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PURSUIT OF JUSTICE

gavel_2 (91K) If we look at the post Pogrom developments and the massive amount of documentation that has come to be created relating to the event, we would find that most of it pertains to or arises out of the impulse to record it for history or otherwise to understand and evaluate how much the state machinery was implicit in planning and execution of the Pogrom and continued to be actively engaged in impeding the delivery of justice through commissions of enquiry, use of all manner of witness intimidation, delays and other dilatory devices.

This has served the purposes of the political elite in several ways. Delay in delivery of justice or its miscarriage through various contrivances only saps the capacity and the will of victims to continue the pursuit of cases in the Courts. In the meanwhile the memories fade and integrity of evidence erodes. The judges too, dependent on the official and political support for their growth, may not be eager to get involved in cases that could have unknown political implications. A community challenged by continued denial of justice may chose to take pursuit of elusive justice as symbolic of their resolve or on the other extreme give up the pursuit in disgust or frustration. It can be a loss either way because many other important needs or projects of the community may go uncared for.

A very good account of the effort that has gone in pursuit of justice is provided at the website 'carnage 84' by H S Phoolka and at the website Ensaf created by Jaskaran Kaur. Apart from reports of the various commissions of enquiry, books by Phoolka and Jaskaran Kaur provide excellent analysis of the proceedings. In all these cases, the drive has mostly been provided by H S Phoolka. The Sikh urge for seeking equal justice under existing laws has become much stronger after the recent judgment by the Gujrat High Court.

Let us look at the question of search for justice from the perspective of Sikh precepts and the standpoint of some of the ground realities as they exist.

 

The call of Gurbani

 

A simplistic paradigm if constructed from Gurbani would suggest that we are all subject to the divine principle of justice. In the true court of the true One, each and every action choice that we make will be judged as we will discover when we get there.1 In fact the Guru clearly says that O Nanak, having created the souls, the Creator placed naam acting as inner dharma - conscious judge or choice filter within each of us.2

 

 

So even though we have an inner presence of the divine naam, in most of us the influence of haumai is so strong that we continue to remain susceptible to the temptations of the five evil propensities. This causes us to be lured into corrupt and unethical practices. Sikh theological literature notes that at the societal level, while functionaries of the state turn corrupt and will do anything for graft,3 the people blind in their ignorance are like effigies filled with straw.4 The society therefore presents the lamentable scenario in which righteousness seems to have taken to wings since the rulers act as butchers5 and the protectors of faith have abjured their role.5 Yet in this depraved environment, the response of ordinary citizenry seems guided by the instinct to survive through conformity.7

In such a world what should a believer do? A fundamental Sikh belief is that God intends this world to be a place for virtuous deeds and moral action.8 The concept was carried further as a moral factor in conflict situations. The Guru says that if a mighty one overpowers his equal, it may not be a cause for grievance--- (but) if a tiger mauls the herding cattle, its Master must answer.9 At the same time Sikhs are persuaded not to shy away from righteous action --- and be determined to right the wrongs, fight to win.10 They must endeavor that those in leadership role must be held accountable for their decisions to be just and equitable and withstand moral scrutiny.11 The ideal in Sikhism is a modest and caring rule under which all the subjects may live in peace and harmony.12 Perfect is the divine justice13 and Guru Gobind Singh saw his own mission to be to resist tyranny and promote justice and righteousness.14 The persuasion is clear that if the ruling elite become the oppressors, pursuit of justice is a moral and ethical imperative for the believers.

Being subject to scrutiny also bestows on humans the divine right to expect justice. Gurus did not commend apathetic submission or being blind subjects - andhi raiyat - and the Sikh vision of societal transformation is rooted in the ideal of the ultimate supremacy of divine bestowals over the laws and rules set by humans. That makes for the principles of miri piri, sarbat ka bhala, ek pita ekas ke hum balak, shubh karman te kabhoon neh taroon - all to come together to create the total conceptual frame that guided the pro-active and reactive Sikh resistance. In societal context the guidance is clear - rajai chulee niaon kee - the same thought that the ethicist John Rawls15 has expressed in its modern context that justice is the first virtue of social institutions.

