With bitterness and longing – remembering victims of 1984

By Amit Agnihotri, IANS,

New Delhi: Twenty-seven years since Indira Gandhi was assassinated, 27 years since 2,700 Sikhs were killed in the capital in the terrible aftermath. As a host of VIPs headed towards the late prime minister’s memorial Monday, thousands of families also remembered their loved ones massacred in the riots – and renewed their pledge to continue the fight for justice.

Support TwoCircles

It was exactly 27 years ago that Indira Gandhi was gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards as she walked from her home to her office, unleashing three days of sectarian violence in several parts of the country that saw 2,733 people being killed in Delhi alone.

As there is no government figure, unofficial estimates put the count of dead during the riots at around 7,000.

Almost three decades later, justice continues to elude.

“There is no chance of complete justice, but we are fighting for symbolic justice. Some leaders should be punished to send out a strong message,” Supreme Court lawyer Harvinder Singh Phoolka told IANS.

He has been fighting legal battles to get justice for the families of the riot victims.

In the aftermath of the riots, some 400 cases were filed in the courts, but most of them resulted in acquittal. Some were closed by the police.

Though there were 10 convictions on murder charges in the national capital, outside Delhi only one conviction each in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar took place.

Four cases are still on in trial courts.

Terming the riots “a blot on the face of the nation and on the justice delivery system”, Phoolka said: “If such crimes go unpunished, the future of the nation is in danger.”

The passage of time may have dulled the trauma, but family members remember each detail of the violence that took away their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands.

For Nirpreet Kaur, 43, who saw her father Nirmal Singh being burnt alive in the Palam Colony in the Delhi Cantonment area in 1984, “bitterness will persist till the guilty are punished”.

There is a story behind her bitterness.

Nirpreet said efforts to seek justice for her father’s murder led to “harassment by the police, which branded her a militant.”

“As a result, I was jailed twice from 1986 to 1991 and again from 1993 to 1997 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act,” Nirpreet Kaur told IANS.

Acquitted by the sessions court in 1997, she now helps families of other victims seek justice and rehabilitation through her NGO Justice for Victims.

Pappy Kaur, 42, echoes similar sentiments. She lost 10 of her family members, including her father and elder brother, in the violence in Trilokpuri in east Delhi, one of the worst affected areas during the riots.

“We have not got justice,” she said.

However, journalist Manoj Mitta, who covered the riot court cases, feels the 27th anniversary of the riots offers a ray of hope.

“For a change, there is some reason for optimism. After 27 years of struggle for justice, we are poised to secure conviction of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar,” Mitta told IANS.

“Whatever the outcome of the case in trial court, the very fact that criminal proceedings came this far exposes the claims of innocence put up by the Congress party in the wake of the carnage,” he said.

Phoolka and Mitta co-authored a book “When a Tree Shook Delhi” in 2007, following former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous words “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes” in his effort to justify the anti-Sikh riots. Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister in the hours immediately following his mother’s death as riots began to spread across the capital.

“There was no will of the then ruling party (Congress) to punish the guilty and efforts were made to shield them,” Phoolka said.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at [email protected])