The Delhi High Court reversed the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentenced him to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy to commit murder.
In its judgment, the court noted that “there was an abject failure by the police to investigate the violence which broke out in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi is apparent from the several circumstances highlighted hereinabove”.
A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel was also critical of the investigations carried out by the police.
Here are the key observations made by the court
‘Couldn’t have proceeded against Kumar in normal scheme of things’: “This was an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against A-1 (Sajjan Kumar) in the normal scheme of things because there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress the cases against him by not even recording or registering them. Even if they were registered they were not investigated properly and even the investigations which saw any progress were not carried to the logical end of a charge sheet actually being filed,” the bench said.
– The high court said that in one case related to the 1984 riots, a closure report had been prepared and filed but was still to be considered by the metropolitan magistrate.
‘The Delhi Police had shown apathy towards the riot victims’: “There was an utter failure to register separate FIRs with respect to the five deaths that form the subject matter of the present appeals. The failure to record any incident whatsoever in the DDR and the lack of mention of PW-1‟s statement therein, amongst other circumstances, established the apathy of the Delhi Police and their active connivance in the brutal murders being perpetrated,” the bench said.
‘The law and order machinery clearly broke down’: “What happened in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister was carnage of unbelievable proportions in which over 2,700 Sikhs were murdered in Delhi alone. The law and order machinery clearly broke down and it was literally a ‘free for all’ situation which persisted. The aftershocks of those atrocities are still being felt,” the court said in its judgment.
‘The Riot Police failed to examine witnesses’: The court noted that the failure of the Riot Cell of the Delhi Police to examine multiple prosection witnesses “establishes that the Riot Cell did not carry out any genuine investigation.”
‘The killing of Sikhs was a conspiracy’: “The trial court completely omitted to address the charge of conspiracy despite detailed arguments submitted by the CBI in that regard. There was a two-pronged strategy adopted by the attackers. 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 judgment.
‘The need for a law to tackle genocide and crimes against humanity’: “Common to the instances of mass crimes are the targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors facilitated by the law enforcement agencies. The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment. Bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system. Decades pass by before they can be made answerable. This calls for strengthening the legal system. Neither “crimes against humanity‟ nor “genocide‟ is part of our domestic law of crime. This loophole needs to be addressed urgently,” the bench said.
‘Statements of witnesses shouldn’t have been ignored’: The high court said that the trial court shouldn’t have ignored the statements by witnesses, who had been consistent throughout, to find Kumar innocent. “Disbelieving key witnesses who have remained consistent and spoken clearly about his role is not acceptable. Thus, this Court is satisfied that the trial Court has appreciated the evidence in this regard on erroneous considerations and thus, its finding of innocence qua A-1 suffers from manifest illegality,” the bench observed.
‘Post-riots work does not take away from involvement in riots’ The court also said just because Kumar “had organized peace rallies and blood donation camps and helped in rehabilitation of the victims of the violence” it didn’t “take away from his involvement in the riots in the first place which resulted in the murders of the five deceased in the present case.”
‘No reason to give Kumar a lenient sentence’ The court said that Kumar’s claim that “he enjoys the political support of the Sikh community also does not find much sympathy from this Court.” The court said it saw no reason to give Kumar a lenient sentence. “The Court also cannot agree with his description of the violence as being the result of a ‘self-evoked provocation which resulted in an outburst of crime in Delhi and other parts of the country’ when thousands of Sikh men, women, and children have been butchered while the law and order situation deteriorated all around them,” the bench observed.