In my 20-year struggle to get the guilty of the November 1984 carnage punished, there have been many moments when my morality as a human being clashed with the lawyer within me. One such incident happened 19 years ago.
On November 1, 1984, 40-50 young women from Tirlokpuri were kidnapped and taken to Chilla village. A group of Sikhs pleaded with the Sub-Inspector on duty, Jugti Ram, to save the girls. As Jugti Ram did not have any vehicles or police force with him on November 2, he met DCP Sewa Dass in the evening at 6 pm at police station Kalyanpuri. Sewa Dass had come to the police station as two journalists from The Indian Express had witnessed the Tirlokpuri massacre and made a hue and cry against police apathy. Jugti Ram asked Sewa Dass to give him extra force and vehicles to save the young women from Chilla village. However Sewa Dass declined on the ground that the vehicles would be burnt by the villagers. But Jugti Ram kept on insisting, in fact pleaded with the DCP and ACP for extra force. Since there were pressmen present, the DCP had to agree, but the ACP told him that if any damage was caused to the vehicles, Jugti Ram would be personally responsible. It seemed as if these two senior police officials were more worried about their vehicles than the dignity and life of the kidnapped women. Jugti Ram took the vehicles along with policemen and two Sikhs of Tirlokpuri.
In an operation lasting many hours, Jugti Ram rescued the girls from the village and took them to a relief camp. On November 3, Jugti Ram went to the police station thinking he would be given a medal for doing such an exemplary job. However, to his utmost shock, he was told that he was suspended and a criminal case had been registered against him. The criminal case had been registered against the SHO of Kalyanpuri police station for his negligence to check the genocide. Along with the SHO, Soorbir Singh Tyagi, the name of Jugti Ram had also been added. Saving the women had been defiance of the orders and wishes of the seniors by Jugti Ram.
On November 1, 1984, when he was the duty officer at police station Kalyanpuri, he had sent a wireless message to the DCP informing him about genocide at Tirlokpuri and recorded this message in the logbook. This was again in defiance of the orders of the seniors not to record any message in relation to the killing of Sikhs.
This message is being used by us as a major evidence against Sewa Dass that although he was quite aware of the genocide, still he did not send a police force for 30 hours. On the same day, i.e. November 1, the DCP visited Kalyanpuri police station to ensure that Sikhs were not saved and to arrest Sikhs, who were defending themselves at Block 11 in Kalyanpuri. Jugti Ram again reminded the DCP about the Tirlokpuri genocide. No force was sent, but Jugti Ram was removed as Duty Officer and was posted at Tirlokpuri, where he joined on November 2. It may be mentioned that on November 1, at 6 pm, Sewa Dass arrested 25 Sikhs, who were defending themselves against the mob, from Block 11 of Kalyanpuri from their own houses. A case of murder was registered against Sikhs as one person from the mob was killed. These Sikhs were sent to jail and were released on bail only after a month.
While I was preparing affidavits of victims to be filed before the Misra Commission in August 1985, many victims from Tirlokpuri told me about Jugti Ram helping them. That time Jugti Ram was still under suspension and the criminal case was still pending against him. Jugti Ram also came and met me and pleaded with me to help him. By that time, I knew the whole incident. I was in a dilemma. If I helped Jugti Ram, this would have weakened the case and the co-accused responsible for Tirlokpuri massacre, SHO Soorbir Singh Tyagi, would have got the benefit. I did not want to weaken the case as this was the only case registered against any police official in Delhi.
It was a difficult situation for me. On one side was my morality as a human being to help a person, who has been wrongly punished, who rather needs commendation, and on the other side was the lawyer within me who would rather pursue the case against Soorbir Singh Tyagi more vigorously and would not in any manner weaken that case. At that time, taking any such step to weaken the case was a very big decision. Having only three years of experience as a lawyer, it was difficult for me to take the burden on me for being blamed for spoiling the case against Soorbir Singh Tyagi.
Finding me reluctant to help Jugti Ram, some of the volunteers working in my team took Jugti Ram to General J S Aurora. After hearing the story of Jugti Ram and also after hearing from the victims how he saved them, General Aurora wrote a letter to then police commissioner, Ved Marwah, to help Jugti Ram. But neither was the case against Jugti Ram withdrawn nor were his services restored. Even the chargesheet was filed by the police against both the accused i.e. Soorbir Singh Tyagi and Jugti Ram. The police had intentionally filed the chargesheet without obtaining the mandatory sanction from the Government under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code. On this account, both the accused were released by court. Jugti Ram has retired as Sub-Inspector, but Sewa Dass got three promotions after that and is now Joint Commissioner of Police. Even Soorbir Singh Tyagi has been promoted and is now Assistant Commissioner of Police in Delhi Police.
I would like to add that I did not pursue the case or file any affidavits against Jugti Ram. As a lawyer, for the victims, I was not under any legal duty for Jugti Ram and as such I did not help him. Jugti Ram has been in constant touch with me until today. However, since I could not help him at that time, whenever he comes before me, I feel guilty. The Nanavati Commission has also issued 8B notice to Jugti Ram. This time I pleaded before the Nanavati Commission to withdraw the notice and not to take any action against him, and instead recommend him for a commendation certificate. Jugti Ram was also honoured with a saropa (gift) by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee in 1990.
In the case of Jugti Ram, volunteers working with me were upset with me for not helping him. These are the vagaries of the legal profession. Many times the profession demands that one has to take a decision against one’s own conscience.
The writer is a senior advocate who has campaigned for 1984 victims for the last two decades