Twenty-five years after the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in India, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, the country’s government has failed to bring to justice those responsible.
On Thursday, a Delhi Court deferred ruling on the case against Jagdish Tytler, a prominent member of the Indian parliament at the time of the massacres, after the Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) said it could not produce evidence against him. The session has been postponed until 28-29 April.
“The CBI’s admission of failure to gather sufficient evidence could very possibly lead to the court clearing Tytler of all charges – in effect, ending the judicial process against any of those accused of responsibility for the 1984 massacres,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s South Asia researcher.
Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were accused of having incited mobs to kill members of the Sikh community. Tytler has been a minister in India’s federal government several times, but resigned as minister in 2005 after a commission of inquiry recommended further investigation into his and Kumar’s alleged role in the massacres. An appeal in a Delhi court is pending against the acquittal of Kumar.
The two are now standing as Congress Party candidates in the Indian parliamentary elections to be held in Delhi on 7 May 2009.
“It has been 25 years since the massacre and only a tiny fraction of those responsible have been brought to justice. It is a national disgrace,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.
At least 3,000 Sikhs were murdered over the course of four days in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984.
“The fact that almost 3,000 people can be murdered without anyone being brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice and should be an embarrassment to the Indian government,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.
The Indian government only filed 587 cases of criminal wrongdoing after the massacre. It has closed investigations into many more cases, citing lack of evidence.
“For the Indian government to dismiss these cases due to lack of evidence is farcical. The various agencies responsible for carrying out the investigations failed to carry out the most cursory of tasks – including recording eyewitness and survivor statements,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.
There have been nine commissions of inquiry into the killings in the past 25 years. Only 25 people have been convicted for taking part in the killings. Most of the 72 police officers who were charged with dereliction of duty and offering protection to the attackers were exonerated; only four officers received any form of official punishment, including a reduction in their pensions.
“After 25 years and nine commissions of inquiry, the Indian government can and should do better. They must now re-open each case and properly investigate, with a view to finally bringing justice and closure to the victims and survivors of this terrible massacre.”
In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the violence against Sikhs in 1984 and said criminal cases against individuals named in the ninth Commission of Inquiry report would be re-opened and re-examined “within the ambit of law”. India’s External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who was then Defence Minister, said that there would be investigations by the appropriate authorities into specific findings against those named in the report.
“For the victims and survivors of the 1984 massacres, this has been an excruciating process of being promised justice and watching the government renege on its promises again and again,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.
“All those responsible for the massacre must be brought to justice – whether they are political leaders, police or government officials.”