34 Years On: The Wait for Justice for Sikhs in India Continues

The Gryphon sheds light on the recent political developments in India and the implications for relations towards Sikhs.

On 31st October 1984 9:30 AM the 1st Indian female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Indira was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the 1st Indian prime minister. She belonged to the Congress party which has ruled the 70-year-old nation for approximately 55 years. Her son Rajiv Gandhi took office at the age of 40 to become the youngest Indian Prime Minister till date. What followed was the second biggest massacre in post-independent India’s history.

The victims were Sikhs. Sikhism is a religion which emerged from Hinduism during the medieval period in response to Iran invasions into India. During the extreme violence, 2,800 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone and the people involved in the mob were congress party workers. It is considered that the reason for their anger against Sikhs was that Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, the assissins, were born into a Sikh family.

After the massacre, Rajiv Gandhi in a public speech stated: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. For a long time, it was contested whether he actually made the statement or not, but after the 2014 elections, with Congress out of power and the opposition winning a landslide majority, the video was made public by the courts. On 11th December 2018, state elections were held in 5 major states of India. After continuously losing elections since 2014, the Congress party made a comeback and won elections in 3 states. In the state of MP where Congress won, Kamal Nath was announced as chief minister to govern the state. Kamal Nath is an accused perpetrator in the anti-Sikh riots. Many veteran journalists including Tavleen Singh, who is still active, have repeatedly claimed ‘Kamal Nath was leading the mobs’. The massacre occurred in 1984, the elections in December 2018. Till the day the results were announced not a single accused had been sentenced by the courts. The Congress party as of 2018 is led by Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi.

17th December 2018, the High court in India sentenced Sajjan Kumar, an accused in the case to life imprisonment. Kumar like Kamal Nath served as a senior leader in the Congress party. Indeed, that changed after the sentence was pronounced by the court. Interestingly, when the Congress government were in power, Kumar was given a clean slate by the government which was later was rejected by the court. The court in its judgment observed that the reason for the delay was “a political party”. A lot of credit for the justice, although delayed, goes to advocate H.S. Phoolka who has been fighting the battle in court.

Neerpreet Kaur, a resident of Palamnagar, Delhi Cantonment, a witness in the case who was just 16 years old when the massacre took place says, “On 1st November they burned my father in front of me by putting a burning tire on his neck and pouring kerosene all over him. Sajjan Kumar was standing on top of a police car and addressing the mob”. Neerpreet claims Sajjan was shouting “Not a single Sikh should be alive if any Hindu protects the Sikhs burn them and their family too. Kill the children of the Sikhs too, they are children of snakes, they will release venom one day. Kill them all, they have killed our mother”. Mother refers to Indira Gandhi here. Bhagya Kaur, 68-year-old, a resident of Trilokpuri in Delhi stands along with a huge crowd outside South Block, the office of the Indian Prime minister. Kaur lost 11 of her family members. “What good is life imprisonment, Sajjan should be hanged, like the soul of my loved ones roams, may his soul also roam. This is just the beginning of justice, Kamal Nath should be punished, the Gandhi family must be punished, Vaheguru watches everyone” Bhagya says amidst the chants of ‘Long live Modi, death to Kamal Nath, death to Congress’. Vaheguru roughly translates to God.

9:00PM, the Delhi mist settles in. A cavalcade of 5 black sedans emerge from the Raisina Hill, heading towards India Gate, presumably carrying the Prime Minister. A kid with a turban, probably 3ft tall shouts, “Gurū arajana dēva jī dī kurabānī nā bhulō” (Do not forget the sacrifice of Guru Arjun Singh). Arjun Singh the 5th Guru of Sikhism gave protection to Hindus who were being persecuted by the invaders from the Middle East. Arjun Singh was eventually captured by the invaders and his children were executed before him.

Although the executive branch officially has no role in the judiciary, the expectations people have from the Indian Prime Minister keep rising, how much more burden he can tolerate, only time will tell.

Sagar Kar