IT IS a hot afternoon on 10 April. But the rising mercury is not the only reason why tempers flared in the capital. Outside the Karkardooma Court in east Delhi, a landmark judgment is announced to the media and the small crowd has gone berserk. At stake is the political career of a senior Congress leader and potential embarrassment to the party. For a thousand others, it is the belief that there is still hope, that justice though delayed, would not be denied them.
Harvinder Singh Phoolka wears a smile on his face. The court has just set aside the trial court’s verdict and asked the CBI to re-investigate the role of Jagdish Tytler in the killing of three people in the Pul Bangash area of north Delhi during the anti-Sikh riots of 1 November 1984. Fighting 30 years for what seemed like a lost cause, can test anyone’s patience. After relentlessly pursuing justice for the 1984 victims without charging a penny, the 58-year-old has earned his right to smile.
Political games played out as soon as the judgment was announced. For long on the back foot over the 2002 Gujarat riots, the BJP did not lose the opportunity to give one back to the Congress. “It was not a fight between two communities, but a Congress-sponsored massacre,” said Smriti Irani of the BJP.
Other parties have joined the chorus. CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat says that the case should be reopened. “But the evidence has been sabotaged,” she adds. “They have protected those who the victims named. In any case, we were against the closure report.” Karat was referring to the CBI closure report of 2009, which had given a clean chit to Tytler.
On 1 November 1984, Congress leaders Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and HKL Bhagat had allegedly incited irate mobs to avenge the assassination of Indira Gandhi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. The carnage that followed has bloodied the pages of Indian history. Around 11,000 Sikhs were massacred, of which 3,000 were in Delhi alone. A TEHELKA exposé (Carnage 84: The Ambushing Of Witnesses; 8 October 2005, by Ajmer Singh and Etmad A Khan) had shown how Tytler, Kumar and Bhagat had manipulated and bought witnesses to dilute the case.
But this is Phoolka’s moment. The OB vans outside his Defence Colony house in south Delhi tell the story. Phoolka has just finished a 30-minute session with a TV channel and is getting ready for another. His itinerary is packed for the rest of the evening, during which Phoolka will explain to TV channels what this judgment could mean for the 1984 riot victims. It is clear that by talking of the riots, the delays, the subversions, the pressures, the struggles and the horror, he is in a way reliving his own past, his own struggles. “This judgment is important because it proves that nobody is above the law of the land,” he says in between TV interviews.