Justice delayed but not denied: Sajjan Kumar gets life term in 1984 riots case

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: December 17, 2018

The Delhi High Court has held Congress leader and former MP Sajjan Kumar guilty for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The court overturned a 2013 acquittal by a lower court and asked Kumar to surrender by December 31.

 

Sajjan Kumar

Image Courtesy: Indian Express
 
Sajjan Kumar, 73, was convicted for playing a role in the murder of five family members residing in Raj Nagar in Delhi. He has been asked to surrender by December 31 and cannot leave the city. The court found him guilty of offences of murder, promoting enmity between groups and defiling public property.

“It is important to assure the victims that despite the challenges truth will prevail,” the High Court said, referring to the courage of Jagdish Kaur, a survivor of the horrific carnage who had fought for action against Sajjan Kumar and others. “The aftershock of those atrocities is still being felt,” said the court.

The order that comes close at the heals of the Congress’s resounding electoral victory in three key states in the assembly elections, is a sobering reminder that nobody, no matter how politically powerful, is above the law. During this 1984 genocide over 3000 people from the Sikh community were killed by rampaging mobs in wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her body guards. Eye witnesses placed several top Congress leaders at the scene of different killings and Sajjan Kumar is only the first major leader to be convicted.

The Court not only noted that the “criminals have enjoyed political patronage,” but also that there was “abject police failure.” A former Congress Councillor, Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal and three others were held guilty in the Raj Nagar case but a trial court had acquitted Sajjan Kumar, the report said.

The entire judgement may be read here:


The convicts had challenged the 2013 trial court verdict and their sentence. The CBI had also filed an appeal against Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal, alleging that the mobs were engaged in “a planned communal riot” and “religious cleansing”. Nirpreet Kaur, who saw her father being burnt alive by the mobs, reportedly wept as she thanked the law for justice after 34 years.

A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel had concluded hearing arguments on the appeals filed by the CBI, riots victims and the convicts, against the trial court’s verdict on October 29 and reserved the judgment. This was the same bench that pronounced its judgement on the Hashimpura Custodial Killings where 16 PAC personnel were declared guilty of targeted murder.

A Division Bench comprising Justices S Muralidhar and IS Mehta heard the case. “In the summer of 1947, during partition, several people were massacred. 37 years later Delhi was the witness of a similar tragedy. The accused enjoyed political patronage and escaped trial,” the court judgment read.

The high court further observed, “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.”


Brief Background of the Case

The Ranganath Misra Commission, Kusum Mittal Committee, the Justice Jain Aggarwal Committee, the Nanavati Commission Report and court judgments have all pointed to the unholy nexus between the Delhi Police and the rioting mobs of 1984, during the carnage and in the investigation of cases.

While considering the evidence against Sajjan Kumar, the Nanavati Report specifically states that, “There is ample material to show that no proper investigation was done by the police even in those cases…There is also material to show that police did not note down the names of some of the assailants who were influential persons. One witness has specifically stated that he had named Shri Sajjan Kumar as one of the assailants yet his name was not noted in his statement by the police.” (pg. 161 Nanavati Report). The Nanavati Commission recommended to the Government to examine those cases where the witnesses have accused Shri Sajjan Kumar specifically and yet no chargesheets were filed against him and these cases were terminated as untraced…” by the Delhi Police.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties and People’s Union for Democratic Rights (‘Who are the Guilty’, PUCL-PUDR report, November 1984), named senior Congress leaders on the basis of allegations made by victims who had taken refuge in relief camps. However, no action against the perpetrators was forthcoming. The report listed HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Lalit Maken among the Congress leaders active in inciting mobs against the Sikh community. The media had named only one, Dharam Das Shastri, a former MP.

HKL Bhagat, who was named by several eyewitnesses as leading mobs, was chosen as the Congress party’s candidate from East Delhi, the worst affected area. Of the whopping 76.97 per cent of votes polled, Bhagat cornered a staggering 59.8 per cent (3,86,150 votes as opposed to the BJP’s 73,970). The majority of constituents chose to back a man identified as leading a murderous mob. Was this democratic sanction for carnage?

Similarly, Jagdish Tytler, chosen by the Congress party to contest elections from Sadar in Delhi, won with a whopping 62 per cent of the total 71.83 per cent of votes polled. His opponent, Madan Lal Khurana, won the remaining 35.78 per cent. Lalit Maken, another accused, fielded by the party from South Delhi, received 61.07 per cent of the 64.68 per cent of votes polled, capturing 2,15,898 votes.

Amidst the euphoria of the electoral victory that followed the massacre, these men were also elevated to more powerful positions in government. HKL Bhagat, previously a minister of state, was elevated to cabinet rank and Jagdish Tytler was made minister of state for the first time. Lalit Maken, formerly a councillor, had already been rewarded with a ticket for the polls in which he had won.

The Jain-Banerjee Committee (one of three committees set up on the recommendation of the Misra Commission and which investigated omission in registration of cases) actually instructed the Delhi police in October 1987 to register a case of murder against Sajjan Kumar, who was a Congress MP from the Outer Delhi constituency in 1984, on the basis of an affidavit filed by a riot widow, Anwar Kaur. However, no action was taken until the cover-up was exposed by journalist Manoj Mitta in The Times of India. (An individual named Brahmanand Gupta, who was also named in the affidavit, obtained a stay order against the Jain-Banerjee Committee from the Delhi high court and the court allowed the matter to languish for two years, furthering injustice to the victims.)

The CBI finally registered a case against Sajjan Kumar only in 1990 and completed its investigations two years later. Apart from charging Sajjan Kumar with murder, the CBI also charged him with hate speech, invoking Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code. This required central government sanction before prosecution, which was obtained from the Narasimha Rao government only in June 1994.

Through the findings of the Nanavati Commission, many eminent persons have for the first time been able to put on record how, during the massacre of 1984, the then union home minister, PV Narasimha Rao, and the then lieutenant governor of Delhi, PG Gavai, failed to take constitutionally binding and firm measures when urged to call in the army. Several depositions before the Nanavati Commission also provided fresh evidence against Congress leaders HKL Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar, reiterating their role in the violence. Analysis of the evidence before the commission also brought to light an important pattern/strategy followed by the police authorities during that period, which was to first disarm Sikhs and then arrest them. The Kusum Lata Mittal report, which revealed police complicity at the highest level, was also revealed for the first time through documents placed before the Nanavati Commission.