Three persons were awarded life imprisonment on Thursday in a 29-year-old 1984 anti-Sikh riots case by a Delhi court which said the offences were grave as the victims of a particular community had been targeted and the acts of the convicts were most gruesome in nature.
District Judge J R Aryan gave life term to ex-councillor Balwan Khokkar, Girdhari Lal and retired naval officer Captain Bhagmal for murder and rioting in the case in which senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was acquitted on April 30, which the Central Bureau of Investigation had reportedly said would challenge in the Delhi high court.
The court rejected CBI's plea for death sentence to Balwan, Lal and Bhagmal, saying their offence does not come under the category of rarest of rare warranting capital punishment. "They had no special or personal animosity towards anyone or the deceased individually. The assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi had blindfolded those youths and unfortunately, there was no leadership to bridle the mob frenzy unleashed with all cruelty," it said.
Two other convicts, ex-MLA Mahinder Yadav and Kishan Khokkar were awarded three-year imprisonment and the court rejected their plea to release them on probation.
Kumar was acquitted by the court, which held that he deserved "benefit of doubt" since one of the victims and key witness Jagdish Kaur did not name him as an accused in her statement recorded by the Justice Ranganath Mishra panel in 1985.
In his ten-page order on sentence, the court said, "There cannot be two opinions that offences committed in this case were grave where victims of a particular community had been targeted for killing and destroying their properties. This court has already taken the facts into consideration that there were 341 killings in the area of police station Delhi Cantt of this case itself."
While holding that the crime doesn't fall in the rarest of rare category warranting extreme punishment, the judge said, "What the accused have done were no doubt acts of the most gruesome nature. But we bear in mind that they were in rampage and they ran berserk, unguided by a sense or reason and triggered only by a demented psyche," he said.
The court also cited a supreme judgment in another anti-Sikh riots case in which the death sentence awarded to the convicts by the trial court and upheld by the Delhi high court was commuted to life imprisonment by the apex court.
"In a case in which four sons of a helpless woman were 'roasted to death in front of her eyes' on November 2, 1984 at Trilokpuri locality in Delhi, the convict was sentenced to death and it was affirmed by the Delhi high court but the Supreme Court had commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment," Additional Sessions Judge Aryan said.
The judge also rejected the plea of Yadav and Kishan Khokkar for granting them benefit of probation, as it said, “It was not warranted as this was a case of widespread rioting and violence to the extent of killing and destroying the properties of the victims. On the defence counsel's argument on lapse of time, the judge said, "The counsel tried to impress upon this court that 29 years have lapsed since the incident of this crime had occurred. To my mind, this should not be a mitigating circumstance and seriousness and gravity of the offence does not get diluted by that factor."
"These two accused are kept at par with other three accused (held guilty of murder) as far as sentence for their conviction under section 147 (rioting) and 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons) the IPC is concerned," the judge said.
Earlier in the day, while arguing on the quantum of sentence, CBI prosecutor R S Cheema submitted before the court "the evidence showed that the scale of crime was so serious that adult male Sikhs were killed after being searched and chased by the mob”. “Complainant Jagdish Kaur's son Gurpreet Singh, 18, ran for his life when he was located by the mob, captured, assaulted and burnt," he said.
The case, in which the five persons were held guilty, relates to the death of five Sikhs -- Kehar Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Raghuvender Singh, Narender Pal Singh and Kuldeep Singh -- by the mob in Raj Nagar area in Delhi Cantonment. They were members of the same family. The court also slapped a fine of Rs 1,000 on each of the five convicts.
Yadav and Kishan Kokkar were granted bail by the court. High security arrangements had been made in and around and inside the court complex and the media was also barred from entering the courtroom.
Seeking death penalty for Balwan Khokkar, CBI said, "Such a person leading the mob and then assuming political power indicated the circumstances as to how the society was in need of protection from such kinds of don."
Regarding Capt Bhagmal, the CBI said, "The accused was serving as a officer in the navy and thus being the member of the armed force, he was supposed to protect the country but he became a menace to the society and all these accused indulged in brutal killings."
At this, Bhagmal started narrating the sequence of events to the court and said he had rather helped the victims during the riots. He was, however, intervened by the judge who said, "You have already been convicted and we have crossed this stage, so there is no point of addressing or submitting these things now. You can state all this before the superior courts."