November, 1984: The quiet wait| By admin | Category: Lead Article
From the window of my bedroom in a resettled slum dwellers locality in Kalkaji, I saw a mob armed with swords and sticks chasing a Sikh gentleman who was running towards the sanctuary of a Gurudwara across the road. At the same time a call was being made through loud speakers from a Gurudwara, situated just across the road asking Sikh families to hurry and rush in to take shelter. We could easily see flames and smoke from nearby streets. Noise was becoming louder and our hearts were shrinking.
I moved my wife and 5 yr old son away from the window but I never came to know what happened to that lone Sikh as they had all run away, however I can still feel the fear, the rage and helplessness in my spine. I knew that Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her body gaurds, the previous day but fail to comprehend why the violent mob was after the life of this Sikh man?
We were in utter shock to the extent that we forgot Sardar Guru Charan’s family who was living next door. Suddenly my wife cried for them and together we rushed and knocked their door. No answer! We were really worried. Singh’s wife, her 2 teenager daughters and other younger ones, a son and a daughter were lurking under beds or locked themselves inside bathroom. Singh did not return from his accountant’s job at a wooden shop, 10 kms away. Only after a while we heard younger one’s cry. We were extremely cautious as the hooligans were pouring in on the streets. I convinced the family that they are in danger if stay in. So it is better to swap in to our room, one by one. They agreed. Obviously this was a high risk. Suddenly my friend Chakrapani, an avid Gandhian social worker, appeared and while being completely distressed and voiceless both of us felt that at least we are not alone.
Next challenge was Singh’s whereabouts and safety. Thanks to my other next door neighbor Verma who agreed to accompany to go with me on my bike in search of Singh. We opted for small narrow streets, which were comparably peaceful to reach the place. 3 hrs. later we returned empty-handed only to be relieved to know that Singh has safely reached home by paying a huge price. He had to sacrifice his beard and hair and had run for hours to just reach home. Amidst tears of joy and hurt, of hatred and relief, of fear and strength, amidst tears of life and death, all of huddled together, prayed and waited.
After a while curfew was imposed in Delhi.
Only a couple of days later, volunteers and rescue relief workers could go to the affected areas. We started by carrying out a march in our locality shouting slogans of national integrity and when the news of the extent of the carnage and genocide came.
While the law enforcement machinery was quiet, more than 10,000 men, women and children had been killed, 50,000 forced to flee from Delhi, businesses destroyed, lives ruined forever.
People needed help and Sikhs were scared even to go out and seek help. Most of our friends declined to go out of fear. My colleague, Swami Agnivesh and I decided to go on our own. We went to East Delhi and entered into some Sikh’s houses in Trilokpuri area where the parts of human bodies were still burning. All Sikh establishments and houses have been looted and put to fire.
The Indian social scenario still had the after-effects of the emergency era and a lot of people, especially young people like myself had started dreaming of social change on a variety of fronts (like child slavery in my case). Slowly but surely, within a week or so, several concerned and dedicated volunteers, most of them non-Sikhs, came out on the streets not only for relief work but to condemn the massacre. Hope and encouragement started coming. We found several help workers and volunteers were helping wounded and injured victims by taking them out, consoling and giving immediate medical assistance. We started gathering every evening at a Gandhian centre, Lajpat Bhawan in central Delhi. Tons of food material, cooked food, clothes and other medicines were collected and distributed as donation. This was the place when I first saw a young Sikh lawyer with a passion in his eyes to help and support the victims, encouraging them in their resolve to fight for justice. We came across each other and with a silent nod went along our respective ways.
