2002 happened because the horrific crimes of 1984 were not brought to book


Three events this week are proof of a slender but welcome tenacity in India’s body politic that we can never afford to lose. First, on 11 April, a sessions court reopened the case against Congress leader Jagdish Tytler for his culpability in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, even though the CBI has given him a clean chit twice. Second, Nitish Kumar rebuffed Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambition with high-octane criticism of his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, reinforcing his political unacceptability for many. And third, Zakia Jafri filed a protest petition at a magisterial court against the SIT’s closure report that had said there was no prosecutable evidence against Modi in the riots.

There are many who feel affronted with this dogged focus on things past. They would rather everyone just move on and forget. Modi’s defenders, of course, see a motivated campaign in those who resist him and their standard tactic on any debate on the 2002 riots is to bring up the events of 1984, hoping the brazen horror of one will silence the other.

The truth is, it’s an important comparison, and this is a good week to focus intensely on it. The bare facts of the 1984 pogrom are chilling. Close to 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone and 28 years later, of the 147 police officers who were indicted for their role in the killings by various committees, not one — and this bears emphasis, not one — has been prosecuted. These officers were not merely negligent, they were evil. They systematically disarmed ordinary Sikhs and allowed rioters to roll over them with sword and fire. Some even took part. Many refused to register FIRs; they threatened eyewitnesses and forced them to sign affidavits favouring the police; they destroyed paper trails, manipulated evidence and reduced major offences to minor ones. One SHO told the Nanavati Commission that senior officers had ordered him to merge 115 complaints into one vague omnibus FIR so none of the complaints would stand scrutiny. The story of Shoorveer Singh Tyagi, SHO of Trilokpuri station, is starkly telling. Nearly 500 Sikhs were brutally killed on his watch. He was described as a “living shame” by several committees, but he was discharged by the court because the police refused to take the home ministry’s sanction to prosecute him. In 2005, he was promoted as assistant commissioner of police. Top cop Ved Marwah was asked to discontinue his probe on police lapses and was specifically instructed to destroy his handwritten notes.

The story of the three high-profile Congress leaders — HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler — accused of leading or provoking mobs is even starker. In each of their cases, despite glaring evidence of their collusion and active participation in the riots, they have walked free for 28 years. Bhagat died before a chargesheet was even filed against him.

The comparison between Delhi 1984 and Gujarat 2002 is important not because one cancels the other but because they are so frighteningly similar. The same story of political culpability; the same brazen subversion of justice; the same refusal to look the crime in the eye.

It is precisely because the horrific crimes of 1984 were not brought to book that 2002 could happen with such sickening similarity and impunity. The argument, therefore, should not be to forget but to pursue with even greater fervor.

TEHELKA’s seminal 2007 exposé of the Gujarat riots has helped bring some justice to the victims of Naroda-Patiya (though vast swathes of that story still remain unattended). But those who revile TEHELKA for pursuing the story forget that in 2005, in a damning investigation, our reporters Ajmer Singh and Etmad Khan had also exposed the dark web of intimidation and enticement that had been used to make key witnesses against the three Congress leaders hostile. In each of these cases, the reporters caught key witnesses or family members on spy camera talking about the money and flats and threats that had made them retract or change their accounts.

In the end, despite the court’s move this week, 28 years may be too late to legally indict those culpable for the 1984 riots. But the moral pressure must remain. That is what has forced Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to apologise for the blot of 1984, not just to Sikhs but the entire country because, as Singh put it, “what took place was a negation of the entire concept of nationhood enshrined in the Constitution”.

If Modi wants to take his place in history, events this week reinforces that he will have to begin with at least the very basics of a similar apology.

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.


  1. What is the point in harping on the apology factor repeatedly. What is needed is fair and fast trial, and special resolution should be passed in parliament to denounce the statement made by Rajiv Gandhi justifying the pogrom unleashed against Sikh innocents across India. And he should be named and shamed, and his photo should be removed from parliament, state legislatures and all government offices. All privileges and honours attached to a former PM’s post should be stripped off from him. Don’t create apologists like Manmohan.

  2. Rightly said. Riots are heinous but if the perpetrators are left unpunished then the hardliners from either communities take control. Both justifying violence to control the other side.
    1984 showed that India cant protect minorities even in its capital,probably its best manned and policed part if the top Political leaders are disinclined to. Gujarat riots proved the same thing. Systematic riots and then systematic cleaning of records to ensure no one gets punished brings in problems that may take decades to heal. Militancy rose much stronger in Punjab after 1984 and similar thing is happening with the hardliners finding favor with a par of the muslim community. Politicians make hay while the country bleeds.

  3. Well Said Shoma, There is no fear of Law in India, From Large crimes to small ones. For example, in India, we can see people beating each other for simple reasons and during road rages. In UK, the same Indians would not even touch the other guy in similar situations. The best they can do is just argue and use foul language, The moment we hurt others, then Law is take its own course and the culprits will always gets punished.

    • 2002 Gujarat riots were anti Hindu mainly incited by Jafri ! Sad that 300 Hindu’s died 🙁 ! Even more agonizing is the fact that 1000 innocent people died !

  4. Insanity prevails across all religion and in every country. What happened in 1984 and 2002 is what you have just said. Good article……
    Rajesh Kumar relative and family was not massacred

  5. wonders when would muslims aplolize for burning innoncent women and children in daylight in Godhra. i guess they won’t cause they did it in the name of allah

    • Why would the Muslims apologize for something they didn’t do?

