Thirty- six years later, justice still seems a distant word for 1984 victims

Credits: Outlook India

On November 1, 1984, the family of Satpal Singh Gujral was waiting for him to get back home safely. While his wife and kids managed to save themselves, he came back home with a bleeding forehead. Working as a guard with the Indian Railways, Satpal Singh was picked up by the goons and his hair bun was uprooted. “Jinhone baal nahi katwaye, unhe mere samne hi goli maar di thi” (Those who didn’t agree to chop their hair off, were killed), Satpal Singh told Karvaan India.

The male members of the family- Satpal Singh Gujral and his sons Avtar Singh Gujral and Gurnam Singh Gujral were taken to a local college in Ghaziabad four days after the riots. His wife Late Baljinder Kaur and daughter Jyoti Gujral’s intermittent visits to the college were all that the kids looked for.

In a conversation with Karvaan India, Jyoti Gujral said, “During one such visits, Gurnam took me to one of the halls in the college. What I saw at the age of 10 haunts me till date. A huge hall filled with a black mountain of hair. I could see hair buns, almost as if directly chopped off from thousands of heads.”

“Both my brothers were forced to wear my salwar suits. They were young, so they didn’t have much beard back then. My mother plated their hair and somehow saved our lives,” she added.

“Daddy(Satpal Singh) used to vomit blood for at least a month. He was brutally beaten and hair bun was uprooted. Our family was saved by two of our neighbours. We heard screams throughout the nights as people were killed, burnt alive and women were raped,” Gurnam Singh told Karvaan India. “People with even a tad bit of political influence took advantage of the situation. They raped women and tortured them,” he added.

Charan Jeet Singh, another survivor, agreed to share his story with us. “I was on a train when one of the co-passengers, started asking me if I was carrying a bomb in my suitcase. This was months after the pogrom. I wonder what was our fault that a turban and beard, which I lost during the riots and decided to keep them again, made everyone question the intentions of a young boy,” he said.

Even after 36 years of the massacre, just one senior Congress leader – Sajjan Kumar – has been brought to justice. The others, including politicians like Kamal Nath, HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and police officers named repeatedly in official inquiries, escaped justice.

According to official records, 2733 Sikhs were slaughtered during the massacre. However, human rights organisations place the number nearer to 4,000. One of the primary agitators for Justice, H.S. Phoolka believes that a lack of a political will has led to the situation where the findings of committees were never enforced properly.

Since Justice delayed is justice denied, the victims now see the acts of other political parties as mere tokenisms to mollify the community and to prevent the perpetrators of the violence from facing prosecution.

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