By Utpal Borpujari
When he flung his show at Home Minister P Chidambaram at the AICC headquarters in April in protest against the party’s decision to select Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar as party candidates for Lok Sabha Polls and the failure of the government to punish those involved in the massacre of 3,000 innocent Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Jarnail Singh shot into instant fame. While Congress was forced to drop the two party candidates after the incident, the young journalist with leading Hindi daily Dainik Jagran soon had to resign from his job. After the media brouhaha died down, Singh decided to write about what he felt about the carnage and its aftermath. The result is I Accuse (Viking), a passionate account of the state’s lack of response to the killings, the chain of events and the survivors’ stories. Singh spoke to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on what went through his mind while writing the book:
What made you write the book after the shoe-throwing incident?
It is a tragedy that in a country like India, for 25 years, killers of innocent, unarmed people who were massacred in broad daylight over three days, have gone unpunished. Not only that, those accused of mass murder have been made ministers and MPs. It is a cruel joke on a country which boasts of thousands of years of civilization and traditions and is known for its humane values. Surely, a part of the country’s soul must have died with the massacre. I had read a comment by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that we should forget it. We cannot at any cost. To forget is no solution to any problem. He should get justice for the victims instead of talking about forgetting. If he cannot do justice, he will be marked in history. It is time for him to stand up.
On hindsight, do you feel your mode of protest was right?
I do not agree with the way I protested. But the reasons behind why I protested are important. Why there has been no justice to the victims in 25 years? When witnesses are dying, why the first FIR was lodged after 11 years of the incident? Why there has to be 11 commissions to probe? One should talk of justice, not forgetting. Why a journalist had to put his life, respect, and career at stake? Why justice was not done automatically? Police did not keep its dignity as it was a silent witness, and the government too because it did not punish the killers. When everyone did not keep their dignity, I had to break the dignity of a journalist. I accept that it is not expected of a journalist to protest in that manner. It was an extraordinary situation, and it required an extraordinary protest.
How do you analyze the feeling in the Sikh community over all this?
In these 25 years, not a single Prime Minister has visited the widow’s colonies. Why nobody has tried to put a soothing balm on their injuries? Why haven’t anyone visited them and told them they are with them. Dr Manmohan Singh should visit them. In our tradition, we even visit homes of enemies when they die. Visit Gujarat victims, Orissa victims, wherever there is injustice and people waiting for justice.
What went through your mind when you first decided to pen down their stories?
I had to write the book, because what had happened 25 years ago was not covered properly. I am part of the media, but at that time, media did not fulfill its duties responsibly. If media had played its role, perhaps it would not have happened at this scale. There were only small news items even though 3,000 citizens of the country got killed. Doordarshan was in a denial mode. I am happy that the media have raised it now, even though it is because of my protest. If I had not done it, the stories of these people would have never come out. It was a state-sponsored terrorism, which was planned in detail, which has been accepted by even the Nanavati Commission. Trains, buses were organised to carry the killers, houses were marked on the basis of voters list, kerosene depot owners were instructed…such a planned incident, and they say we should forget.
The society also failed to play its role in all this, didn’t it?
It is true that immediate neighbours did not attack, but they also did not stop the perpetrators. There cannot be any justification for killing of innocents. When someone says the ground shakes when a big tree falls, someone should have replied that there cannot be any justification. The society has to realize this. Why only Sikhs came forward as witnesses, why not others? Our society has to be intolerant towards injustice, but we are intolerant of ourselves. We need strict law against communal violence, more stringent than laws against terrorism, fixing responsibility on policemen, administration and politician. Nanavati Commission recommended inquiry and punishment, but nothing happened. Bhagat was accused of masterminding killing of thousands, but he won the elections by five lakh votes. Not only Bhagat was a culprit, whoever voted for him too were. People have to fight this tendency of provoking people in the name of religion, language, region, community. It was not a Hindu-Sikh riot. It was a planned, political conspiracy. People are guilty of remaining silent, they can now amend it by coming forward as witnesses.