US court facilitates pursuit of justice on behalf of Sikh genocide victims

Sikhs for JusticeThere is an interesting phenomenon currently going on in the United States whereby Sikhs in the US are seeking justice by way of a class action lawsuit for the targeted killings of several thousands of Sikhs across India during November of 1984 in response to the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.  How it has come to be that India’s ruling Congress Party could be sued in the United States by a group representing Sikhs for the killings that took place in India seems to defy logic.

Indira Gandhi’s assassination in late 1984 was in retaliation for her ordering of an attack on Sikhism’s central Gurdwara, Harmandir Sahib (otherwise known as “The Golden Temple”) earlier that year in June. The beginning of that attack, known as Operation Bluestar, occured 27 years ago today. The military operation was undertaken on the pretext of flushing out militants who had taken up residence in the precincts of Harminder Sahib, but the attack took place on an auspicious day for Sikhs, and as such, thousands of innocent Sikhs pilgrims were massacred on that day as well.

The mass killings of Sikhs in June and November 1984 has had a significant impact on the psyche of the Sikh people worldwide.

In the decades since, justice for these killings have been very hard to come by in India.  Investigations and commissions looking into the November riots have been obfuscated by political involvement and machinations, resulting in those who were responsible to still roam free:

But while 10 official commissions have been set up over the years to investigate the events of the four days, only a handful of minor convictions have been made, and not one major politician or police officer has been convicted. “The justice system is based on evidence, and people are scared to come forward or are persuaded not to,” says political analyst Amulya Ganguli. During the riots, Kaur of Ensaaf says the government “worked to destroy a lot of the evidence about who was involved with the killings by refusing to record [first information reports] or name those that family members mentioned.”

The riots are seen by many to be part of a larger genocidal movement against the Sikh people. Many groups outside of India have tried to bring attention to this terrible event so that justice could finally be served to those responsible.

This year, the US-based group Sikhs for Justice has initiated a lawsuit in a US court to demonstrate that the Congress Party (the then- and current ruling party of India):

…planned and organized killing of Sikhs throughout India during November 1984; how Congress party covered the organized and systematic violence against Sikhs and depicted it as anti-Sikh riots of Delhi; and how the killers of Sikhs are being protected by the Congress party for the last 26 years.

The case is based on two federal laws in this country: the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789 and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) of 1991.  These statutes allow for civil suits by plaintiffs against individuals, groups or governments who have engaged in violations of international norms (such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity) and individuals who acted in an official capacity to engage in extrajudicial killings and/or torture.

Bringing these events into the United States legal system will shed new light on the justice denied to the victims of the mass killings of Sikhs in 1984.  Whether full justice will ever be conferred to the victims remains to be seen, but the outcome of this legal action will be a significant milestone in Sikh history.

Pre-trial arguments are scheduled to be offered in US Federal Court in New York on September 21.


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