Nanavati Commission is the 9th in 20 years!
November 1, 2004 marked the 20th anniversary of the infamous 1984 Delhi massacres when some 4,000 innocent Sikhs were killed and the lives of many more thousands were turned upside down. For the survivors of this dark chapter of India 's history, especially the children whose childhood was stolen and who have grown up in the aftermath of this tragedy, this anniversary still begs the question - whither justice? Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, and the 7th Prime Minister since 1984, marked the 20th anniversary by administratively extending the terms of the Nanavati Commission that is already four years behind schedule and in no visible hurry to conclude its work.
The Nanavati commission was the 9th Commission or Committee set up by the Union government since 1984 to "look into" different aspects of the Delhi massacres and facilitate administration of justice. Ved Marwah, a police official of Delhi was appointed first to report on the police conduct right after the massacres, when the Rajiv Gandhi government was unwilling to even appoint a commission at all. Its work was stalled in April 1985 when Ranganath Mishra Commission was appointed by the central government following Rajiv-Longowal accord. Ranganath Mishra Commission was headed by a sitting judge of the Indian Supreme Court. Its term of reference was to ascertain "if the riots were premeditated". Justice Mishra not only exonerated the authorities, but he went beyond the terms of reference when pressed by victims to identify the culprits and wrote that the government should "appoint another committee to identify the people, but HKL Bhagat is not involved!"
Three committees were set up in February 1987 following Mishra Commission -Jain- Banerjee panel to recommend registration of cases, Kapoor-Mittal Committee on role of police and the Ahuja Committee to ascertain the number of people killed! The results of these are so unsatisfactory that even today, victims are waiting to file fresh murder cases for crimes committed twenty years ago. The Courts blocked any action based on the first two committees. On the number of people who were murdered in 1984 massacres, the number is pegged at 1,419 by Delhi police, 2,300 by the Delhi government; 2,733 by the Ahuja committee and addresses of 3,870 people as dead or missing were submitted to Ranganath Mishra Commission by the Citizen's Committee for Justice even though Mishra Commission refused to look into the matter.
The V.P. Singh government appointed the Potti-Rosha committee in 1990 to correct the legal problems that had resulted in the Jain-Bannerjee commission's work. . It folded its work after six months with no visible outcome. The Delhi administration appointed the Jain-Aggarwal committee to resume Potti-Rosha's work soon after the folding of Potti-Rosha committee. Jain-Aggarwal recommended several cases based on the filed affidavits. The Delhi administration appointed the Narula Advisory Committee in 1994 to 'review the status' of the recommendations made by Potti-Rosha, Kapur-Mittal and Jain-Aggarwal. Narula specifically highlighted that the Delhi police refused to proceed against Bhagat and Kumar in spite of repeated committee recommendations. The Nanavati Commission is thus the 9th official commission.
There were three Special Courts set up during VP Singh's tenure as prime Minister to expedite the court process. These courts ended up summarily dismissing hundreds of cases and made a mockery of the justice system. The result is that there had been just one conviction by 1990, six years after the massacres, and a total of ten convictions by now. Six men are serving time for murder in 1984 massacres, mostly because they lacked the means to wiggle out of the courts system. Only the judgments handed out by one special court, headed by Justice Dhingra, bears any semblance of justice in the entire 20 years. Lawyers and victims eagerly await the Nanavati Commission's report, hoping that this will allow the fresh registration of cases that the police has so far refused to register under the pretext that the accused named happened to be a political leader. They are also waiting for the Nanavati Commission to reopen some 300 cases that the police closed improperly without bringing any of them to trial.
The same Justice Nanavati is also heading a commission to look into the 2002 riots in Gujarat where the same questions are being asked - involvement of police, premeditated violence, naming the culprits, etc. - only difference being that the victims this time were Muslims. Justice Nanavati has not yet submitted that report either, but has spoken prematurely even before examining all the evidence that he had not seen any involvement of police. It remains to be seen if Justice Nanavati will outdo Justice Ranganath Mishra.
According to Advocate Harvinder Singh Phoolka, who represented victims to the Ranganath Mishra Commission, "if you see the role of the judiciary in 1984 riot cases, you will be shocked. Its role is so terrible. The judges have been a party to an eyewash." He and other human rights activists are still pushing through the legal jungle to seek justice for the victims even though they know full well how Mr. Ranganath Mishra went on to become the Chief Justice of India and after retirement, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and subsequently a member of Rajya Sabha as a reward for his services.