 

Realities as they exist & some pointers

 

The fact though is that in real life situations, even in the law abiding societies like the US, minorities generally receive tardy justice and are awarded stringent punishments for similar violations of law. Indian judicial system, while considered better developed than many other developing societies, is still known for its dilatory and corrupt practices. Thus viewed the denial of justice to the victims of 1984 organized violence against Sikhs in Delhi is a serious failing of the rulers. Unfortunately the sordid tale becomes more sinister when we witness open intimidation of the few surviving witnesses with implied complicity of Sikh leaders said to be leaning towards the political party of those who incited the pogrom. The added speculation that there could be more skeletons in the cupboard [e.g. 2011discovery of the Sikh massacre in village Hondh-Chillar in Rewari district on 2/11/84 and July 2012 find regarding murder of 24 Sikhs in Haily Mandi, Pataudi16] that may yet have to come to light makes it clear that while the authorities have been complicit, Sikhs had been apathetic.

The Sikh version of the status of delivery of justice is that despite the establishment of three commissions and seven committees of inquiry, Indian judicial system has failed to prosecute any of the main organizers of the pogrom either on its own or due to official pressure. In spite of prolonged trials, only 13 persons have been convicted, one declared a proclaimed offender and some of the key instigators like H.K.L Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath, continued to be given cabinet minister positions. Seventy-two policemen were identified for connivance or gross negligence and 30 recommended for dismissal but no one was punished. Besides, the rehabilitation of victims has been tardy and compensations meager. The throwing of a shoe by Sikh journalist, Jarnail Singh, at Chidambaram during a press conference forced removal of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar as candidates for the 2009 Lok Sabha.

Delhi Police version however is that 442 persons have been convicted - 49 sentenced for life, three for more than 10 years and one case is pending trial. Six Delhi Police officials were also punished for various lapses. The CBI has completed reinvestigation of seven cases registered against them. Of these, courts have accepted closure reports in two cases and five are at trial. Of the 56 cases against 225 persons registered by the south west district police stations, three resulted in conviction, two were pending trials and in 30 cases, accused were acquitted. The remaining 21 cases had been sent as "untraced" or not enough evidence for trial.17 Obviously there are major inaccuracies that need to be reconciled, if only for the purposes of record.

If we recall soon after the 84 pogrom several volunteer interfaith groups came into being who documented some of the incidents; others who tried to collect evidence, examine it and make a determination of the guilty and yet others who helped with bringing succor to victims in the early stages. The main witnesses of this pogrom were the survivors, mainly Sikh women, old people and children. Based on their personal accounts, the People's Union for Civil Liberties [PUCL] and the People's Union for Democratic Rights [PUDR] produced the report 'Who are the Guilty?' and Citizens for Democracy with 'Truth about Delhi Violence' within two months of the occurrences. A report of the Citizen's Commission was issued in Jan. 85. Uma Chakravarti and Nandita Haksar conducted interviews with several survivors in late 84/early 85, published in 1987 as a book. Veena Das worked on the experience of the survivors of Sultanpuri from November 5, 1984 till July 1985, published 1990. In 2007, two works based on interviews with survivors in Tilak Vihar Widow Colony by Jyoti Grewal and Angela Harlock were published. Personal experiences and recollections of the violence presented in many of affidavits filed are available on: www.carnage84.com. There are a number of other works that have documented the events, cases and other relevant facts about the pogrom. Yet it has not made the Congress political leadership to accept any accountability for the pogrom or to support the process for delivery of justice.

Cynicism about the integrity of ruling elite is not new and the lament by Guru Nanak about rajai sinh mukaddam kutai continues to be true. Things have changed a little in recent times with the growth of an aggressive media and some signs of vigilance among citizen activists. A recent helpful development is the verdict by a special court in Ahmedabad that has held 32 people guilty of premeditated violence in the massacre of 99 Muslims in Naroda Patia, in the 2002 BJP led anti Muslim pogrom. The narrative given out in this case was that the Muslim killings were spontaneous reaction to the murder of Hindu pilgrims in Godhra - the state was not complicit, nor did the police take instructions from their political bosses to look the other way. As a way forward, it was suggested to bury recrimination about the past and look to the future.18 The aggrieved Muslims persevered and succeeded helped by Congress.

