessly and the criminals are never punished. Major incidents of violence against minorities like Nellie massacre (1983), Sikh massacre (1984), Hashimpura custodial massacre of Muslim youth (1987), pre/post-Ayodhya mosque demolition violence against Muslims (1990-92), Gujarat carnage (2002), and Kandhamal cleansing of Christians (2008) are testimony to this reality. But when the victims are Dalits or minorities no such urgency is shown. In such cases, the Indian State is fond of playing commission-commission. Commissions after commissions would be constituted to see that the heinous crimes disappear from the public memory. The horrendous massacre of Sikhs in different parts of India in 1984 is a living testimony of this criminal attitude of the Indian justice system.
The status of anti-Dalit violence is no different. The major incidents of persecution and massacre of Dalits; 1968 Kilvenmani massacre, 1997 Melavalavu massacre, 2013 Marakkanam anti-Dalit violence, 2012 Dharmapuri anti-Dalit violence (all in Tamil Nadu), 1985 Karamchedu massacre, 1991 Tsundur massacre (all in AP), 1996 Bathani Tola Massacre, 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre (all in Bihar), 1997 Ramabai killings, Mumbai, 2006 Khairlanji massacre, 2014 Javkheda Hatyakand, (all in Maharashtra), 2000 Caste persecution in (Karnataka), 5 Dalits beaten/burnt to death for skinning a dead cow 2006, 2011 killings of Dalits in Mirchpur (all in Haryana), 2015 anti-Dalit violence in Dangawas (Rajasthan) are some of the thousands of incidents of the Dalit persecution. In almost all these cases perpetrators are yet to be identified. Even if identified the prosecution rate never exceeded 20%.
On the other hand, the Dalit, working class, and minority ‘perpetrators’ of violence are efficiently put on trial by constituting special investigation teams and punished by fast track courts. In order to meet the end of ‘justice’, ‘national security’ and ‘wish of the society’ they are hanged and jailed. The latest case is from Assam where a court at Jorhat on October 20, 2020, sentenced one person to death and 24 others to life imprisonment for lynching a doctor in a tea estate on August 31, 2019. Dr. Deben Dutta of the Teok Tea Estate Hospital in Jorhat was beaten to death by workers. They were angry about Dutta’s absence from duty at the hospital where Somra Majhi, a 33-year-old plantation worker of the estate, was admitted in critical condition. By the time the doctor returned around 3.30 pm, Majhi had died. Angry workers then beat Dutta up and locked him in a room where he died. The perpetrators were found and convicted in 14 months’ record time. It is nobody’s case that workers had any right to kill a person whatever would have been the provocation and instigation. But the issue is that when victims are minorities, the working class, and Dalits the State and judiciary go into a coma.
Betrayal By Governments Till 2014
After giving a free run to the killer gangs the government-appointed 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’ who submitted his report in 1987. Shockingly, this fact finding (or fact-hiding) commission headed by Misra observed that
“riots which had a spontaneous origin later attained a channelized method at the hands of gangsters”.
The massacre was reduced to ‘riots’ as if Sikhs equally fought against the others. It was a brazen lie. The ‘apostle of justice’, Mishra, champion of the theory of spontaneity was not, naturally, able to find out from where these gangsters came! According to Jarnail Singh author of the book I Accuse: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 for this service to the State he was awarded a berth in Rajya Sabha.
Next two decades, not less than nine commissions of inquiry were instituted. For Indian State, it became a routine to announce the constitution of some new commission or some more compensation to the families of victims in order to deflect the mounting anger at the times of 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 Supreme Court of India on August 16, 2017, ordered the constitution of a panel comprising two of its former judges to examine the justification for closing 241 anti-Sikh riot cases probed by SIT in the next 3 months. It is 2020 and nothing has happened so far!
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 Brahmanical hegemony, but part of Hinduism. The RSS/BJP leaders blamed Congress for anti-Sikh violence Modi while addressing a public rally during the 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 on referring to ‘qatl-e-aam’ or genocide of Sikhs.
Modi after becoming PM in a message (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 whole-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 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 go for army action infamously named Operation Blue Star which killed a large number of Sikh pilgrims.
Renowned journalist Manoj Mitta, author of the book When a Tree Shook 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 Congress. It’s as if there is a tacit deal between the sponsors of 1984 and 2002″.
