1984 anti-Sikh riots verdict
The acquittal of Sajjan Kumar might prove a millstone around the neck of the Congress party, which has steadfastly refused to see the truth behind the carnage which engulfed the capital after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The acquittal of the Congress leader had led to widespread protests near India Gate which led the police to cordon off a large swathe of Lutyen’s Delhi, leading to a tough time for commuters who found themselves stuck in massive traffic snarls.
It has been 29 years since more than 3,000 Sikhs were butchered on the streets of Delhi. The anti-Sikh riots were defended by Rajiv Gandhi with the ludicrous statement, ‘When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.’ Since then, it has been a long, lonely fight for justice for a lot of Sikh families who lost their loved ones in the carnage. There have been a number of websites, blogs, photo galleries and personal crusades from people who are pursuing justice for the victims of the riots but so far their efforts have come to nothing. The event had widespread reverberations even in the international media. The journalist and travel writer Pico Iyer wrote an article on the event called ‘India: Getting a Baptism by Fire’ in Time magazine in November 1984 in which he had pilloried the government for doing nothing to stop the carnage.
One of the best-known voices in attempting to bring the killers to justice is that of the redoubtable Supreme Court advocate H S Phoolka, who has spent nearly 29 years on the case, often waging a lonely battle to secure justice for the victims. His Wikipedia entry describes him as ‘spearheading one of the longest and most tortuous legal crusades to gain justice for the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots and fighting individual cases on the involvement of Congress leaders H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler despite the government cover-up. He received threatening letters for unearthing involvements of ruling political party leaders in what The Asian Age called “the Mother of all Cover-ups” in a front-page story’. In fact the special anniversary edition of Outlook included Phoolka in its list of 50 people that had made a difference in India, alongside Amartya Sen and Abhinav Ghosh. This correspondent spoke to Mr Phoolka and came away impressed with his quest for justice at any cost. ‘This is one of the blackest episodes in our nation’s history’, he said. ‘We will not rest till the case is satisfactorily concluded and the killers brought to justice. We have filed an appeal in the High Court. There are very strong grounds for that.’
Another equally strident voice agitating for the lingering sense of injustice of the Sikhs is the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee. Parvinder Pal Singh, their spokesperson, said they will never give up the fight, no matter how long it takes. ‘We have three main agendas, which we want to address speedily’, he says. ‘The first is that we want the CBI to appeal against the High Court concerning the grievances of the Sikhs. We also want this case fast-tracked within a span of 3 months.’ The second thing they are demanding, he continues, is a Supreme Court-monitored SIT probe into the 1984 riots after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. ‘We also want the ACP who had suppressed the case to be dismissed’, he adds. What is worse is that the guilty ACP has since been promoted to a DCP, he fumes. Their third demand is to reinvestigate the chargesheet against Sajjan Kumar which was registered in Nangloi in 1992, and which has drawn a blank so far. Parvinder says they will be taking their grievances to Parliament soon.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the CBI is all set to challenge the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case by a city court in the Delhi High Court as it has found “strong grounds” which could form the basis of its petition. The Hindu stated that ‘during the arguments in the case, the CBI had alleged that there was a conspiracy of “terrifying proportions” between the Delhi Police and Sajjan Kumar’.
It might be recalled that five others-Balwan Khokkar, an ex-councillor; Mahender Yadav, an ex-MLA; Kishan Khokkar, Girdhari Lal and Captain Bhagmal – were convicted for their involvement in the riots that had broken out after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. Of the four Khokkar, Girdhari Lal and Captain Bhagmal have been sentenced to life by a Delhi Court. Sajjan Kumar, a former Lok Sabha MP from Outer Delhi who was refused a Congress ticket for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, still faces trial in another 1984 riot case.
The former Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta was particularly scathing on the attitude of the Congress party. He commented, “The rights of the Sikhs have been denied. Even after these years, justice couldn’t be done. The way the police and the government have tried to play with witnesses and evidences to hide the truth…even the police’s role seems to be suspicious. We fully support them (the Sikhs). The Congress government needs to give an answer.”
The Akali patriarch Prakash Singh Badal along with most of opposition leaders, including left met with President Pranab Mukherjee and reitreated the demand of SIT to investigate the anti-Sikh riots. Opposition leaders submitted a memorandum of this effect to Mr Mukherjee.
Perhaps the final word rests with Mr Phoolka, the lone crusader, who has battled official apathy for close to three decades in his attempt to bring the guilty to book. ‘This fight will continue as long as it takes. I have invested too much in it to back off now.’ Then he adds softly, but with steely resolve, ‘There can be no compromise with that.’