Two steps forward...

Written by HS Phoolka | Published on: April 1, 2008
Through barricade and blockade, more than two decades after the anti-Sikh massacres of 1984 the search for justice continues

Twenty–three years after the largest massacre in the history of independent India we are still at the most nascent stage of initiating criminal proceedings – debating whether or not to register cases and file charge sheets against the accused. In 1984, 2,733 innocent citizens were ruthlessly massacred in the heart of the country, the Mecca of secularism, and that too in broad daylight, in full public glare, for all to see. Even so, and what makes this the biggest slur on the rule of law and the justice delivery system in the country, only half a dozen murder cases have resulted in conviction, of about a dozen accused.

The non-registration of cases; and where cases were registered, the ominous omission of any details in the first information reports (FIRs); the bundling together of hundreds of incidents of murder that occurred at different places and at different times in a single FIR; defective investigations; the non-production of witnesses; the lack of interest displayed by prosecutors; and, to top it all, the laxity of judges, were common factors in the 1984 cases. Every possible flaw and irregularity, which could be critical in a criminal case, occurred in cases relating to the 1984 carnage. I am reminded of the words of political scientist Yogendra Yadav at the launch of the book When a Tree Shook Delhi (Manoj Mitta and HS Phoolka, Roli Books, 2007) where he said, very aptly, "Future generations would turn to this archive of the dark side of our democracy to learn lessons for building and sustaining a plural India."

Despite countless hurdles and impediments, the search for truth and hope for justice continues as does the follow-up of the 1984 cases. In recent weeks, a case that has sparked considerable interest is one that involves Congress MP and former union minister Jagdish Tytler. On November 1, 1984 three Sikhs were burnt alive by a mob during attacks on a gurdwara at Pulbangash in Central Delhi. Tytler was accused of leading the mob. How the cover-up by our law enforcement agencies still continues 23 years later is clear from a closer study of the case.

On the basis of evidence concerning Tytler’s presence during the incident and his instigating the mob, which was placed before the Justice GT Nanavati Commission of Inquiry (set up to inquire into the anti-Sikh riots of 1984), the commission, in its report tabled in parliament in August 2005, recommended registration of cases against Tytler. A few months later, after prolonged drama and much hue and cry in parliament, the government directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to register a case and investigate it. In September 2007, after nearly two years of investigation, the CBI closed the case against Tytler on the ground that one witness had backed out while the other had gone abroad and was unavailable. But what was even more shocking was that the CBI did not file a formal closure report in court. Instead, the bureau filed a charge sheet against a Suresh Panwala in which it was mentioned that the case against Tytler had been closed. As per procedure, when a charge sheet is filed the court takes cognisance of the charge sheet and issues warrants against the accused. On the other hand, when a closure report is filed the court scrutinises this carefully and issues a notice to the complainant before closing the case. The court is also empowered to reject the closure report. Even if the court does accept the report, the entire process takes a few months. In this case it appears that Tytler did not have a few months to spare nor was he in the mood to take any risks. And for obvious reasons.

The closure report was filed in September 2007, only a couple of months before a cabinet expansion was expected to take place in November. The whole idea, it appears, was to somehow absolve Tytler before November 2007 in order to clear his name so that he could be re-inducted into the cabinet. Reports in some newspapers had already