India

1984 anti-Sikh massacre case: Delhi court orders death penalty on one convict, life term for another

A Delhi court gave a death sentence verdict to one of the two attackers convicted of killing two men during the anti-Sikh massacre in 1984. The other convict will spend life in prison, the court said Tuesday.

The two attackers, Naresh Sherawat, 68, and Yashpal Singh, 55, were convicted of killing two men in south Delhi’s Mahipalpur and have been fined Rs. 35 lakh each.

Additional Sessions Judge Ajay Pandey stated that for 33 years the two men had escaped the process of law and said that it is time for the court to rise upon the cry of the victims and the demand of the society. The court ordered death penalty to convict Yashpal Singh for the killings, considered to be the first capital punishment in the case. Co-convict Naresh Sehrawat was given life term.

Victims of ‘mass genocide could not be left in the lurch and that their allegations should also be given a fair hearing, the court observed.

On November 1, 1984, a mob of 800-1,000 armed with iron rods, hockey sticks, stones, kerosene oil attacked Hardev Singh and two others and set their shops on fire.

They then ran away to their friend Surjeet Singh’s home and locked themselves inside, later joined by Avtar Singh. The mob followed them to the house and stabbed Hardev and threw all of them from the balcony.

An eyewitness and relative of the two victims said that the mob below then poured petrol and some powder in their mouths which caught fire.

“Tyres were hung around their necks and burnt. As they struggled, the attackers laughed and said ‘they’re like dancing monkeys’,” the relative said.

The injured were taken to Safdarjung Hospital where Avatar Singh and Hardev Singh died.

The Delhi Police had closed the case in 1994 for lack of evidence.

The Supreme Court of India-appointed Special Investigation Team, formed in 2015, probed the 60 cases it had reopened out of the total 293, and succeeded in getting conviction in the first case last week.

It filed “untraced report” in 52 cases and of the eight cases being investigated, charge-sheets have been filed in five while the rest, in which senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar is an accused, are pending investigation.

Both the men were arrested after the court held them guilty of murder, attempt to murder, dacoity and voluntarily causing hurt.

Judge Pandey Tuesday said from the testimony of the eyewitnesses, it is clear that Yashpal had come to the spot in the bus on November 1, 1984 and that he was actively involved in the burning of shops of the deceased and the eye witnesses. The court also pointed that there was sufficient material and allegations in the affidavit given by one of the eyewitnesses, Santokh Singh, who is also the complainant.

While sentencing Singh to death, the judge said there is no material before it to consider that convict Yashpal had reformed himself. “He appears to be playing gimmick with the court and victims till date. He appears to be purposely hiding his income and properties,” the court said.

“The court is of the opinion that if he did not repent for last 34 years and his mentality did not reform when he was at large in society for such a long period. He attempted to mislead the court in order to escape his liability, his chances for reformation now are almost negligible,” the judge said in his verdict.

While convicting the duo, the court has said that ‘fair trial should not be fair to only the accused persons. It also said that the accused had never been even arrested till the pronouncement of their conviction on November 14. “The court recalls the feelings of the victims when the eyewitnesses appeared before the court on November 5 and expressed their grief that the convicts were roaming at large,” the judge said.

Stressing on the need for justice in such cases, the judge said such incidents break the trust between communities which, once broken, cannot be restored even after decades. “Incidents of this kind breaks entire fabric of trust and harmony against communities, thereby severely affecting the knitting and assimilation of different religious and social groups. The inter-community trust is broken. Large scale migration takes place. In fact, the 1984 riots led to large scale migration of the people of the Sikh community, severely prejudicing their lives and livelihood in denial of the constitutional guarantees. Decades may be taken to rebuild the trust again,” the court said.

The verdict was pronounced in Tihar Jail after the local police moved a petition in the High Court citing security reasons and possibility of attack on the convicts on the premises of the Delhi court, said a senior police officer.

The verdict has given “Sikhs a ray of hope”, said Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal in a Twitter post.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the verdict and said, “Justice has finally been meted out to the perpetrators of the heinous crimes. Hope the others involved in the attacks are also soon brought to book for their horrendous and inhuman acts.”

His party said they felt “proud and fortunate”.

“The Congress’ stand is clear. This is a legal process, a legal process which must be allowed to work out its course and we are very proud, happy and fortunate that it is working out its course,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.

The official records say that over 2,800 Sikhs were killed across India after former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguard. The violence across the country, but mostly in Delhi, saw women being raped and people dragged out of their homes to be burnt alive.

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