'30 years later, will not give up fight for justice'

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New Delhi, Oct 30: Like Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal who devoted his life to tracking down and prosecuting war criminals, senior advocate H.S. Phoolka says he will not give up in his fight for justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims. He says though three decades have elapsed "we have to prove the law of the land is supreme" to punish the guilty and hopes the Narendra Modi government will do its bit.

Phoolka, who has written to union Home Minister Rajnath Singh demanding a memorial for victims of the carnage in New Delhi, said that in the past 30 years "at each and every stage attempts were made to scuttle justice and shield the culprits".

"It is in the interest of the country that the issue needs to be taken to its logical end and the rule of law should be upheld... We will not give up, and pursue the cases with the same zeal as Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal," Phoolka, 59, who has been relentlessly battling for justice for victims of the anti-Sikh riots, told IANS in an interview.

The senior lawyer, who was himself chased by a mob during the riots following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, says the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) when in opposition fully supported punishment for the riot guilty.

Over 3,000 people, mostly Sikhs, were killed in the riots in many parts of Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi Oct 31, 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards in the aftermath of storming of the Golden Temple by the army to flush out Sikh militants hiding there.

He says the Akali Dal had raised the matter of a missing chargesheet against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in parliament and also held demonstrations. "They have been in power for the past five months but are yet to do anything about it," he added. The SAD is part of the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance central government.

Phoolka said the short-lived Arvind Kejriwal government of Delhi had constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen and reinvestigate 237 cases which had been closed by police and never sent for trial. "After his resignation the SIT was stalled and remains stalled by the present government," said Phoolka.

He says he has written several times to Rajnath Singh on the case of reinstating the SIT and on the missing chargesheet against Sajjan Kumar, but "received no reply so far". He said he has also written to the SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal giving them a deadline of Nov 1 to act on the cases against Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler or face an agitation.

Phoolka said the cases against both the Congress leaders, who are accused of instigating mobs to attack Sikhs, should be taken up without delay. Many similar cases of the 2002 riots were reopened in Gujarat and had led to convictions, noted Phoolka.

He also said that under a prime minister's relief package, an amount of Rs.150 crore was still waiting to be distributed to the victims.

Asked if a memorial to the victims would not stir afresh the memories of the riots, Phoolka said: "Memories are bitter when you don't talk about them. We need to talk and talk so that the bitterness disappears, and it (the memorial) will be a sign that our sufferings are acknowledged."

Phoolka was 29 when he started visiting the relief camps for the victims of the anti-Sikh riots whose homes were burnt down. "Since then I have been part of each and every major battle, and fighting for justice for the victims."

Though 30 years have elapsed, "we need to prove that the law of land is supreme and irrespective of the time elapsed there are so many innocent citizens who died, but the law is not dead," Phoolka told IANS.

He said he is still in touch with the families of the victims. One of them, Satpal Kaur was 13, the eldest of four daughters, when a mob killed her father, mother, brother and uncle. Kaur became like a mother to her younger sisters. Today her son is studying Masters in Commerce, said Phoolka.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been scathing in its criticism of failure in bringing the culprits to book, which it said reflects the country's "weak efforts" to fight communal violence."Ten government-appointed commissions and committees have investigated the deadly attacks against thousands of Sikhs in 1984...Independent civil society inquiries found complicity by both police and leaders of Gandhi's Congress Party. Yet, three decades later, only 30 people, mostly low-ranking Congress Party supporters, have been convicted for the attacks that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries," HRW said in a statement.

"No police officer has been convicted, and there were no prosecutions for rape, highlighting a comprehensive failure of the justice system," it said.

IANS

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