Lawsuit against Congress president
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in US on a four-day visit, a Sikh rights group has secured summons against him from a US court in connection with the alleged human rights violations in the counter-insurgency operations in Punjab in the 1990s. The Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), the New York-based rights body, is now planning to file an urgent leave to effect alternative means of service that would allow it to deliver the summons to the White House staff and members of Singh’s security team when he is here. Earlier, when Congress President Sonia landed in the U.S. for a medical check up, a federal court in New York issued summons on 3rd September for “shielding and protecting” leaders and workers of her party who were allegedly involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) on behalf of Sikhs for Justice, a pro-Khalistan organization by Mohinder Singh and Jasbir Singh, whose relatives were killed during riots in 1984.
Both India and the U.S. are signatories to the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. “The law suit is aimed at raising awareness in the international community about denial of justice to the victims and is a means of holding the parties in power accountable for gross violation of human rights against Sikhs,” the legal advisor to SFJ said. In 1984 genocide of Sikh community, many Sikhs were killed, tortured, women raped and children stabbed to death, while Sikh properties were looted, destroyed and usurped by hooligans who were involved in cleansing of entire Sikh community. The entire community was shattered and forced to live as third class citizens and substandard life while their movements were subjected constantly to surveillance. The Sikh community then started leaving India having lost their near and dear ones, throwing away their flourishing business, lovely homes and green farms where they were brought up along with their peers, relatives and friends.
As memory recall, it will be appropriate to give some details of military operation. On 6th June 1984, the Indian army launched an offensive with code name Operation Blue Star on Darbar Sahib also known as the Golden Temple, which was epicenter of the armed movement for Sikh autonomy in the Indian state of the Punjab. The issues that were at the root of the Sikh rebellion were never addressed, and apart from giving a couple of assignments in the army, Sikh’s demands remained unfulfilled. The Army action had coincided with a Sikh annual festival when thousands of pilgrimages, old people, women and children were inside the temple. Many of them were killed or injured in the conflict. As is the case in any multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural country, Sikhs had demanded political autonomy, fair distribution of river waters, plea for Sikhism to be constitutionally recognized as a distinct religion, and the desire for holy city status for Amritsar – the site of the Darbar Sahib, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs.
Not only Sikhs’ holy shrine but mosques of the Muslims and churches of the Christians have been desecrated many a time, and Babri Masjid demolition is still fresh in the minds of the people the world over. All the minorities in India are groaning under repression by the brute Hindu majority throughout India and followers of all religions are being subjected to inhuman treatment. Muslims, Christians and Dalits are not allowed to lead their lives according to their beliefs, traditions and culture. But Muslims are the worst victims of Hindu chauvinism. Apart from killings in Kashmir efforts are being made to change demography in Kashmir and Assam. Orissa government acted as a silent spectator and was biased towards Christians. It has to be reminded that in December 2007 on Christmas Day, Hindu fanatics burnt and ransacked 14 churches in eastern India – state of Orissa – leaving four men dead and thirty injured. Christians were chased out of several churches – in many a case just mud huts with thatched roofs – before they were set ablaze.
Such atrocities on minorities have exposed the façade of India’s secularism and establishing conclusively that Hindu fundamentalists have zero-tolerance so far as religious minorities are concerned. Nevertheless, international media, having soft corner for so-called the biggest democracy and secular state, had downplayed even the brutal attack and burning of churches on the Christmas Eve i.e. 25th December 2007. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India had, however, in a statement said: “The well planned attacks on innocent Christians and their leaders have completely shocked us”. Hundreds of Christians, fearing more clashes with Hindu nationalists had fled to government-run relief camps. Keeping in view the treatment meted out to the minorities and atrocities perpetrated on Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, untouchables and Christians, India does not qualify to be considered a democratic society in the real sense of the term.
The documentary film, ‘1984: A Sikh Story’, was made about the operation ordered by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 when the Indian army had stormed the Golden Temple and killed Bhindranwale. Sikhs had condemned the documentary as they alleged that it was nothing but a slur on Bhindranwale. While Bhindranwale is considered as a martyr and a saint by the Sikhs, the documentary portrayed him as a militant inviting the ire of the community. It was impossible for the Sikhs to forget the crimes committed by Indian Congress activists against them in 1984. Hence, they filed a case against the President of Congress Party of India, (ruling party), at a time when she visited New York for medical treatment. It is expected that US Justice System will maintain its repute and deliver fair justice to the bereaved Sikh community still moaning their psychological wounds and seeking a platform to address their grievances.
(The writer is currently based in Finland and perusing her degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research.)