On December 17, 2018, the Delhi high court convicted former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his role as one of the principal organisers of the genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. A two judge bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel awarded him life sentence "for the offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment in the commission of the crimes of murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of communal harmony, defiling and destruction of a gurdwara by burning".
Following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, thousands of people of the Sikh community were brutally massacred on the streets of Delhi, Kanpur and other towns of India in a state-organized communal genocide led by the then ruling Congress Party government.The police forces openly aided the killer mobs in burning alive Sikh men and boys, raping women and girls, burning down gurudwaras and looting the homes and businesses of Sikhs.
In the Palam area alone, nearly 400 people were murdered by mobs led and instigated by Sajjan Kumar. Witnesses reported Sajjan Kumar exhorting the mobs “Sikh sala ek nahin bachna chahiye, jo Hindu bhai unko sharan deta hai, uska ghar bhi jala do aur unko bhi maro”. Voters lists, inflammable chemicals and rubber tyres were provided to the mobs to carry out their murderous activities. The same pattern was repeated all over Delhi, with killer mobs everywhere led by the top leaders of the Congress Party, with the same slogans and calls.
34 years ago, as the genocide was going on, many concerned citizens appealed to the then Home Minister Narasimha Rao, as well as the then President of India, Gyani Zail Singh to stop the carnage. Both pleaded their inability to do so. Citizens committees including lawyers, retired judges, and political activists, which investigated the massacre, all came to the conclusion that what took place was a preplanned state organized genocide.
Over the past 34 years, the Indian state — no matter which party has been running the government — has left no stone unturned to protect the organisers and perpetrators of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs and whitewash their crimes. This has been the role of the numerous enquiry commissions, the CBI, and the courts at different levels.
The High Court observed that “This was an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against” Sajjan Kumar in the “normal scheme of things because there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress the cases against him by not even recording or registering them”.
For the past 34 years, people have been persistently demanding that those guilty of the heinous crimes committed in the November 1984 genocide, particularly those in positions of command and authority accused of actively participating and leading the massacres, should be punished. Family members of those murdered have boldly testified before the numerous commissions of inquiry that have been set up to investigate the November 1984 genocide. The struggle has been carried on relentlessly, in the courts of law as well as on the streets. Year after year, the Communist Ghadar Party, Lok Raj Sangathan, the Sikh Forum and many other organisations have held joint protest actions, meetings and discussions, demanding punishment for the guilty and calling for united struggle against state terrorism and state-organised communal violence, which were witnessed in most horrific form in the events of 1984.
The Delhi High Court sentence to Sajjan Kumar is a consequence of this long, persistent and courageous struggle. In particular, the courageous stand taken by witnesses like Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur through these 34 years can never be forgotten. Jagdish Kaur had watched her teen son being attacked and burnt alive. Nirpreet Kaur's father was dragged out and set on fire.
In its judgment, the High Court observed “In India, 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 (these are official figures) was neither the first instance of a mass crime nor, tragically, the last. The mass killings in Punjab, Delhi and elsewhere during the country’s partition remains a collective painful memory as is the killings of innocent Sikhs in November 1984. 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 U.P. 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 criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment.
Bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system. As these appeals themselves demonstrate, decades pass by before they can be made answerable. This calls for strengthening the legal system. Neither ‘crimes against humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ is part of our domestic law of crime. This loophole needs to be addressed urgently.”
For 34 years, the people fighting for justice to the families of the victims of the genocide of Sikhs have been exposing the truth that what took place in November 1984 was a cold blooded genocide. People have demanded that the chain of command through which this was carried out should be revealed and the main organisers punished on the basis of command responsibility. Lawyers and retired jurists fighting for an end to state organized communal massacres drafted a law recognizing and addressing state organized genocides. The law proposed that those in positions of power, including the chief of police and administration, right upto the Home Minister and Prime Minister, must be held responsible on the basis of command responsibility.
Neither the UPA government nor the present NDA government has ever considered passing such a law.
Both the Congress Party and the BJP, the two main political parties of the ruling class, are guilty of using the state apparatus to organise communal massacres. Over the past 34 years, state terrorism and state-organised communal violence has become the preferred method of rule for the ruling class headed by the big monopoly capitalist houses. State organized communal violence is used by the ruling class to smash the unity of our people and divert us from the common struggle against exploitation and oppression, for rights. The gruesome events of 1984 have been repeated many times over, in different parts of the country, in 1992-93 following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in 2002 in Gujarat, in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar, and many others. These crimes against humanity show that the Indian state is a communal state.
People fighting for an end to communal violence cannot look towards this communal state and its institutions for solutions. We must organise with the perspective of reconstituting this state on new foundations wherein no one will be persecuted or discriminated against on the basis of religion, or any other basis. The united struggle of our people for justice for the victims of communal genocide, for punishment of the guilty and for an end to state-organised communal violence and state terror, must be taken forward with this perspective.