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Justice delayed, not denied

The conviction of senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his role in massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s murder by two of her Sikh guards can be termed as justice delayed but not denied. It is after 34 years of long trial that the Court exercised its power to nail the culprit. The conviction has come at a time when almost everyone, mostly the victims, had lost the hope. The Congress leader had earlier been acquitted by a trial court rejecting the testimony of the witnesses who said that Sajjan Kumar was seen instigating riots in Raj Nagar area of Delhi Cantonment on November 1, 1984, just a day after Indira Gandhi’s murder. The High Court completely reversed the trial court’s decision and sentenced Sajjan Kumar to imprisonment for the rest of his life. Court also levied a fine of Rs 5 lakh on him. The 207-page judgment by a Division Bench, comprising Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vinod Goel, is proof, if any were needed, that the Police had not carried out the investigations fairly. It was only after the CBI was brought in to reinvestigate in 2005 that the case got revived. The case is particular case related to the murder of five members of a Sikh family in 2005 — based on a recommendation by the Nanavati Commission — that the investigation made meaningful progress. This genuinely caused the slowness of judicial process and it took 34 years for the court to draw the right conclusions. From the deliberate failure to record any untoward incident in the station’s daily register to avoiding the examination of key witnesses, there is a long trail of evidence that points a damning finger at the police and the state machinery. This case is an example not only of the slowness of judicial processes but also of derailed investigations. One cannot ignore the element of political influence in slowing down the investigation process by the police. But like better late than never, the victims finally got a sigh of relief. The conviction of Sajjan Kumar has reignited the hope for the victims that other criminals involved in the Sikh massacre would also meet their fate under law.

It is also imperative for the courts to expedite the process and get the criminals convicted in due course of time. It is anybody’s guess that many a victims who suffered at the hands of rioters might have died during their long wait for justice. One hopes that the Court would not take now too long to decide about the other cases. It goes in favour of the courts that the past political dispensation that was at the helm of affairs and allegedly sponsored the attackers are nowhere around. It is not difficult for them to take a right call on the matter now. The court had a damming observation on other incidents of anti minority riots and drew parallels

between the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and Muslim massacres in Gujrat, Mumbai, UP and other places. Listing out the incidents where minorities were targeted in such violent crimes, the court said, “In India, the riots in early November 1984 in which in Delhi alone 2,733 Sikhs and nearly 3,350 all over the country were brutally murdered was neither the first instance of a mass crime nor, tragically, the last. The mass killings in Punjab, Delhi and elsewhere during the country’s Partition remains a collective painful memory as is the killings of innocent Sikhs in November 1984. There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008 and in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013 to name a few.” Noting that all the mass crimes had one common thread of minorities being targeted, the court said that the attacks were spearheaded by political actors in power. The observations must serve as bases for justice to the victims of riots in Gujrat, Mumbai and UP as well and the legal and court process should be sped up to nail the criminals involved in such massacres.