Editorial | A reminder that justice is pending

Editorial | A reminder that justice is pending

Activists of the Dal Khalsa radical Sikh organization march at a protest to commemorate the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Amritsar. An Indian court on November 20, 2018 handed down first death penalty over deadly 1984 anti-Sikh riots. AFP

The conviction of two persons in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case in Delhi is welcome, but it also reflects poorly on the ability of the country’s criminal investigation, prosecution and judicial system to deliver prompt justice. The two had killed two Sikhs in an attack on shopkeepers in the Mahipalpur area of the city. Others who were part of the mob have not been brought to book. A local Congress leader who had been identified as the leader of the mob was not convicted. He was acquitted by a trial court in 1986 but the case was not followed up later. The case against the two who have been convicted now had also been closed. But a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed in 2015 reopened some cases and it has secured conviction in the first case it presented to the court.

Very few people have been convicted in the riots in which over 3,000 persons were killed in the days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Sikhs were targeted and their businesses and gurdwaras were destroyed. Shamefully, the administration and the police were complicit in the crime. It is because of the political and official patronage of the killings that justice has not been delivered in the cases. Inquiry commissions had provided a lot of information, but they were not followed up. Much of the evidence may have been lost in the course of the 34 years that has elapsed since the pogrom. No important leader of the Congress party has been convicted though some of them did incite the mobs and took part in the riots. The Congress has apologised for the role its leaders and cadres played in the violence, but that does not mean the law should not take its course and the guilty should not be punished.

The Supreme Court has also set up a team to investigate 186 cases which a committee appointed by it had recommended for re-investigation. At this late stage, it is difficult to see justice being done in most cases. India has a poor record of bringing to book those involved in mob violence, especially when political parties are involved in such violence. It is also a fact that communal violence rarely happens without political involvement, but the leaders always get away. That is why when some convictions take place, they serve more as reminders of the unfinished task of justice than as assertions of the due process of law. One of the two convicted persons has been sentenced to death. While the death sentence will not be accepted as necessary by enlightened opinion in the country, the convictions are certainly welcome.

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