Harvinder Singh Phoolka was a budding lawyer when the 1984 riots took place. While he somehow escaped the rioters on the evening of October 31, his house was attacked on November 2. But for his Hindu landlord who hid him and his pregnant wife in his storeroom, he would have probably not lived to oversee numerous cases related to the riots in the quarter of a century since.
But despite the trauma he underwent, there is no sign whatsoever of anger or frustration in his face as he speaks about his experience sitting in his Delhi High Court chamber. That in 25 years only a few have been punished for the riots and deliberate attempts have been made to protect the influential accused has only strengthened his resolve to keep fighting.
“There is no frustration, you are in the system. You only remember what you have achieved and forget the rest. The silver lining is that we have kept the issue alive for 25 years just as if it only happened yesterday. We got an apology from the Prime Minister 21 years after the incident, resignation of a Minister (Jagdish Tytler) 21 years after the incident and compensation to all the victims 22 years after the incident. This all was possible because of the constant follow up,” says the lawyer.
“Now we know we cannot get complete justice and so we want symbolic justice. The 1984 riots should not go down in history as a large-scale heinous crime in which no justice was delivered,” Mr. Phoolka says.
What motivates him nevertheless is that more remains to be done in the case. “Now we are looking for prosecution of Sajjan Kumar, which has been recommended by the CBI to the government in four cases registered against him.”
As for Mr. Jagdish Tytler, he says: “Though we have not been able to secure punishment for him in a court of law, we succeeded in getting political punishment for him. This was a result of total support from the media and the public which we lacked in the beginning. It was only after Gujarat that things changed and now the media and the people are with us.”
Mr. Phoolka regrets that from Day one attempts were made to protect the powerful culprits while the victims were further victimised. His book, When a tree shook Delhi: The 1984 carnage and its aftermath, draws from the speech of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had stated that the earth shakes when a big tree falls.
Mr. Phoolka believes the real architect of the massacre was a hefty politician who was related to an influential family. “We had thought that his name would crop up in the investigations and had pinned much hope in then Home Minister Narasimha Rao but the name was never mentioned anywhere.”
“Similarly,” he says, “another Congress leader, who is now a Union Minister, had been named in newspaper reports of leading rioters near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj. I have named him in a chapter in my book but he too was not booked by the investigating agencies. “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should also ensure that people involved in mass killings were not rewarded in any way.”