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Justice on trial

Justice on trial

Author: Surendra Munshi
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 30, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Editorial/SUBVERSE-Justice-on-trial/articleshow/4464477.cms

From all the accounts that have appeared about him in the press, Jarnail Singh, the journalist who threw his shoe in the direction of home minister P Chidambaram recently, seems to be a sober person. He has been described as a mild-mannered and religious person, and a thorough professional. Why then did he behave in such an irresponsible manner?

Chidambaram, who showed composure under attack, has admitted that he did not think the journalist wanted to hurt him. Indeed, Jarnail Singh has also clarified that his intention was not to hurt anyone. It was, according to him, an act of protest that happened in the heat of the moment. He was protesting against Chidambaram feeling happy about the clean chit given by the CBI to Jagdish Tytler.

Chidambaram has forgiven Jarnail Singh for his emotional outburst and he, in turn, has expressed his regret at the manner of his protest. Both Tytler and Sajjan Kumar have been asked to withdraw from the coming election. Should the matter be allowed to rest here? This is the time to raise issues that are of national importance. Chidambaram is reported to have said that the Sikhs had legitimate grievances over the riots of 1984 in so far as not enough people had been punished. This is just a part of the story.

We need to remember what happened in 1984 and after. 'Who Are the Guilty?', a report based on the joint inquiry conducted by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) into the causes and the impact of the riots in Delhi from October 31 to November 10, 1984, argues that the attacks on Sikhs in Delhi and its suburbs were not spontaneous expressions of "grief and anger" at the assassination of Indira Gandhi but the outcome of a well-organised plan. The report gives a list of the people who were identified by survivors as those who allegedly instigated violence and protected criminals.

The list includes the names of Tytler and Kumar. Names of police officials are also given who were allegedly guilty of negligence. While the report shows how anti-Sikh sentiments were consciously whipped up, there are also exemplary examples of how Hindus tried to save their Sikh neighbours at considerable risks to themselves.

The report demands a public inquiry into the events of those days. Numerous commissions and committees were constituted to investigate the riots, right from November 1984 when the Marwah commission was constituted. From that time till now, India has seen nine prime ministers, representing not only the Congress party but also other parties, including Bharatiya Janata Party under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the issue of justice has remained elusive.

It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this country that those who were principally responsible for the attacks that were carried out - in which about 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone - have gone unpunished. It is therefore not surprising that Kuldeep Kaur, a widow who saw her husband get killed in a narrow bylane of Trilokpuri during those riots 25 years ago, lamented recently that Tytler had just lost an election ticket while her husband had lost his life.

It is one of the principal tasks of the state to administer justice. Nehru's vision for India included the creation of social, economic and political institutions which would ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman. It is this vision that is now seriously undermined.

The state that does not provide justice cannot command the respect of its citizens and that erodes the legitimacy of that state. The agony of the riots of 1984 is not just the agony of the Sikhs but it should be the agony of all Indians who wish to see that justice is assured to every man and woman in this country.

- The writer is a Kolkata-based social commentator.

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