Senior Indian politician Sajjan Kumar was today sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1984 Sikh Genocide.
The Delhi High Court found him guilty of ‘criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity and acts against communal harmony’ in the killing of a family of five in Delhi during the genocide of Sikhs in November 1984.
That family included the son and husband of Jagdish Kaur, who spoke to the BBC after the verdict. She described it as ‘a little balm applied after a long time to our scars. At least one high-profile accused will now go to jail.’ She was one of three eyewitnesses who ensured that the case could go ahead, providing evidence with what the court described as ‘courage and perseverance’.
Kumar, 73, is the first high-profile politician to have been convicted over the genocide. Eyewitnesses from November 1984 and research since then have indicted not just the complicity of senior Congress Party officials at the time, but that they played a key role in orchestrating the killings of Sikhs.
The case was brought Harvinder Singh (HS) Phoolka, a senior advocate of Delhi High Court, who has been fighting for justice for over 30 years. He described the sentence as the ‘result of 34 years struggle’, and has been widely praised for his fortitude.
The judged explicitly cited Kumar’s ‘political patronage’ a factor of why it had taken so long to administer justice.
Pav Singh, author of 1984: India’s Guilty Secret, said: ‘Finally after 34 years there’s been one single conviction of a leading senior Congress [Party] leader. 34 years too late though, for the victims and their families, and I think that’s a crime in itself.’
The High Court also said: ‘This Court is of the view that the mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984 were in fact ‘crimes against humanity’.
In light of this, there has been widespread criticism of the BBC’s reporting of the conviction, which refers to the killings as ‘anti-Sikh riots’, rather than using the term ‘genocide’.
The Sikh Press Association contacted BBC News Online regarding its use of ‘anti-Sikh riots’ used in its online coverage but was directed towards the BBC’s formal complaints procedure. An update of the story changed the headline to say ‘killings’ instead of ‘riots’, but continued to refer to ‘anti-Sikh riots’ in the text.
Speaking to BBC Asian Network, Sikh PA press officer Sukh Singh outlined why calling the killings a genocide – rather than riots – is important, saying that ‘genocide’ emphasised how the killings were not just random, but orchestrated.
Jasveer Singh, Sikh Press Association Senior Press Officer, said of the conviction and resulting media coverage, ‘It is time media outlets caught up to the current narrative around the 1984 Sikh genocide. Most are not matching neither the current political or legal language being used. There are many politicians including India’s own home minister and countless other politicians around the world that recognise what occurred in India in 1984 was genocide.
Furthermore, even the legal language around the conviction of Sajjan Kumar called the massacres “crimes against humanity”, pointing to a series of incidents unfitting of being labelled “riots”.
The bottomline is descriptions of “riots” for what occurred are outdated and biased. It is high time media caught up and we will be doing everything in our power to speed up this process.’
One of the more popular posts on the verdict came from Sikh cartoonish Vishavjit Singh, also known as Sikhtoons on social media, which highlighted how India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also among politicians accused of fuelling pogroms against minorities.
This sentiment was echoed by others who pointed out that as one perpetrator was convicted, another senior politician widely accused of orchestrating the genocide, Kamal Nath, became Chief Minister of India’s second largest state. Nath is the most high profile name along with Jagdish Tytler still escaping conviction for his role in the genocide despite many witnesses confirming his involvement.