New Delhi, January 6: A 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots case it seems has seen justice at last… Sajjan Kumar sentenced to remain in prison for rest of his natural life- to die in jail.
Sajjan Kumar, a prominent Congress leader and accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, has finally had justice descended on him. On December 17, 2018, the Delhi High Court reversing the decision of the trial court wherein his co-accused were found guilty and sentenced and he had been acquitted, found Sajjan Kumar guilty and convicted him under Sections 120B, 302, 436, 153A(1)(a) and 153A(1)(b), 295 and 109 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Various charges explained:
Section 120B of IPC deals with crimes of criminal conspiracy while Section 302 deals with punishment for murder charge.
Section 436 IPC deals with punishment for Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent destroy house, etc.).
Sections 153A (1) (a) and (b) IPC:
Section 153A(1)(a) deals with punishment for incitement of violence, enmity, disharmony hatred etc (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.
Section 153A(1)(b) deals with punishment for commission of an act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity
Section 295 deals with punishment for iinjuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.
Sajjan Kumar is also convicted under Section 109 of the IPC which is an over-arching section of the IPC to punish the culprits who might otherwise manage to arrange a wriggle room for themselves having mighty friends and well-wishers in high places.
Section 109 of the IPC provides for punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment. It says:
—Whoever abets any offence shall, if the act abetted is committed in consequence of the abetment, and no express provision is made by this Code for the punishment of such abetment, be punished with the punishment provided for the offence. Explanation.—An act or offence is said to be committed in consequence of abetment, when it is committed in consequence of the instigation, or in pursuance of the conspiracy, or with the aid which constitutes the abetment.
Convicting Sajjan Kumar under Section 109 was like closing any loopholes his defence might find to guarantee his acquittal.
In a layman’s language, Sajjan Kumar has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life, AS LONG AS HE LIVES – in jail.
Although the Delhi High Court was very succinct in its stipulation of Sajjan Kumar’s surrender to authorities by no later than December 31, his defence team, December 21 made an application for extension of time by one month to January 31, claiming he was still in shock and had to finalise matters relating to his properties and inheritance among other things. The Court was not interested and dismissed the application on the day.
Sajjan Kumar finally – came under the grip of justice when he surrendered to authorities on December 31 in Delhi to commence his sentence, while his defence team is preparing to file an appeal against this conviction in the Supreme Court of India.
Going through the judgement, the two judges have made it almost foolproof and the prospects of success of any appeal may be on grounds other than legal.
The judgement compares the situation in 1984 to the time of partition in 1947. “In the summer of 1947, during partition, several people were massacred. 37 years later Delhi was the witness of a similar tragedy. The accused enjoyed political patronage and escaped trial.”
Reversing the trial court’s decision to acquit Sajjan Kumar, Delhi High Court found him guilty on all the above charges and convicted him. The decision has come over 34 years after thousands of Sikhs were killed in the national capital of India.
The accused in this case have been brought to justice primarily on account of the courage and perseverance of three eyewitnesses. Jagdish Kaur whose husband, son and three cousins were the five killed; Jagsher Singh, another cousin of Jagdish Kaur, and Nirpreet Kaur who saw the Gurudwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs.
It is only after the CBI entered the scene, that they were able to be assured and they spoke up. Admirably, they stuck firm to their truth at the trial.
One person, who has tirelessly and singlehandedly fought this battle for the victims is Senior Advocate Harvinder Singh Phoolka who represented the main witnessed Jagdish Kaur husband, son and three cousins were the five killed.
While the perpetrators have had 34 long years to pressurise and coerce witness to save themselves, Phoolká clients have had the courage to withstand, what others could not.
To highlight the sheer weight of power which could be put on witnesses to change their story, Advocate Phoolka told the court that, “when the CBI proceeded to the residence of Sajjan Kumar to arrest him in 1990, the jeeps of the CBI were burnt and the CBI officers were kept hostage in his house.
Advocate Phoolka further reminded the court of the immense influence, political clout, and criminal mindset of Sajjan Kumar of not only in being a mastermind of the brutal killings in 1984 but even for years thereafter in threatening and assaulting law enforcement officers investigating him.
