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This case summary is written by Shreya Tandon, from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), IP University. In this article the author covers the landmark judgment of the case named State through CBI Vs Sajjan Kumar vs Ors.

Introduction 

The 1984 Anti- Sikh Riots are making a splash in headlines for decades. It again popped up in the news as the High Court reversed the Trial Court’s decision and convicted former members of the Parliament, Sajjan Kumar to be imprisoned for life. The court finally unmasked the cover-ups and stated that the instances during 1984 were equivalent to the acts against humanity. This judgment was delivered in the eleventh hour which unfortunately reflects the poor ability of the judicial authorities to deliver justice on time and gives lessons to learn.

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Background screening

Sajjan Kumar is one of the most controversial leaders of his time belonging to the Indian National Congress. His journey has been massive from an active politician to a tendentious one. He was a close friend of Sanjay Gandhi who helped him enter politics. They were like two minds acting as one. The starting point of his journey began from 1977 when he contested Delhi municipal elections from Madipur and was appointed as a councilor in the consequent year itself. He was also the face of the Pradesh Congress Committee(PCC) and was allotted the post of General Secretary. His political career scaled heights when he became part of the consultative committee and Ministry of Works and housing in the 7th Lok Sabha Elections, 1980. 

Afterward, he was re-elected as Lok Sabha member in the 10th and 14th Lok Sabha elections for the third time recurrently and he again won in 2004 by gaining the maximum number of votes. In the year 2018, he was made to leave the parliament as he was convicted and sent to imprisonment for life in the 1984 riots case. He is known as the mastermind and brainbox of the riots and is charged with involvement in the killing of five members of the Sikh family, namely- Raghuvender Singh, Kehar Singh, Narendra Pal Singh, Kehar Singh, and Kuldeep Singh via mob. He’s called as a symbol and face of mass killings at that time as he incited mobs to attack the Sikh community after the assassination of then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

Connection with the 1984 riots 

The unforgettable instance of 1984 riots can still bring goosebumps to each one of us. Listed below is the timeline of the present case which includes the history of riots and its repercussions.

Where did it all start

  • In 1984, Indira Gandhi, which was then the Prime Minister of India, proposed a military operation which was popularly known as Operation Blue Star. This operation took place inside the golden temple and aimed at eradicating Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (Perceived as the leading influencer who proposed the idea of Khalistan) and other Sikh militants along with their weapons and regain control over Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar.
  • Incipiently, the origin of the operation emerges from the Khalistan Movement whose sole purpose was to create an independent state for the Sikh community. In other words, they demanded a fragmented India, that is, North-Western Part which segregates Sikhs from other citizens of the country.
  • This is one of the most gigantic and colossal missions which was taken by the Indian army and it lasted for ten days, starting from 1st June 1984 to that of 10th June 1984.
  • The army used tanks, armored vehicles, weapons, and helicopters to have full control over the Golden Temple which also led to the destruction of Akal Takhat and ‘Guru Ram Das Langar’. 
  • The situation became horrible each passing day. Media faced a blackout. Curfew was imposed in Amritsar. People were deprived of the resources and were confined to their homes. Electricity and water supply was shut down. The internet services were completely blocked and no outsider was allowed to enter the state. The military assault bulldozed tension amongst the Sikh community and created a situation of apprehension all over the globe. In June 1984, 83 army deaths and 49 civilian deaths were reported.
  • The worst was yet to come. The outrage of the Sikh community and the rage resulted in the most notable event of this operation that is, the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This was done by her two Sikh bodyguards who shot her dead by firing thirty-three bullets inside her. This took place on 31st October 1984, four months after the operation.
  • This had a huge impact and became one of the major setbacks for the nation. This was not the end, the situation worsens. The anti-Sikh riots began on 1st November 1984. 
  • Amongst the other Union territories, New Delhi was one of the tops in the list that claimed to have more than 3,000 deaths of Sikhs and the official number is still in the question. Sikhs were being beaten to death, their houses were burnt by the mobs, women and girls were raped, children killed, dead bodies were neither recognizable nor were traceable. At least 50,000 people were displaced and thrown out of their houses. 10,000 business places were destroyed. Northern parts of India also reported attacks on forty-three Sikhs.
  • 54 Cases, 426 Murders and none convicted. Despite all this, there were hardly any FIRs being noted.

How did Sajjan Kumar gain limelight and come into the picture

  • In 2000, the Nanavati Commission was set up to scrutinize the whole critical situation of riots.
  • In the year 2005, the matter went to the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) and after five years that is in 2010 charge- sheet was filed.
  • Summons were issued against Sajjan Kumar, Balwan Khokkar, Mahender Yadav, Captain Bagmal, Girdhari Lal, Krishan Khokkar, the late Maha Singh and Santosh Rani, who was named as the accused. While the case moved forward, the three fearless prime witnesses came into the scene, namely: 
  • Jagdish Kaur (PW-1)
  • Jagsher Singh (PW-6)
  • Nirpreet Kaur (PW-10)
  • The Special Investigation Team (SIT) gave a list of a total of 18 witnesses including Naresh Sherawat and Yahspal Singh in its charge sheet.
  • In 2013, the session court passed a judgment and acquitted Sajjan Kumar.
  • In 2015, The Ministry of Home Affairs set up SIT and was given the duty to reinvestigate 187 cases. On 6th December 2017, these cases were closed without any investigation. Then the Supreme Court took the matter in its own hands and decided to work on the same to find out as to why those cases have been closed without giving any reason.
  • The Trial Court’s Judgment was challenged in 2018, the Delhi High Court ordered the death penalty to convict Yashpal and awarded life term imprisonment to Shikhawat.
  • Further on 18th December 2018, the Delhi High Court reversed its decision and held Sajjan Kumar guilty by granting him Life Imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life.
  • The matter is pending in Supreme Court and recently in 2020, Sajjan Kumar was denied the opportunity of getting bail.   

Identification of parties and the corum

Parties: State through CBI Vs.Sajjan Kumar and others

Corum: Justice S. Muralidhar

             Justice Vinod Goel

Issues of vital importance

  1. There are several charges which are booked against Sajjan Kumar but the most important one that he stands accused of is that he has murdered 5 people of the Sikh community living in the Raj Nagar area in Palam Colony, Delhi on 1st and 2nd of November,1984.
  2. The other matter being related to the burning of Gurudwara situated in Raj Nagar phase 2.

The following are some other charges which were framed against him

Trial Court and High Court’s judgment 

Way back in 2013 the trial court held Sajjan Kumar to be not guilty and set him free on the following grounds:

  1. One of the Prime Witnesses of the crime was Jagdish Kaur (PW-1). She gave her statement against Sajjan Kumar’s acts. It was held to be inconsistent as they were hearsay and he deserved ‘The benefit of Doubt.’ The court said that this statement should have prima facie emerged but didn’t at the time when she testified during her investigation which took place before the Nanavati Commission. The court observed, 

“The prima facie statement was made by Jagdish Kaur in the year 1985. Till then, there was no mention of Kumars’ name. But later In the year 2007, when she was told to dictate the whole incidence under Section 161 CrPC, Sajjan Kumar’s name popped up from nowhere.”

  1. Following the above, the statement of PW-1 came up almost 27 years after the incident. The court observed that Kaur did not specifically mention Kumar’s role in her statement given to the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission in 1985. However, in 2002, almost two decades later, Kaur stated in a court affidavit that Kumar’s role was “not to be brushed aside”.
  2. Nirpreet Kaur(PW-10) statements were proved to be not reliable as she first mentioned Kumar in the year 2007.
  3. The role of police authority was also criticized due to which there was hardly any evidence available in the court to help the court turn its decision. According to the official number total number of deaths was 341 and only 21 FIRs were registered in the police station out of which only 15 included the charge of murder. Lack of proper investigation and carelessness was observed on part of the authority. Neither the dead bodies were found nor the investigation took place properly. The cases which should have been recorded separately were clubbed together in only one FIR in Delhi Cantonment.
  4. Despite all odds, this is how the Jat leader got away from the conspiracy by the loopholes present in the court of law.

The Trial Court’s Judgement was challenged in High court by the Central Bureau of Investigation and since 2013 it has appeared before the bench more than 100 times. The case was first heard on 27th May 2013 by Justice Pratibha Rani.

The case finally made it through the leeway after 2016 when it was under former CJI Gita Mittal. But after her transfer to Jammu and Kashmir, the case was transferred to Justice Muralidhar and Justice Goel who finally delivered the judgment within two months.

  1. The Trial Court’s judgment was set aside and life term imprisonment was granted to Kumar. Along with this, the death penalty was awarded to one of the victims, Yashpal, and life term to Shikhawat.
  2. The court by considering all the shreds of evidence, proofs and gravity of the case observed that,

“The Court would like to note that cases of the present kind are indeed extraordinary and require a different approach to be adopted by the  Courts…

…The mass killings of Sikhs between 1st and 4th November 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies, answer the description of “crimes against humanity.”

  1. Political Patronage emerged as a disgraceful reason that kept him away from what he deserved until 34 years. In its judgment, the high court pointed out that a “majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes, enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency. The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades”.

