April 02, 2007

Some Kind of History

My Monday column for MidDay is in the paper today. I called it "Some Kind of History", they called it "Riots and Wrongs", but either way, the web link seems broken. So here's the text. Your thoughts welcome.


Gurpal Singh, remember him? He would have been 40 this year. Entering middle age, probably a kid or two starting college. Likely contemplating an expanding waistline, the first hints of grey in his hair.

But of course, Gurpal never got the chance to live all that. He never got the chance to drink legally, nor be eligible to vote; nor even to merely exit his teens. No, he died a cliche: a callow youth is all he was. Gurpal was murdered when he was just seventeen, and you know what I mean.

Yes you do. For Gurpal died on November 2, 1984.

Gurpal's killers were Hariprasad Bhardwaj, RP Tiwari and Jagdish Giri. These three men also killed Gurpal's brother-in-law Mahender Singh and his father Niranjan Singh. They lynched the three, then set them on fire. You know what I mean indeed. The murdered Singhs were three of nearly 3000 Indians who were killed in Delhi in early November 1984. Killed solely because they wore turbans.

And why mention Gurpal Singh today, over 22 years -- count 'em, 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 19, 21, 22 -- after he died horribly? Because Bhardwaj, Tiwari and Giri have just been convicted for their crimes. A Delhi Sessions Judge, Rajender Kumar Shastri, awarded them life sentences.

Most times, the punishment of murderers should give us a measure of satisfaction. Justice at work, taking criminals off the street, making our lives safer. It should reassure us. And it does. As Punjab's Minister for cooperation, Captain Kanwaljit Singh, told Punjab Newsline, it even gives "solace."

Yet here's the thing: it's been 22 years. As far as I can tell, this is just the second conviction of killers in that time. The vast overwhelming majority of those 3000 dead -- meaning something like 2990 of them, if you subtract the victims in the two decided cases -- yes, the great majority has still not found justice. Over the years, nine official inquiry commissions have inquired into the massacre and issued reports, identified senior Congress politicians who led the slaughter. A few cases have made it to the courts, then struggled and foundered. One of those senior Congress politicians, the execrable Bhagat, has even died.

So what do we have, 22 years later? Convictions that you can count on one hand.

No, Captain Kanwaljit Singh, this verdict gives me no solace. In fact, I don't know: should I applaud the wheels of justice? Laugh at the absurdity of them turning for nearly a generation? Weep for thousands of fellow Indians, slaughtered by their own countrymen, whose families lose more faith in justice with every day, every month that passes? And this: Just where does this stack up in ready-for-prime-time India? Is it a measure of the functioning legal system that many say sets us apart from China? Or does it mock that notion, our nation itself?

Is this solace? Or despair?

Questions I cannot answer, of course: like so many my country throws up. Yet in these years, it's not the questions that have most troubled me. It's a phenomenon that does a macabre dance around great crimes like Delhi, 1984: the way so many of us, whether in our minds or out loud, explain them away.

Consider a few examples from just the responses to my writing on these Indian massacres. I assure you I am not making these up, that they are verbatim, and that they came to me in all seriousness.

* "What happened in 1984 does not represent India. India has a broader, bigger and brighter side to it. What about the S class Mercs which your fellow Indians drive?"

* "I must say, I wouldn't have been so sad to see 3000 christians/muslims die as much as watching a single Sikh/Hindu die."

* "Yes, I agree that killing Sikhs was at its worst [sic], but while the massacre of Sikhs is deplorable, it is still only 3000."

* "The attack on Sikhs was due to many factors; 1) People knew that some of them had liaison with terrorists from Pakistan requesting for a separate nation (Khalistan), 2) Killing of Indira. It was an emotional outburst that led to killing Sikhs."

* "You mentioned Sikh massacre in delhi riots. But when Hindus were singled out across Punjab and shot in buses and villages ... ?"

If you check around, you'll find your own crop of similar explanations. The Bhiwandi killings of 1970 and 1984, the Delhi killings of 1984, the Mumbai killings of 1992-93, the Gujarat killings of 2002: pick any one, plenty of your fellow countrymen rationalize it, using words like "retaliation", "justified", "lesson", "water under the bridge" and more. Why, on the day I read about the conviction of Gurpal's killers, I also read a report in the Times of India with this title: "For RSS, Gujarat riots are history."

There's no justice for so many ordinary Indians slaughtered, but it's "history."

To me, these are pointers to why so many great Indian crimes escape justice. Pointers to why we have brought justice to no more than a handful out of 3000 Delhi murders, and that after 22 years.

So yes, let's be glad that Bhardwaj, Tiwari and Giri have been convicted. But no, I don't want to hear talk of "solace". Not until every one of the killers of 1984 has been punished. That would be some kind of history.


Kartik said...

I seem to revel in speaking in cliches on your blog, but as they say- justice delayed is justice denied.

Whether state-sponsored or calculated, cold-blooded, murder is murder (with its thousand different names), and merits punishment for all involved.

Far too often and far too many times, the issue of justice has been swept under the carpet.

Its a cruel irony, but life-imprisonment after 22 years for those who took lives? Its a shame- 22 years is longer than the life that these people defined for the youth they murdered.

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything Dilip has said here. No experience with '84, but have had debates on similar lines with ppl I know on Guj 2002.

Kartik you may want to read previous posts by Dilip comparing
riots with bomb blasts.

I hope Dilip will re-read his Orwell post in the context of this one.


One of the most disappointing moments in my dcubed experience was when he seemed, *to me*, to "justify", "retaliatory" action by the culprits of the Mumbai blasts.

