A court in India has convicted and sentenced two men for their roles in the 1984 Sikh genocide.
The two men, Yashpal Singh and Naresh Sherawat, were respectively given the death sentence and life imprisonment for their role in the killing of Sikh men 24 year-old Hardev Singh and 26 year-old Avtar Singh 34 years ago. The verdict was announced inside Delhi’s Tihar Jail where the men were being detained due to security concerns about their safety.
The convictions were made stemming from a special investigation unit assigned in 2015 to look into cases around the Sikh genocide. Eye witness testimony was crucial in convicting both men for their part in the mob killing of the Sikh men in Mahipalpur. However, Sikh eye witness testimony has not been taken into consideration for countless other possible convictions, including most famously the role of politicians such as Jagdish Tytler (caught on film talking about his role in the massacres), Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath.
The special investigation team have probed 60 cases out of the total 293, with this being the first where they have succeeded in getting a conviction. The team filed “untraced report” in 52 cases whilst the others are being investigated, including some which name Congress politician Sajjan Kumar.
Sikhs across the world have continually sought justice for those impacted in the genocide, which saw an estimated 30,000 killed in state facilitated mob attacks across the nation. The attacks also left approximately 300,000 Sikhs displaced/homeless, whilst the toll of women raped and property looted remains unaccounted. These figures come from grassroots investigation undertaken by Sikh groups and are supported by various Sikh organisations, such as the WaheGru Foundation, Sikh Relief, Sikhs For Justice and more.
Media across the world describe the genocide as ‘riots’ and suggest the death toll to be approximately 3000. The Sikh Press Association categorically reject both suggestions. ‘Riots’ downplays what was a targeted and systematic massacre against Sikhs across India, whilst the figure of 3000 comes from an Indian government survey only conducted in Delhi, a year after the genocide had taken place, something which no media outlets seem to be pointing out. The Sikh Press Association continue to push for a more balanced narrative in regards to language and facts about the 1984 Sikh genocide.
Sikh PA senior press officer Jasveer Singh said of the case, “It is very disappointing that the general understanding in the media of what occurred in 1984 is still so skewed. The fact that the prosecution themselves outright called what occurred in 1984 a genocide in this very case, yet headlines still say ‘riots’ speaks volumes about how far most journalists have looked into this case. There is a regurgitation of the same narrative pumped out by the Indian state, themselves complicit in this genocide, that has continued since 1984. The Sikh Press Association remain determined to have media outlets, particularly those in the west where there is more press freedom, to report on the 1984 Sikh genocide in a more balanced way.”
The 1984 Sikh genocide massacres started after India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards for her role in the infamous Indian army assault Operation Blue Star, an attack on revered holy Sikh site Sri Harmandir Sahib, on one of the Gurdwara’s busiest days of the year; commemoration of the shaheedi (martyrdom) of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. The attack was aimed at removing Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale, a Sikh educator, activist and community leader, from the complex along with his supporters. Sant Jarnail Singh, a revered Saint of the Sikh faith, was perceived as a threat to the government for his promotion of Sikh sovereignty and support of devolution of government powers.
Yashpal Singh’s death punishment in the anti-Sikh riots is the first since 1996 when Kishori Lal, a butcher, was sentenced to death in at least five cases by lower courts. The Supreme Court later changed Lal’s conviction to life in prison.
Ironically, this life sentence is the same sentence many Sikh political prisoners have received for their roles in pushing for a free Sikh homeland – Khalistan – following the genocide which made many Sikhs feel India was no longer a safe nation for the community. Many of these Sikh political prisoners are still in jail despite being elderly and having served 20+ years in jail. A point of contention for Sikh activists is the fact these prisoners were also largely sentenced based on the now defunct TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities) law, described as ‘draconian’ by human rights advocacy organisations and consequently removed in 1995.
Whilst the likes of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder and Union Minister Harsimrat Badal welcomed the convictions, many Sikhs will not be celebrating the verdict, expressing the sentiment that justice delayed is justice denied.