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Thirty-four years to justice

Thirty-four years to justice

They say justice delayed is justice denied. And, they also say that something is better than nothing. That's the tale of the three eyewitnesses whose perseverance finally led to the conviction of a former Member of Parliament and Congress leader, Sajjan Kumar. Justice Muralidhar noted how "it is important to assure those victims waiting patiently that despite the challenges, truth will prevail and justice will be done". Finally, after 34 years, justice was delivered after the number one perpetrator was sentenced to life term. The atrocities that prevailed in 1984 since the outset of the anti-Sikh riots triggered by the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards have haunted the families of riot victims ever since. The Delhi High Court observed how an "abject failure" by the Delhi Police in controlling the riots and conducting a proper probe coupled with "political patronage" provided to the perpetrators, allowed the culprits to roam freely for years. Convicting the Congress leader, the court slammed Delhi Police for shielding the accused by not registering due cases against them. But, how could they? When these riots were taking place, the police was very much involved — not to prevent but to facilitate the atrocity. "Kitne murge bhun diye" (how many chickens have been roasted) asked the chowki in-charge to the mob, recollects Jagdish Kaur, one of the key witnesses, who lost her husband, son and three cousins to the gruesome incident. She had lost faith in humanity, just like the many others who were brutally victimised in 1984. Jagdish was also threatened by the police while filing a report of the incident then. The cop intimidated her citing how 'these' were powerful names that she was accusing. Surviving the fateful day because of not being a turbaned Sikh, Jagsher Singh's statement distinctly reads how Sajjan Kumar incited the public to "murder Sikhs and kill the Hindus who shelter them". He also saw Sajjan Kumar asking the mob whether they had done what they had been asked to complete. As the powerful protectors of law quickly shift gears to become unlawful protectors of power, any rational human is bound to be flustered. Nirpreet Kaur, another key witness, remembers witnessing a gurudwara being burnt down and her father being dragged out of their residence to be burnt alive by the mob. When she saw a policeman, some inspector Kaushik, give a matchbox to the mob to set fire on her kerosene-laden father as he tried to run – humanity died for her as did her faith in the police as custodians of law. Delhi Police's failure to prepare a site plan — a drawing to explain the crime spot — along with abysmally low FIRs registered in the wake of 2,733 deaths contributed in the breaking down of the "law and order machinery" and facilitating the safe passage of culprits. A case based on direct evidence rather than circumstantial evidence, ideally, should not have taken this long to be resolved had it not been for the powerful names and their influence on the investigation. CBI's entry into this scene is a big turnaround in the probe to progressively steer it towards justice. As Justice Muralidhar noted, "It took as many as 10 committees and commissions for the investigation into the role of some of them to be entrusted in 2005 to the CBI, 21 years after the occurrence" -- verifying the indifference of the police and political patronage that aided Sajjan Kumar and others in escaping prosecution and punishment.

A heart-wrenching tale indeed of how power was misused to engineer riots and belittle the rule of law. And, how the same power was utilised to evade the law for so long. The court awarded the incident of mass killing through riots engineered by political actors with the assistance of law enforcement agencies an apt description of "crime against humanity". It is through such cases that we not only realise the misuse of power in society but are also overwhelmed by a total loss of faith in the police and other institutions of our safety. The suffering that these victims and their kin were subject to is immeasurable and while the conviction of the mastermind in this incident does serve as a much-needed balm, Sajjan Kumar is only a single tree in the forest. Countless incidents of inciting the public have surfaced with deaths and destruction. Riots have plagued the country at every turn and in the collateral damage, the ordinary citizen has been hurt. While it is an occasion of relief for the country that its judicial system stands robustly inclined to protect the law, there is an astounding number that intends otherwise – including the law enforcers.

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