On Nov 1, 2004, there was a citizen's demonstration in Delhi to press for the demand "Justice for the victims of 1984!" as a prelude to opening the path for India 's progress. This demonstration brought forward the fact that India has not only not transcended the infamy of 1984, but is caught in an endless cycle of pogroms and violence because the likes of Justice Mishra or Justice Nanavati and successive governments headed by Prime Ministers from VP Singh, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, Gujral, and Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh continue to ignore the damage India's rotting political-legal order is doing to her future. It highlighted how the recurring violence, riots and massacres since 1984 - in Bhiwandi, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Imphal, Midnapore, Bidar and countless other cities, towns and villages may not be a matter of concern to the judges, chief executives and political leaders of India, and may even be a means to prolong the unjust social-economic-political order. But the polity can ill afford to ignore them because they are happening again and again. Either the possibility for such violence is blocked or the Indian people's path to progress will be blocked.
The lethargic attitude of the Union Home Ministry in furnishing the required files delays the proceedings before the G.T. Nanavati Commission of Inquiry.
NAUNIDHI KAUR in New Delhi
THE wheels of justice could not have moved slower for the victims of the riots that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. In more than a year of functioning the G.T. Nanavati Commission of Inquiry has managed to examine only 15 witnesses. The reason for the slow pace is mismanagement by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has either lost or misplaced some important documents relating to the riots. In the absence of these the Commission has not been able to examine more witnesses.
The Commission was appointed by the NDA government on May 10, 2000 to look into the causes of and the manner in which the riots occurred. It was asked to fix the responsibility for any lapses or dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities in taking steps to prevent the incidents. An interim report was not made mandatory; the Commission was asked to make a decision as and when it deemed it fit. The Home Ministry's lethargy has now ensured that the decision will be delayed indefinitely.
The present delay relates to three applications submitted to the Ministry, relating to certain additional records to be produced before the Commission. The first application was sent on December 11, 2000, at the request of Avtar Singh Hit, convener, November 1984 Carnage Justice Committee. The documents it wanted the Ministry to furnish included the communication between the Home Ministry on the one hand and the Ministry of Defence, the Army and the Lt. Governor of Delhi on the other, besides the minutes of the meetings Home Minister of the day P.V. Narasimha Rao had held from October 31, 1984 to November 5, 1984.
The second application, dated February 26, 2001, requested the Ministry to furnish 95 files, which formed part of the report of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission of Inquiry.
The third application, sent on March 26, 2001, sought copies of depositions made before the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission by the then Chief of the Army Staff, General A.S. Vaidya, Major General A.S. Jamwal and Major J.S. Sandhu.
The Home Ministry has not been able to locate these documents so far. Interestingly, some of the documents it could find, including some affidavits filed before the Ranganath Mishra Commission, were found from beneath some old files. Some papers relating to payments made by cheque by the Ranganath Mishra Commission were found in unclaimed almirahs in the basement of the Ministry's office.
In a letter to the Nanavati Commission sent on May 22, the Ministry stated that it could not locate the records asked for, except three files. The letter, a copy of which is now in the possession of Frontline , seeks an extension of time by four weeks to furnish the documents. Signed by R.N. Mishra, Under Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, the letter said: "...The government is keen that the relevant records are quickly located and submitted to the Hon'ble Commission. With this objective in view, it has been decided to constitute a team of officers to make one more concentrated effort to locate the records." As things stand now, it appears, the production of witnesses before the Commission may get delayed. Notable among those who have deposed before the Commission are writer Khushwant Singh, who had tried to contact President Giani Zail Singh during the relevant period. "Giani Zail Singh did not come on the line but his Secretary informed me that Gianiji had asked him to convey to me that I should move to the house of some Hindu friend," said Khushwant Singh in his affidavit. In his deposition before the Commission, writer Patwant Singh highlighted the casual approach of the then Home Minister, Narasimha Rao.
Patwant Singh said that he met Zail Singh on November 1, 1984, and requested him to make an appeal to the nation over television and radio to end the violence. Zail Singh replied: "I do not have powers to intervene." According to Patwant Singh, the President also refused to speak to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and said he was not in touch with Home Minister Narasimha Rao either.
