Remembering Rajni Kothari: Author of 'Who Are the Guilty?'

Today we remember Shri Rajni Kothari, who passed away today in New Delhi at the age of 86.  Kothari was well known and respected for his work in the fields of human rights, political science and public service.  For the Sikh community, Kothari will be best remembered for raising his voice for justice in the case of the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide.  As the then President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, he had the fortitude and courage to write a forthright and probing report on the events of November 1984 which continues to be one of the most reliable accounts of what happened.  The report “Who Are the Guilty?” gave a description of the massacres that took place and was a damning indictment of those politicians who orchestrated the violence.  

We post below an article written by Kothari about the 1984 Genocide.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.  

Recalling November 1984

Rajni Kothari

Since 1984, come November and every concerned citizen of this country should sit up and think. It calls for major introspection, to get behind why what happened on those 3 fateful days happened, and relate such introspection to our larger failure to build a more just, equitable, compassionate and humane social order.

Those three days that shook the conscience of so many Indians exposed a polity that had lost its bearings, one in which basic and common aspirations of the people of India were sidetracked for the sake of different and divided ends of personal survival in office, group vendetta and communal violence. Since then the country is moving along a long tunnel of narrowing options for diverse communities and classes. Where it will take its various constituents is extremely difficult to say, Unless, as I said above, we are willing to see it all in a comprehensive context and work our way away from the ever darkening abyss towards which we as a State and as a people seem to be moving.


Nov. 84 Not Like 1947


November 1984 was not like the dark days of 1947; the analogy that is sometimes drawn, and intentionally by some, is wholly facile. In 1947 a country was split into two - through agreement among rival parties at the end of much discord and through determined intervention by an exhausted colonial power. The breach that November 1984 heralded could conceivably lead to a similar consequence if we manage to mismanage our affaire as we seem to be doing, though at the moment the chance seems remote and will be resisted not just by the Indian State but by the large majority of the people too (belonging to all communities). But what took place in November 1984 was not that at all. it was not some splitting and dividing. of a State that took place in Delhi, Kanpur, Bukaro and other places. What was being split was the .spirit and soul of a composite culture, one that (despite the Partition! has continued to fined its identity in a conception of unity that is based on respect of diversities and their distinctive cultures and social codes.


Disasters and Suffering in Quick Succession


I have no interest in recalling the horrendous carnage of a community that took place then nor to discuss the Punjab problem or the growth of the communal virus across communities. For, as we think about that traumatic episode today, 2 years later, it becomes clear that we stand at a completely different vantage point, in which these matters have become part of a much larger divide between those who are "in" and those who are "out" along so many different, dimensions that are all gradually converging. One that calls for a candid and comprehensive stock-taking as a means of finding our way out of the mess we are in and begin to create an alternative system to

the one that made possible the massacre of November 1984, the Bhopal tragedy, the anti-reservation and communal riots that took place in Ahmedabad, all in quick succession, as well as the many less dramatic disasters and sufferings that have taken place all along.


Four Dangerous Tendencies


Among the tendencies high- lighted by November 1984 that have steadily gained in both magnitude and quality four stand out in a striking manner. One is the growing currency of violence as a means of change, other means I political, institutional, professional! having steadily lost out. We are caught in a major epidemic of violence which is becoming a way of life, a language of communication, a profession and technology in which scores of people specialise. It is not only fast picking up and spreading from one field to another but also seems to work and get attention while all others seem to be failing. It has become the most important currency in the political marketplace. Little is being done to arrest this. For little is being done to rebuild institutions. If anything there is a further dismantling of institutions that is under way. And most issues are increasingly becoming law and order issues. Without understanding that such an approach further endorses the primacy of violence.


