Sajjan Kumar verdict: Why the criminal justice system is still awaiting a cleansing

Aneesha Mathur
Aneesha MathurDec 18, 2018 | 16:32

Sajjan Kumar verdict: Why the criminal justice system is still awaiting a cleansing

34 years after the anti-Sikh massacre that killed over 2,700 Sikhs in Delhi alone, veteran Congress leader Sajjan Kumar has been held guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Along with him, the Delhi High Court has also pronounced sentences against three others – then-Municipal Councillor Balwan Khokkhar, former MLA Mahender Yadav, as well as Balwan’s brother Kishan Khokkhar – to 10 years imprisonment for abetment to murder, rioting, looting, arson and a host of other offences.


While the political point-scoring and credit-taking for the conviction started moments after the verdict was pronounced, it is a shocking tale of collusion and bias by the police and prosecution that exposes the depth of the rot in the "system" that protected the accused for three decades.

sajjan1-copy_121818012213.jpgVeteran Congress leader Sajjan Kumar has been held guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court for his role in the 1984 riots. (Photo: PTI)

The bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, in its 209-page judgment, has set out various instances that show that the police and prosecution agencies went out of their way to shield Sajjan Kumar and the other accused, while discouraging witnesses.

So much so that the Delhi High Court has observed that “till 2006, the victims of the 1984 riots had every reason to believe that they had been abandoned. All the trials had ended in acquittals and the prospects indeed looked bleak that they could proceed against the powerful persons involved. ”

An example of the utter callousness shown to the victims is from the statement of Jagdish Kaur, who lost her husband and three brothers to the mob. In her affidavit to the Ranganath Mishra Commission in 1985, Kaur said that when she went to the police station seeking help, the police turned her away and said, “Hum kis-kis ki baat sune, Sikh to bahut mar rahen hen, jo kuchh hoga, sab ke saath ikathha hoga” (How many people do we listen to? A lot of Sikhs are dying, whatever happens, will happen for everyone).


19841-copy_121818012431.jpgLarge-scale anti-Sikh riots had broken out in Delhi in 1984 after the assassination of the then-PM Indira Gandhi. (Photo: Reuters)

The court has also taken note of the fact that Kaur’s written complaint to the police in 1984 went “missing”, and there were several “mistranslations and gaps” in the Hindi translation of her statement to the Ranganath Mishra Commission – a statement which was given in Punjabi and recorded in the Urdu script.

The investigation officer of the case admitted to the court that he could not read the language, and the police officer who had originally recorded the statement was “untraceable” by the investigation agencies.

Similar lapses are shown when it comes to other witnesses and complaints.

“A large number of acquittals in the cases demonstrated how the investigation was completely botched-up. It also demonstrated the power and influence of the accused and how witnesses could easily be won over,” observed the court in its judgment. It also noted that both the Delhi Police, and the specially created Riots Cell “did not carry out any serious and effective investigation into the murders,” and did not question several key witnesses. “The police indeed turned a blind eye and blatantly abetted the crimes committed by the rioting mob,” said the Delhi High Court, which has termed the investigations a “farce”.


1984-riots_121818012736.jpgThe Delhi High Court has called the 1984 riots a "mass crime". (Photo: IndiaToday)

Despite the multiple commissions of inquiry, the victims of the riots had to continue using political parties for help to keep the issue alive. Today, as the judgment was pronounced, the BJP and the SAD attempt to take credit for the verdict, attacking the Congress for apparently shielding leaders who were fronting the mobs.

The Congress has hit back at the BJP for “politicising the victims” while claiming that an apology had been rendered by the former AICC president, while the BJP President and the current Prime Minister have done no such thing regarding the 2002 Gujarat riots.

rahul-sonia-copy_121818012624.jpgUnder attack: The BJP and the SAD have targetted the Congress for apparently shielding leaders fronting the mobs. (Photo: PTI)

The systemic failures have led the court to observe that the riots were a “crime against humanity” and to call for change in the legal system so as to deal with “mass killings” and “genocide of this kind.

Quite unfortunately, 1984 is not the first, nor the last time the country has seen such riots. The Delhi High Court in its judgment talks about the “familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013, to name a few.”

According to the court, what is common to these “mass crimes” is the “targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by law enforcement agencies. The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment.”

Even as we welcome the punishment of one set of perpetrators, there are several still free. Currently, 186 “closed cases” of the 1984 riots are under investigation by a Supreme Court-monitored SIT, while politicians call for the resignation and punishment of a man who just took oath as Chief Minister of a major state.

Victims of other riots, including those of Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar, still await justice.

And the criminal justice system itself waits for a cleansing.

Last updated: December 18, 2018 | 16:32
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