25 years after 1984 riots, victims’ lawyer soldiers on

April 19th, 2009 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kanu Sarda
New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) Harvinder Singh Phoolka’s odyssey for justice to 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims started when he himself faced the riots in which nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the capital in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

“I was with my pregnant wife on a bike when my friend informed me about the attacks on Sikhs. I avoided the main roads of Delhi and somehow managed to reach my rented accommodation in south Delhi,” Phoolka, a Sikh himself, told IANS.

Recently, the lawyer was in the news again when he objected to riot accused politician Jagdish Tytler being given a clean chit by the Central Bureau of Investigation. As the issue snowballed, Phoolka said he had been heckled by Tytler’s supporters in the court premises.

Speaking a few days after the ordeal that has failed to dampen his zeal in any way, Phoolka recalled how in 1984 his landlord drove a mob away and he and his wife had to live in a storeroom for two days and then fly to the safer environs of Chandigarh.

But he returned to the capital after a few days when he learnt that lawyers were needed to draft affidavits on behalf of the victims, and went to the Farsh Vihar relief camp in east Delhi to help.

“The sight of orphans, bereaved mothers and wives in the relief camp was heart-rending. It forced me to stay here and fight for them,” Phoolka said.

Since then Phoolka has spearheaded a long-drawn-out campaign for justice to the victims of the 1984 carnage. He mobilised their testimonies and represented them before successive enquiries.

Despite the various hurdles and the setting up of nine commissions by various governments, his attention remains focused.

“If we get justice now, it will just be a symbolic one, but the message will be clear that no one can walk scot free and one day the law will catch the guilty and they will be punished sooner or later,” Phoolka said.

On the loopholes in most cases resulting in easy acquittal of the accused, Phoolka said: “The basic problem is the faulty registration of First Information Reports (FIRs) by police.

“All FIRs were registered clearly to shield the guilty in the best possible manner. After that investigation was conducted in such a poor manner that lead to many acquittals.”

More than 150 FIRs were registered across the capital amongst which under six FIRs, 16 people have been convicted while some appeals are pending.

“The basic reason for acquittals is the defective investigation which cannot be improved when police work hand in glove with the accused - that makes the case weak in the court,” Phoolka said.

He said all these years they have got the support of different governments but not in the way survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots would want.

Phoolka is co-author of the book “When a Tree Shook Delhi”, that presents an unsparing account of the 1984 carnage and its aftermath, abounding with insights and revelations.

The 1984 anti-Sikh violence took place in the capital following the assassination of Indira Gandhi on Oct 31 and resulted in the killing of around 3,000 Sikhs within two days.

(Kanu Sarda can be contacted at kanu.s@ians.in)

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