An encouraging related insight emerges from a recent US federal appeals court ruling that the case seeking reparations for descendants of American slaves can go forward if plaintiffs can in part prove the violations despite its antiquity. This could be setting a risky legal precedent but it appears that when it comes to exposing those responsible for violating the rule of law, the judicial opinions are veering towards a more empathetic view of victims of organized acts of collective discrimination and that questioning of adequacy of available evidence may not be of much avail, if the pursuers of delayed justice keep their efforts alive.

The above developments however are not likely to be of much help to Sikhs in the 1984 cases or in a future situation unless they develop the ability to collect the facts and create resources for pursuing justice. Sikhs would do well to form watchdog groups and organizations that can help pursue justice for the victims of hate, discrimination and violent crime specifically directed for being Sikhs. The Jewish holocaust experience shows that they collected detailed data on all the victims and oppressors. Simon Wiesenthal19 and others created a wanted list and kept hunting for Nazis responsible for the holocaust crimes. The number one on the list Hungarian Laszlo Csatary, 97, was taken into custody and charged by Hungarian authorities in July 2012 for helping to send around 15,700 Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He had fled to Canada from where he was forced to flee in 1990s and ended up in Budapest. Wiesenthal Center located him and alerted the authorities in 2011.20

The Sikh experience post Sep 11 in the US also offers some instructive pointers. Soon after vulnerabilities of Sikhs due to mistaken identity sank in, SALDEF that was primarily a media watchdog group enhanced their legal assistance role. Later United Sikhs and newly formed Sikh Coalition added to legal defense resources. This has facilitated their getting quicker resolution of non violent incidents and some assistance in follow up of violent incidents while advocacy has helped in seeking better enforcement policies and improve awareness about the pervasive Sikh issues.

Sikh advocacy and legal defense organizations have been working in concert with other faith based advocacy groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] and most of the successes they have had with the Federal Administration arose out of initiatives by CAIR or jointly with them. A recent example is that of the Defense Department allowing Sikh and Muslim students participating in Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps to wear turbans and hijabs while in uniform. This was taken up by CAIR when a Muslim girl was not allowed by her commanding officer to wear hijab in the homecoming parade. The Army agreed to allow the Cadets to request the wear of religious head dress, such as the turban and hijab.21 The inevitability that we need to recognize is that our voice gets some attention if it is leveraged by the support of others who are similarly affected or who consciously support the freedoms that we are denied and are willing to extend their support to our cause.

Sikh organizations are planning to seek the endorsement and support of genocide victims -Israel, Armenia, Bosnia and Rwanda - for the Sikh Genocide Petition [per Akal Takht edict of May 05, 2012] to be filed before United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for investigation into systematic, intentional and deliberate killing of Sikhs during November 1984 pogrom and to recognize the same as Genocide. Sikhs for Justice and All India Sikh Students Federation have launched a campaign to collect a million signatures in support of this Petition which argues that 'the intentional and deliberate nature of the attacks on Sikh lives, properties and places of worship during November 1984 makes them crime of Genocide as per Article 2 of the U.N. Convention on Genocide'.

To seek the support of other groups or to piggyback them to ameliorate discrimination or to get justice is not wrong even though our dependency on CAIR may seem ironic in view of our informative campaigns for mitigating the impressions of so called mistaken identity. Pursuit of justice and religious freedoms is a shared human objective and if we read the Guru's message conveyed through their words and example, justice and freedom of belief that are so necessary for a righteous and nurturing social order are divinely bestowed blessings that must be the endeavor of all believers and defended by them.

In fact seeking such issue based support is a common practice used by Christian and Jewish interfaith advocacy activists. For this we need friends in other walks of life. That we harbor reservations on associating with some faith groups or sects does get reflected in the variety of views that we hear and read in Sikh forums. Decisions on such collaborative efforts should be made on the merits of issues without getting over swayed by prejudice.

Going forward

The suggestion emerging is for us to create some sort of legal defense groups in India that help victims of hate crimes, discrimination, riots get justice and take on the task of advocacy against any oppressive or discriminatory policies. Such pursuits can generally be protracted and need organization and legal as well as other professional resources along with continued support by the community. Serving the legal needs of those who suffered for being identified with a group is a tough and rather un-remunerative area for legal practice but it could attract young talent interested in social issues and we may be surprised at the number of volunteer lawyers and clients that such legal aid cells may bring together. A pilot project as an adjunct to the Sikh Forum could be a good start.

