Insaaf (Justice) – A short story

Anti Sikh Riots
Rehabilitated Survivors, Litho    Image Credit: Sushant Guha

“Is anyone there?”

“Is anyone there to listen to my story?”

“Is anyone there who can give me justice?”

“I’m Gursewak Singh.”

“I’m the grandson of a famous freedom fighter who had served a life sentence for fighting against the British invaders who had ruled our country.”

“I’ve been on this wheelchair for the last 25 years.”

“We were a happy family too. I had a hard-working father who drove a taxi so that we could eat. I had a loving mother who took good care of us. I had a brother who was recruited by the army. He wanted to serve his country. I had a sister who was going to be married. But everything is gone now. My family, my home, my limbs, everything is lost.”

“Is anyone listening?”

“I want justice.”

“Why are you yelling?”

“What do you want?”

“Who are you?”

“Don’t you know me?”

“I’m the leader of this country?”

“Tell me what I can do for you.”

“Oh! So you are the leader of the ruling party.”

“You cannot give me justice.”

“Well, I have the power.”

“Tell me. What’s your problem?”

“My family was murdered 25 years ago.”

“My father was a taxi-driver. My mother was a simple housewife. My brother was recruited by the army. He wanted to serve his nation. My sister was going to be married. All of them were murdered one by one.”

“Why were they murdered?”

“Because of their identity.”

“I don’t get it.”

“My father and my brother wore turbans. They were easy to identify.”

“But why would anyone kill them for wearing turbans?”

“This is what happened to them, sir.”

“The killers were targeting anyone who wore a turban.”


“Because two turbaned men had killed the prime minister. Her followers came screaming – you have killed our mother! They dragged my father out of our house and roasted him alive. My father kept pleading for his life. He reminded the crowd how our religious gurus had sacrificed their lives so that others could practise their faith. He had tried to reason that his father was imprisoned for fighting against the British empire. But no one cared. They stripped my mother and sister and burnt them too. My brother showed them his identity card but they did not listen. He took out his sword but he was overpowered by the goons and lynched. Even the policemen did not come to rescue us.”

“Oh I see. You are talking about those two treacherous bodyguards who killed our leader. Hmm… This was bound to happen. After all, they had deceived the person they were supposed to protect.”

“Ha!!! That’s why I said that you can’t give me justice.”

“You are biased.”

“Excuse me! Your leaders are biased too.”

“Excuse me! Who are my leaders?”

“Those leaders who celebrated her death. They had distributed sweets. This had angered the supporters of my party.”

“But that was not my fault. That was not the fault of my family. Why did we have to pay the price?”

“It was collateral damage. My sympathies are with you.”

“No. I don’t need them. I don’t need anyone’s mercy. I want justice.”

“Well… It’s an old issue. Our prime minister is dead. Her killers were hanged. People have forgotten and forgiven everything that happened in the past.”

“Sorry. But I have not. I have lost everything. So how can I?”

“That’s history.”

“So why do you remember this dead leader of yours? Why do you waste public money on her memorial service every year?”

“Let’s be fair. She was a prime minister.”

“Her killers were hanged. But the killers of my family are still moving around. Is that fair?”

“Stop sulking! Now our party has appointed a turbaned prime minister. What else do you need?”

“When my people were targeted, the country had a turbaned president. What difference did it make? Your party has failed us.”

“You cannot blame my party for that. We believe in secularism. It was a natural reaction of the people on the street.”

“No, it was not. Why did this madness happen only in the territories governed by your party then? What more evidence do you need to prove the complicity of the authorities?”

“Why did your people kill our leader?”

“They were not my people. My family had nothing to do with their ideology. Your leader had ordered an army attack on our holy shrine. Her bodyguards had avenged that military operation. She herself was responsible for her death.”

“After all, your people were spreading terrorism from that shrine. They were killing innocents too because of their identity. What choice did she have?”

“Why the hell are you trying to prove that they were my people? My family had nothing to do with terrorism. My grandfather was a true patriot. My father had always voted for your party. My brother wanted to serve the nation. But your people killed both for no fault of theirs!”

“How come you are alive?”

“I was the youngest in the family. My mother had hidden me in a room from where I could see them being burnt alive and lynched helplessly. I wish I had died too. They burnt the house later. The lower part of my body was roasted. My neighbours saved me and sent me to the refugee camp. Since then, my lower limbs don’t work any more.”

“Okay. Let’s settle this. What do you want? You want money? You want a job?”

“I want justice.”

“That’s what I am trying to do.”

“Can you bring back my family?”