January, 2009 – BBA National Convention
My struggle and the fight against child slavery had grown into Bachpan Bachao Andolan and several other organizations on National and International fronts, and a lot of positive changes were there to be seen. Apart from the civil society and people’s awareness, The Judiciary had started taking an extremely proactive stand against child labour, especially in Delhi. My son Bhuwan Ribhu had become a lawyer himself and along with our family friend and sister Sunita had several high profile cases in the Delhi High Court against child trafficking and slavery. Sunita had requested a senior advocate to represent BBA in these cases and introduced us to him. Along with several high profile dignitaries and BBA elected colleagues from across the country, we had also requested him to attend the BBA Convention. It is here that I recognized and formally met Mr. H.S. Phoolka, the senior advocate, and the young man (now with a white beard and yet) with the glint in his eyes and the quiet passion and resolve to still fight for justice and human rights after all these years of struggle.
Indian justice system has failed the victims of atrocities time and again, and the murders of 1984 have never been brought to book. Committees and Commissions have come and gone. Recommendations filed away and forgotten, Victims and witnesses being questioned time and again over 25 years about what happened and what they saw, but one man was still fighting for the same cause of justice through this quarter of a century.
July, 2010: Phoolka
For many, senior lawyer Mr. Phoolka’s announcement to withdraw from all the court cases pertaining to1984 anti-Sikh riots could be an internal matter of Sikh kaum (community) or religious orders, but not for all like me.
In the last 25 yrs, Phoolka’s name has become synonymous for the legal fight against perpetrators of 1984 riots and hope for such cases as the most honest and outstanding advocate who was fighting for the justice to the killed victims and their families selflessly, several of them are widows and orphans. Since the accused were amongst the most powerful individuals in political establishment such as Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Late HKL Bhagat, it is like breaking a mountain. Phoolka became the source and inspiration for many witnesses to come forward as he, himself never gave up in spite of threats to your life and facing everyday allegations beside the most cumbersome legal and judicial hurdles.
The latest one has come from amongst the Sikh religion. The Chair of Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee has accused Phoolka of delaying the cases in the courts for monetary interests. What a painful and disgusting allegation against the man of utmost integrity! This is example of shameless politics in all institutions with massive power and money. One must not forget that some of the concrete results of his relentless struggle have come through Nanawati Commission’s outcome. The Prime Minister apologized for this carnage, the compensation for the families of dead victims was enhanced to Rs 10 lakh, Jagdish Tytler was forced to resign from the Union Cabinet and Sajjan Kumar could not contest the election and the cases against Sajjan Kumar were reopened on the basis of Commission’s report.
Mr. Phoolka is not only a proud Sikh but a proud human rights defender. He has earned unprecedented trust, love and respect not only from the Sikh carnage victims but also from the entire human rights community. His work for education in Punjab, his work on environment and suggesting that people bury the hatred by planting a tree in the memory of their losses, his work against child labour and bonded labour and on prevention of trafficking of girls, on the issue of missing children have brought him accolades from the entire world.
And that fact that he has been doing all this remarkable work without charging any fee makes the charges against him for money ridiculous. It is also important to know that, the attack on him came at a very critical time when the cases pending on various courts are at final stages. The politicians in power who are facing charges, including murders obviously did not leave any stone unturned to influence judiciary which is not un-common in our country. Now they have been successful in their designs in finding their friends in Sikh religious institutions.
What a shame!
The voice of integrity is seldom heard in the corridors of politics. And unfortunately, our politicians, wherever they might be holding positions, are never seen taking the side of truth out in the open – maybe everyone fears the ghosts in their own closets. But I was also astonished and surprised that no one from the legal fraternity or the human rights world has yet come forward and spoken in his defense.
Phoolka does not need any certificate of integrity or any credit for his services… but his critiques in Sikh community should also know that he might not earned money or fame for his work, but he has earned respect far and wide throughout the globe and such support is much wider and bigger than they could ever imagine.
People like Phoolka are not judged by anecdotes and allegations – they are judged by history.
An update on August 15th
Surprisingly the Supreme Court of India has stayed ongoing proceedings against Sajjan Kumar in the lower court when the testimonies of witnesses were about to be completed in a day or two for framing the charges against Mr.Kumar. What a gift on India’s Independence Day to the man who has been facing charges of massacre of innocent people since 1984.