The Supreme Court's order to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen 186 cases related to the anti-Sikh violence of 1984 is welcome, but it is also a reminder of the failure of the State to provide justice to the victims of one of the worst massacres in post-Independence India. It is not only the victims -- the dead and the injured and their relatives and others who suffered in various ways -- who deserve justice, but the entire community, because the violence was directed at all the members of the community as such. Rampaging mobs who targeted Sikhs had a free run of Delhi's streets after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Over 3,000 persons were killed, many others injured, homes and gurdwaras attacked and businesses run by Sikhs vandalised. It was shameful that the administration controlled by the Congress was a witness to all the mayhem and was even complicit in the crimes. Many Congress leaders were directly involved and led the mobs that killed and plundered.
Over 33 years later, most culprits haven't been punished. Some Congress leaders who faced charges of murder and conspiracy continued in public life and flourished. Positions were denied to some of them only when it became impossible to defend them. Inquiry commissions under Justice Ranganath Mishra and Justice G T Nanavati did much work and provided useful information. But no proper follow-up was done and the commissions only served to delay and avoid action. Even as convictions have been rare, many who were punished got away lightly. Congress has tendered a public apology for its role in the violence, but that does not mean the end of the legal process to bring the guilty to book.
The court has issued its order after a panel appointed by it last year recommended that 186 cases, out of 250 probed by a government panel, needed reopening. The government panel has said all cases could be closed. The court has appointed the SIT under former high court judge Justice S N Dhingra, who had, as a sessions judge in Delhi in the 1990s, handled many anti-Sikh riots cases. The court has given the SIT two months to present its report. Investigation is difficult after a lapse of so many years. Many culprits, victims and witnesses may have died or grown too old and evidence may not be easy to gather. But the case for justice and due process is strong and it is the duty of the State to bring a closure to the cases, though late.