The skyline was dark; it was uncomfortably grey and it stayed that way. For three long days and nights, the Capital resembled a huge funeral pyre to its west and east, and the stench of burning rubber and bodies started filling the air.
Word had spread that Indira Gandhi had been shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards and a motley crowd of angry blood-thirsty protestors roamed the streets, hunting down turbaned men and their children; sprinkling them with kerosene or simply throwing burnt tyres around their necks.
That time, from late-evening of October 31 to November 3 in 1984, a daughter saw her father being set on fire, a wife looked on helplessly as her husband and son were dragged by lumpens and bludgeoned to death with iron rods and a brother lost three siblings. He identified them from the watch one was wearing and the other two, from their half-burnt clothes.
Daughter Nirpreet Kaur, wife Jagdish Kaur and brother Jagsher Singh have lived a wretched life in the pursuit of justice, perhaps because they had seen a powerful Congressman and Member of Parliament of the area, Sajjan Kumar, exhort the mob and order the killing of Sikhs in the Raj Nagar locality, in Delhi Cantonment.
For 27 of the 28 years, each of the three have variously approached the police and the many commissions of inquiry to give a first-hand, ‘I witnessed the carnage’ account, but it stayed buried in affidavit after affidavit.
For them, revisiting 1984 is always a painful memory; the denial of justice a second stab in the heart.
They had seen Sajjan Kumar, and heard him, saying, “Ek bhi sardar zinda nahi bachna chahiye… en sardaron ko maro, enhone hamari maa ko mara hai,” but till June last year, no court of law had ever heard their testimonies.
Says HS Phoolka, their lawyer, “Whenever it came to the commissions of inquiry, Sajjan Kumar’s name appeared prominently, but whenever it went to the police, his name disappeared.”
If today, the noose is tightening around Sajjan Kumar’s neck, it is because the CBI, and not the police, is the investigating and prosecuting agency.
If today, public prosecutor RS Cheema, has, in his concluding remarks in the sessions court, said that the riots were a conspiracy of terrifying proportions that indict the police, it is because the men in uniform sided with the rioters.
The police’s daily diaries of that time are blank. Ironically, there are only two entries and they pertain to complaints against the Sikhs; of them assembling with kirpans.
Nobody knows the abysmal conduct of the police better than former police commissioner and governor, Ved Marwah.
Soon after the riots, he was asked to inquire into the role of police officers and give a report in three months. He spent, day and night, examining a number of persons and seizing all records of the police stations, including the one at Delhi Cantt.
That sent alarm bells ringing and because the daily diaries could not have been challenged. It was obvious that the men in uniform had vanished from their police stations
According to police rules, all movements of police officers are recorded minute by minute in the thana daily diary and the diaries were totally blank.
Police officers, whose names figured prominently, filed a writ against the inquiry in the High Court, but when the court refused to stall the inquiry, Marwah received an order to stop the inquiry — and tear all his notes.
In Raj Nagar, specifically, Jagdish saw the chowki in-charge applaud the mob and ask them, ‘kitne murge bhun diye’ (how many Sikhs have you roasted). All this, while the bodies of her husband and son lay nearby.
The policemen had also colluded in Delhi Cantt, tagging over 30 deaths, including Nirpreet’s father, Nirmal Singh, into a single FIR.
Sajjan Kumar’s name was never put in the list of the accused and the summons for Nirpreet, in yet another act of treachery, were sent to an address that never belonged to her.
Respite for Sajjan’s victims came only after the Nanavati Commission submitted its report in 2005 and concluded that there was ‘credible evidence’ against the Congressman. Affidavits filed by Jagsher and Jagdish finally counted for something.
After tremendous pressure from the Opposition — for now too the government tried to exonerate him in their action taken report — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh relented after a stirring speech in Parliament.
“On behalf of our government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame,” he told the House, adding, “But, Sir, there are ebbs, there are tides in the affairs of the nation. The past is with us. We cannot rewrite the past. But as human beings, we have the will power, and we have the ability to write a better future for all of us.”
The case against Kumar was entrusted to the CBI and perhaps, a better future had been scripted for Nirpreet, Jagdish and Jagsher.
But 2005 to 2012 is a long time. Each of the three claim they were under immense pressure to turn hostile — in return for land and money, but they held out. Nirpreet went through a vilification campaign — she was charged under TADA, the defense lawyers said but failed to add that she had been discharged in two cases and acquitted in one.
The pressure was so acute and the frequency of threats so alarming, the victims had to apply for police protection; and couldn’t be from the Delhi police, whose men stood condemned for siding with the perpetrators. The CBI director wrote to the DGP Punjab and got them the gun-toting policemen who shadow them to court.
The eye witness accounts and the daily diaries form good evidence but the CBI has more — the testimony of a joint secretary in Delhi government’s home department, who told the court that the director of prosecution had signed off on a file, saying, the sanction to prosecute Kumar should not be granted.
It finally was, by Delhi's lieutenant governor and the sessions court in Delhi framed charges against him — of murder, rioting with deadly weapons and promoting disharmony amongst communities. His lawyers contested the framing of charges but his revision petition was struck down both by the High Court and the apex court.
Finally, hope peeps faintly through the legal and psychological debris. With a judgement due in a few months from now, it still might be time for history to write a better future. And give them a tomorrow.
A part of Delhi’s Trilokpuri area where a person from every house was burnt in the 1984 riots.
Enquiries over the years
Various committees and commissions that have probed the 1984 riots
MARWAH COMMISSION: Set up to look into role of police in the riots but suddenly stopped by the central govt. Records selectively passed on to next commission
MISHRA COMMISSION: Formed to find out if the violence was organised. The August 1986 report recommended the formation of three new committees: Ahooja, Kapur-Mittal and Jain-Banerjee
DHILLON COMMITTEE: Set up to recommend rehab for victims. Asked that insurance claims of attacked businesses be paid, but the govt rejected these claims
KAPUR-MITTAL COMMITTEE: Set up to probe, again, the role of police. 72 cops identified for connivance/ gross negligence, 30 recommended for dismissal, none punished
JAIN-BANERJEE COMMITTEE: Looked at cases against Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar. Recommended cases be registered against both. Later, the Delhi HC quashed the appointment of this committee
Set up by the Misra Commission to ascertain the number of people killed in the Delhi massacre. In August 1987, Ahooja’s report put the figure at 2,733 Sikhs
Appointed as a successor to the Jain-Banerjee committee. Potti-Rosha also recommended registration of cases against Kumar&Tytler
JAIN-AGGARWAL COMMITTEE Appointed as Potti-Rosha’s successor, also suggested cases against HKL Bhagat, Tytler&Kumar. No case registered, probe stopped in ‘93
In its Jan 94 report, it was the 3rd committee in 9 years to repeat the recommendation to register cases against Bhagat, Tytler and Kumar
One-man commission appointed by the BJP-led government. Found ‘credible evidence’ against Tytler and Kumar. The CBI tried to give a clean chit
CBI finds case against Sajjan, framed charges that included murder and rioting with deadly weapons