Harvinder Singh Phoolka Addresses the Crisis Plenary
Harvinder Singh Phoolka addressed the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.
I pay my respects to the spiritual leaders present here today. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
I’m so grateful to the Parliament for choosing the theme “defending freedom and human rights”.
This subject is so dear to me that I have devoted almost to my whole life on this. Today I will be talking on the subject of justice and punishment, crucial aspects of defending human rights. There are two approaches to deal with the perpetrators of the human right abuses.
One approach of restorative justice that is forgiveness and reconciliation. This approach is more suitable in the case of conflict between the two communities. But in case of genocide the other approach that is the retributive justice, that is the punishment that is more suitable. Because genocides are committed by the people who are in power and while in power they do it for the purpose of political gain and after that they remain in power for a long time and they feel nobody can touch them and they can do whatever they feel like.
It is absolutely necessary to put a fear in the mind of the people in power, that the day will come in their life that they will have to face the consequences sooner or later. So therefore in the case of genocides, the approach of retributive justice that is the punishment to the perpetrators is must. With this object in mind I have been fighting the cases of the Sikh genocide of 1984 for the last 39 years now. What happened in November 1984 in Delhi, the capital of the largest democracy of the world, is the first major genocide that has happened in any democracy in the world. Unfortunately, this is also the most less talked about genocide on the international platform.
In November 1984 over 4000 Sikhs were killed and burnt brutally on the streets of Delhi. Over 50,000 properties belonging to Sikhs were reduced to ashes, countless Sikh women were raped. Now this was happening throughout Delhi and these were the mobs who were led by the leaders of the ruling party Congress and they were supported by the police and the paramilitary forces.
Now what was happening in Delhi, to give you an idea I will tell you the story of just about locality. On that November morning, the mob led by the local Congress counselor attacked the houses of the Sikhs. The Sikh started fighting from their lessons to weapons, the mob could not dare even to come close to the Sikh houses. Soon thereafter the police reached there in large number. The police assured the Sikhs that we are here to protect you and hand over your guns. Police seized 25 guns from Sikhs, thereafter the mob attacked. The mob killed 500 Sikhs in that area alone. Not only that, over 100 Sikh girls including the minors were abducted, taken to a nearby park and those goons used to come at night with the torches and pick whichever girl they liked.
Now this was happening throughout Delhi, the Sikhs were killed by betrayal and by treachery, if the police had not seized their guns they were capable enough of protecting them protecting their family protecting their women. But unfortunately the police supported the mobs in killing Sikhs. At that time I was just 29 years old and I had just started my practice. I took up the cases of the victims and started the cases against these perpetrators. Most of them were at that time powerful leaders of Congress, they were sitting ministers, they were members of Parliament. This curtailed all our effort, battle after battle now we fought but unfortunately these people manipulated the system that we did not succeed. Ultimately after 34 years, in 2018, we had our first major victory when a member of Parliament, a member of assembly, and a counselor were given life imprisonment. They are in jail as we speak today.
But our fight is far from over. Our fight against the perpetrators are still continuing. We will chase them and we will pursue them. The Sikhs of Delhi have forgiven the common people of Delhi. The Sikhs have reconciled between these two approaches of forgiveness and punishment. But the Sikhs have not forgiven the mastermind and they will continue chasing the masterminds.
The fact that the Sikhs have forgiven the common people of Delhi is sufficiently evident from what they did during the pandemic in 2020 when they distributed free langar, they distributed free medicine, and they distributed free oxygen equipment. Now the same people who 1984 were frantically looking for the Sikhs on the streets of the Delhi to kill them and to burn them in 2020 the same people were looking for the Sikhs on the streets of Delhi with a view and hope to get some food, to get some medicine, and to get some oxygen equipment. The Gurdwaras which they burnt in 1984 to ashes, in 2020 the people queued up in long queues in front of the same Gurdwaras with the hope that they will get free food, they will get clothes, they will get medicines, and oxygen equipment.
Now this is the Sikh character and this is what we have learned from our masters and our religion have taught us. Seva is the rule with which the Sikh believe in and the Sikh follow but at the same time the Sikh will not give up the fight against the mastermind, against the perpetrators. We will chase them and we will continue to charge them. We still have a long way to go and I request all of you here to please pray to the almighty God that we may succeed in our fight against injustice.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh.