NEARLY 34 years after the 1984 riots, the Supreme Court’s order to reinvestigate 186 cases of violence against Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi comes with a renewed hope of justice. Over the years, powerful instigators and perpetrators of the riots getting clean chits fed the angst of the victims, who had not only lost their loved ones, but also their businesses and homes. They suffered as many of the accused continued to flourish — notably Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and HKL Bhagat. The victims have, despite being down and under and hitting the wall time and again, steadfastly braved the rounds of courts and they did not give up their quest. The political parties’ efforts to appease the wounded community by setting up commissions to look into the cases in which over 3,000 Sikhs were slaughtered, purportedly in complicity with the administration of the day, have failed. Too few convictions, and grossly under-proportional sentences, showed such commissions to be mere vote-garnering exercises.
The new SIT, entrusted with prising open the old cases, holds promise. It has been set up by the Supreme Court and the judge named for the exercise, Justice SN Dhingra, has a track record of bold judgments and scathing strictures while dealing with such cases. He will be on familiar territory. During the 1990s, as Sessions Judge in the Karkardooma Court in Delhi, he incarcerated senior Congress minister Bhagat in an anti-Sikh riot instance. Then, he castigated the Delhi Police for their chaotic manner of prosecution of hundreds of cases spread all over Delhi. As a result, 100 cases were clubbed together and the trial streamlined. Again, it was Dhingra who convicted and sentenced Kishori Lal, dubbed the “butcher of Trilokpuri”, and the other accused of a grisly massacre of 1984.
This SIT has two months to present its status report to the SC. There is hope, but also the ever-present fear of politicians using the reopening of the cases for political shenanigans. Justice has been inordinately delayed; it must be delivered so that the victims’ families get a sense of closure.