It was no over-sight that the 2019 parliamentary elections 1984 massacre was totally forgotten. This is not what outsiders or critics of the RSS have been telling. The perusal of the contemporary RSS documents shows that major focus was on condemning the Sikh extremism, eulogizing Indira Gandhi, and welcoming the crowning of Rajiv Gandhi as a 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 Nana Deshmukh, a prominent whole timer and ideologue of the RSS [now deceased]. This document titled ‘MOMENTS OF SOUL SEARCHING’ was circulated by Deshmukh on November 8, 1984, which may help in unmasking the whole lot of criminals involved in the massacre of innocent Sikhs who had nothing to do with the killing 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 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 defense of the carnage can be summed up as in the following:
- The massacre of Sikhs was not the handiwork of any group or anti-social elements but the result of a genuine feeling of anger.
- 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 of their community.
- Sikhs themselves invited these attacks, thus advancing the Congress theory of justifying the massacre of the Sikhs.
- 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 ideological defense of those killings.
- Sikh community as a whole was responsible for violence in Punjab.
- Sikhs should have done nothing in self-defence but showed patience and tolerance against the killer mobs.
- These were Sikh intellectuals and not killer mobs which 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.
- He described Indira Gandhi as the only leader who could keep the country united and assassination of such a great leader such killings could not be avoided.
- Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded Mrs. Gandhi as the PM and justified the nation- wide killings of Sikhs by saying, “When a huge tree falls there are always tremors felt”, was lauded and blessed by Nana Deshmukh at the end of the document.
- 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.
- There was not a single sentence in the Deshmukh document demanding, from the then Congress Government at the Centre or the then home minister Narsimha Rao (a Congress leader dear to the RSS who later silently watched demolition of Babri masjid by Hindutva goons as 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 all this.
- 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 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 burning spree of the innocent Sikhs. This, surely, was beyond the capacity of the thugs led by many Congress leaders.
- It is shocking that Deshmukh presented 1984 massacre of Sikhs as an issue between Sikhs and Hindus. He wrote: “I feel proud of all those Hindu neighbours who protected lives and property of troubled Sikh brothers without caring for their lives. Such things one being heard from all over Delhi. These things have practically increased the faith in natural goodness of human behavior and particularly faith in Hindu nature.” He remained oblivious to the fact that these were not only Hindus but Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Communists who defended Sikhs’ lives and properties.
Deshmukh document did not happen in isolation. It represented the real RSS attitude towards 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 & 18, 1984 carried an editorial titled ‘Stunning Loss’ which praised Indira Gandhi in the following words: “It will always be difficult to believe that the 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 newly installed PM, Rajiv Gandhi who “deserves sympathy and consideration”.
Organizer also carried 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 too. According to this statement “swayamsevaks have been instructed to form or help in forming Mohalla Suraksha Samitis” for restoring peace and rehabilitation of the sufferers. 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 at 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 Shakha 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 apology For 1984 Massacre
The RSS continues to downplay 1984 Sikh massacre will be clear by the perusal of charter of demands submitted to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in last July. The senior RSS ideologue, Dina Nath Batra on behalf of RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas submitted five pages containing list of items to be removed from school text-books. Batra demanded that any reference to violence against minorities in the text-books 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.”
So the search for finding the perpetrators of 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 those 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. The scholars who have been involved in the study of religious violence are unanimous in the conclusion that if 1984 massacre was not allowed to happen, there would not have been 1992- 93 (violence against Muslims in pre/post Babri mosque demolition period), 2002 (massacre of Muslims in Gujarat), Kandhmal 2008 (cleansing of Christians) and many other massacre of the minorities of India. Allowing the 1984 massacre the Indian State, let it be known to all the majoritarian fascist organizations that in such criminal happening the former would remain silent!
Nana Deshmukh Awarded ‘Bharat Ratna’
As if it was not enough injustice to the martyrs and survivors of the 1984 massacre, on the eve of the last Republic Day (January 25, 2019) RSS/BJP rulers of India, bestowed the highest national award BHARAT RATN (gem of India) on Nanaji Deshmukh. PM Modi praising Deshmukh said, “He [Nana Deshmukh] personifies humility, compassion, and service to the downtrodden. He is a Bharat Ratna in the truest sense”.
If anybody wants to understand the exact meaning of the proverb ‘to rub salt into the wound’ this Bharat Ratna to Deshmukh would be the fittest example!
Author is a faculty at Delhi University. His other writing can be found at http://du-in.academia.edu/ShamsulIslam .Views are personal.