It took courage for Satnami Bai (58) to recount how her husband was beaten with sticks and burnt to death by a mob during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
When she finally got her chance to depose in 1996, she named a man and claimed he was the leader of the mob. But when the suspect was produced before her, she failed to identify him. She believed it was a minor lapse; instead she faced a 23-year trial after the then sessions judge, S N Dhingra, filed a complaint against her on November 13, 1996, accusing her of giving a false statement to the court.
She spent the next 23 years fighting for justice in her husband’s case, and also defending herself at Karkardooma court. She would leave her son and daughter at home during hearings, and work at a local dispensary to pay for her children’s education. “I was so scared. My husband was killed and I was facing trial. I was grateful that I got a lawyer who did not demand money at the time,” Satnami, who paid the lawyer in installments, told The Indian Express.
With a trial court acquitting her Tuesday, her ordeal has finally come to an end. The judgement passed by Metropolitan Magistrate Shivali Sharma read: “The explanation offered by the accused appears to be quite probable and the two statements, when read in the light of the explanation, do not appear to be contradictory to each other in such a manner that both cannot co-exist and either of them is necessarily false. This probability is sufficient to cloud the entire case of the prosecution with doubt and the benefit of this doubt has to be given to the accused… I have no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has failed to prove the offence… beyond any reasonable doubt.”
Satnami told The Indian Express: “I saw my husband being burnt to death. I remember that night when we were cooped up in fear; I thought they would never break through the door. The next afternoon, they managed to… It was a mob of 20-25 people… It was tough to fight the case as a widow, and tougher to do it fighting as an accused.”
Her counsel, Sumit Sandeep Tyagi said, “Fighting a 20-year case was no small matter. In her husband’s murder, some were convicted and some acquitted. Her trial moved slowly until the apex court ordered fast-tracking of cases older than 10 years. She was thankfully given the benefit of doubt by the trial court.”