The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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’84 riots retrial plea before rights panel

New Delhi, Sept. 11: Victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots have approached the National Human Rights Commission to reopen cases against Congress leaders, such as H.K.L. Bhagat, allegedly involved in the massacre that claimed 3,000 lives in the capital alone.

“In the interest of justice for the families of victims, we want the cases reopened for a fresh trial,” said R.P. Singh, secretary of the All India Riot Victims’ Relief Committee. “If the NHRC can intervene in Gujarat for the sake of fair play and justice, it can do so to bring those who massacred the Sikh minorities of this country like Bhagat to book.”

Bhagat escaped punishment despite overwhelming evidence provided by family members of those killed. Sardarni Darshan Kaur, whose husband was killed in east Delhi’s Trilokpuri area, had testified that Bhagat instigated the murder. In Trilokpuri, 300 Sikhs were killed in two days.

So far, none of those believed to have instigated the riots has been punished. The violence, allegedly incited by Congress leaders like Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler, broke out after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

Singh and the victims’ relief committee president Kuldeep Singh Bhogal met the rights panel’s chairperson, Justice A.S. Anand, on Monday and submitted their plea for an intervention. “Justice Anand was very positive in his approach and asked us for more details, but he warned that there could be a technical hitch because the NHRC was formed by an act of Parliament in 1993, while the cases which we want reopened are of 1984. He is not sure if the NHRC can take up the cases filed before the commission existed,” Singh said. Justice Anand has asked the delegation to give him details of the case within 10 days, after which a decision will be taken on whether the NHRC can intervene.

The 1984 riot victims’ hopes have been kindled after the rights commission’s intervention in the Gujarat Best Bakery case. A fast track court had exonerated all those accused of murdering 14 people at the bakery during the riots last year after the terrified witnesses refused to testify. The commission intervened after Zahira Sheikh, the main witness, asked for a retrial and shifting of several key riot cases out of Gujarat.

On their part, the victims of the 1984 riots believe they have an equally strong case for seeking retrial. Their plea to the rights commission at this juncture also gives a political twist to the issue which can help the BJP, whose government in Gujarat is under attack for not having cracked down on the rioters.

With the country in election mode, the plea of the 1984 riot victims would help remind the nation that the instigators of the violence went unpunished. So the Congress cannot take a high moral ground on the miscarriage of justice in Gujarat.

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