The life sentence awarded to Sajjan Kumar for his role in 1984 anti-Sikh riots is a very important court judgement. This proves that regardless of how powerful and influential they are, sooner or later culprits do face justice. In addition to this vital moral lesson, this case has also strengthened public confidence and belief that, apart from ensuring an effective political system, a democratic system consists of layers of systems that — notwithstanding several stumbling blocks — make delivery of justice certain. Common perception, though, is that the politics of this country is against justice in which political powerfuls always try to help and defend the wrongdoers.
Those who had witnessed the savagery of 1984 riots will never be able to forget merciless slaughter of [unarmed] human beings, loot and pillage of their properties and how an enquiry into these crimes was purposely stopped. Far from probing, [FIRs of] these crimes were not allowed to be registered. Those were the worst days ever witnessed in independent India. Sadly, we had to observe similar violence later as well. However, since justice has been done with the victims of 1984 riots, let’s hope that sooner or later the survivors of mass slaughter of 2002 will also get justice.
There is a painful similarity between 1984 and 2002 riots. Withing no time during both of these riots thousands were massacred or burnt alive on the streets and women were raped. Occurring within a span of 18 years, politics made sure that with regard to these riots justice remained suspended.
Raji Gandhi, who, with merely two years in politics, became country’s Prime Minister, shocked everyone by justifying these riots by saying: ‘When a big tree falls the earth does shake.’ This statement might have been the result of immaturity and inexperience but in coming years this served as a defence of the crimes of the rioters with utmost partiality and insensitivity. Without doubt Congress is responsible for this.
But in 1984 it was not only the Congress that was responsible for [this butchery]. A veteran leader of RSS of that time Nanaji Deshmukh wrote an article defending this violence. In the elections held immediately after this massacre, Congress’ victory of the magnitude never seen in Indian history before was not a coincidence. It won more than 400 seats in Lok Sabha. This has been said on a number of occasions that RSS had helped the Congress in that election in which BJP could win only two seats.
This is, however, surprising why, in spite of Congress’ involvement in these riots, did the Indians give it such a huge victory? Is this a dark side of our electoral democracy? Have we become used to mob violence? Or have we become so communal minded that we have come to accept mob violence as natural justice?
In 2002 under BJP mob violence went unabated in Gujarat, exactly as had happened in 1984 under Congress’s leadership. In 1984 riots 3,000 people were killed while 2000 people were massacred in 2002. In 1984 the targets were Sikhs while in 2002 the victims were Muslims. In 1984 the murder of Mrs Indira Gandhi and preceding incidents of terrorism were used as a justification. In 2002 the burning of Sabarmati Express in Godhra was used as an excuse. In 2002 Rajiv Gandhi had justified the killings of the Sikhs, in 2002, against the advice given intelligence agencies, BJP leaders put for public display dead bodies of those killed in train burning.
If one pays attention to these details, this becomes even more clearer that despite the fact that in 1984 and 2002 both of these parties had different banners but those who had participated in the the violence on both occasions were more or less the same guys. Those who pulled the Sikhs out of their houses and killed them in 1984, burnt and looted their shops, were the same people who, in 2002, participated in or supported the violence against the Muslims.
What is sad is the fact that in the time to come both parties continued playing politics and using 1984 and 200 riots for years. Congress, that keeps making statements on 2002 fails to remember 1984 and the BJP, that keeps reminding and remembering 1984, finds it convenient to forget 2002.
Following Delhi High Court’s judgement when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made a statement he righly called Sajjan Kumar a symbol of 1984 riots. He is also justified in saying that whole of the violence took place under the auspices of the Congress and that its leaders actively defended the culprits. Shamefully, they later became ministers in Congress and UPA Governments.
But not even a single time, while giving this statement, did Jaitley remember 2002. He did not remember that the the list of the alleged rioters include the names of the leaders of his own party and that all of them have been occupying high posts in the government. BJP avoids talking about 2002 riots exactly as does the Congress with regard to 1984 riots. Not only this, after the 2002 riots the people of Gujarat brought back the crippling BJP government with a thumping majority as was done with Congress following 1984 riots.
It is not that 2002 was the last example of communal violence and mob violence. After 2002 as well communal riots have taken place in various parts of the country on a massive scale and lynching is being seen and recognised as an alarming and disturbing sign. But which of these incidents will be investigated and which one will not be investigated is being decided according to the preferences of political parties.
If you look at the situation, our politics is making delivery of justice impossible. What is being done in the name of justice are either incidents of organised mob violence or totally one sided and biased action [against a community]. In such a state of darkness and despair a one off piece of news of a judgement against a culprit like Sajjan Kumar raises one’s hopes that one day all of the political powerfuls will have to face justice. If not today, tomorrow the wheel of justice will start moving and do its job. If Sajjan Kumar gets his punishment after 34 years, then sooner or later, one day others will be standing in the dock. Those ‘doing justice’ with others today will have their turns tomorrow.
Priyadarshan is an Indian film director, producer, and screenwriter.