: Nirpreet Kaur was 16 years old when rioters burnt alive her father Nirmal Singh in Raj Nagar in Palam Colony. Anguished at the injustice done to Sikhs, she joined the radical Sikh Students’ Federation. She was implicated in three TADA cases in Delhi and Punjab. She spent eight years in judicial custody. She was discharged in two of the cases and acquitted in the third.
Today, she has salvaged her life. She runs an NGO fighting for justice for victims of the riots and helps 25 young women earn a livelihood through pickle-making and stitching clothes.
“My father’s murder ended everything. Our family had a transport business and a taxi service. My father was the president of the gurdwara committee. His death and the destruction of our house devastated us. I was unable to forgive the culprits. When I started naming the accused before the police, they started harassing us and we had to shift our house several times,” Nirpreet said on Monday.
Her first husband died and her second marriage was a disaster. She also had to fight a custody battle for her second son.
“In 2004, I got an export licence and started exporting clothes to the Gulf countries. After my second husband died in 2007, I embarked on social work full-time.”
Nirpreet said her NGO helps riot victims’ families meet wedding expenses and also arranges scholarships for needy students.
“My NGO has begun to help other minorities too. After what I have gone through in life, working with distressed women has become my life’s mission.”
Nirpreet’s examination by the CBI before the Sessions court trying the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case on January 6, 2011, laid bare the alleged complicity between Delhi Police personnel and the rioters. She also alleged that Balwan Khokhar, one of the men who killed her father, introduced himself as a nephew of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar on October 31, 1984, the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated.
She alleged that on November 1, 1984, a mob led by Mahender Yadav and Balwan Khokhar armed with iron rods and sticks massed up outside the local gurdwara at 8 a.m. and chanted: “Long live Indira Gandhi. Kill these Sikhs. They have killed our mother.”
The mob allegedly set on fire a truck belonging to a Sikh and her father tried to reason with the mob saying they were not responsible for Mrs. Gandhi’s murder. For nearly three hours, the Sikhs in the locality kept the mob at bay. The policemen who arrived took away their kirpans (swords). She deposed that her father allegedly went along with Balwan and Mahender on a scooter, hoping to resolve the dispute over the burnt truck.
A neighbour, Mohan Singh, in a chilling remark told Nirpreet that her father will not come back. She ran in the direction the scooter went and was witness to a heart-rending scene.
“The mob caught hold of my father. The mob did not have a match box at that time. One police personnel told the mob, ‘Go die, you cannot burn even one Sikh.’ From his name plate, I could gather that his name was Inspector Kaushik. He gave a match box which was taken by Kishan Khokar and he set my father on fire. When the mob had gone a little ahead, my father jumped into a nearby stream,” Nirpreet told the court.
“When the mob saw that my father was alive they returned. Dhanraj gave ropes from his shop. Captain Bhagmal tied my father with ropes to a telephone pole. Wife of (one) Dua gave kerosene oil and my father was again set on fire. The mob then left. My father again jumped into the stream. The pujari of a nearby temple called the mob again by telling them that he (Nirmal) was still alive. The mob came again. Balwan Khokar hit my father with a rod. Mahender Yadav sprinkled some white powder on my father, as a result of which he was burnt.”
With defence lawyers repeatedly alluding to the TADA cases to undermine Nirpreet’s credibility as a witness, CBI special public prosecutor R. S. Cheema had made a spirited argument, “You kill her father, burn her house, and then drive her to destitution. She admits she had a grievance against the Government. But aren’t we driving people to the brink of sedition?”