India: Victims rise in unison against the perpetrators of 1984 pogroms

Twenty five years have passed since more than 3000 innocent people of the minority Sikh community were brutally massacred, their properties burnt down, ransacked and looted and their women gang raped by the mob in Delhi and elsewhere in India, during the anti-Sikh pogrom of November 1984. Many of those responsible still hold important political positions. The tactic of "Divide and Rule" is still kept in reserve by the Indian ruling class, as this case shows.

Twenty five years have passed since more than three thousand innocent people, belonging to the minority Sikh community, were brutally massacred, their properties burnt down, ransacked and looted and their women gang raped by the mob in Delhi and elsewhere in India, during the anti-Sikh pogrom of November 1984.

This well orchestrated pogrom, which lasted for four days with the active connivance of the state machine, was organised by the then ruling clique in the top leadership of the Congress party. The pogrom was organised to revenge the murder of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, at the hands of her own Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. The bodyguards were enraged for the dirty game played by Mrs Gandhi ending with the ordering of military operations inside the Golden Temple at Amritsar, popularly known as "Operation Blue Star".

As is well known, it was Indira Gandhi who through Giani Jail Singh had first pampered and fuelled Bhindranwala and his terrorist campaign in the Punjab to counter the influence of Akali Dal, but the strategy backfired when Bhindranwala became too strong and turned against both Jail Singh and Indira Gandhi. When the situation virtually slipped out of her hands she ordered that operation Blue Star should start inside the Golden Temple, which is considered to be the most sacred religious temple by the Sikh community.

Immediately after Indira Gandhi was killed, the leaders of Congress(I) Party, taking advantage of the situation, conspired to organise a massacre of Sikhs with the aid of the police and goons, to take revenge against the whole Sikh community and to terrorise the people at large.

The intensity of the conspiracy can be judged by the comment that Rajiv Gandhi (the elder son of Indira Gandhi) made on the radio during the pogrom, that "when a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake". This was a virtual signal to carry out the mayhem. This well hatched conspiracy was then translated into a wholesome massacre against the whole minority community of Sikhs, by killing Sikh men mostly by putting burning tyres around their necks, destroying their houses and other property through arson and gang raping Sikh women in front of the men and children in their houses. While the organised mobs of goons under the command of Congress leaders were carrying out the violent spree, the police not only remained mute spectators but also actively assisted the mobs in their violence.

The names of Lalit Maken, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and Harkishen Lal Bhagat - all Union Ministers and members of the High Command in the Congress party at the time - appeared in the versions of witnesses as of those leading and instigating the mobs to commit the ghastly crimes against Sikhs. Needless to mention that these Congress leaders had been part of the political coterie formed by Sanjay Gandhi, younger son of Indira Gandhi, who had died earlier in a plane crash on a morning pleasure trip. This coterie had come to be known as the "iron fist" of the Congress party, for the criminal credentials and connections its members had to their credit. Sanjay Gandhi, the mentor of "emergency" had earned infamy in a short span of time, not only for his extreme arrogance and hatred towards democracy in general, but also his contempt towards the Muslim community.

The rottenness of the Indian ruling class and their cynicism in recurring to racism and communal hatred as a weapon for achieving self promotion is revealed by Varun Gandhi, son of Sanjay Gandhi, who is presently a candidate in the Parliamentary elections for the BJP. Varun Gandhi is presently being kept in jail under the National Security Act of 1980 for his speeches inciting communal hatred against Muslim and Sikh communities such as his remark that he - if voted to power - would cut down the hands of Muslims, or assist formally and informally the setting up of Hindu armies.

The 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms led by the Congress leaders, including the cabinet ministers themselves, were the worst of their kind since the communal carnage of 1947. As the violent spree was carried out in broad daylight for about four days, many eyewitnesses identified and named these leaders of Congress who led the mobs. Rajiv Gandhi himself was never charged for his apparent role in instigating the carnage, but upon immense mass pressure later on several Congress leaders had to be booked for different offences. Lalit Maken was later killed by Sikh militants at his residence for his role in anti-Sikh pogroms, while Rajiv Gandhi was blasted to pieces by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealem (LTTE), to revenge for sending the Indian Army to Sri Lanka, against the LTTE.