Nadir at the point where he asks me in the comments thread, why Turk's loss of livelihood is a "weak" reason... to indulge in blasts.

I realize there was a larger point he was trying to make about differential prosecution for riots vs blasts there. I hope he can find better ways to make it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, D. Sometimes I think that sometimes, after few years have passed and no punishment has happened, "this is history" might be the best approach.


dont know about Dilip here, but per yr suggestion I re-read "Orwell post".

There is nothing there that "justifies" "retaliatory" action by blast culprits. How did you see that? That post was about people mistaking sequence of events (frankly that astonished me). that's all, end of story.

also, you are the guy who comments there that "loss of livelihood" is "weak" reason. You never explained this. Why any more weak than "500 years ago mughal invader destroyed a temple", or "two sikhs killed indira", etc?

By the by, regular readers of dcubed know that you are the guy who also has a shadow here. I find it interesting that this time you have commented "anonymously". So then which Jai are you this time, real one or the fake, and how we will know??


Anonymous said...


1. You are right on justification.
I re-read it and can see that the previous time I must have seen it in the wrong context: a cycle_of_violence discussion I had with Dilip.

Sorry Dilip. Thanks Krithika for the question that prompted me to revisit this.

2. Weak livelihood.

That was just the point Krithika. Its as weak as either of the two reasons you suggested- BM demolition or 2 sikhs killing Indira Gandhi.

Dilip was the one that questioned me why it was weak.

I could be misreading it, or maybe he was drawing me out to see where I was coming from.

But for nitpicks like that one,I have enormous respect for DDS writing.

As for myself, I have held a position on Babri for example, that would be "more liberal/ leftist" than Dilip. Its a masjid, nobody had any business destroying it. It needs to be restored is my starting point. Any reconciliation structure (dilips position) would be at the will and desire of the Muslims.

2. I am the real guy. I need to upload a photo link, from a safer place, to keep the other guy off, and will be back to my ID. Discussing with ppl I know abt the photo link.

3. Dilip sorry for the offtrack.


Anurag said...

I never know what to comment on posts like this, even though the lack of justice does anger me. Well written...

Nabila Zehra Zaidi said...

I agree where the question remains unanswered...should we celebrate the delayed justice or be in despair because of the delay? Justice delayed maybe denied, but is it a ray of hope for the future? I am left feeling distraughted and confounded ..... was the verdict even worth the justification??

Anonymous said...

Its as weak as either of the two reasons you suggested-BM demolition or 2 sikhs killing Indira Gandhi.

Or as strong.

Way I see this, everyone has a reason for their actions, even terrorism. Its' up to society to decide how to react (i.e. punishment) to this reason.

eg, "That fellow came into my house armed and threatened my family, so I got my gun and shot him dead", is a reason.

eg, "Riots destroyed my business and left me destitue so I decided to hit back by taking part in setting off blasts", is also a reason.

eg, "Guys from that religion killed my fellow-religionists in another town, so I decided to take revenge by killing guys from that religion here", is another reason.

In each case, a court should decide what weight to give the reasons. IMHO it should acquit first, and punish second and third.

Also IMHO, these three are in decending order of "strength".

("presonal threat => selfdefence" strongest; "personal damage => kill innocent people" much weaker but at least personal damage was there;
"remote killings => kill innocent people" weakest of all).

Anyways, if you pronunce one as weak, think you need to explain that.

D, sorry for going into this, but this was my interpretation of that discussion.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Kartik, unfortunately that's the problem with justice: not enough people seem to care about it, so it gets swept under the carpet. I mean, I take serious issue with Krithika here when she says "this is history" might be the best approach. What's that supposed to mean? That's how we end up letting injustice prevail.

Nabila, you picked up on exactly the point I wanted to make: after 22 years, should we be glad that these guys were punished? Or concerned because it took so long and because so many others are nowhere close to justice?

Anurag, thanks.

Mai said...

As a survivor of Delhi '84, I expected to have a lot of emotion over the verdict. Instead, I felt --nothing. The sentence did bring a response-- utter disgust. Is this what the lives of our people are worth? Perhaps if Mr. Tytler were convicted, had kerosene poured on him and...sorry to sound vindictive, Just when I think I've recovered, I find myself angry again.

Feel free to visit our blog The Road to Khalistan, http://roadtokhalistan.blogspot.comif you'd like to read how at least a couple of survivors view the whole thing.

Anonymous said...


OT sorry: HTOHL

Ive been checking for sometime and the other india site stays down.

Was it just the billing as seen on the site, or was it planned to wind up, or do you guys have a different plan?

If it is just the billing, others may join me in contributing a bit towards HTOHL. This is one place I wouldnt mind my shadow stepping up to the plate. How about it buddy mine? 2x contribution from Jai_Choorakkot.

I am leaving this message at Shivams blog too. In my current anon mode, wont be able to comment this at Annie's.

If any regular readers of HTOHL here, would like to know your opinions on indiatogether.org


Anonymous said...

You've been tagged!

Anonymous said...

OT: response on HTOHL

I would like to thank Annie Zaidi who responded to my query on HTOHL. As far as she knows its technical problems, not a planned shutdown.

Indiatogether looks more cohesive than HTOHL was, but otherwise feels a lot different.


Anonymous said...

The Khalistan movement is much bigger than one person, especially a self-appointed leader.

The Khalistan movement is a community movement for human rights. It is a campaign for autonomy and it will not go away.

It should not go away. It is as justified as Tibet, Israel, Nagaland, and any other campaign for the freedom of an oppressed nation.

Moby Dick said...

In some nations, there is very little justice of any kind.