It also acknowledged, “bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system”.

  1. “It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, the truth will prevail and justice will be done,” the court said.
  2. And finally, the four who never gave up and fought the battle for so long made it and succeeded in putting Kumar behind the bars and made him pay for his deeds.

SC on bail plea hearing

The above-stated judgment of the High Court has been challenged in the Supreme Court as well and the matter is still pending before the court of law. Recently an interim bail petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Sajjan Kumar citing medical grounds, the apex court hearing the matter through video conferencing rejected the same and has directed that the court will hear the petition for regular bail in the month of July. This was stated by the bench Justice Indu Malhotra and Hrishikesh Roy.

Analysis of the whole case

On 31st October 1984, the then Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards which led to a communal crisis in the country and which further resulted in bloodshed. From 1st to 4th November of that year, all over Delhi, 2,733 Sikhs were brutally murdered and their houses were destroyed. Thousands of Sikhs were killed in other parts of the country as well.

A majority of culprits involved in these dreadful mass killings were protected by various political connections and law enforcement agencies. These criminals avoided prosecution and punishment for over 21 years after which the investigation was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The main issue of concern was, There are a number of charges which are booked against him but the most important one that he stands accused of is that he has committed the murder of 5 people of Sikh Community living in Raj Nagar area in Palam Colony on 1st and 2nd of November. Another issue was concerning the burning of Gurudwara situated in Raj Nagar phase 2.

Sajjan Kumar, the Congress MP who was allegedly the Kingpin of these horrific killings was charged with having committed the offense of criminal conspiracy punishable under Section 120B read with Sections 146,147, 148, 153A, 295,300, 302, 395,397, 425, 436, 427, 436, 449,  and 505 of the Indian Penal Code on account of agreeing, on or about 31st October 1984, with his accomplices including police personnel.

On 30th April 2013, the trial court acquitted Sajjan Kumar of all charges citing that the statement of the witness cannot be relied upon as the witness did not state at an earlier stage and the statement was added later. Also, the court found the evidence against Sajjan Kumar to be hearsay, and hence he was acquitted of all charges.

CBI challenged the above-stated judgment of the trial court in the Delhi High Court.

On 17th December 2018, the Delhi High Court set aside the acquittal of A-1 (Sajjan Kumar) by the trial Court. He was convicted of the offense of criminal conspiracy punishable under Section 120B read with Sections 302, 436, 295, and 153A (1) (a) and (b) IPC; for the offense punishable under Section 109 IPC of abetting the commission of the aforementioned offenses; and for the offense of delivering provocative speeches instigating violence against Sikhs punishable under Section 153A (1) (a) and (b) IPC. And he was sentenced to life imprisonment (for the remainder of his life).

The above-stated judgment of the High Court has been challenged in the Supreme Court as well and the matter is still pending before the court of law.

Recently on 11th March 2020, an interim bail petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Sajjan Kumar citing medical grounds, the apex court hearing the matter through video conferencing rejected the same and has directed that the court will hear the petition for regular bail in the month of July.

Conclusion

This verdict delivered by the Supreme court has finally quenched the thirst for justice of thousands of families across the country. Woefully, it is a fact that such type of violence cannot take place without any political backing, and leaders who are perpetrators are most likely to get away with it by using political means. This is sadly the reason that when such landmark judgments are pronounced against them, they serve more as a nudge of the unexecuted task of justice. The Apex court while delivering this judgment stated, “It is important to assure those countless victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, the truth will prevail and justice will be done” 

Tears filled in eyes and the pain of losing the family members have finally been substituted by the High Court, calling it a dark chapter in the history of India that upholds  70 convictions about the 1984 Sikh- Riots. We also see that political leaders welcome Sajjan Kumar’s conviction. 

Such genocide crimes not only disturb the peace of the country but also put a tag on the harmony as well as the constitution. The sufferings of the victims of riots are unmeasurable but there have been a number of reasons for the delay. Firstly, there is a need to understand the importance and purpose of the rule of law. It takes not only time but also apt evidence, proofs, and investigation to reach a fair judgment as it’ll affect the lives of many people. There is a need for a systematic time framework system. In this case, especially, lack of investigation and failure to perform duty by police officers have played a major role in delaying such judgment which should have been delivered years ago. It needs to be understood that each one of us will be benefited from the strengthened applications of the procedure of law.

The struggle for victims is still not over and there is still a long way to go as now the matter is more likely to be in the Apex Court which will again take plenty of time to deliver the final judgment. Justice not only needs to be done but should also seem to be done. For now, we all must serve both sides of the argument and make peace to have a positive impact on the future.

References 


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