Saturday, 18 July, 2009

One by one, They dieProgrom continues by other means as India frustrates justice seekers


One by one, They diePogrom continues by other means as India frustrates justice seekers

Sach Kanwal Singh
NEW DELHI: One by one, they will all die. Men and women who watched blood-thirsty mobs led by India's top political leaders hunt, track, beat, kick, loot and burn Sikhs in the country's national capital are increasingly getting old, exhausted, frustrated and thwarted in their efforts to seek even a semblance of justice.
A few are brave enough to come out, stand up and be counted, and Giani Surinder Singh was one of them. Under intense pressure, and threat to life, Surinder Singh dared to depose as a witness, time and again, once even before the dreaded CBI, and then returned to India from the US to persue the case and depose again. His one last wish was to see some justice before he died.
He lost.
Surinder Singh died at his Delhi home following a cardiac arrest last Monday. He was 58, and a brave man. He was suffering from acute diabetes and was admitted to the AIIMS last week. He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.
Surinder Singh fought for justice till the last breath. A number of Sikh leaders and families of victims of 1984 pogrom attended his cremation at Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi on Tuesday morning.
Surinder Singh had filed an affidavit before the Justice Nanavati Commission in January 2002, narrating how he saw Congress leader Jagdish Tytler inciting the mob in November 1984 but had then withdrawn the affidavit in August the same year. Later, when he saw the time was opportune, Surinder Singh stood up and said he was threatened and pressurised, and he stuck to his original statement.
Following Delhi's Karkardooma court's directive to the CBI for re-investigations in the case, his statement was recorded by the probe agency in New York after much drama and reluctance. He returned to India on April 28 this year to ensure that Tytler does not go free and CBI does not use his absence as an excuse to issue the mass murderer a clean chit but the court did not permit him to record his statement.
The Case of Surinder Singh
In November 1984, Giani Surinder Singh was at the Pul Bangash Gurdwara in Delhi where he witnessed Jagdish Tytler ordering the killings of Sikhs. As a result of instigation and orders of Jagdish Tytler, three Sikhs, namely, Bhai Badal Singh Raagi of the Gurdwara, Thakur Singh, a retired police inspector and Amarjit Singh Bedi’s servant were killed. On the instigation of Jagdish Tytler, Gurdwara Pul Bangash was also set on fire and 36 copies of Guru Granth Sahib were burnt to ashes.
After his statement to the CBI in India, Giani Surinder Singh had said he was receiving threatening and harassing calls and messages and had then come to the United States. After this, his wife and daughters were harassed back home and his house No. 9, 10 New Block Aruna Nagar, New Delhi was seized by men backed by Jagdish Tytler and his wife and daughters thrown out of the house. Police had even threatened to put his wife behind bars, Giani Surinder Singh had alleged. After this the CBI asked him to give a statement about the November 1984 events before the CBI officers on December 23 and December 24, 2009 in New York, USA. “I appeared before the CBI on said dates and was subjected to interview which lasted for more than fourteen hours over a period of two days.”

As we said, one by one, they will all die.
Surinder Singh's death comes within months of the death of Gurcharan Singh Rishi. In fact, Surinder Singh had said that it was the death of Gurcharan Singh Rishi on February 17 this year that convinced him that he must go to India and pursue the case. Rishi remained bed ridden for 25 long years after being thrown into a burning truck during the 1984 genocide and kept waiting for an opportunity to record his statement against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, involved in killings of Sikhs, but never got it.
It was not easy to depose as a witness, not even 25 years after the pogrom. In fact, the mental torture continued unabated. When he landed in Delhi this year, his passport was seized and he was not allowed to return to the US. He was illegally detained, harassed and accused of speaking against the Indian government in the United States.
"He was under a lot of pressure to change his statement against Tytler," activist advocate HS Phoolka, who has represented 1984 victims in courts, said.
Legal counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, also fighting the cases of the victims, said in the US that Surinder Singh's demise was a "great setback to the Sikh community". Surinder Singh had recorded his statement before the CBI alongwith Jasbir Singh, another witness, after an expose thwarted the agency's bid to let Tytler off the hook.
Men like Surinder Singh and Gurcharan Singh are dying. When Gurcharan Singh died, he was half-burnt half-alive and had spent 25 years watching Akali Dal and Congress governments come and go, commissions of inquiry being appointed and wrapped up, and had witnessed that the world cared no more. When he died on February 17, he was still fighting on the frontline trenches of human rights and was preparing to again try and appear on February 19 before a Delhi court, ready to say again that yes, he did see Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, leading the bloody mobs.

The Case of Gurcharan Singh
In a damning front page report on Jan 30 this year, India's The Asian Age newspaper had quoted Gurcharan Singh as narrating: "Sajjan Kumar told the rioters: ‘Is mohalle ka ek bhi sardar zinda nahin bachna chahiye. In kutton ko saza deni hai (Not even a single Sikh here must escape alive. These dogs must be punished).' He had come there specifically to direct the rioters, who were mostly from surrounding villages and bastis, but led by one of his henchmen, Kirpa Ram," Gurcharan Singh had alleged. Then only 17 years old, the frightened young man had heard the Congressman's thunderous speech from the edge of the restive crowd that had collected near his home that morning.
"I wore a cap over my patka (under-turban) to disguise my identity," he had said. Baying for blood after Sajjan Kumar's venomous sermon, the mob began fanning out and targeting homes and shops owned by Sikhs. "They first set fire to the Singh Sabha Gurdwara at Mohan Garden and then stormed our home because my father Nath Singh was the president of the gurdwara," Gurcharan Singh had said, recalling the worst morning of his life.
The killers did not spare any male Sikh. Gurcharan's uncle, who was visiting from Khurja, was hacked to death. His father was beaten mercilessly and left only because the attackers thought he was dead. "They thrashed my brother, Tejinder and me and flung our bodies onto a truck that they had just set on fire," he said. The two brothers were later dragged out from the smouldering vehicle by some young boys who had managed to hide from the killers.
Gurcharan Singh escaped with his life, but only just. He relived the horror and pain every single day of the rest of his 24 years confined to his bed and completely dependent on the meagre care his poor family could ill afford. He decided to break his long silence despite his own suffering, but had little hope from the Indian justice dispensing system. "When they flung me into the burning truck I called out to Wahe Guru three times and I believed He (God) saved me for a purpose. Now it is up to Him to bring the guilty to book," he had said.
It was wise of Gurcharan Singh to have faith in Waheguru, because the Indian state failed him and the so-called leaders of the community who came to exercise some political power have since found new agendas and secularized themselves, translating secularism as a move to shun all concerns of the community and their people.

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