Senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was Monday convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for “remainder of his natural life” in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case by the Delhi High Court which said the riots were a “crime against humanity” perpetrated by those who enjoyed “political patronage” and aided by an “indifferent” law enforcement agency.
The court said there has been a familiar pattern of mass killings since the Partition, like in Mumbai in 1993, Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar, UP in 2013, and the “common” feature of each was the “targeting of minorities” with the attacks being “spearheaded by the dominant political actors, facilitated by the law enforcement agencies”.
A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said since the criminals responsible for the mass crimes enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment, bringing them to justice poses a serious challenge to the legal system which needs to be strengthened as “neither crimes against humanity nor genocide” are part our criminal law.
“This loophole needs to be addressed urgently,” the court said.
In the instant case, relating to the killing of five Sikhs in Raj Nagar part-I area in Palam Colony in South West Delhi on November 1-2, 1984 and burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar part II, the bench said that though it took over three decades to punish those involved, it was important to assure the victims “truth will prevail and justice will be done”.
The bench said the accused in the case were brought to justice “primarily on account of the courage and perseverance of three eyewitnesses” — Jagdish Kaur, her cousin Jagsher Singh and Nirpreet Kaur.
It said there was “abject failure by the police to investigate” the violence and “communal frenzy” which was unleashed in the aftermath of the assassination by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, by her two Sikh bodyguards.
Allowing CBI’s appeal against the acquittal of 73-year-old Kumar by a trial court in the case, the high court convicted and sentenced him to spend the remainder of his life in prison for the offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment in commission of crimes of murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of communal harmony and defiling and destruction of a Gurdwara.
The six accused, including Kumar, who was a Member of Parliament at that time, were sent for trial in 2010. Three years later, the lower court convicted five of the accused but acquitted him of all the charges.
The bench upheld the conviction and varying sentences awarded by the trial court to the other five — former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokhar. It also convicted them for criminal conspiracy to burn down residences of Sikh families and a gurdwara in the area during the riots.
The trial court in 2013 had awarded life term to Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal, and a three-year jail term to Yadav and Kishan Khokhar.
Following the high court verdict, life term of Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal has been upheld and the sentence of Yadav and Kishan Khokar has been enhanced to 10 years in jail.
All six, including Kumar, have been directed by the high court to surrender by December 31, and not to leave the city of Delhi.
“What happened in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi was indeed carnage of unbelievable proportions in which over 2700 Sikhs were murdered in Delhi alone,” the court noted and added that the police “turned a blind eye and blatantly abetted the crimes committed by the rioting mob”.
“The investigation by the local police was a farce. The State machinery came to a complete standstill… It was literally a free for all situation which persisted, “it added.
Jagdish Kaur’s husband, son and three cousins — Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh — were the five killed in the case. Nirpreet Kaur had witnessed the Gurdwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs, the bench noted.
Referring to the inadequate investigation carried out in the case, the high court said there was “utter failure” to register a separate FIR for each of the five deaths and instead killing of 30 persons was made the subject matter of the FIR.
“It is extraordinary that despite there being as many as 341 deaths in the Delhi Cantonment area alone over the span of four days beginning November 1, 1984, only 21 FIRs were registered and, of these, only 15 pertained to deaths/murders. Ultimately, only five bodies were recovered and that too was because of the intervention of Army,” the court noted.
The high court said the “mayhem, destruction, and murders that rocked Raj Nagar” ensured the “exodus of the Sikh population” from there.
“Many of the males were either killed or were put in such fear that they were scared to be seen in long hair and beards. There was a two-pronged strategy adopted by the attackers.
“The first was to liquidate all Sikh males and the other was to destroy their residential houses leaving the women and children utterly destitute. The attack on the Raj Nagar Gurudwara was clearly a part of the communal agenda of the perpetrators,” the court said in its judgement. PTI