Advocate Phoolka further said that at the time of the aforementioned incident, the party to which Sajjan Kumar belonged was not in power and yet, he was so influential that no one could dare to take him into custody for questioning.
The case against Sajjan Kumar was reopened by the CBI on the recommendation of Justice Nanavati Commission in 2005.
In 2013, a trial court convicted five men, including a councillor and an MLA, in this case, while Kumar was acquitted. The convicts appealed in the High Court against their conviction and sentencing.
Senior lawyer HS Phoolka represented the families of the victims in the case who last year had resigned from his position of the Leader of Opposition in the Punjab legislative assembly to devote more time to the riot cases.
On December 16, a day before the delivery of the judgement, Advocate Phoolka tweeted:
H S Phoolka@hsphoolka
Sajjan Kumar case-
Monday is a big day of my life- result of 34yrs struggle. I had resigned from post of LOP to appear in this case.
In view of strong evidence,will surely succeed. #1984SikhGenocide
Talking exclusively to Bharat Times from India Advocate Phoolka described the Sajjan Kumar verdict as having ramifications of mammoth proportions for other cases involving mob violence and crimes against humanity.
“This verdict is warning to people that no one is above the law and a day will come – when justice will be done. No matter how powerful you might think you are, justice will catch up with you one day.”
And the it restores layman’s faith in the justice system…
“It is a victory which tells everyone, one and all that justice will finally prevail and no matter how brazenly people in power try to scuttle the processes, the common man will have their day in court and win”.
What about case against Jagdish Tytler? Does this case have any direct implications for the case against Jagdish Tytler?
“The case against Tytler is progressing. The report comes up later in January…”.
Tytler has been exonerated by the CBI on three separate occasions. According to Tytler’s lawyers, there is no case against him at present.
The report Advocate Phoolka and his team are waiting is a report of a lie detector test taken by the main witness against Tytler, arms dealer Abhishek Verma. A court had directed both the witness and Jagdish Tytler to undergo the test but Tytler, so far has been refusing to take the test.
In the meantime, as alleged in the case in the context of other witnesses, Abhishek Verma has also claimed receiving death threats and has made police complaints.
According to a separate report, Tytler is alleged to be pressurising prominent witness to change his evidence, whose son, Tytler has allegedly sent to Canada.
For Advocate Phoolka, Abhishek Verma’s test report if favourable to prosecute Tytler, can be the death knell particularly in light of Sajjan Kumar verdict.
In a way, it is a personal victory for Advocate Phoolka as well who took up the cause of fighting for justice for the victims of anti-Sikh riots and has spearheaded the battle against the might of the head honchos of political patronage in India.
Advocate Phoolka gave up his job as the leader of Opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha to devote time to this particular case, such is his passion for justice for the victims of 1984 riots.
After Sajjan Kumar conviction, Phoolka’s team is quite buoyed to achieve similar result in case of Jagdish Tytler.
Another name in this sad saga is of Kamal Nath, another Congress leader, who will keep on enjoying the freedom for some time as the wheels of justice pick up some pace. Reports allege it was Kamal Nath, who led the mob that killed the two Sikhs. As of now, there is no case against Kamal Nath.
Ironically, Kamal Nath was sworn in as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh the same day Sajjan Kumar was convicted by the Delhi High Court.
Last month, when a Delhi court handed the first death sentence to a convict in a case related to the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, hopes of victims rose tremendously. The Patiala House court pronounced the death sentence for Yashpal Singh after he was found guilty of killing two Sikhs.
Victims hoped they would see death sentences being pronounced on Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. While Jagdish Tytler’s case still has some way to go, Sajjan Kumar’s appeal to the Supreme Court is unlikely to result in the apex court increasing his sentence to death penalty.
Is this justice and is it real for anyone affected by those ill-fated riots in November 1984?
Perhaps it is more symbolic than real for the victims. It will be interesting to see if victims seek compensations, if so it will be millions of dollars, against the state failing its citizens. And in such a scenario, should the authorities ask for the assets of the perpetrators to be ceased? With the stamina of Advocate Phoolka, one should not rule that out.
In the meantime, Advocate Phoolka and his team deserve a big pat on their backs for achieve this epoch making judgement in the history of Indian justice system.
R. VenuGopal with DM