After 34 years, a top Indian politician is held guilty of massacring Sikhs in Delhi

Burning memories.
Burning memories.
Image: AP Photo/Peter Kemp
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

One of India’s oldest and worst cases of violence against a community found a measure of closure today (Dec. 17).

The Delhi high court convicted Indian National Congress leader Sajjan Kumar of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. Seventy-three-year old Kumar was sentenced to life imprisonment by the court after he was found guilty of murder, promoting enmity between groups, and defiling public property.

This ruling reverses the 2013 decision of a lower court to acquit him of all charges. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the survivors and victims of the riots had filed an appeal in the high court against his acquittal.

Sajjan Kumar.
Sajjan Kumar.
Image: AP Photo/Gurinder Osan

Large-scale killing and violation of members of the Sikh community broke out in various parts of northern India, particularly Delhi, following the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984. Up to 8,000 Sikhs were massacred by those protesting the assassination, though the estimates vary. In Delhi alone, some 3,000 people were reportedly killed. It was alleged that Gandhi’s Congress party had a major role to play in the killings, with several of its prominent leaders leading the vengeful mobs in the pogrom.

The reason for Sikhs being targeted was the fact that Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, the two security personnel who mowed Gandhi down, belonged to the Sikh community. They allegedly sought revenge against the government of India for Operation Bluestar, a military strike against the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, located in Amritsar, Punjab.

These incidents took place at the peak of the Sikh militancy in India, and Operation Bluestar was aimed at flushing out ultras holed up in the shrine.

Kumar’s conviction comes around 34 years after the riots and holds out hope of justice for the kin of many of the victims, besides the survivors themselves, who have fought a long battle against the perpetrators. Other Congress leaders who have been accused of having carried out the massacres include Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath. Incidentally, Nath was last week chosen as chief minister of the newly-elected Congress government in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.