Senior journalist Sanjay Suri who has authored a new book on the 1984 anti-Sikh violence says that it is still possible to prosecute Delhi Police personnel for dereliction of duty for failing to act against those indulging in the violence.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Suri, whose book ‘1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and after”, has just been released, said that the criminal prosecution of culpable policemen was still possible under law, and in several cases it might yet not be too late.
“And to begin this prosecution you do not need another commission, another inquiry, or even further investigation. Two sets of records exist; one that shows what the police were aware of, and the second what they did – or mostly did not – in the face of what they knew of a developing law and order situation that demanded their intervention. These two sets of records taken together add up in themselves to cases for prosecution of the police. What has been lacking so far is the will to act, not the material to act upon. The book sets out to anchor general talk into a legal framework,” says Sanjay.
Sanjay Suri had a ringside view of the violence which was taking place in Delhi in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in his capacity as a crime reporter for The Indian Express. He was reporting on the killings which were taking place and had also filed affidavits before commissions of inquiry based on those news reports.
Commenting on the fact that enough has already been written about the tardiness of Delhi Police in its response in dealing with the situation, Suri says that not enough has been written about about the criminality of the police. He says the book brings in the relationship between police failures and the law to point to police failure as a criminal act. “For you and me to remain passive in the face of knowledge of crime might be condemnable; for the police it would be culpable,” he says.
He goes on to add that the book sets down failures of the Delhi Police that he uniquely witnessed in the context of specific laws under the Indian Penal Code to make the case that the police did not just fail; their failure was a violation of law that leaves many among them open to arrest and prosecution. The police failures cannot simply be condemned as tardy, these were crimes where the law does not just provide for action, it demands it, he says.
In addition to speaking with the victims of the violence, Suri has also included interviews with the police officers who were policing when the actual violence was taking place.
Talking about what he had witnessed during the violence and the role of politicians, Suri says he had run into and reported on two political personalities immediately in those days of violence. “In one instance, in rare police steps the Karol Bagh police had arrested a large number of men for loot, and it turned out they all were from the Congress. Dharam Dass Shastri, then Congress MP, came to the police station to claim them as his own, and to demand their release. The Congress hand in the violence, and in the owning of the violence showed here, undeniably. In the other instance I saw Congress MP Kamal Nath outside Rakab Ganj Gurdwara, where he showed he had control of a violent mob. Questions arise here on the relationship between Kamal Nath and that mob, and over why a platoon of policemen simply stood by and watched and did nothing to restrain what was known by then to be a murderous crowd,” he says.