Sajjan Kumar sentenced to life in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case; Delhi HC reverses Congress leader's acquittal citing 'abject failure by agencies'

The Delhi High Court on Monday reversed the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentenced him to life. "Mass killings are a crime against society," the court said, adding that there had been an "abject failure" by the agencies investigating the riots.

The bench of justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel has asked the former Congress MP to surrender by 31 December, barring him from leaving the National Capital Region, but CNN-News18 quoted sources as saying that Kumar may move the Supreme Court against his conviction and Congress leader Kapil Sibal's son may represent him in court.

On Monday, the court said: "The mass killings of Sikhs between 1 and 4 November 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies, answer the description of 'crimes against humanity'... In the summer of 1947, during Partition, several people were massacred. Over 37 years later, Delhi was witness to a similar tragedy. The accused enjoyed political patronage and escaped trial."

File photo of Sajjan Kumar. PTI

File photo of Sajjan Kumar. PTI

"It was an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against Sajjan Kumar in the normal scheme of things as there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress cases against him by not even recording them," the court said. "Even if they were registered, they weren't investigated properly, and investigations that saw any progress weren't carried to the logical end of a chargesheet actually being filed. Even the defence doesn't dispute that as far as the FIR is concerned, but a closure report had been prepared."

The Delhi High Court observed that the riots "was a carnage of unbelievable proportions" that resulted in the deaths of over 2,700 Sikhs in Delhi alone. "Law and order clearly broke down, and it was literally a free-for-all situation. Aftershocks of that still being felt," the court said in its judgment.

The verdict comes ahead of the Congress leader Kamal Nath taking oath as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Nath was also allegedly involved in the riots case, but was acquitted of charges.

The court also upheld the conviction of ex-Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Bhagmal, and three others in the case pertaining to the murder of five members of a Sikh family in the Delhi Cantonment's Raj Nagar area.

Reacting to the news, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur welcomed the verdict, saying the victims now "stand vindicated" and justice prevails. President of the Shiromani Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal said Kumar should have been given the death penalty and not just a life sentence.

Another Akali Dal leader, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, thanked the court "for giving us justice". "Our fight will continue till Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler get death sentence, and the Gandhi family is dragged to court and put in jail."

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also welcomed the verdict: "It has been a very long and painful wait for innocent victims who were murdered by those in power," he tweeted.

In October, the high court had reserved its order on the pleas challenging the trial court order that acquitted the Congress leader but convicted the other five accused in the case of the violence that broke out after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October, 1984. The CBI, too, had filed an appeal challenging Kumar's acquittal, saying the trial court had "erred in acquitting Sajjan Kumar as it was he who had instigated the mob during the riots".

The present appeals arise as a result of the investigation by the CBI into the killing of five Sikhs in the Raj Nagar Part I area in Palam Colony in Delhi on 1 and 2 November 1984 and the burning down of a Gurudwara in the city, the judgment specified.

Six accused, including Kumar were sent up for trial sometime in 2010. Three years later, the trial court convicted five of the accused: Three of them for the offences of armed rioting and murder, and two of them for the offence of armed rioting.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2018 13:15:45 IST

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