Senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was on Monday convicted and sentenced to life term for "remainder of his natural life" in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case by the Delhi High Court which said the riots were a "crime against humanity" perpetrated by those who enjoyed "political patronage".
The high court said though it was "undeniable" that it took over three decades to punish the accused in the case, it was important to assure the victims that despite the challenges faced by the court, "truth will prevail and justice will be done".
Political slugfest erupts over 1984 anti-Sikh riots verdict, BJP asks Rahul to sack Kamal Nath; Cong hits back
Sajjan Kumar gets life term in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case: Here's who said what on Delhi High Court's verdict
[ALSO READ] 1984 anti-Sikh riots case: Sajjan Kumar sentenced to life term for 'remainder of his life'; Delhi HC says riots were 'crime against humanity'
All about the anti-Sikh riots case
The case relates to killing of five Sikhs in Raj Nagar part-I area in Palam Colony in South West Delhi on November 1-2, 1984 and burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar part II.
The high court directed the 73-year-old Kumar and other five convicts to surrender by December 31, 2018 and not to leave the city of Delhi.
Six accused, including Sajjan Kumar, who was a Member of Parliament at that time, were sent for trial in 2010 and three years later, the lower court had convicted five of the accused but acquitted the Congress leader of all the charges.
Deciding the appeals against acquittal of Sajjan Kumar, a bench of justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel convicted the Congress leader for offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment in commission of crimes of murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of communal harmony and defiling and destruction of a Gurdwara.
The bench said the accused in the case were brought to justice "primarily on account of the courage and perseverance of three eyewitnesses" -- Jagdish Kaur, her cousin Jagsher Singh and Nirpreet Kaur.
Jagdish Kaur's husband, son and three cousins -- Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh -- were the five killed in the case. Nirpreet Kaur had witnessed the Gurdwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs, the bench also noted.
The bench also upheld the conviction and varying sentences awarded by the trial court to former Congress councillor Balwan Khokhar, retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal, Girdhari Lal and former MLAs Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokhar.
The high court also convicted them for criminal conspiracy to burn down residences of Sikh families and a gurdwara in the area during the riots.
The trial court in 2013 had awarded life term to Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal, and a three-year jail term to Yadav and Kishan Khokhar.
Following the high court verdict, life term of Khokhar, Bhagmal and Lal has been upheld and the sentence of Yadav and Kishan Khokar has been enhanced to a 10 years in jail.
Also read: Sajjan Kumar: Know all about Congress leader who got life term in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case
What the Delhi HC Observes
The Delhi HC bench, in its judgement, observed, "While it is undeniable that it has taken over three decades to bring the accused in this case to justice, and that our criminal justice system stands severely tested in that process, it is essential, in a democracy governed by the rule of law to be able to call out those responsible for such mass crimes.
"It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, truth will prevail and justice will be done."
The bench noted that after the "horrific" mass killings witnessed during the 1947 partition, the country again saw an "enormous human tragedy" when 2,733 Sikhs were "brutally murdered" in a "communal frenzy" that was unleashed between November 1-4, 1984 following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on October 31.
"Their (Sikhs) houses were destroyed. In the rest of the country too thousands of Sikhs were killed. A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes, enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency," it said.
"The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades," the court said and went on to reverse the acquittal of Kumar by a trial court in 2013.
In its 207-page decision, the high court said it took as many as ten committees and commissions for the investigation into the role of some of the perpetrators to be entrusted in 2005 to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), 21 years after the occurrence.
It said that only after the CBI entered the scene, that the witnesses, represented by senior advocate H S Phoolka, were able to be assured and they spoke up.
"Admirably, they stuck firm to their truth at the trial. This court is of the view that the mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984 were in fact 'crimes against humanity'. They will continue to shock the collective conscience of society for a long time to come," the court said.
Sajjan Kumar will move SC against HC order
Congress leader Sajjan Kumar intends to move an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court verdict on Monday sentencing him to spend the remainder of his life in jail in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, his lawyer said.
The lawyer told PTI that since the high court verdict was over 200 pages long, time was required to apply the mind and thereafter, they will move the apex court.
Advocate Anil Sharma, who represented Kumar in the high court, said the 73-year old Congress leader has been given time till December 31, 2018 to surrender and efforts would be made to challenge the conviction and the sentence before that.
If no appeal would be filed before December 31, Kumar would surrender, Sharma said.
Victims say fight will go on
Jagdish Kaur and Narpreet Kaur, whose families were were devastated in the riots which claimed over 3,000 lives, said although 34 years is a long time, they were determined to "unmask the accused" and their their fight for justice will go on.
"This verdict has brought some relief. No one should face the kind of injustice we have faced all these years," Jagdish Kaur said.
Kumar has been convicted and sentenced to sentenced to jail for "remainder of his natural life in connection with the killing of Jagdish Kaur's husband, son and three cousins -- Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh - in Raj Nagar part-I area in Palam Colony in South West Delhi on November 1-2, 1984 and burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar part II during the riots that followed the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Narpreet Kaur, whose father was burnt alive in front of her, wished that justice had come earlier.
"This verdict has brought us a bit of relief. We are not fully satisfied that we have got justice. I wish we had got this justice before and it is too late. My father was brought out on pretext of a compromise and burnt alive. He tried to save himself thrice but they did not spare him," she said.
Narpreet Kaur claimed that false cases were filed against her and she spent nine years languishing in different jails. She said she continued her fight despite the odds stacked against her.
"We have faced threats and oppression to backtrack but continued our legal battle due to support from our lawyers and leaders," she said
The High Court, in its order Monday, said the riots were a "crime against humanity" perpetrated by those who enjoyed "political patronage".
Though it was "undeniable" that it took over three decades to punish the accused in the case, it was important to assure the victims that despite the challenges faced by the court, "truth will prevail and justice will be done", the HC said.
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(With inputs from PTI)