Unwell after her delivery on October 31, 1984, Charanjit Kaur, in her twenties then, hadn’t even spent much time with her newborn twins (a boy and a girl). Now 59, she still remembers stifled cries of her newborns who were snatched from her sister-in-law’s hands, tossed in fire and burnt alive by a mob in front of their residence in Sultanpuri area of Delhi, two days later on November 2. The family lost seven members, including two newborns.
Bhupinder Kaur (70) recalls how their residence was attacked and five men, including her husband Bant Singh, brothers-in-law Shingara Singh and Kulwant Singh (aged 30-40), uncle Magar Singh (in sixties) and a nephew Kulwant Singh (in twenties) were burnt alive in front of her.
“My sister-in-law Charanjit had delivered twins on October 31. I was cradling them when mob attacked. After all five men were killed, the mob moved towards us and children. I was trying to hide babies and suppressed their cries by putting my hand on their mouths. But the attackers pushed me to the ground and snatched the babies. They were tossed in fire as if they were lifeless objects and burnt alive,” says Bhupinder.
On Monday, as the Delhi High Court convicted and sentenced Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for life imprisonment for alleged killings of five Sikhs in Cantonment area during riots in 1984, the three widows sitting at their flat in CRPF colony of Dugri in Ludhiana (allotted to riot victims), said they want to convey heartfelt thanks and gratitude to those families who took fight ahead against Congress leader and kept going till justice was delivered.
A separate case for alleged killings of six Sikhs and rioting in Sultanpuri of Delhi is pending against Sajjan Kumar in Patiala House Courts in Delhi. A witness, Cham Kaur, identified him in court, saying that she saw him instigating mob in Sultanpuri. But like many other 1984 riots cases, this case did not reach courts even though the three women have copies of handwritten applications stamped by Sultanpuri police dated November 14, 1984, preserved as ‘proof’.
“We were unable to take our case to court because we had no money, manpower or resources. But we are thankful to those who took this fight ahead and kept it going. Through them, we have got justice today. My children, whose lives were ended in just two days, got justice today. I do not even have any photograph of babies to remember how they looked,” says Charanjit, wife of late Kulwant Singh.
Surjit Kaur (65), whose husband Shingara Singh was burnt alive, says, “We were in shock for many days. Later, neighbours and locals told that Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was leading and instigating the mob in our area, Sultanpuri. We had no courage, resources or manpower to pursue the case… everything was lost already. We moved to Ludhiana in 1985 and lived in a cattle shed for three years. We worked as domestic helps to feed four other children. For a few years, we kept visiting Delhi but then it just wasn’t possible to take the fight forward.”
“The attackers were shouting- ‘Inhone hamari maa ko maar dia. (They killed our mother)’. We had a photograph of Indira Gandhi in our home and also those of Sikh Gurus. Attackers came inside and demolished all photos except that of Indira Gandhi. They did not touch Indira’s photo,” says Surjit.
“First they crushed heads of five men with stones and then set them on fire with tyres around their necks. Our Hindu neighbours tried to stop mobs but they too were threatened. For three days, we kept sitting near burnt bodies so that stray dogs don’t drag them away. It was only on November 5 that neighbours arranged wood and cremations were done. We did not even had money to buy wood. Later, we shifted to a camp,” says Bhupinder.
Gurdeep Kaur, head of women’s wing of 1984 Sikh Katle-Aam Peerit Welfare Society (Punjab), whose two brothers-in-law were also allegedly killed by a mob in Mangolpuri of Delhi, says, “The mobs were being led and instigated by Sajjan Kumar in Sultanpuri and Mangolpuri areas but women who were left behind had no resources or money to take cases ahead. No FIRs were registered by name and all they have are handwritten copies of applications. There are hundreds such cases which have not even reached courts yet. We had submitted 135 such affidavits in 2005 when Nanavati commission was constituted requesting to register fresh FIRs.”
Senior advocate HS Phoolka said, “Case against Sajjan Kumar for allegedly instigating mobs in Sultanpuri is pending in court. Two witnesses Cham Kaur and Sheila Kaur have identified him.”