If perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots had been punished, no other incident would have occurred on the lines of caste and religion, the Delhi High Court said on Thursday. It further said that even 34 years after the incident, “we are struggling with cases that are already closed, and looking into evidence against the accused that is on the verge of being destroyed”.
“What is extremely painful is that (even) after decades, we are unable to give justice to the family, survivors of the incident,” a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Anu Malhotra said, adding that thousands were killed in the riots.
The court’s oral observations came while hearing the CBI’s appeal against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal in the murder of five people in Raj Nagar area of Delhi Cantonment on November 1, 1984.
“Imagine the trauma a survivor may be undergoing; at least we could have brought the culprits to book… It is our failure that we were unable to punish the wrongdoers. If 1984 riots’ perpetrators would have been punished, no other incident would have occurred thereafter along the lines of caste and religion,” the bench said.
It added, “Blunder has been committed during trial of cases, so we have decided to revisit our sessions judge orders and have sought response of the accused on why trial should not be opened against those who have been acquitted.”
During arguments, senior advocate Amit Sibal, appearing for the Congress leader, contended that the “guilty must be not spared but at the same time innocent should not be punished”.
The senior counsel also asked why the eyewitness, Jagdish Kaur (78), was asked to depose in the case after so long. As per the CBI, Kaur is a credible witness of the riots. She had lost her her husband, son and three relatives in the incident.
Kumar’s counsel also contented that Kaur is a “pawn in hands of the investigating agency”. To which the bench said that it is not holding Kumar guilty of crime, but asked the counsel to imagine the lives that were lost and how Kaur gathered the courage to depose in court. “Visualise the scene — when the mob armed with iron rods, digging tools and other lethal weapons attacked her son, husband and three others,” the bench said.
It also asked Sibal if he had read her deposition, in which she states: “My son ran for some distance in the street, where he was attacked by the mob again… and set on fire.”
The court also asked Sibal if the Congress leader saved anyone’s life or went around to see what had happened. “Army was there in Delhi Cantonment. Was help sought by Kumar, being an MP of that area? It’s easy to blame others, but nothing was done at that time. We are looking into all these aspects — including action on part of accused, police and other authorities,” the bench said.
In the present case, former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and two others were held guilty. Kumar was acquitted by a trial court in 2013.