On December 17, former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was convicted in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentenced to a life term. Justice took 34 long years to take its course. But one must not forget that thousands, if not more, faceless heroes were behind the conviction of Sajjan Kumar. Here we discuss about few prominent ones, who became the face of the struggle.
73-year-old HS Phoolka, a senior lawyer fought the long battle for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots for free. When the verdict of a life term for the former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was announced, Phoolka in tears said, “It’s a huge victory. This moment has come after 34 years. We are very happy.”
It would not be wrong to say that Phoolka gave his all to this case. He had joined Aam Adami Party and was appointed to the post of leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly House. However, last year the Delhi Bar Council stopped him from appearing in the case, saying he enjoyed an office of profit. He almost immediately stepped down from his post. He had then said, “Will not give up ’84 carnage cases. Would rather quit as minister. My presence in anti-Sikh riots cases is important at this stage; that is why I decided to quit as the leader of the opposition,” as reported by NDTV.
Acknowledging Phoolka “selfless and tireless” contribution, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted, “I want to put on record my acknowledgement for the selfless & tireless service rendered by Senior Advocate Sdr HS Phoolka in ensuring justice for the victims of 1984 Anti-Sikh massacre.”
RS Cheema and daughter Tarannum Cheema
The riot which is often termed as genocide killed 3,000 Sikhs. The investigation was carried out by an all-Sikh team of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The team also had senior lawyer RS Cheema who represented CBI in the capacity of Special Public Prosecutor.
While many pieces of evidence and documents were provided by the team, it was the Cheema who provided the daily diary register of the police at Raj Nagar. The daily diary said that “nothing significant” happened between November 1 and 11, even as 341 people were murdered in cold blood. This made the High Court judges note Police’s lackadaisical attitude towards the atrocities.
One can also not ignore the contribution of his daughter Tarannum Cheema. She was instrumental in handling all the witnesses. Tarannum moved to Delhi to be there with the two prime witnesses- Jagdish Kaur and Nirpreet Kaur- so that they are not intimated by the whole process. As per NDTV, Tarannum said, “They would keep trying to underestimate them, they called them liars, they even called Nirpreet a terrorist because she was jailed as a student leader,” adding that the witnesses needed continued reassurance.
One of the prime witnesses, Jagdish Kaur lost her husband, elder son and three cousins. The now 77-year-old woman stood like a rock on the face of adversity for 34 long years. As per The Quint, Kaur said that she had to face a lot of pressure on her when she was appearing as the witness. She also said that she was offered money to step back. “What would I do with the money? I was determined to unveil those responsible and expose their taint.”
Kaur also says, “He (Sajjan Kumar) should be killed like he killed our families.”
Another prime witness in the case was Nirpreet Kaur. The then 16-year-old Nirpreet saw her father being set ablaze by the enraged mob. Kaur says that she lost a lot in the course of 34 years but said that with Sajjan Kumar’s arrest, “a big fish” has been caught. According to The Quint, “We have got justice after 34 years but this is the first time that a big fish has been caught because they would either threaten the witnesses or the witnesses would turn hostile.”
The chairperson of Justice for Victims Organisation, set up to help the survivors of 1984, said that when she named Kumar, a Terrorist and Destructive Activities Prevention Act was put on her. However, later the charge was dropped.
The Logical Indian Take
It took over three decades for the victims of the 1984 massacre to get justice. It is very important to appreciate and acknowledge these heroes and many more several faceless people who tirelessly fought the battle. The Logical Indian salutes their patience, determination and grit.