      Hear it from the horse’s mouth, the horse being the Assistant Station Master (ASM) of Godhra railway station on that fateful day, Mr. Rajindersingh Meena.

      1) When TEHELKA’s stung Meena in 2007, he had said that when he came down and asked the mob why they were chasing the train, a few of them had replied that one of their people had been abducted by the karsevaks on the train. Meena also said he heard some of them suggesting the coach be set on fire to drive people out of it so they could find the missing person. But he saw no sharp weapons or inflammable material with the mob.

      2) At the place where the train stopped, the windows of coach S-6 were 7 ft above the ground. So, it was not possible to throw inflammable fluid into the coach from a bucket or carboy. If this had happened, a major part of the
      fluid would have fallen back around the track outside. This would’ve caught fire too and damaged the outer, bottom part of the coach. The coach and tracks showed no such signs.

      3) The Gujarat police had claimed that two Muslim vendors, Illyas Mullah and Anwar Kalandar, had pulled the chain “from outside”. If you have ever travelled by train, you would know that it is impossible to stop a moving train by pulling the chain from the outside. The entire train was full of karsevaks drawn from VHP and Bajrang Dal with almost 200 to 250 people in coach S6. That’s 3 times the normal capacity. How could two persons pull the chain, from the outside, of such a coach of a moving train?

      4) TEHELKA caught Ranjitsinh admitting on camera that he and Pratap had been bribed Rs. 50,000 by police officer Noel Parmar (ACP, Vadodara city control room), to claim that they sold 140 litres of fuel to some Muslims on 26 Feb 2002. Parmar was the chief investigating officer of the Godhra carnage.

      In effect, the state’s own forensic report ruled out the claims made by the nine BJP members and several karsevaks that inflammable liquid had been thrown from outside.

      So yes, the Muslims pelted stones at the train coz one of them was abducted by the Karsevaks and a girl, Sophia Bano Shaikh, around 18, was molested at the station. But they had no part in the conspiracy to burn down the train.

      • You would also say that Muslims did not kill and unsettle millions of Kashmiri Pandits ? You will also say Muslims did not kill Bodo’s and started riots for Muslims in Myanmar in Mumbai ,Delhi, Lucknow etc while breaking the idols of Buddha and Mahavira in Lucknow and while sabotaging the Amar Javan Jyoti memorial in India Gate ?

        The common Muslim still thinks that he owes allegiance to Islam than to his own nation. I have seen so many people hurling Pakistani flag on 15th August ! The fundamental solution to this problem is uniform civil code !

  6. A prominent leader,Ehsaan jafrey, was burned alive along with 70 others right in the heart of the city of Ahmadabad ,police station were within a few meters but no one came for help?

    How could it be ? It was a ‘6’ hour long stand off with mobs building up ,then arming themselves and then blasting the compound wall with a gas cylinder and then killing 70 innocent people in the most brutal way.

    Today after the police control room records ,which allegedly have been claimed to have been destroyed by the Modi govt, shows us how top police personal ignored repeated cry for help ,how intelligence officers and ground level police officers kept sending repeated updates to control rooms of the worsening ground situation and requested for immediate back up,all completely ignored .


    70 plus killed at Gulberga society.

    Not single person punished .

    The commissioner of police under whom the ghastly killings took place and was found to be sitting at home was rewarded with a plump post & retirement benefits by the Gujarat govt.

    The police personal who did their job and prevented rioting’s and killings under their jurisdiction thus saving hundreds of innocent lives at various places in Gujarat were punished ,denied promotions and some had cases filled on them.

    Do we not see a clear picture here ,does it take a genius to find out why there has been deliberate inaction from the police commissioner of Ahmadabad ,why he refused to send his forces even after repeated calls for help?Why he took no action when intelligence and police reports to control rooms requested immediate action and police back up? Why he allowed the killings of 70 innocent people whom he was suppose to protect? Why he stayed at home with doors closed knowing fully well the ground situation ? Did the chief minister whom he was reporting to not order immediate action to control the situation? If he had then why was the commissioner not punished for not doing his duty and saving lives of innocent people? Why was the commissioner instead rewarded and given plum post retirement post with benefits ?

  7. Hi Shoma,

    I respect your writing and value your input on Tehelka; but I’m surprised by your expectation that Modi should make an form of apology. Surely, any apology, no matter how basic, would connote an acceptance for some responsibility for what happened. Wouldn’t that be political suicide? Despite the ample evidence of his complicity (together with other key players in the Sangh), as things stand now, the SIT is closed; he can move on…what motive is there for him to hang himself by his own rope?

    Don’t get me wrong. I wish justice could be severed here; but it’s not going to come from any admission by the perpetrators. I think the faint glimmer of hope comes from media pressure and the judiciary.

  8. i have proof that thelka paid idiots to make false sting against modi. it is very easy for curved mind to do it. i’m sure someday someone will sting tehelka in same way too.

  9. why life of a muslim is more imp than than of a hindu or any none muslims ?
    why tehelka or any pro muslim media did anything for the hindus who are killed , raped and looted by muslims of kashmir ?
    why no muslim stand agaisnt the killings of hindus in bangladesh or pakistan , though they want non muslis speak in their favor ?
    why every muslim want others to be secular which they never can , as islam wont them allow to be secular ?
    why muslims are so selfish ?
    why muslim leaders shamelessly support islamic terrorist ?
    i wanna see a muslim leader who publically critisize kashmiri islamic seperatists ! hai dun :-> !!??


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