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A witness recounts his trauma

Jiby Kattakayam
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“My three brothers were hunted down and killed like animals”

Jagsher Singh— Photo: Monica Tiwari
Jagsher Singh— Photo: Monica Tiwari

“We had everything, and in a few minutes we lost everything. We had the best house in the locality. It was burnt down. My three brothers were hunted down and killed like animals. My sister-in-law lost her mind.” In a few sentences, Jagsher Singh, 18 years old when the riots took place, recounted the trauma that has haunted him for nearly 29 years now.

His two brothers, Narender Pal and Raghuvinder, were contractors who provided labour to the Military Engineering Service. A cousin, Kuldeep, had joined them a few days before the riots broke out. From 1984 to 1990, Jagsher stayed at home in Amritsar. Then he took up a job with the MES and life slowly returned to normal.

He alleged that 700 Sikhs were killed in and around Raj Nagar during the riots. “When the CBI approached me, they first tried to ascertain if I was a truthful witness. Once they were sure, they were still worried if I would lose courage when faced with the rigours of court battle. But I promised them I would tell only what I saw and nothing else,” said Jagsher, who is guarded by two gun-toting Punjab policemen.

“The defence alleged that I did not even live in Raj Nagar. It was disappointing to see that the Hindu neighbour who saved my life in 1984 deposed in court that he had not given me refuge in his house. But I had saved my tax receipts and ration card; my passport was issued on October 31, 1984, with this (Raj Nagar) address. I also had photographs of the neighbour’s sister’s wedding, where he was hugging me,” Jagsher told The Hindu .

In his examination by the CBI, he deposed that on the night of November 1, 1984, Sajjan Kumar visited their locality and allegedly berated the rioters for not doing their job well and instigated them to not spare Hindus who were giving shelter to Sikhs.

Jagsher, now 46, is living in Amritsar. He was the CBI’s second key prosecution witness and deposed in the Sessions Court from October 19, 2010. While his three brothers and their family hid in a neighbour’s house, Jagsher, who was clean-shaven then, claimed he took refuge in another neighbour Ram Avtar Sharma’s house. Jagsher’s cousin, Jagdish Kaur, had also hidden her four children in Mr. Sharma’s house. From a vantage point, Jagsher claimed, he saw the mob attacking Jagdish’s husband, Kehar Singh, and her elder son, Gurpreet.

He also deposed that he helped Jagdish bring Gurpreet’s burnt body back into her house. He further stated that he used a pair of scissors to cut Jagdish Kaur’s younger son, Gurdeep’s hair.

Jagsher also alleged that Mr. Sajjan Kumar visited the area on the night of November 1, 1984, and instigated a mob.

He deposed that between 10 and 11 p.m., he had come out of Mr. Sharma’s house. He alleged that he saw Mr. Kumar alighting from an Ambassador car and 30-40 persons had collected there. He stated that Mr. Kumar evaluated the damage done by the rioters and was dissatisfied. “He told those persons (rioters) that they have not done the assigned work properly and they have only broken the gate of the thekedar’s (contractor’s) house. One of them told him that they were helpless as the thekedar was being saved by the Hindus. Thereupon Sajjan Kumar told them that those Hindus who are giving shelter to Sikhs should be killed and their houses be burnt. Thereafter he left in his car.”

Jagsher alleged that the mob then went towards his house, looted it and set it on fire. He said that the mob then went to the house where his brothers were hiding and banged on the door but retreated. He tried to send a pair of scissors over to their house but failed as the mob was roaming the area.

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