“That’s impossible.”

“Can you hang the people who had killed my family?”


“Can you punish your party colleagues who had incited the goons?”

“Prove that.”

“Can you give me a gun?”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to kill all those men who had destroyed my family.”

“I am talking peace and you are talking like a terrorist.”

“Then don’t let me become one. If you can’t do justice then let me get instant justice. Your government can call me whatever it feels like later, terrorist, criminal or anything like that.”

“It’s no use talking to you. I better take my leave.”

“Yeah. That’s better. You leave right now.”

“I want justice.”

“Is anyone listening?”

“Why are you beating your head against a wall?”

“Who is it?”

“I’m the leader of your community.”

“I’m here to help you.”

“Very brave of you! You want instant justice, eh? We’ll give you whatever you want.”


“You want an AK-47? Or would you like to become a suicide bomber?

“It’s no use begging for justice from the people who have killed your relatives.”

“Are you a separatist?”

“I am surprised that you are calling me that. I’m a freedom fighter like your grandfather. We want a homeland for people like us. We want a place on this earth where all the turbaned people can live with dignity without any fear of the majority community.”

“No, you are not like him! You want a theocratic state. My grandfather fought for a secular country. His organisation wanted the people to set aside religious differences to fight against foreign rule.”

“Ha!!! What a secular country it is where your parents and siblings were murdered just because of their identity! Wow!”

“If my country has gone to the dogs, it’s not because of my grandfather. It’s because of the wrong policies of our leaders.”

“How naïve you are! Despite losing everything at the hands of the state machinery you are still calling it your country.”

“I am not dumb. I only want justice.”

“Justice from whom? You are counting on people who have murdered your family. The majority community that killed your dad, your mom, your brother and sister will never give you justice. Come on, wake up.”

“I am awake. You cannot blame a group of people for this. It was the people next door who had helped me. I wouldn’t have been alive without the support of the majority community.”

“You are a moron. You are just seeing who had helped you reach the relief camp but you are forgetting who destroyed your family.”

“Of course I am not. Why did this not happen to the people of our community in the states that were not ruled by a particular political party?”

“I am clearer on the subject than you are. You want to make it appear as an us versus them conflict whereas it was a state-sponsored massacre.”

“Well… The state belongs to the majority community.”

“If you want justice then you have to fight for a homeland where you can live in peace.”

“You are saying this because you have not lost anything like me. You are just taking advantage of the issue to justify your cause.”

“Who forced us to seek a homeland? We have been victimised since 1947 when our country got freedom. While most of the freedom fighters belonged to our community, including your grandfather, we were treated like second-class citizens.”

“You must check your facts before making such statements. People from other communities had also participated in the freedom struggle. Barring what happened to us 25 years ago, we have never lived like second-class citizens. We have many success stories to tell. We have been better placed despite the small size of our population, compared to the large number of poor belonging to the majority community.”

“You sound very pro-establishment. Why were we not given a separate homeland at the time of independence? The Hindus have got India and the Muslims have got Pakistan; what have we got, sir?”

“You can see for yourself what is happening in Pakistan. The Muslims are fighting among themselves now because of sectarian divisions. I do agree that the Hindu extremists are trying to turn India into a Hindu state but they are also targeting their own Hindu brothers in the name of language and caste.”

“But the police never go after the Hindus; they only target the minorities for any damn terrorist incident. They had stormed our holiest shrine. Why?”

“Given my experience, I can say that certainly the state is biased somewhere but why did you people fortify a place of worship? Why did you kill innocent Hindus? Those killings have made us vulnerable in other parts of the country.”

“Oh, come on. We never killed innocents. The Indian agents did all the bad things to defame our movement. As far as fortifying the temple is concerned, our guru taught us to use the sword when all other means to get justice fail. I am just reminding you of your duty as his follower.”
“Our guru also sent his sons to the battlefield whereas you people have sent your children abroad. Why don’t you use your kids to kill your political enemies instead of asking others to risk their lives?”

“I think there’s no point in arguing with you. If you have chosen to live like a slave, that’s fine. I better take my leave.”

“Yes please. You leave and let me handle this struggle myself.”

“I am not a separatist and I don’t want to be one. But I need justice and the state is not listening. Those who are promising justice in the name of freedom are enemies of the people’s unity. I neither want to become a terrorist nor can I take this continued humiliation anymore. More than symbolic gestures and alms, I need dignified closure. I want the state to punish the guilty. If not now then when?”

(Gurpreet Singh is a broadcaster with Radio India in Vancouver.)



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