Congress leader Sajjan Kumar may have heaved a sigh of relief on 30 April after a Delhi district court pronounced him not guilty in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. But the 29-year-long fight for justice by the survivors and relatives of the gruesome Sikh massacres is far from over. Senior Supreme Court Advocate HS Phoolka, who has been fighting on behalf of the victims for close to three decades, is gearing up for an appeal before the High Court. Sajjan Kumar and another Congressman Jagdish Tytler, among others, had been accused of murder and inciting violent mobs in November 1984 in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Terming the 129-page judgement as strange, Phoolka says it makes a very good case for an appeal. For instance, he points out, “the Court has believed the testimonies of the witnesses while convicting the five co-accused but has dismissed their accounts as hearsay when it comes to Sajjan Kumar. If the judge has accepted the witnesses’ statement for those five, why would the witnesses lie only when it comes to Kumar?”
Similarly, a statement given on 3 November 1984 by a witness Jagdish Kaur (whose husband was beaten to death and son burnt alive) has suddenly been removed from police records. “Jagdish Kaur had spoken explicitly against Kumar,” says Phoolka.
“The CBI investigations further showed that the police did not record statements of witnesses who named Kumar and that it shielded him. The trial court seems to have failed to take this into consideration. We are hopeful of securing his conviction after an appeal,” adds Phoolka.
Not everyone is as hopeful though. “We will protest to create public pressure but how can we expect the same ruling party that perpetuated 1984 to give us justice today?” asks a distraught Nirpreet Kaur, whose father was burnt to death in the riots. “Only the testimonies of those speaking in favour of Sajjan Kumar — like the six police officers who appeared as defence witnesses — are being taken into account. They can give justice within 10 years of the Godhra riots. How about a Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team for 1984?”
Curiously, an FIR registered in 1987 at the Nangloi Police Station in New Delhi, also mentioned the involvement of Kumar in the riots. Investigations were conducted wherein witnesses mentioned Sajjan Kumar, but even though the chargesheet was prepared, it has not yet been filed in court.
This despite the chargesheet clearly saying that a challan should be issued against Kumar based on the investigation and evidence, but that he has not been arrested due to “law and order problems”. Phoolka sees a conspiracy in this. “It is obvious that the then investigating officer and assistant commissioner of police intentionally suppressed the filing of this chargesheet,” he says. “We will press for this chargesheet to be filed in court as soon as possible.”
Following the judgment, the capital has seen protests by Sikh groups with officials even having to shut down metro stations. Similar protests were also carried out in Jammu. Opposition parties too have denounced the verdict. “This is what leads to militancy,” says Shiromani Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral, “This is selective secularism. Muslims are almost 18 percent of the votebank, whereas Sikhs constitute a mere 1-1.5 percent. I hope the SC will order a fresh probe into 1984 just the way it had done for the 2002 Gujarat riots.”
Kumar was acquitted by the district court in one of the cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in which around 3,000 Sikhs were brutally killed by mobs in Delhi. The judge, however, convicted five others — Balwan Khokar, Mahender Yadav, Captain Bhagmal (retd), Girdhari Lal and Krishan Khokar — for the murder of five people in Delhi Cantonment in November 1984 in one of the bloodiest riots in Indian history.