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diaspora, human rights, india, punjab, punjabi, social justice, south asian

Bring 1984 killers of Sikhs to justice, says human rights body

A story that I have not seen picked up by the western press over the last few months is the discovery of 26-year-old mass graves of Sikhs killed in 1984 in India.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), the international watchdog organization, has called for those responsible for the killings to be brought to justice.  An estimated 3000 Sikhs were attacked and killed in November 1984, says HRW. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at HRW, says that many were murdered “with the complicity of senior members of [Indira] Gandhi’s then-ruling Congress party”.  HRW states that “although there is evidence that at least some of the attacks were orchestrated by senior political figures, none have yet been convicted for the 1984 killings”.

The anti-Sikh pogroms were the backlash after Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards because she ordered an attack on Sikh separatists at Harmandar Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar.

I remember my own relatives telling me how they had to go into hiding after rampaging mobs took to the streets in 1984. Until recently I did not fully appreciate the extent to which the Sikh peoples were a minority, especially in India. After losing the Punjab kingdom because of British colonialism in the late 1800s and the partition of India in 1947, Sikhs have made their home in parts of India and Pakistan (and also have diaspora populations all over the world, of course).

The burnt ruins of a gurdwara in the village Hondh-Chillar, District Rewari, Haryana.

New York-based human rights charity, Sikhs for Justice, and student and political organization, All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), said they discovered the recent mass graves and desecrated Sikh places of worship known as gurdwaras in various locations. In April, they reported finding a grave in Delhi with the remains of 65 Sikh bodies burnt alive. They also discovered the ruins and debris of gurdwaras from 1984. In March, similar discoveries of burnt human remains and desecrated gurdwaras were made in parts of Haryana and then in Jammu and Kashmir. Both organizations are also compiling information on events and recording testimonies of witnesses and survivors.

While apologies have been made by the Indian Government, Sikh groups are demanding greater justice. Now, SFJ and AISSF are planning on filing a writ petition with Jammu and Kashmir High Court to protest the Government’s lack of action on the killings.

To address widespread impunity for attacks on minorities, human rights organizations in India have also been working with the government to draft and enact the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation) Bill. The bill provides for “immediate intervention to prevent and control communal violence, speedy investigation and prosecution in such cases, and proper compensation and rehabilitation of victims”.

A complicated and contentious chain of events preceded the 1984 killings but hopefully the families of the victims will get some kind of the justice they deserve.

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About Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Herpreet Kaur Grewal is a newspaper-trained journalist, editor and commentator. She formerly wrote and edited a section for the social policy and politics magazine Regeneration & Renewal. She has worked for The Times of London and her articles have featured in The Guardian, The Observer and The Daily Express. She specialises in social deprivation issues, gender, human rights , arts and culture.

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Herpreet Kaur Grewal is an editor and journalist currently based in London.

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