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.
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
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@example.com)