On November 1, Patwant Singh met Narasimha Rao and asked him when the Army would be called out. The Minister replied that it would take place in Delhi that evening. "The approach of the Home Minister was so casual that it clearly given (sic) an impression that he is totally unconcerned," said Patwant Singh in his affidavit. "...we knew that if the Army arrives in the city it will not be made effective until November 3, 1984. The murderous mobs were given a free hand for three days," reads the affidavit.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Madan Lal Khurana also referred to the role of Congress politicians in the riots. Khurana said: "It was for the first time in 1984 that the government permitted such a massacre of its own people. These were not riots. Riots are always a result of violence from both sides. It was a systematic massacre of Sikhs and the then government at the Centre had given direct and indirect support to the culprits."
Besides the role of politicians, the alleged role of the Delhi Police in causing the riots has also come under scrutiny. Journalist Rahul Bedi, who covered the riots for Indian Express, said police officials gave active as well as tacit support to rioters. Bedi who visited Block 32, Trilokpuri, one of the worst-affected areas, said: "The street in Block 32 was littered with charred bodies, limbs and burnt hair. It was very difficult to walk without tumbling upon these parts. There I met a Sikh woman who took us to the scene of the massacre. There was a boy whose stomach had been cut open. He was holding it together with his turban. He was thirsty and wanted water. We, the reporters, took him to the police vehicle. I subsequently learnt that the Sikh boy had died in the hospital."
Bedi said that he helped several injured people and that the Station House Officer (SHO), Kalyanpuri, Soor Vir Singh, did not do anything to help anyone in Block 32. "We did not find the SHO or the police people making any arrangement. When we left they were standing there, surrounded by mobs."
Joint Commissioner of Police Amod Kanth, who was then the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Central Delhi , is among the police officers accused of participation in the riots. The Carnage Justice Committee (CJC), which represents the victims, had filed an application before the Commission demanding that Kanth be stripped of the gallantry medal awarded to him in appreciation of his action in arresting the members of a Sikh family for opening fire at and causing the death of an army man, Kishan Bahadur Gurung, at Paharganj. The court had later acquitted the members of the Sikh family after an inquiry revealed that the bullet that was allegedly fired did not match the one recovered from the body of the deceased. "Amod Kanth came before the Commission to defend himself. He also sent a written reply to the Commission. It concealed certain facts. We have now filed a supplementary application before the Commission asking Kanth to furnish some more details," said CJC counsel I.S. Bakshi.
The depositions made before the Nanavati Commission so far emphasise the planned nature of the riots. The statements contradict the conclusion of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission that the rioting was spontaneous.
According to the Ranganath Mishra Commission Report, "the short span of time that intervened would not have permitted any scope for any organisation (of riots) to be done." Referring to the role of the Congress(I), the Commission explicitly said that the gloom that had spread and affected Congressmen in particular would have made it impossible for them to organise violence.
Journalist Madhu Kishwar, who deposed before the Commission, had however said that she found local Congress leaders among one of the mobs she encountered. Kishwar said: "I and my two colleagues saw a mob shouting slogans like 'Khoon ka badla khoon sey lenge' (blood debts will be repaid by blood) going towards the local gurdwara. When we tried to stop them, we were asked to get out of their way or else be thrown into flames. The person leading this mob was later found to be a local Congress leader."
Thus, an important task before the Commission is to take a stand with reference to the two strands of literature and testimonies of the 1984 riots. First, there are documents collected by a host of civil rights organisations such as the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Citizens' Justice Committee. These groups had conducted investigations of their own to identify persons involved in the riots. Their efforts were prompted by a lack of adequate government documentation of the violence. To this group belong some of the writers and journalists who have deposed before the commission. Second is the Ranganath Mishra Commission, which investigated "allegations in regard to the incidents of organised violence". In this case, the inquiry was conducted, it appears, not so much to find the reasons for the disturbances in Delhi but to look into certain "allegations" by the riot-affected.
