Jarnail Singh was 11 years old, playing cricket outside his house at Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, the day looting and killing started after former prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh body guards.
His mother promptly locked him and his siblings in a room. The family scraped through the three days of rioting without any major incident except for his brother being manhandled.
Later while in college, Singh looked up old newspaper files for stories on the riots. He says that only one English newspaper and its Hindi sister publication had done any thorough reporting on the riots of 1984. He decided to be a journalist as he felt there was need for one among the Sikhs. He enrolled himself in a course at the YMCA. This he blurts out when asked if he was happy with the way the media has covered the delay in justice to the riot victims in the past decades.
However, the Dainik Jagaran journalist today is virtually in hiding after finding his home being besieged by the media and political leaders. Jarnail’s life has changed after he lobbed a shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram during a press conference on Tuesday expressing disgust at the CBI’s clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler.
But he admits the incident hurt him deeply that the home minister had said somewhere that he was happy that his colleague Tytler had been exonerated by the CBI. “I wanted to ask him why he felt happy. But since the press conference was on terrorism, the minister felt that my questions were deviating and just an argument,” says Singh.
“But whatever the case, how can he (Chidambaram) be happy at Tytler being cleared?” he asks again. And then he says “perhaps this had to happen. It may be niyati (fate)”.
The father of two little children, Singh has been with various newspapers for the last 15 years, beginning with a six-month internship with the Sandhya Times in 1995. Then he found himself freelancing for some time before he joined a multilingual daily called Aksharbharati which has since ceased publication. He has been with the Dainik Jagaran since 1999 and is today a special correspondent, covering mainly defence. A colleague says that Singh may have had some painful link with the riots, though feels that his act was impulsive that day.
He has been covering defence, agriculture, and Election Commission, besides states like Punjab and Himachal Pradesh for his paper. He recently did stories on the nuclear deal. As far as the 1984 riots are concerned, Jarnail says he wrote whenever he could.
He does not hold anything against Tytler, though he is responsible for the fall of the Congress leader. He says that ever since the riots, people have heard only four or five names. “But one does not know who are involved. When the culprits are in power, it is difficult to find witnesses and evidence against them,” he says.
Jarnail wants the people of Delhi to come out as witnesses and tell the police what they saw in 1984. He also wants a law which will ensure speedy justice for the victims of communal riots. He says that the primary reporting of the police in 1984 is so faulty that often nothing is possible. But he still feels that with a strict law, retired policemen and retired officials, against whom Justice Nanawati points a finger, could have faced action.
He worries about the consequence of his “shoe act” though he denies it. Asked if he is worried about his current job, the journalist says he has not heard from his employers yet. They had threatened disciplinary action, he recalls.
But then he adds: “I’m not worried. Like Granth Sahib says…jahan dana wahan khana ….(we will eat where He feeds)”.