Nirpreet Kaur was 16 years old when her father was killed in the violence that swept through Delhi in 1984. A mob had caught her father and poured kerosene all over him, but they did not have matches.
“A Delhi police inspector gave them a matchbox and I remember his words to the mob: ‘doob maro, tumse ek Sardar bhi nahi jalta’ (You are all useless, you can’t even set a Sikh on fire).”
Now 50, Nirpreet cannot remember the countless times she has recounted her story — before each of the appointed commissions and all investigating agencies. Along with Jagdish Kaur and Jagsher Singh, she is among three eyewitnesses on whose testimony the Delhi High Court Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
In its verdict, the High Court said that the accused were brought to justice “primarily on account of the courage and perseverance of three eyewitnesses”. “Jagdish Kaur whose husband, son and three cousins were the five killed; Jagsher Singh, another cousin of Jagdish Kaur, and Nirpreet Kaur who saw the Gurudwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs,” the Court said.
“It is only after the CBI entered the scene, that they were able to be assured and they spoke up. Admirably, they stuck firm to their truth at the trial.”
Nirpreet’s father was the president of a Gurdwara that was burnt down and she was with him on the intervening night of October 31 and November 1 in 1984 when they came across a mob, armed with sticks and rods, chanting anti-Sikh slogans.
“In the day, the police took kirpans away from all Sikhs saying that a compromise has been reached. My father went with Balwan Khokhar and Mahender Yadav (other accused who were earlier convicted) on a scooter…my father was caught by the mob…” she said.
For 79-year-old Jadish Kaur, Monday’s judgment convicting Sajjan Kumar is overwhelmed with emotions. She lost her husband, one son and three cousins in 1984 and since the verdict, has broken down several times – first outside the High Court, then at the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee’s office where she recounted the story – again and again.
“It brings some relief to me, but Sajjan Kumar evaded justice for so long. Sajjan Kumar stood in a police vehicle in Rajnagar, Palam Colony and announced that we were ‘saanp ke bacche’ and we should be killed and burnt,” she said.
“On November 1, a mob crushed my husband’s head and my son was lying on the street. Somebody had brought water and gave my son only two sips when he breathed his last. I blessed him saying he was no longer my son and would join Guru Gobind Singh.”
She recounts that she managed to save her other children, but she lost faith in the system after the police’s apathy. “My husband and son’s body was lying at a police post when a policeman asked a mob “Kitne murge bhun diye”…I felt I had lost faith in humanity,” she said.
While others were convicted in 2013, the trial court had acquitted Sajjan Kumar citing the lack of evidence. Kaur said that she had appeared before several commissions and different investigating agencies. “In every inquiry, I had mentioned that it was Sajjan Kumar who addressed a mob and asked them to not spare any Sikh.”
His conviction Monday has given Jagdish Kaur some temporary closure, but she wished the justice system worked swiftly.
According to Nirpreet, the indifference by the police had only emphasised the “great injustice was done to the Sikh community”. In her statement to the court earlier, she had said: “I was having the feeling of anguish that injustice is being done to Sikhs and nobody is coming to help…therefore I joined the Sikh Student Federation…after which I was involved in two false TADA cases. I remained in jail for many years. In one case I was later discharged and in another case, I was acquitted.”
For Nirpreet, the loss in irreversible, she said: “34 saal ho gaye, kaash hume insaaf pehle mila hota. (It has been 34 years, if only we got justice earlier).”