Sajjan Kumar Goes to Jail in 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Verdict

The Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his connection with the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Rajeshwari | The New Leam Staff

Sajjan Kumar / File Photo – Biplab Banerjee/ AsianAge.com

The High Court reversed the acquittal of the 73- year old Congress politician and former Member of Parliament and sentenced him to life imprisonment, asking him to surrender in court by December 31. The court further clarified that the verdict on imprisonment of life means “the remainder of his natural life.” The court also imposed on him a fine of Rs 5 lakh.

The ruling came on appeals by the CBI and the families of the victims against the April 2013 trial court order with petitions filed by Jagdish Kaur whose husband Kehar Singh, son Gurpreet and three cousins Rahubinder Singh, Narender Pal Singh, and Kuldeep Singh were killed; Jagsher Singh and Nirpreet Kaur, her cousins who saw her father being burnt and a mob torching the Gurdwara. In May 2013, the trial court held the former Congress councilor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal and former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokar guilty for the murders of the member of Sikh family. Balwan Khokhar and Bhagmal were given life sentences. Sajjan Kumar was then not found guilty due to lack of corroborative evidence to support the charges against him as said by the lower court.  While reversing the acquittal of Kumar, the court enhanced the three year jail terms to ten years for the former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokar and affirmed the life sentences for Khokar, Bhagmal, and Giridhari Lal.  Not often do courts in India step up to convict the politicians for their crimes, thus making this verdict a no ordinary day for Constitutional courts in India. The bench comprising justices S. Muralidhar and IS Mehta held him guilty for “Crimes against Humanity”. The verdict gains a special significance in the court proceedings for its 207-page judgment which imports certain foreign concepts into Indian jurisprudence.

The concept of Crimes against Humanity was first acknowledged by the governments of Britain, Russia, and France on May, 1915 against the government of Turkey for the mass killing of Armenians by Kurds and Turks under the assistance of Ottoman administration, and came within the ambit of international arena due to Nuremberg Trials during Nazi regime.

The High Court in its judgement recognised the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots to fall under the bracket of crimes against humanity along with partition riots, mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, 2002 Gujarat riots, and 2013 Muzzaffarnagar riots which were “engineered by political actors with assistance of the law enforcement agencies.”

Within this definition, Sajjan Kumar was held guilty of murder, for rioting, promoting communal hatred, and destructing public property under political patronage and aided by indifferent law enforcement agencies.  The court observed, “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 riots in early November 1984 killed nearly 3,350 Sikhs all over the country as per the official figures. The Court noted that this was neither the first instance of mass killings, nor the last. The judgment authored by Justice Muralidhar observed, “There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 20118, in Muzaffarnagar in U.P. in 2013 to name a few. Common to these mass crimes was the targeting of minorities political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies.”

Considering the sluggish pace of the legal proceedings in the country, and the track record of the Indian state against the crimes against the masses, a call for strengthening the legal system to address the crimes against humanity and genocide by one of India’s foremost judicial institutions makes it noteworthy.

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