1984 Sikh Riots| “Principal Offender” Sajjan Kumar sentenced to life imprisonment for “crime against humanity”

“The mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984 were in fact ‘crimes against humanity’. They will continue to shock the collective conscience of society for a long time to come.”

Delhi High Court:A Division Bench comprising of S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, JJ. decided Sajjan Kumar’s fate in the infamous 1984 Sikh riots case. On CBI’s appeal, the reversed the acquittal by the trial court of Sajjan Kumar, former Member of Parliament and sentenced him to imprisonment for life. Present appeals were directed against the judgment dated 30-04-2013 passed by the trial court acquitting Sajjan Kumar of the offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment while, at the same time, convicting other 5 accused.


Following the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, on the morning of 31-10-1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards, a communal frenzy was unleashed. For the next four days, all over Delhi, 2,733 Sikhs were brutally murdered. Their houses were destroyed. In the rest of the country too thousands of Sikhs were killed. The present appeals arise as a result the investigation by the CBI into the killing of five Sikhs in the Raj Nagar Part 1 area in Palm Colony in South West Delhi on 1-2-November 1984 and the burning down of a Gurudwara in Raj Nagar Part II. Six accused, including Sajjan Kumar, were sent up for trial in 2010. Three years later, the trial court convicted five of the accused for the offences of armed rioting and murder. Sajjan Kumar stood acquitted of all offences. The convicted accused, as well as the CBI, appealed to the High Court.


Sajjan Kumar was chawed for entering into criminal conspiracy with other accused and being principal offender and abettor in commission of offences including rioting, murder, house trespass, dacoity, promoting enmity between different groups grounds of religion. defiling place of worship, etc.


The accused were brought to justice primarily on account of the courage and perseverance of three eyewitnesses, Jagdish Kaur whose husband, son and three cousins were the five killed; Jagsher Singh, another cousin of Jagdish Kaur; and Nirpreet Kaur who saw the Gurudwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs. It is only after the CBI entered the scene, that they were able to be assured and they spoke up.

Failure to register FIR and unsatisfactory investigation

According to the Court, there was an abject failure by the police to investigate the violence which broke out in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. There was an utter failure to register separate FIRs with respect to the five deaths that from the subject matter of the present appeals. It was observed, “circumstances establish apathy of Delhi Police and their active connivance in the brutal murders being perpetrated”.

Extraordinary case

In Court’s own words, “This was an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against A-1 in the normal scheme of things because there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress the cases against him by not even recording or registering them. Even if they were registered they were not investigated properly and even the investigations which sawing progress were not carried to logical end of a charge sheet actually being filed.”

Sajjan Kumar’s involvement in conspiracy

The High Court was of the view that the trial court completely omitted to address the charges of conspiracy despite detailed arguments submitted by the CBI. Holding the witness record to be unshakably true, the Court observed, “there was detailed planning and the witnesses have spoken about seeing some of the political leaders walking around with lists in order to identify the houses of Sikhs. Without such careful planning, the scale of violence, destruction, and the loss of lives could not have been brought about.” The Court held Sajjan Kumar’s involvement was proved in light of the evidence that came on record and specially the witness deposition wherein express and categorical terms they testified to have seen Sajjan Kumar instigating the crowd to unleash barbarism on the Sikhs because “inhone humeri maa ko mara hai” (they have killed our mother) He also asked the mob to not spare the Hindus who had given shelter to Sikhs. In such view of the matter, the Court held that Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal by the trial court was not justified.


The High Court reversed the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar and convicted him for the offences of criminal conspiracy punishable under Section 120-B read with Sections 302, 436, 295 and 152A (1)(a) and (b) and 109 IPC. Further while affirming the conviction and sentences awarded by the trial court to the other five accused, the Court additionally convicted and sentenced them for the offence of criminal conspiracy. Sajjan Kumar is sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of is life and is directed to surrender on or before 31-12-2018. [State v. Sajjan Kumar,2018 SCC OnLine Del 12930, dated 17-12-2018]

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