Justice which constitutes the core of good governance had become a casualty in the pre 2001 India. This apathy has somewhat changed post Gujrat events in 2002 when the strong Muslim lobby backed by Congress support led to the Supreme Court intervention. The commissions set up to inquire into the events of 84 pgroms only whitewashed the guilty officials and politicians. The Government has provided survivors some compensation though in that area too there are complaints of both inadequacy and delay.

What Sikhs are asking for is the prosecution of instigators and perpetrators. In spite of the availability of pretty extensive documentation and compelling contemporaneous information gathered through interviews and affidavits by many volunteer groups, applying pressure to 1984 cases is proving difficult with the weak Sikh lobby and the evidence considered badly tainted plus the media not finding any real topical interest in the rehash of old stories. Though the already dim hopes about the outcomes are further clouded by growing cynicism, justice is still worth pursuing if for no other reason than that giving up the effort would be worse than an adverse verdict.

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Notes:

1 - Karmi karmi hoe veechar sacha aap sacha darbar ---- kach pakai outhe paaey nanak gaya jaapai jaaye - Japji, Pauri 34
2Nanak jeeo upaaey ke likh naamai dharma behaalyaa - Asa M II, p.463
3 - qazi hoe rishvati vaddi laike haq gavai - Bhai Gurdas, Varan1/30
4 - andhi rayat gian vihooni bhaah bhare murdaar - Asa M I, p.469
5 - kal kate raaje kasaai dharam pankh kar udhriya - M I p.145
6 - khatriyan te dharam chhodiya - M I, p.663
7 - neel vastra pehr hoveh parwaan - Asa M I, p.472
8 - hukme dharti sajian sachi dharamsal- Suhi M III, p. 785
9 - je sakta sakte ko maare ta man raus na hoyi ---- sakta seeh maare pai vagai khasme saa pursai - M I p.360
10 - de shiva bar mohey shubh karman te kabhoon neh taroon ---- nishchai he apni jeet karoon (Dasam Granth)
11 - raaje chuli niyaon kee - M I p.1240
12 - sabh sukhaali vuthiyaa eiho hoyaa halemi raaj jeeio - M I p.74
13 - pooran niyaon kare kartaar - M V p.199
14 - dharam chalaavan sant ubhaaran, dusht sabhan ko mool udhaaran - Dasam Granth
15 John Rawls [1921-2002] taught at Cornell and Harvard. He sought to develop a concept of justice appropriate to a democratic society. His most well known work is Theory of Justice [1971], further refined in later writings.
16 All India Sikh Students Federation and Sikhs for Justice claim to have unearthed another Sikh genocide site at Haily Mandi, Pataudi, in Haryana in which more than 28 Sikhs were killed in a systematic and well-planned attack. FIR number 282-83 registered at Pataudi police station on November 12, 1984, alleged that death squads burnt Sikhs alive by pouring kerosene oil on them. The FIR had more than fifteen names of the accused and a list of 24 witnesses but on April 26, 1986, Sessions Judge VM Jain acquitted all the accused because of the lack of evidence http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/topic/ 1984-anti- Sikh-riots. Another FIR number 165 was also claimed to have been registered at Pataudi Police Station by Harbhajan Singh of Village Kheri who survived the attack http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/Harbhajan-Singh. It is clear that Sikhs were targeted in a pattern identical to Delhi killings. [GLZ 29/7/ 2012]
17 June 20, 2012 by PTI Source: http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/442-convicted-in-various-anti-Sikh-riots-cases-Delhi-Police/Article1-875466.aspx www.hindustantimes .com
18 For details, read news reports and article by Mukul Kesavan, Times of India, Sep 1, 2012.
19 Weisenthal [1908 - 2005] dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazis so that they could be brought to justice for war crimes. He co-founded Jewish Historical Documentation Center in 1947 to gather information for war crime trials. He came to be known as a Nazi hunter.
20http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/world-s-most-wanted-nazi-held-at-97-244806?ndtv
21 Reported in SALDEF Advocate, Jan 2012.

 

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