Had the Indian legal system a provision of the ‘Man of the Match,’ the title would have rightly been accorded to the two unflinching Justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel of the Delhi High Court for delivering much-needed justice to the dispirited victims of the two gruesome tragedies: anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and Hashimpura massacre of 1987.
On December 17 2018, the two Justices convicted Sajjan Kumar, the former Congress parliamentarian, who has hitherto been getting around the Criminal Justice System of India that is riddled with numerous flaws and shortcomings with no systemic reform in sight, ever since the largest anti-Sikh carnage happened in the modern history of India.
While indicting Mr. Kumar, the duo came down heavily on the police who failed to carry out the fair probe in the mass violence and rather shielded the perpetrators either by not registering the First Information Reports or conducting a pretentious or perfunctory probe.
This is not enough! The two intrepid judges termed the mass killings of 1984 as crimes against humanity, drawing a parallel from the joint condemnation of Britain, Russia and France against Ottoman administration for its complicity in the massacre of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks in 1915. On the other hand, the two Justices depicted the Hashimpura massacre as “the targeted killing by armed forces of the unarmed, innocent and defenseless members of a particular community.”
Time and again, Indian citizens raise their apprehensions about the inaction, inadequacy of the police, institutional malaise and indifferent law enforcement authorities who often fail to enforce the law in the face of a communal flare-up or mob violence.
On December 17, these concerns found judicial endorsement and were echoed in the snide remarks made by Justice S. Muralidhar, “A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes, enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency. The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades.”
The Indian state has failed time and again in reining in communal and mob violence. Worse, in many cases, it has been the dominant engineer of violence for political gains or to teach a community a lesson as happened in cold-blooded mass killings of Sikhs in 1984 engineered by the then Congress regime and Muslims in Hashimpura, a locality in Meerut, in 1987. The policemen, in the latter case, turned beast and killed as many as 42 unarmed and defenseless civilians to teach the community a lesson.
According to Paul R. Brass, violence in India is produced through systematic means and is often painted as spontaneous even though it is planned in advance and is essentially made to go through the following three phases: preparation/rehearsal, activation/enactment, and explanation/interpretation.
This is an open secret that violence in India is orchestrated by actors who have an active interest in instigating it and the administration abets it by not responding swiftly to thwart it. The violence, then, is followed by assignation of blame and the ordinary public remains elusive with the real causes which led to it.
This pattern lingers on and can be observed in a spate of mob lynchings in the recent past in which the coercive apparatus of the state either seemed to be complicit or indifferent with the plight of the victims.
Similarly, this framework was most starkly manifest in the most recent violence unleashed on a police post in Siana in Bulandshahr by the marauding mob offended by the sudden discovery of cow carcasses lying in some fields and the Yogi regime’s blatant concerns of the cow slaughter more than the tragic death of the Police Inspector Subodh Kumar. Initially, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister dismissed the murder as an accident and later dubbed it as a conspiracy.
The flagrant exoneration of Mr. Sajjan Kumar by the Delhi Trial Court in May 2013 and the outrageous acquittal of 16 policemen of the 41st Battalion of UP Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in March 2015 exposes the deep malaise in the lower judiciary and stares mockingly in the face of justice.
In a bid to revive public trust in the judicial system, the Delhi High Court, in less than two months, delivered two historic judgments indicting the guilty ones and sending them behind bar after they were allowed by the subordinate judiciary to roam free in the wake of want of evidence or giving them benefit of the doubt. The two Justices S.Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, however, differed and scrutinized the clinching pieces of evidence more astutely and set right the grave miscarriage of justice meted out to the dejected victims.
It is noteworthy that the two Justices adopted a judicious approach in order to find Mr. Sajjan Kumar’s role, one of the most influential accused of the anti-Sikh butchery of 1984, in the five deaths occurred in Raj Colony and the burning of the Sikh temple in the wake of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.
This write-up appreciates the extraordinary courage shown by the two Justices S.Muralidhar and Vinod Goel who took a course corrective measure and applied much-needed balms on the wounds of the victims. But this is a partial justice due to the long agonizing wait of more than thirty years.
The Indian legal system is in dire need of immediate reforms. A fledgling legal and judicial system needs to look into and rectify what ails it and can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the most pressing corrective measures. The judicial system should come out of its deep-seated pendency of cases. Otherwise, we will continue to see the travesty of justice and flagrant disregard for the pain of litigants.
One needs to ask how long our political stakeholders allow the overburdened judiciary to crumble under the appalling backlog of the cases and to allow political elements to meddle into investigative affairs and justice delivery system.