The Quest for Justice Continues: SARBPREET SINGH
US Court Asks -- Was Sonia Gandhi Complicit in the Crimes After the Fact?
“1984 riots: US court issues summons to Sonia Gandhi for 'shielding' Congress leaders,” reads the headline in yesterday’s Indian Express. Other Indian newspapers have posted similar stories.
On September 3, 2013, a complaint was filed by Sikhs For Justice in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York.
The plaintiffs are Jasbir Singh, who along with his family, was a victim of the 1984 pogrom; and Mohender Singh, on behalf of his father, Darshan Singh, who was murdered in the pogrom, as well as all other victims of the genocide.
The defendant is Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress, the party of her late husband Rajiv Gandhi and her late mother-in-law, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
The suit has been filed under the the Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S.C. § 1350; ATS), also called the Alien Tort Claims Act ATCA), a section of the United States Code that has been a powerful tool through which foreign victims of human rights abuses can seek civil remedies in U.S. courts. Adopted as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the ATS allows non-U.S. citizens to sue for violations of the “law of nations” or customary international law, or of a treaty of the United States, in U.S. courts.
It has been used to bring claims for human rights violations against government officials, non-state actors and multi-national corporations. Since Congress’s adoption of the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) in 1991, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law in 1992, the TVPA has be a mechanism for both U.S. and non-U.S. victims of torture and extra-judicial killing to seek redress in U.S. courts.
The District court has issued summons to Sonia Gandhi; according to US law, the summons needs to be personally served on Gandhi, who is currently in the US for medical treatment, before it can have any legal ramifications.
Sonia Gandhi is being sued for compensatory and punitive damages because of her alleged role in "shielding and protecting" Congress leaders from being prosecuted for their "crimes against humanity."
What is this anyway? Impotent gnashing of the teeth by a wounded community seeking justice after the monstrous crime that was the 1984 pogrom? The work of a publicity seeking gadfly? An attempt to smear Sonia Gandhi?
Or perhaps the creaking of the slow wheels of justice, finally beginning to move?
The reactions to this lawsuit are interesting.
This from the right honorable former Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, who has faithfully served the interests of the same Congress party that was behind the pogrom: "It defies logic to complain against someone who was nowhere near the government at the time the riots took place nor does she have any authority to punish those accused or guilty".
Surprising? Hardly! After all this is the descendant of Ala Singh, the jathedar of the Phoolikan Misl, who in 1762 was expelled from the Dal Khalsa for collaborating with the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali. Cap. Amarinder Singh can surely not be oblivious to the power that Sonia Gandhi wields.
India's shame of 1984 has been compounded by the fact that the victims have not received justice for 29 long years after the massacres. Even a casual student of history cannot fail to understand the role that the Congress Party, which has been in power for much of the 29 years that have elapsed, has had in protecting the perpetrators and undermining every attempt to punish them.
Predictably, this is what Congress Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi has to say: "Summons issued almost 30 years after the event when the Congress President is on a medical visit is, to put it mildly, astonishing. Undoubtedly, appropriate legal action will be taken".
It strikes me as very interesting that the Congress Party’s astonishment comes from the fact that the summons has been issued ‘almost 30 years’ after the event. Surely the party that runs the ‘largest democracy in the world’ should be equally
astonished that the heinous crimes of 1984 pogrom, where the capital of the country was witness to an organized and orchestrated orgy of mayhem, murder and rape, have gone unpunished for those very 29 years. This despite clear documentation and eyewitness testimony that establishes, beyond a doubt, who the organizers and perpetrators were!
Clearly, Mr. Singhvi has never stepped into a gurdwara and listened to the congregational Sikh prayer -- the Ardaas. Without exception, each time and any where Sikhs congregate, in joy or in sorrow, to mourn or to celebrate, these words are invoked:
“Let us remember all those Sikh men and women who, for the sake of righteousness and the religious and spiritual freedom of all, sacrificed their heads, and let themselves be cut apart, limb by limb, joint by joint; who had their scalps torn from their heads; who were torn and broken upon the wheels of torture; who were beaten and sawn apart ... but never gave up their faith, and their determination to live according to the Sikh way, until their last breath. Let us always remember those Sikhs who, in the service of our holy gurdwaras, in the spirit of non-violence, allowed themselves to be brutally beaten, burnt and boiled alive, and yet still uttered no words of protest, but instead, placed their trust and their lives, in the hands of God, in sweet surrender to His Will.”
This is what is truly astonishing! The events that we Sikhs commemorate, each time we stand up to pray, occurred mostly in the 18th century! Yes! A couple of centuries ago! When we haven’t forgotten the innocents who were tortured and killed by
tyrants like Mir Mannu, Zakriya Khan and Ahmad Shah Abdali so long ago, is it likely that we will forget the innocents who were raped and killed by the likes of Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Dharm Dass Shastri and countless other Congress Party luminaries, who have undoubtedly broken bread with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi many a time and to this day strut around freely and arrogantly in the very streets and neighbourhods they turned into killing fields twenty nine years ago?
Before anyone starts to dismiss this lawsuit as a publicity stunt or a meaningless misadventure, it might be worthwhile to delve a little into how cases filed under the TCA have fared in the past.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. It was founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South and is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1979, CCR filed claims under the hitherto obscure ATS, on behalf of Paraguayan citizens Joel and Dolly Filártiga for the politically motivated torture and murder of 17-year-old Joelito Filártiga, Joel’s son and Dolly’s brother. CCR argued that the origin of the ATS – as an anti-piracy law – meant that the U.S. government has judicial power over matters of international dimension.
Today’s torturers and murderers, it was argued, resemble 18th century pirates in that both were or are enemies of all humanity and should be held accountable for their crimes, wherever they are found.
The Second Circuit ruled in favor of the Filártigas and CCR, and awarded a $10.4 million judgment. Filártiga broke new
and important legal ground in civil human rights litigation.
Throughout the 1980s, the cases brought under ATS were against officials of recognized governments. Then, in 1993, CCR brought a lawsuit against Radovan Karadžic for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s.
The Second Circuit held that Karadžic, a non-state actor, could be held lliable under the ATS for his complicity in these crimes.
Sikhs for Justice, just by filing this lawsuit, has struck a huge blow on behalf of the victims of 1984.
Captain Amarinder Singh’s skepticsm and Mr. Singhvi’s bluster notwithstanding, if I were Sonia Gandhi, I would be worried.
September 5, 2013
Conversation about this article
1: Harmeet Singh (Chicago, Illinois, USA), September 05, 2013, 3:50 PM.
Will the SFJ serve the right person this time?
2: H. Kaur (Canada), September 06, 2013, 5:29 AM.
I think it is time to amend our Ardaas to include the atrocities heaped on Sikhs in post-colonial (new-colonial?) India.
3: H. Kaur (Canada), September 06, 2013, 5:33 AM.
Oh, I am sure nothing will happen to Sonia Gandhi. However, it is a good way to raise a voice for the victims and to make open-minded people realize that something fishy is indeed going on in India when it comes to justice for the victims of the 1984 genocide. It also shows the world and some Sikhs themselves that if anything, Sikhs are persistent when it comes to issues of justice.
4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 06, 2013, 5:50 PM.
Has anyone read the comments in the Indian newspapers lately? Looks like more and more people are getting an inkling of what may have happened in 1984.