Kids Corner


1984 & I: Let's Tackle Hate With Love

by H.S. PHOOLKA, Esq.


The following article is the 47th in's "1984 & I" Series.   


In 2009, it's difficult for young people to conceive of a time when no member of the Sikh community was safe in any corner of India's sprawling capital. But this was the terrible reality of November 1-3, 1984.

Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora, the legendary war hero, could not sleep under his own roof on those nights; he took refuge in the home of I.K. Gujral. The eminent writer Khushwant Singh found shelter at the Swedish embassy; Justice S.S. Chadha, a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court, had to move to the high court complex.

I, only a young, budding lawyer at the time, was even more vulnerable to the mobs roaming the streets, baying for blood after Indira Gandhi's assassination. Miraculously, I escaped them on the evening of October 31, but on November 2, my house was attacked. Thanks to my Hindu landlord, who hid us in his storeroom, my pregnant wife and I were saved.

I was lucky, but nearly 4,000 of my fellow Sikhs were not. (Though the official death toll in Delhi is 2,733, in 1985 we submitted a list to the Ranganath Misra Commission, of 3,870 persons killed.) The worst affected was Delhi's east district where, according to official figures, over 1,200 Sikhs were killed on November 1 and 2.

Where was the police, you might ask. Well, the police made 26 arrests here, but, unbelievable though it may sound, those arrested were Sikhs - members of the very community being targeted and slaughtered by the mobs!

Logbook entries and evidence from the police control room later showed the police only went to places where they got information of Sikhs defending themselves. For three days, mobs killed, looted and raped openly and not one member of a mob was arrested for the first two days. The arrests began only on November 3, when the government decided to control the violence - and within hours the situation was under control.

A glaring example of the police-mob connivance was at Pusa Road in the Patel Nagar area, where a Mahavir Chakra awardee, Group Captain M.S. Talwar, fired at a mob that had set his house ablaze. The police failed to come to his rescue despite repeated calls, but after he fired at the mob, police and army arrived, led by the commissioner of police, arrested Talwar and jailed him for over two weeks.

Not a single member of the mob was held.

When I asked the SHO of the area, who appeared before the Nanavati Commission, why no one from the mob was arrested, his answer was, the police was outnumbered. How two truckloads of soldiers and policemen were outnumbered remains a mystery.

That very month, as a junior lawyer, I began pursuing cases relating to the carnage and have been pursuing them since. They are unlike any other cases I have handled, in that, for years they were simply not allowed to proceed.

Extraordinary though it sounds, a single FIR was filed for 292 murders committed at different places at different times between November 1-3, 1984. This (FIR 426/1984) was registered on November 3 for the killings in different parts of Trilokpuri, one of the worst affected areas.

Over a decade later, in 1995, thanks to an order by Justice S.N. Dhingra, who was then additional sessions judge, the chalaans were split, and this one FIR was divided into 50 different cases. Only after that did some of these cases lead to convictions. Until 1995 - that is, for all of 11 years - there had been only two convictions in the Delhi carnage cases.

In 2002, we saw a repeat of 1984 in Gujarat, but due to the Supreme Court's promptness in appointing an independent special investigation team, cases could not be covered up so blatantly.

In the case of the 1984 carnage, out of 2,733 officially admitted murders, only nine cases led to convictions. Just over 20 accused have been convicted in 25 years - a conviction rate of less than 1 per cent.

One of the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence is that punishment to the guilty should act as a deterrent for the future. Does such an abysmal rate of conviction and punishment serve to act as a deterrent or does it send out the message that one can get away with committing heinous crimes?

Think: if the guilty of 1984 had been punished, perhaps the Gujarat carnage would not have happened.

The year 1984 also completed the evolution of a certain brand of politics of violence - belonging to the ruling party led murderous mobs. It saw the beginning of a disturbing trend of political parties complicit in the mass killing of citizens winning elections with a thumping majority - Rajiv Gandhi's Congress in December 1984, the Shiv Sena in Mumbai in 1993 and Narendra Modi in Gujarat, in 2002.

It was primarily due to the active role played by the media that official connivance in the killings was highlighted in Gujarat 2002. Nothing of this sort happened in 1984. Barring exceptions, the voice of the media was subdued. But recent media responses to the 1984 riots, and equally to the situation in Gujarat after Godhra, have been encouraging.

In 2007, my book When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath, co-authored with senior journalist Manoj Mitta, received tremendous response - there was hardly a newspaper or magazine that did not review it favourably.

