1984 riots: justice finally done

Delhi High Court verdict on Monday sentenced Congress Leader Sajjan Kumar to spend the remainder of his life in jail in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. PTI

The conviction of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on Delhi should boost the hopes of many people who are pursuing justice in many other cases in which influential persons are involved. A trial court had acquitted him five years ago, rejecting the testimony of even eyewitnesses who had deposed that he was seen leading mobs which killed Sikhs and set fire to houses and shops owned by them. The Delhi High Court has now reversed the acquittal and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his life. The court described the riots which broke out after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi as ‘’crimes against humanity’’, which were ‘’engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies.’’  

The 1984 riots are a blot on the country. A number of Congress leaders and workers were involved in them but very few have been brought to justice. Over 3,000 Sikhs were killed but just over 30 convictions have taken place till now. A number of inquiry commissions were appointed and they submitted their reports, and some of them mentioned the names of leaders like Sajjan Kumar. But no follow-up actions were taken. Most investigations were sham and only protected the culprits. Sajjan Kumar was named in many affidavits but cases were not registered. The court remarked that “it was an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against Sajjan Kumar in the normal scheme of things as there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress cases against him by not even recording them.” That makes his conviction an important event in the fight for justice. 

It may be reassuring that justice has finally been done. But the fact that it took 34 years to bring to justice a person whose role in the crimes was clear even on the first day should bring no credit to the system. The conviction may not even have happened but for the courage and persistence of three eyewitnesses who pursued the case all these years, facing threats and intimidation. A system in which justice is not delivered as a rule in the normal course is dysfunctional. It is also a shame that Sajjan Kumar could continue in the Congress, and criminals like him got political patronage and protection. But, as the court said, such challenges to the legal system are not limited to the anti-Sikh riots but to ‘’the killings in Mumbai in 1993, to Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar in 2013, to name a few’’. The court wants a separate law to deal with them. 

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1984 riots: justice finally done

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