Strengthen Communal Violence Bill to Prevent Atrocities
April 25, 2011
The discovery of more Sikh massacre victims after nearly three decades shows the reluctance of successive Indian governments, despite numerous commissions of inquiry, to get to the truth and prosecute those responsible for the anti-Sikh violence.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The Indian government should ensure that those responsible for newly discovered massacres of Sikhs in 1984 are brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

In January 2011, the burned and abandoned village of Hondh-Chillar, where 32 Sikhs were killed on November 2, 1984, was discovered in northern Haryana state. In March, the site of another forgotten killing of 17 people in nearby Pataudi, was discovered. Widespread anti-Sikh attacks in Haryana were part of broader revenge attacks for the assassination of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, following the bloody attack ordered by Gandhi on Sikh separatists at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

"The discovery of more Sikh massacre victims after nearly three decades shows the reluctance of successive Indian governments, despite numerous commissions of inquiry, to get to the truth and prosecute those responsible for the anti-Sikh violence," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 3,000 Sikhs were killed in 1984, in mob attacks with the complicity of senior members of Gandhi's then-ruling Congress party. Although there is evidence that at least some of the attacks were orchestrated by senior political figures, none have yet been convicted for the 1984 killings.

In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged some of the failures. "I have no hesitation in apologizing not only to the Sikh community but to the whole nation, because what took place in 1984 is a negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution," he said in Parliament. "The past is behind us. We cannot change it, but we can write the future. We must have the will power to write a better future for all of us."

The Haryana state government established a judicial commission to look into the Hondh-Chillar killings. But successive government-appointed commissions have failed to ensure the proper prosecution of those responsible for instigating the riots.

"Announcing yet another judicial commission will be a step forward only if the Indian government finally uses the information provided and brings those responsible for mass atrocities to justice," Ganguly said. "Sikhs have been waiting a long time for mass murderers to be held accountable, and these new cases would be a good place to start."

To address widespread impunity for attacks on minorities, human rights organizations in India have been working with the government to draft and enact the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation) Bill. The bill provides for immediate intervention to prevent and control communal violence, speedy investigation and prosecution in such cases, and proper compensation and rehabilitation of victims.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to strengthen the bill by suspending the requirement for prior government permission to arrest and prosecute public servants; allowing prosecutions on the basis of command responsibility; and explicitly punishing "culpable inaction" by state authorities who fail to act to prevent communal violence.

The bill should specifically incorporate provisions to broaden the basis for prosecuting sexual violence against women during communal mob attacks. Since existing Indian law on rape focuses on questions of consent, it does not adequately address the coercive circumstances prevalent during communal violence, and offenses such as sexual mutilation are not adequately covered by the Indian Penal Code. The bill, while ensuring fair trial rights, should also include provisions for helping survivors of sexual offenses, including requiring adequate support services, physical safety and privacy protections.

"The Haryana massacre is a reminder that India needs a law that will provide maximum protection against orchestrated attacks on minorities," Ganguly said. "The government should listen to all suggestions that could strengthen the communal violence bill so that these outrages never happen again."

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