The Congress party, however, maintained a studied silence, despite all the damaging disclosures in the book. Given its own dubious record, it is no surprise that the so-called secular party could not muster the will to pass the Communal Violence Bill promised in the Common Minimum Programme of 2004.

Having pushed our justice system to its limits over two-and-a-half decades, my associates and I have decided to observe the 25th anniversary of the massacre with a life-affirming gesture.

In July this year, we initiated a massive tree plantation programme across Delhi as a tribute to those killed in 1984. We plan to plant and tend 25,000 trees in Delhi through Gyan Sewa Trust, a registered charity.

The 1984 killings were meant to teach a lesson to the Sikh community. The lesson we seek to impart in turn is to respond to hate with love, death with life. We trust the trees we have planted will not only help us remember the victims of 1984 but also prevent the recurrence of such a terrible crime on any community.


[Courtesy: Outlook. H.S. Phoolka is a senior Supreme Court advocate.]

October 12, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Amardeep (U.S.A.), October 12, 2009, 10:08 AM.

He is really a hero.

2: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), October 12, 2009, 3:07 PM.

I salute H.S.Phoolka for his work and dedication. He has fought for justice for Sikhs for the last 25 years.

3: Kanwal Nain Singh (Lindsay, Ontario, Canada), October 12, 2009, 4:35 PM.

Mr Phoolka's message is very noble. But I wonder if it will act as a lasting memorial. The trees here and there will soon be a forgotten event. A public park with a flower garden and a memorial stone with pertinent inscription, would perhaps commemorate the event better. It pains me to learn that the so called largest democracy on earth threw the law and order of the country to the winds during 1984 and subsequently in Gujrat. When the civil order failed completely, why did the army not assume the responsibility of preventing the mass murders?

4: Amitoj (U.S.A.), October 12, 2009, 6:45 PM.

Balanced, fact based and authoritative article. Offers hope/guidance for the future while lighting up the dark 25 years of the past. I own and have read his book mentioned in the article. What an eye opener. I wonder why more books/literature have not been written about those troubled times.

5: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 13, 2009, 9:51 AM.

Excellent gesture from a tireless fighter for justice. I salute Harvinder Singh Phoolka and his associates. A group of us have, over the years tried to suggest that if we Sikhs could commemorate the 1984 killings of Sikhs by a worldwide blood drive (at least 10 or 12 locations in U.S.A., Canada and UK, if not more) on the same one day with decent understated literature, and continue to mark the day like this once a year, I am confident that within a couple of years the media all over the world would take notice. You see, we would be giving blood so that others can live on a day when so much of our blood was shed for no reason except political expedience, chicanery, cruelty and injustice. A few individual gurdwaras started doing it sporadically without co-operating with others. and the initiative seems to have frittered out. I still think it has promise.

6: N. Singh (Canada), October 13, 2009, 4:14 PM.

I.J.Singh Sahib, we are doing it in British Columbia! There will be a blood drive on Nov 1. So far we have saved 43,000 lives. The aim is to save one million. This is the best idea ever and will show the world what the Khalsa really stands for - love, life and freedom for all.

7: I,J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 14, 2009, 5:24 AM.

More power to the Sikhs of Vancouver. I know of some other scattered gurdwaras that also do a blood drive. My concern is that they do not seem to collaborate on dates, literature, invitations to media, etc. If they could, we would get a bigger bang for the buck. Heaven knows we need it. Perhaps it would happen in time. I just wish it could happen sooner.

8: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), October 14, 2009, 10:03 PM.

H.S.Phoolka has shown an unmatched passion for seeking justice for victims of the Indian Government sponsored pogroms. Responding to hate with love and death with life by planting trees is a noble gesture and needs to be appreciated. However, the real issue that justice has not been done to tens of thousands of Sikh victims still remains. Have the criminals, mass murderers, rapists and their ring leaders been put behind bars? And have we taken steps that no power on earth shall repeat this holocaust against Sikhs in India again? Sadly, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. We should also ponder this question, that by participating for almost 25 years in this well known farce called judicial inquiries /commissions, have we provided a cover to the Indian Government to conveniently duck the real responsibility of prosecuting the criminals? Why do we need a commission to prosecute any one who has murdered, raped or burnt? Did the Indian government appoint a commission which took decades to identify Sikhs who may have committed any crimes? Instead, it killed tens of thousands of them on mere suspicion and fake encounters. Also, in the entire proceedings before these phony commissions, why were Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru never named as the chief conspirators, masterminds and criminals who organized this genocide?

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