The Independent People’s Tribunal: Carrying the scars, burden and legacy of survivors.
DISAPPEARED, DENIED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
On the 1st and 2nd April 2017, we convened an Independent Peoples’ Tribunal (IPT) in Amritsar. Such tribunals play an important role in analysing why the judicial system has been incapable and unwilling to redress serious violations of fundamental rights and highlights institutional failures. In the Indian context, IPT’s have played a significant role in providing a platform for those disenfranchised and exert a moral pressure on the judiciary to act. We felt that in the Punjab context, such an endeavour was particularly important to give many victims an opportunity otherwise denied to them to have their voices heard.
Over two days, a composite panel of retired judiciary and prominent activists and academics from across India heard many testimonies of the forgotten survivors whose loved ones had disappeared. Most victims were themselves victims of torture. It is a sad indictment on the system of justice In India that the phenomena of Independent Peoples’ Tribunal or Indian Peoples’ Tribunal have become an alternative forum for victims to narrate their experiences when courts have failed them.
The IPT also heard expert evidence from human rights lawyers and activists from Punjab – of their own experiences and long and endless struggle for justice, and the repeated accounts of endemic failures of the judicial process to investigate, prosecute, and hold to account those responsible for mass state violence.
We were overwhelmed by the response. Over 700 victim families and survivors attended over two days. Due to the sheer numbers and constraints of time, we regret that all the victims were not able to depose before the panel. There were diverse cases from all over Punjab, which include those from Amritsar whose loved ones were cremated in the three cremation grounds as well others cases across Punjab of unclaimed unidentified cremations. Cases where the victims were disappeared or killed outside of Punjab. Cases investigated by the CBI where a charge sheet had been filed confirming that the encounters were fake yet have been lingering before the Indian Courts for 20 years or more. The common themes in these cases are the persistent denial of justice and access to justice.