One was a lawyer who has fought cases for 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims with missionary zeal. The other was a 71-year-old matriarch of a family that lost five members during the bloody rioting that killed several thousand Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Among the people in the courtroom after the judgment in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case was pronounced on Tuesday acquitting Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, these two persons were the cynosure of all eyes. While inconsolable, the manner in which they handled their emotions differed.
With distress on his face palpable, the normally media savvy senior advocate H. S. Phoolka could not speak for several minutes despite several reporters walking over to his side. Riot victim Jagdish Kaur on the other hand gave vent to her anger at Mr. Kumar’s acquittal. “I lost my husband, son, and three brothers in the riots. All my hopes have been dashed. If Sajjan has been freed, then I should be killed like the rest of my family,” Ms. Kaur told reporters, while refusing to move out of the courtroom.
She also levelled a number of accusations against Mr. Kumar and alleged that attempts were made to influence her testimony to the court. When Mr. Phoolka – who took a long time to reconcile with the judgment – finally agreed to speak, he criticised the testimony of six personnel of the Delhi Police in favour of Sajjan Kumar. He alleged that the Delhi Police had shielded Sajjan Kumar from the beginning.
Senior advocate H. S. Phoolka, counsel for the victims, termed the judgment unfortunate. “The court has taken a very hyper-technical view. How can the testimony of the witnesses recorded by it be held against five accused and the testimony of the same witnesses be not held against one accused. When the statements of the witnesses are believed regarding the five accused, why are they not believed against Kumar?” Mr. Phoolka questioned.
Ms. Kaur, who was accompanied by her son Gurdeep, was unceremoniously led out of the courtroom by the arrival of an intimidating contingent of police personnel, decked in anti-riot gear and carrying batons. She chose to continue her defiance outside the court building, where she and a handful of Sikhs held a sit-in protest against the police detaining Karnail Singh, who had allegedly flung his shoe at the judge.
Shiromani Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal expressed shock and anguish at the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, he expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would take cognisance of this “blatant” denial of justice to the families of 3,000 victims and order reinvestigation as was done in the case of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler.
Mr. Badal said it was most unfortunate that a glimmer of hope for justice, 29 years after the biggest massacre of the century, was put out due to “open complicity of the Delhi Police, the CBI and their mentor — the Congress.”
The Shiromani Akali Dal would not allow the Congress to put a lid on the massacre and would continue to fight till all culprits, including Mr. Kumar and Mr. Tytler, were given exemplary punishment, he said.