Impunity of the ruling elite

As the Sikh community comprises a considerable amount of votes in the Punjab, Delhi and many other parts of India, the cases had to be registered against Congress leaders, at both top and local level, but the process of law was manipulated in such a way that none of the leaders of Congress actually went to jail for such massive crimes committed by them in broad daylight and for which ample direct evidence was present. Investigation of the case was deliberately prolonged, witnesses silenced under the threat of consequences similar to that of the 1984 massacre, and finally the machinery of law was influenced. Hence, was dragged out the trial of the case for 25 years, with no major convictions at hand. As multiple FIRs of the case were registered, the statements of complainants and witnesses were twisted in a way that the VIP culprits were either spared or allegations against them were diluted to the core. Real witnesses of the crime who wished to depose were not allowed to do so, as is shown by the facts in Jagdish Tytler's case. One by one, in the meantime, the VIP culprits started to be exonerated after trials by the Trial Courts, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

After the devastation, in which whole families were torn apart, properties destroyed, the poor victims had to seek shelter in refugee camps at different places. Voluntary committees were formed by citizens for the welfare of these dwellers, who were forced to become refugees in their own country. The conditions of many of these refugee colonies remain worse than slums to this day. In spite of the fact that the victims could not be rehabilitated, nor the guilty punished, the chief organisers of the massacre, the Congress leaders, have repeatedly been given party tickets in the elections since then, and they have won the elections and then have been given berths in ministries. The poor victims of the pogroms have continued to wait for justice in vain for 25 years, since 1984.

In order to pacify the situation and, with what they termed as compensation to the Sikh community, Manmohan Singh, was given the berth of Prime Minister, in the UPA government led by the Congress Party. Manmohan Singh never raised any voice against the previous mayhem; rather he continued to sit among the coterie of the very same Congress leaders, the organisers of the Sikh massacre. Moreover, it was under his leadership that the Congress continued to issue party tickets to those accused of the Sikh massacre of 1984.

The victims' fight escalates

Once again the Congress Party has fielded the aforementioned Congress leaders for the parliamentary elections, including Jagdish Tytler, although there were pending cases and accusations against them. The acquittals by the courts, giving the benefit of the doubt, and their fielding as candidates to Parliament could only have rubbed salt into the wounds of the victims, but cannot wash out the memory of that ghastly crime. By now the patience of the people, especially of the victims, has started to exhaust.

After the outbreak of rioting, a policeman walks past burning shops in downtown New Delhi.After the outbreak of rioting, a policeman walks past burning shops in downtown New Delhi. A Sikh Journalist of the daily newspaper Dainik Jagran, Jarnail Singh, confronted the Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, with troubling questions regarding the issue of party tickets to the named offenders in the anti-Sikh pogroms. The Home Minister first evaded the issue and then upon much insistence of the journalist, refused to answer the questions. The journalist then threw a shoe upon the Home Minister, in protest. This action highlighted the issue of awarding those accused of anti-Sikh pogroms with party tickets by the Congress.

Demonstrations started with Sikh men and women participating in them. Congress waited first for the embers to die down but was then was forced to make a volte-face. It had to withdraw the accused persons from the fray, as the Sikh votes were not only decisive in about twenty parliamentary seats, but were able to disturb the balance of poll results in many more seats, all over northern India.

The investigating agency in the case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the police under the control of central government and accused of virtually acting under the hand of the very same Congress leaders, charged for offences, but instead of filing an implicative charge sheet against Jagdish Tytler, gave a clean chit to him in the case, right at the time of the fray for parliament. A clean chit was given by the CBI while disbelieving the statement of Jasbir Singh, an eyewitness to the events, who had later moved to California. His statement was recorded by the CBI on the orders of the Court. The statement had clearly implicated Jagdish Tytler as an organiser of the errant mob. The CBI however refused to place reliance upon the statement of this witness, as apparently his deposition would not only implicate Tytler, but could also result in his conviction. This malicious exoneration of Tytler by the CBI, that too at the threshold of the elections, further fuelled the anger among the Sikh community. The CBI would have succeeded in its game plan, had a huge mob of victims not crossed over inside the premises of the trial court, after smashing the barricades of the police.

Cynicism of BJP

The main opposition party, the right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ally Akali Dal (Sikh Party), both have tried to derive political mileage out of this situation. However, the BJP has no answer to the fact that after 1984, itself having been in power for a considerable period, did not take any steps to ensure that the guilty of the anti-Sikh pogroms be punished? And why did Akalis not force the government of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP, not do it? Moreover, the BJP is itself a culprit of organising the anti-Muslim pogroms of a similar nature and magnitude in Gujarat, where it had the government in its hand, under Narendra Modi.

