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Kamal Nath stunned by '84 riots charge

Last updated on: April 7, 2010 11:15 IST

Kamal Nath stunned by '84 riots charge

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York

Union Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath was taken aback at the Indian Consulate in New York, when a journalist asked him about his alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi during a press conference Tuesday, a couple of hours after a civil lawsuit was filed against him in a New York district court.

Nath, against whom Sikh groups have planned protests during his stay in New York, was surprised by the allegations when a reporter flashed a copy of the court complaint during the press conference. Nath said he was puzzled as to why such litigation was filed 26 years after the anti-Sikh riot in New York and not anytime before given that he visits New York almost every year.

'I have never been charged in any court in India in connection with the anti-Sikh riots. I have been coming to the US every other year. In fact I have never faced this before. In Canada some very eminent Sikhs raised this issue. I am appalled by this charge,' Nath said.

When the reporter from the Punjabi print media asked if Nath was aware of a lawsuit filed against him in New York, Nath replied in the negative. 'This is the first time I am hearing of this. Good! Nobody in India has gone to court on this, but if the Sikhs in US charged me about it 25 years after it (Sikh riots), it reflects," Nath said.

Asked to respond to the same question, Gurpatwant S Pannun, attorney for Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a US based non-profit national human rights advocacy group, said that the Sikh community did not know that Kamal Nath was also involved in the violence. "It is a human rights issue and we want people to be aware of the happenings in 1984 following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi," he said.

On behalf of SFJ, Pannun filed a civil lawsuit under the Alien Tort Claims Act against Nath, for his alleged participation in the 1984 genocide of the Sikhs in Delhi, India.

The SFJ filed the suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, headed by Preet Bharara, along with two individuals who were directly affected by the November 1984 Sikh genocide. The District Court has issued a summons and Minister Nath must respond within 21 days.

Pannun said that the lawsuit against Kamal Nath has been filed because the Indian Government failed to enforce human rights protections and hold violators accountable. "US law provides a remedy to victims of human rights violations that have been committed abroad and allows the victims to bring a lawsuit against the perpetrator in the U.S. Federal District Court," he said.

Video: Paresh Gandhi