LOS ANGELES (CN) – Legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan incited the 1984 genocide of thousands of Sikhs to avenge the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a human rights group claims in a federal class action.
Sikhs for Justice on Monday sued Bachchan, 72, alleging crimes against humanity; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; extrajudicial killing; wrongful death; negligence and other counts.
Sikhs for Justice says it chose Los Angeles as the forum because Bachchan appeared almost three decades after the genocide in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film “The Great Gatsby.”
Bachchan denied the allegations in a 2011 letter to a Sikh religious leader, The Times of India reported in a Dec. 2, 2011 article.
Human Rights Watch says that several independent reports have confirmed that police and leaders of Gandhi’s Congress Party were complicit in the murder of thousands of Sikhs in the riots.
On Oct. 31, 1984, after Indira Gandhi was declared dead at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bachchan “raised the slogans … ‘Sikhs have killed Indira’ … ‘Kill these bastards, they are traitors’… ‘the blood stains should reach the households of Sikhs” and “‘blood for blood,” according to the 35-page lawsuit.
Sikhs for Justice claims that the actor’s statements spread like the “‘Ebola virus'” after a state-owned television broadcast them, leading to four days of attacks on Sikhs in 1984, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4.
Human Rights Watch says at least 2,733 were killed in Delhi during the massacre. Sikhs for Justice says the nationwide death toll was 30,000.
The group says that thousands of others were “maimed, wounded, raped and burnt” and that more than 300,000 Sikhs were forced to flee from their homes after days of looting and vandalism.
“Defendant’s words and anti-Sikh propaganda were like venom being spit out of a cobra, poisoning the minds and hearts of all they touched,” the complaint states.
The group says Bachchan used his “super star status” to incite the genocide, and was nominated to a seat for the Parliament of India to “reward his role in avenging the death of Ms. Gandhi.”
Bachchan won the election by a wide margin.
In a report released Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said the Indian government to this day refuses to acknowledge its role in the massacre, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Only 30 people, “mostly low-ranking Congress Party supporters,” have been convicted, and not one police officer was jailed, Human Rights Watch says.
“India’s failure to prosecute those most responsible for the anti-Sikh violence in 1984 has not only denied justice to Sikhs, but has made all Indians more vulnerable to communal violence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities repeatedly blocked investigations to protect the perpetrators of atrocities against Sikhs, deepening public distrust in India’s justice system.”
According to Human Rights Watch, Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi after a military operation to remove Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in the northwestern city of Amritsar left hundreds dead and damaged the holy shrine.
After he succeeded his mother as Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi said of the 1984 massacre: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized for the atrocities in 2005 but stopped short of acknowledging government complicity.
“I have no hesitation in apologizing not only to the Sikh community but the whole Indian nation, because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood and what is enshrined in our Constitution,” Singh said. “So, I am not standing on any false prestige. On behalf of our government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place.”
But Singh added a disclaimer while speaking in Parliament about a probe into the violence.
“The report is before us, and one thing it conclusively states is that there is no evidence, whatsoever, against the top leadership of the Congress Party,” Singh said. Sikhs for Justice seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a declaration that Bachchan violated the law of nations, and declaratory judgment that the violence against Sikhs was genocide under U.S. and International law.
The group is represented by Babak Pourtavoosi of Jackson Heights, N.Y.
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