Cumulatively, it is to be hoped that the affidavits presented to the Nanavati Commission as also the Ranganath Mishra Commission would clarify the nature of the violence and help identify the guilty. This is not an easy task. Its implications extend beyond ascertaining the role of the specific state actors who were involved in rioting and raise questions about the nature of the social fabric, with particular reference to Hindu-Sikh relations. This is because unlike the more common Hindu-Muslim riots, the November 1984 riots followed a seeming absence of overt communal tensions between Hindus and Sikhs. It is true that these riots followed a violent conflict in Punjab between the Indian state and Sikh militants, which peaked with the Army's Operation Blue Star in the Golden Temple . However, it cannot be concluded that underlying tensions between the Sikh and Hindu populations, particularly in Delhi , where most of the killings took place, made a showdown inevitable.
October 19, 2004
Union Minister Threatens Human Rights Activist on National TV
In a rather unfortunate turn of events, the Union Minister for NRI Affairs of the Government of India, Mr. Jagdish Tytler, defamed and threatened Harvinder Singh Phoolka, a prominent human rights activist and advocate of the Supreme Court of India, who has fought tirelessly to seek justice for victims of the November 1984 riots. Mr Singh has been instrumental in collecting eyewitness evidence and acting as leading counsel for the victims of the Carnage before two Commissions of Enquiry - the Misra Commission and the Nanavati Commission.
Following the assassination of the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Sikhs across India , especially in New Delhi , were targeted in a bloody massacre. 2733 (Government figure) innocent Sikhs were slaughtered in Delhi in just 72. While Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi and the succeeding Prime Minister, made irresponsible statements regarding this carnage, it was alleged that numerous Congressmen were directly involved in instigating and directing this carnage against the Sikh community.
Allegations have been leveled against one time ministers such as Mr. H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Mr. Jagdish Tytler himself. In fact, the international Sikh community is said to have made their dissatisfaction known regarding the appointment of Mr. Tytler as the Union Minister for NRI affairs.
In a fresh turn of events, NDTV reported that there is now enough evidence present with the Nanavati commission to charge members of the congress leadership with inciting riots and directing violence. It was within such a context that Mr. Tytler and Mr. Phoolka had been invited on an interview with NDTV to talk about the Congress role in the 1984 riots as well as why leaders allegedly leading riots get away.
Mr Tytler called Mr Singh a "liar", a "blackmailer", who was "acting dishonestly" and "who has rendered the so-called help to the victims for money". Mr Tytler went on to threaten, scare and silence Mr Singh by saying: "You would not have been alive" "You are gone". After the TV cameras were switched off, Mr Tytler continued intimidating the complainant and said, "Now I will finish you".
NDTV Channel had invited Mr Singh for a discussion on the general issue as to why in India whenever large-scale riots take place, the guilty are not punished. This issue had assumed importance contemporarily in view of the witnesses turning hostile in the infamous Best Bakery Case relating to the Gujarat riots in the year 2002. Mr Tytler was also invited to participate in the television discussion.
The television presenter initiated the discussion asking why the guilty whether in Delhi or Gujarat were not punished. The presenter asked Mr Tytler why was it common for witnesses to turn hostile. Mr Tytler, instead of proceeding with the discussion, started shouting and levelling imputations against Mr Singh alleging that Mr Singh was a "liar", a "blackmailer", who was "acting dishonestly" and who had rendered the so-called help to the victims for money only.
According to the complaint filed by Mr Singh, the defamatory statements made by Mr Tytler against Mr Singh in the television programmes were:-
"People like him (Mr Singh) who make money out of this are accusing this thing. He (Mr Singh) has made money. He (Mr Singh) is blackmailing people. He (Mr Singh) black mailed me."
"But this man (Mr Singh) who has no credibility."
"You (Mr Singh) have no credibility, You (Mr Singh) have no credibility, You (Mr Singh) have no credibility. You (Mr Singh)are blackmailer. You are blackmailer. He (Mr Singh) has blackmailed the people. He (Mr Singh) blackmailed widows - widows blackmailer. Aray chal!"
"Aray jao ! You (Mr Singh) are gone. You (Mr Singh) are a liar. You are discredited man. You (Mr Singh) are (sic) eaten money out of the widows. You (Mr Singh) have taken money out of the widows. Yes, yes."
"I am come here only to - I wanted to expose this man (pointing towards Mr Singh) otherwise I would have never been here."
Former Chief Justice of India , Ranjit Singh Narula, has sent a note to the Prime Minister of India commending Mr. Phoolka's efforts, arguing that Mr. Tytler's behavior is unwarranted and that the Prime Minister should intervene.