Kanishka crash case verdict opens old wounds

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17. Along with the release of a thousand white balloons and floating of hundreds of lights into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland, this coming June 23 was to bring a sense of closure to 20 long years of struggle for justice for this group bonded by a collective grief.

But this year the mood at the memorial service to be held at Cork in Ireland for those who perished in the tragic crash of Air India's Kanishka flight 182 it seems would once again be "sombre".

For the families of the victims, the acquittal of the two Sikh men -- Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik -- accused of killing 329 people in the bombing of the Air India plane is like a re-opening of wounds that never healed even after 20 long years.

"What does lack of evidence mean? What foolproof evidence was the Judge hoping to find? Did he expect to find pieces of the bomb in Malik's house? From the start we did not have faith in the justice system of Canada. How could they equate a case of terrorism with a criminal case? And if things have come to such a stage, it is now the Government of India that should get involved. Why isn't the Indian Government interested in getting to the bottom of the issue?" demanded Neena Rao who lost two nephews in the tragedy.

"My husband and sister-in-law are in Canada and they went for the opening of the trial. This has been a stunning judgment," she added.

And while there were many like Ms. Rao "shocked" by the verdict, for many the judgment on Wednesday was just another reminder of terrible loss.

With a voice full of emotion, Maya Sharma who lost her daughter and grandchild in the crash couldn't hold back her tears. "I have never even seen the photographs of the people accused of the bombing. Yes, the judgment is bad but for me this does not matter. It cannot bring back my children. The loss is irreplaceable and nothing will fill the gap. Whatever the judgment, we have already lost those people," she said in a choked voice.

The judgment has also taken aback the Indian lawyers involved in the case.

"This has been such a long trial. The Court of Inquiry here had held that it was a clear-cut case of sabotage. It seems there has been a lack of proper investigation in Canada. And the blame falls squarely on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This has been a disappointed judgment," said advocate Lalit Bhasin.

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