The conviction of two anti-Sikh rioters may have come after 34 years, but it’s still welcome as it signals justice will still be delivered. This is the first verdict since the Special Investigation Team was launched in 2015, and the first with the death penalty for one of the offenders since an earlier death sentence handed down in 1994 was commuted to life. The SIT has helped reopen serious cases in the difficult judicial exercise of pinpointing guilt in mob violence. The 1984 riots were the first serious blot on the Indian communal landscape since Partition, and so dreadful that despite the time lag the cases must be pursued wherever the perpetrators are alive. Sikhs must be reassured that religion, community or caste will not be the basis for any discrimination in justice delivery.
It’s a pity that decades after Independence, India can stay rooted in a philosophy directed against minorities enough to instigate mob violence of the kind we saw in 1984 in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat. The instigators can’t hide behind the fact that there’s no law to punish an entire community for such dastardly crimes. The investigations may have been hampered by the Delhi police turning against Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. How much more effective it may have been had an SIT been formed immediately after 1984? Since politicians are known to patronise such behaviour, mob violence remains a bugbear to peaceful life in India. Such verdicts should offer some hope that things may change.