Elusive justice

The acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar by a Delhi court in a case of murder of five members of a Sikh family in Delhi will not help to strengthen faith in the ability of the system to deliver justice to victims of riots.

The killings were part of the pogrom unleashed on the Sikh community after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The court’s verdict will unfortunately confirm the impression that the strong and the powerful manage to get away with their crimes. The verdict will be seen in the context of the unwillingness of the police even to register cases against Sajjan Kumar and many others even though they were serious and credible complaints against  them. It was 21 years after the riots that the CBI filed a case against Sajjan Kumar in 2005 on the basis of the report of the Nanavati commission which probed the riots. In the case the CBI also charged that the police had earlier tried to shield Sajjan Kumar.

The technical grounds on which the acquittal was made will not be convincing to many people.  The court accepted the testimony of witnesses and convicted five persons in the case but rejected it in the case of Sajjan Kumar. It felt that the testimony of the main prosecution witness Jagdish Kaur, who had lost five members of her family, was not credible because she had not named Sajjan Kumar as an accused in a statement given in 1985 to the Ranganath Mishra commission which had also probed the riots. The court also rejected the charge of conspiracy against Sajjan Kumar though there were many witnesses who testified that they had seen him instigating a mob.

Decades after the widespread attacks on Sikhs in which thousands were killed justice still eludes  the victims. Very few people have been convicted  till now. The long delay means denial of justice and failure of the rule of law. Investigating agencies have filed closure reports in many cases. Last month a sessions court rejected a magisterial court’s order based on a closure report  giving a clean chit to another Congress leader, Jagdish Tytler, and ordered reopening of the case against him. Members of the Sikh community are outraged by the verdict in the Sajjan Kumar case and are staging protests. Perceived failures of justice push people into angry responses. There are other cases also pending against Sajjan Kumar but the government should appeal against Tuesday’s verdict.

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