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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Verdict 1984: An ode to witness

Shiv Visavanathan

The three witnesses in CBI vs Sajjan Kumar & others will win no gallantry awards, or be cited in the pages of history. Yet, their courage — simple, defiant, stubborn, consistent — deserves a salute. It survived the massacre of '84 and the repeated attempts to distort the truths in the years after '84. The judgment is a tribute to the witnesses as heroes in keeping the criminal justice system alive

The Delhi High Court judgment in the 1984 riots case is more than a technical treatise. Like all good judgments, it goes beyond the evaluation of a case. It is a powerful act of interrogation, a slice of storytelling that explores the civics of a broken society. In a more general context, it is an attempt to look at the massacre of the Sikhs following Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, as a crime against humanity. In a narrow sense, it takes a slice of that story, the burning of the gurdwaras and the killings of five Sikhs at Raj Nagar in southwest Delhi on November 1 and 2, 1984. It explores the eyewitness account of that story.

There are two aspects to the narrative here. The court looks at the vulnerability of the judicial systems against the sheer brutality of power. Delaying justice at one level is like a roadside bully turned Leviathan, Sajjan Kumar. He was a Congress politician and Member of Parliament who incited the crowd to murder. At another level, it is a story of courage of witnesses, especially Jagdish Kaur, whose husband and son were killed, Jagsher Singh and Nirpreet Kaur, who had to watch her father being burnt alive by a mob. It is a story of waiting for justice, fighting for justice. Time in its variants as silence, as delays, as postponements is the third character in the story.

What the judgment captures ruthlessly, and yet with empathy, is the long periods of waiting, the repetition and redundancy of truth as it waits for redemption. Like all good judgments, it transcends the technical. It becomes a fable of courage, waiting, of Kafkaesque forays through the legal bureaucratic complex which makes Kafka's castle look like an easier game. It is a story of individual courage and mass crimes built around a small locality. Yet, it has the quality of a little miracle as the power of truth eventually overwhelms the truth of power. The despair of 40 years echoes through the 200 pages of the judgment as truth stumbles faithfully through the labyrinth of law.

Reading the judgment, one senses the tiredness of witness and yet, one warms to the courage that has some epic quality. The three witnesses will win no awards for gallantry, or be cited in the pages of history. Yet, their courage — simple, defiant, stubborn and consistent — deserves a salute. It survived the massacre of '84 and the repeated attempts to distort the truths in the years after '84. The judgment is a tribute to the witnesses as heroes in keeping the criminal justice system alive. The mob, the witness, the politics that delayed justice, all find their chronicles in this narrative. Sahib, p. 749

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