36 years have passed since ‘Operation Blue Star’, when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, ordered an attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in June 1984. The aim was to silence demands for Sikh religious and political autonomy, and resulted in the deaths of 492 civilians. In retaliation, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. The events that followed represent one of the darkest periods of modern Indian history.
THE 1984 SIKH GENOCIDE
The assassination of Indira Gandhi led to the retaliatory 1984 Sikh Genocide. Within a period of three days, almost 3000 Sikhs were murdered, and the human rights of thousands more were violated.
The 2005 Nanavti commission described the ‘systematic’ nature of the attacks, whereby men were beaten before being burnt alive. This therefore contradicts the common media portrayal of the 1984 events as “anti-Sikh riots”, since a “riot” denotes actions that were sporadic and spontaneous. Instead, the atrocities committed are more accurately described as a genocide. Sikhs were deliberately targeted in a strategic and coordinated manner.
Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was sentenced to life imprisonment for the prominent role he played in the 1984 genocide, after being found guilty of murder and inciting violence. However, this only occurred in 2018, over three decades after the offences.
To this day, few perpetrators of the attacks have been held accountable for their actions. The complicity of the police in the atrocities is an issue that has also not received adequate investigation. Retired police officers have admitted in interviews that they prevented victims from filing first information reports and that they aligned themselves with anti-Sikh rhetoric, facilitating the ensuing violence.
The Indian government has hindered investigations and failed to take steps to rectify the human rights abuses that took place. In 1987, the Kapoor-Mittal committee was established to investigate the role of the police in the 1984 genocide. The committee identified 72 negligent officers, and recommended that 30 of those officers be dismissed. However, no action by the government was taken to discipline or dismiss these individuals. In many instances the government closed cases due to a lack of evidence.
More recently, further concerns have arisen about the lack of police accountability and potential police brutality within India. Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen, was arrested by Punjab Police in November 2017 and has been detained ever since, despite no formal charges being brought against him. Other Sikh activists claim that Jagtar’s arrest is due to him highlighting the events of 1984 and spreading awareness amongst younger generations through the website NeverForget84.com. Additionally, in handwritten accounts, Jagtar has described being beaten and having electric shocks administered by the police. Despite UN experts calling for India to independently investigate these allegations of torture, no independent investigation has been established.
Legislative reform is vital to ensure that the police and others in positions of power can be held to account for being complicit in and facilitating such atrocities. Furthermore, legal proceedings must be taken in a transparent and objective manner to secure justice for the victims of the genocide, to ensure that nobody is exempt from the rule of law and to prevent further fundamental abuses of political power.
Monique is an aspiring solicitor and a penultimate year law student at the University of Birmingham. Her drive to raise awareness about the issues that affect marginalised groups in society is reflected by the pro bono work she has engaged with at University. She is currently a volunteer with the Freedom Law Clinic- working on a project that aims to assess the impact of the Coronavirus Act 2020 on civil liberties.
This story first appeared on humanrightspulse.com