The second tendency that got expressed so dramatically in November 1984 and has grown since is the call given then for revenge (at that time against an assassination which itself was a form of revenge) which has since spread in the form of an atmosphere of hatred and animosity – of hitting instead of healing, confrontation instead of conciliation, encounters instead of round tables, senas instead of peace committees. This is the behaviour of the establishments (from the political to the police, from Rajiv to Ribeiro). And of course that is the behaviour of those on the other side of the barricade. Gun for gun. Enemy for enemy. Brutality of one side reinforcing brutality of the other. There can be no winners in this game, nor is it any longer restricted to Punjab or Kashmir. It is spreading. This doctrine of revenge, of blood for blood. It cannot end except by a generalised amnesty followed by resumption of dialogue wherever it has been ruptured.


Third, November 1984 would not have taken place if the national leadership had not moved away from concentrating on urgent economic and political tasks to inciting public sentiments around communal, in the fact that major institutions of the system were found to have backed out from fulfilling their appointed roles. The government of the day had ceased to exist (again from top politicians, except for mafia elements in the ruling party, to the police). The Opposition parties seemed to be suffering from amnesia and, except for joining some peace march here or there, were conspicuous by their absence. The judiciary was found to be paralysed (with some judges found to engage in extremely hillarious abuses heaped on journalists and civil liberties activists). As for the Parliament, it seemed to have capitulated before an atmosphere replete with the cry of the State caste and other divisive factors for electroal gains. From the call for garibi hatao and for a nation-building process based on that call to the call for desh bachao in 1984 which in fact is establishing the whole nation-building enterprise. From a winning coalition' consisting of various segments of the under-privileged that was based on a call for justice to a decisive margin that the Hindu heartland was supposed to provide, based on a call for security

instead of justice. No wonder that such a shift has precipitated the advent of the two Indias phenomenon. And it is affecting all communities.


The fourth, and in many ways the more crucial message of November 1984, which too has since grown in significance, lay in danger', resulting in near unanimity - across parties on issues like Operation Blue Star and the passing of the Black Laws.


Shift away from urgent tasks


While each of these tendencies showed up sharply in November 1984, they had been growing before that and have greatly precipitated since. We have seen this in the case of violence, the politics of revenge and hatred and the shift away from attending to urgent tasks of social and economic transformation to getting obsessed by communal and ethnic rivalries. But the same is the case with the behaviour of institutions. In the declining role of government and politics in mediating conflicts. In the conspicuous absence of political parties wherever these assume alarming magnitudes. In the spinelessness of the judiciary and the fickle mindedness of parliamentarians.


Dedicated Work


In November 1984, but for the dedicated work of the Nagrik Ekta Manch, a wholly non-party citizen body and the investigations by PUDR-PUCL and others, the trauma of the Sikhs would have been just unbearable and would have exploded into irrational acts of revenge in Punjab that would have been difficult to contain. This erosion of the institutions of the State - the administration, the parties, the courts, the Parliament - continues to be the case today. No better evidence for this is needed that a cursory look at the way the month of November this year has been planned. by the government and various so-called voluntary' bodies.


November Tamashas


There will be a- series of dynastic festivities - 2 years of Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi's birthday which is also supposed to inaugurate a special programme on the environment, Grandpa's birthday which will be used to mobilise thousands of well-dressed children round the country into the ongoing festivities. And, to cap it all, a Delhi mela of culture and art and dance and music in the streets for which a high official of the Prime Minister's Secretariat has been put in charge and the Delhi Administration and the DDA have been asked to gear up. All meant to educate the people in Indian culture, including popular folk cultures, through entertaining them! The joke of it all, of course, is that a good part of these celebrations are to take place in Trans-Jamuna, Tilak Nagar and other areas where the victims of November 1984 are still to be found while doing very little to heat their wounds either by bringing the culprits to book or by removing the reasons for their persisting insecurity. Yet another instance of diverting attention from real tasks, essentially by engaging the public mind through communications media, both modern and traditional. Hoping that through entertainment it could be immunised from polities'. From what happened two years ago, or has been happening since - in thirsty Rajasthan, in turbulent Punjab and Kashmir, in terror stricken districts of rural Bihar


The system that created November 1984 and the growing marginalisation of both the poor and the minorities since then is crying for an alternative. But this cannot come from within the established institutions, at any rate not as they are functioning today. Can it come from outside them, pushing them in a different direction?

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