For 32 years after the carnage of Sikhs in the Capital besides other places, Delhi-based lawyer HS Phoolka is relentless in his fight for justice for the victims, their dependents and survivors. Junaid Kathju speaks to him about one of the longest legal battles in the history of the Capital. Excerpts:
You are spearheading one of the longest and most tortuous legal battles to gain justice for the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Yet, justice has eluded for the past 32 years. Why is it so?
You need to see the picture in the larger context. We are fighting against the people who are protected by the highest authority in this country. There were large scales of allegations against police helping the attackers in the riots. And the irony was that same police was the investigating agency. So initially they didn’t register the cases. Whatever cases were registered were all defective. The names of VIPs, police officers who were involved in the crime overtly or covertly were removed. This was the finding that came out of Mishra Commission in 1987. The report mentioned that the cases registered against the accused were defective and recommended that a new committee should be appointed to get to the bottom of the things. So on that recommendation another committee was constituted that ultimately gave the report in 1993. Based on that report, cases against the real culprits were registered, but then again Congress Government came to power, and they again started closing the cases one way or the other and most of the cases were open and shut.
The case against Jagdish Tytler, one of the main accused of orchestrating the riots, was registered only in 2005 or after 21 years. Another case that was investigated and a charge-sheet was prepared on 8 April 1992 was against Sajjan Kumar, another main accused of instigating the mob. It was signed by Nangloi Station Head Officer and the Assistant Commissioner of Police. Normally it would not have taken more than week to file the chargesheet but till today after 24 years it has not been filed in the court. When we asked the reason, the court said that this particular case was connected and tagged with another case against Kumar, but as per the law there is no procedure of tagging one case with other. But still no charge-sheet was filed and till date no apparent reason has been given. In 2013, various organisations took out a protest rally at Jantar Mantar to push Government to file charge-sheet against the accused. Both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Akali Dal joined the protest and expressed the solidarity with the victim’s families. Now when they are in power the charge-sheet is at the same place. The only thing BJP has done is they have handed over the investigation to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
So are you saying there is no hope for justice even in the BJP leadership?
During the Congress rule Jagdish Tytler was twice given the clean chit by CBI. The third time he was discharged by CBI was in the BJP regime in December 2014. It took us one year to get it rejected from the court. The court rejected it on December 4, 2015 and gave two months’ time to CBI to complete the investigation. The court said that keeping in view the track record of investigations, it will from now onwards monitor the proceedings. Now, today I have just come back from the hearing in the court and still CBI is not filing the charge-sheet. They are still investigating and are seeking more time. Interestingly, in the last hearing CBI told the court that witness is not traceable and the phone number given is wrong. The media has traced that witness, and there was a report that CBI had already spoken to him. So the point is that Government has changed but things have not changed on the ground. The same approach of shielding the guilty still continues.
So is there any hope of justice?
We cannot give up. If we give up that means we are surrendering to the forces who want to destabilise the country and want to make a mockery of the system and the law. The only thing we want is that the law of the land should be upheld and nobody should be above law. But unfortunately there is a trend in this country that anyone who has a strong political backing feels they can get away with any crime. This trend needs to be checked. I have been telling since long that don’t think that only minorities will remain the target. If this trend is not checked then nobody is safe. Earlier only Muslims, Christians, Dalits were targeted. But in Haryana Jat agitation, nobody was spared; even Haryana’s Baniyas were targeted. So it needs to be stopped.
In one of your interviews, you said that complete justice is not possible, now there should be a ‘Symbolic Justice’ to the victims of 1984 riots. What do you mean by that?
It is true complete justice is not possible. Complete justice means to punish all those people who have committed the crime. But most of the accused are no longer alive and most of the witnesses have also died. Even if all the accused who are alive today are convicted still it would not be a complete justice. But having said that people like Jagish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar should be punished so that a message would go to all politicians that don’t think if you are in power you can escape from the law. Even if it would be after 32 years the scare needs to be put in the minds of politicians.
Politicians do what they have to but do you feel the judiciary of the country has also failed to deliver the justice to the victims?
Yes, judiciary has failed to deliver the justice. The reason is that politics have taken over all of our institutions. It has overshadowed the justice system of this country. As per the Government figure 2733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi, unofficial figure is 4000. All over India the figure is more than 7000. Now, even if we believe in Government figures the punishment given to the culprits are miniscule. Till date only 30 people have been convicted for the murder cases. If our judiciary would have been able to maintain its sanctity then justice would have been delivered long time back.
Many victims say they are still not been adequately compensated nor any jobs were provided to them. How far is it true?
It is true there are still victims who have not received the proper compensation. Regarding job package it was the Central Government scheme but no appointment has been made till date. We are pushing for it. But in the meantime, Rs 5 lakh has been given to many victims last year.
There are serious allegations that the riots were not spontaneous but well organised? What do you have to say about that?
In any spontaneous reaction, the violence starts from isolated places but here (Delhi) the first attack that took place on a Sikh was on the President of India – Gyani Zail Singh-in full view of police force. The bodyguard of the President who was also a Sikh suffered a severe head injury, the windowpanes of Presidents vehicle was broken. All this took place in presence of police but no action was taken against the culprits.
There is also an evidence that the rods that were distributed on the morning of November 1 came from outside in trucks. Same size rods were used by the mob across Delhi. The list of the houses of Sikhs were circulated, inflammable powder was distributed. So these are all signs that the attack on Sikhs was well organised.
In 2005, Manmohan Singh, then Prime Minister apologised for 1984 riots in Lok Sabha. How do you view this?
We want the land of the law to be enforced and the law of the land says a crime of murder cannot be condoned. The law of the land says that wherever the Government fails in protecting the life and liberty of people, the Government should be compensated. The law of the land says when the Government fails in general it should apologise. So it’s only one part they have done. Now either they should uphold the law of the land or change the law. After committing the murder you apologise or somebody else apologises on his behalf and that’s it. It’s over!
There were high expectations from AamAadmi Party (AAP) when they came to the power. But many victims I talked to told me that they too didn’t do much. What do you have to say about it?
It’s not true. As soon AAP Government came to power, they set up an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) but it was stalled by the Central Government. Instead, in February 2015, the Government of India constituted its own SIT and picked the officers of its own choice with the mandate to re-investigate 237 cases and complete the task within six months. It is almost now two years, but only 22 cases have been re-opened and in those cases too no progress is being made. So if one has to blame it’s the Central Government.
In 2015, you resigned from all party posts in AAP. There were rumours that the decision was triggered by the rift in AAP’s Punjab unit. Is it true?
I wanted to be more focused on 1984 riot cases. It is only because of the sincere efforts by my team that we were able to reopen the two crucial cases. JagdishTytler’s clean chit was rejected and case was reopened. In Sajjan Kumar, the case was transferred to other court. Both the cases have been on the right track now.
But you are contesting the upcoming elections in Ludhiana on AAPs ticket?
There was public pressure on me that I should return to the active politics. I still don’t hold any portfolios in the party. But yes I am contesting the elections. We have good chances in Punjab. People in large numbers are supporting our party.
Lately, the party has been criticised for not focusing on Delhi Governance and venturing out to other states?
That’s totally illogical. It is only because of the better governance in the Delhi that AAP is being whole heartedly welcomed in other parts of India. We are going to be a national party in 2019.
What is your future course of action?
I will fight on with the cases, either till there end or my end.