Following the trajectory of the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984, the BJP had organised similar massacres against the Muslim minority, killing at least two thousand, burning and looting their property and committing mass rape of their women. Both Congress and BJP leaders are guilty of genocide, arson and looting of innocent people and their properties. In both cases the crimes have been committed against the weaker minority communities.

The shamefaced Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, was forced to admit that the delay in the process of justice, due to the slow pace of the legal system in this country, caused the situation to slip out of hand. However, this explanation stands fractured in the face of the facts. How can one claim that the legal system in the country is slow, when this very legal system made the trial of the December 2001 Parliament attack case, reach at its end point in December 2002, resulting in conviction of four of the accused? Appeals were heard and decided by September 2003 by the High Court and even the Supreme Court passed verdict by 2004. The zeal, efficiency and promptness demonstrated by the legal system in securing convictions for the accused in the Parliament attack case, were totally absent in the anti-Sikh pogroms case of 1984, that resulted in three thousand murders, rape, looting and arson, the Babri demolition case of December 6, 1992 that resulted in communal riots in several places in India that claimed over two thousand lives, and the anti-Muslim genocide of February 2002, which again claimed the lives of two thousand people, mass raping, arson and looting of property. The VIPs accused in all these cases, from Tytler to Advani and Narendra Modi, still remain scot-free.

Responsibility of CPI and CPM leaders

The leaders of the CPI and CPM continued to be the part of the ruling alliance - United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - for a fairly long term, but did never press the issue of taking action against the perpetrators of the anti-Sikh or anti-Muslim pogroms to its logical end. The promised bill, which comprised part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA, with provision for adequate mechanisms and punishment for organising communal riots, never saw the light of the day and the CPI and CPM leaders never made it an issue, even on the floor of Parliament. These parties never raised this issue with any political seriousness in order to lead the minorities against the ruling elite.

But - although it would be a positive and necessary step - a mere denunciation of the pogroms in front of public opinion through Parliamentary actions would not be enough. The problem is posed of how to organise the resistance of the masses against the attempt of the ruling class to divide the working class and the exploited masses with the poison of communal hatred. The organised workers, if they were properly armed and organised in a workers' militia, are the only force that can wipe away any attempt to provoke new pogroms. In this respect the responsibility of the leaders of the CPI and CPM is particularly important. These parties never thought of preparing the working class to confront the pogromists, with daggers in their hands, on the streets, and this way to lead the minorities behind the working class.

While the weaker sections, the minority communities, continue to be easy targets for pogroms organised by the elite rulers, the motive of these elite rulers, behind organising such terror campaigns is not confined to any particular community.

Only a workers' militia can stop the terrorism of the ruling class

In fact, by organising these campaigns, the elite rulers publicly and openly demonstrate their monstrous and destructive powers and capabilities, before the eyes of people, to create a sense of terror among the masses at large, of the colossal might they have at their disposal. They show before the people that the entire machinery of law, police, jail system, and even the courts cannot prevent them from doing what they want to do. Through pogroms, they induce a feeling of fear among the common people, that it is they and their whims which reign supreme and it is their writ which would only work. In this way they torpedo the farce of the rule of law, subjugating the people to their cynical designs. Ready mobs of lumpens are used for the purpose of committing the crimes openly against humanity, while the nerves of majority of the people are calmed down, partly through fear and partly through intrigue of communal divide. This intrigue enables the rulers to segregate a particular community, victimise it before the eyes of other sections, and thus flourish upon this divide. The terror of the elite rulers, however, subdues not only the minorities but the people as a whole to their terrorist rule.

Leon Trotsky in his writing, Whither France: workers' militia and its opponents, written in 1934, had shown how the workers must be organised in militias and trained to combat the pogromists. The historic experience of successful workers' interventions against organised pogroms in Russia, is clearly demonstrative of the fact that the very first appearances of columns of workers on the streets of cities, at the outset of such events, would have been sufficient to force the "elite babies" to confine themselves to the safety of their homes, instead of heading the lumpens to commit massacres of innocents. But instead of restraining the elite, the leaders of the CPI and CPI-M restrain the working class and hold it back from mounting any effective resistance against the pogromists. That is the tragedy today in India.