Thirty-four years is a long wait, but we finally saw a semblance of justice for the horrific 1984 mass killing of Sikhs. The life sentence given to Sajjan Kumar, a Delhi Congress leader of prominence those days, is significant in numerous ways. After the poignant lines of an Amrita Pritam poem quoted as foreword, the judgment pointed to a major lacuna in domestic law: the absence of the category of ‘Crimes against Humanity’.
Collective violence, whenever it has erupted in India, has always invariably been instigated by the powerful, with law-enforcers looking the other way. Common Indians have otherwise lived with each other, side by side, making their own rules of living and engagement, without getting at each other’s throats. The testimony of one of the main eyewitnesses in Kumar’s case, who was a little girl in 1984 when her father was torched alive, proves both points.
She recalls instructions to burn down the houses of Hindus and Muslims who were protecting their Sikh neighbours. It’s rare for politicians to face conviction for their dastardly acts. This judgment could change that. This is no closure though. The Supreme Court will hopefully uphold the conviction, and other pending cases against high-profile politicos need to reach a similar conclusion.
No apology, such as the one Manmohan Singh offered, can stand in for clear legal punishment. Let’s not forget that 10 committees and commissions could not deliver justice to the thousands of innocents killed, who had no link to Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The 207-page judgment, which left most present in the courtroom, including the two judges, emotionally wrought, spoke of the “familiar pattern of mass killings” in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat, in Kandhamal, and in Muzaffarnagar. We as a nation should hang our heads in shame, but we also need more than silent prayers for the dead.