In any country where victims of violence fail to get justice in time, the democracy suffers and state either disintegrates or becomes dysfunctional and totalitarian.
Congressman Sajjan Kumar’s conviction in 1984 riots is a welcome development. Finally, justice has been done for a few. It is also a grim reminder of India’s slow justice delivery system. Thousands of Sikhs were massacred in Delhi. They were openly hunted and burnt to death by mobs led by people associated with the ruling dispensation.
Despite widespread news of rioting and looting the then Home Minister PV Narasimha Rao failed to act on time. He also failed to act when Babri Masjid was brought down but that is a different story. Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 said 'Jab bada ped girta hai, dharti hilti hai (when a big tree falls, the earth shakes), in a way, either by neglect or by play of words, the violence on ground got legitimised.
The sub-continent has been witnessing violence on religious lines since partition. Some cases were local and remained regional, but some caught the national attention and remained part of the larger political discourse because of the savagery involved. In this, the biggest two were 1984 and 2002 violence.
What was common in all the cases of violence was open connivance of the state whereby it did not remain neutral and allowed one section of the society to plunder, rape and loot the other. The consequence or natural corollary of this attitude of the state functionaries leads to denial of time-bound justice which is the bedrock of democratic liberal societies. The act of violence undermines the liberal principles enshrined the Constitution. It legitimises the use of violence to intimidate minorities and also enforces an inferior status of minorities in the country. The failure to act compromises Constitution based nationalism.
The delay in justice also reinforces the view that powerful people can never be brought to the book. In India, the judicial process has received impetus only after major public outrage. Even one looks at the scale of 1984 violence and justice given, it is less than little. More than 2500 Sikhs were brutally killed by mobs post-assassination of Indira Gandhi who was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguard.
The main commission absolved the complicity of the powerful people and kept the faces of violence anonymous or at a low level. The Congress leaders involved in the violence remained outside the purview of law for decades. Some of them went on to become ministers and members of the upper house in India. Their political career flourished. Both Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler again got elected to the Upper House in 2004. Again, it was because of the public outcry that they were denied ticket. It was a shoe thrown by an agitated Sikh journalist at then Home Minister P Chidambaram that both were denied Lok Sabha tickets in 2009. Even then a political accommodation took place and Sajjan Kumar’s brother was fielded from his constituency.
Now the judgement is out, the delay of justice and abject violence is being politically utilised to hit at each other. 1984 violence is only about Congress members abetting rioters and the state failing to protect the Sikhs as the political top gave into the systemic bias against the Sikhs in the backdrop of insurgency taking place in Punjab.
For Congress, the defence shield is horrible Gujarat riots which took place in 2002 right under the nose of the then chief minister Narendra Modi. In both the cases, people have not got justice. It reflects the true weakness of the Indian state. It shows that political parties have corroded the autonomy of institutions who instead of mercilessly looking into the cases of violence ended up protecting the perpetrators. It is the failure of the Indian state that it fails repeatedly to bring to justice the high and mighty in politics and business.
It is for this reason justice gets delayed in India. Since violence in routine is being politically appropriated it slows down the justice process. The 1984 riots is one such example. Imagine thousands of riots like Hashimpura, Meerut and Bhagalpur where justice got inordinately delayed. It is this India needs to fight if it wants to keep democracy in robust shape. In any country where victims of violence fail to get justice in time, the democracy suffers and state either disintegrates or becomes dysfunctional and totalitarian.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)