India court hands death sentence over deadly 1984 anti-Sikh riots

Another convicted given a life sentence for part in carnage that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Devotees throng the holy Sikh shrine of Golden Temple to offer prayers for the New Year in Amritsar
Riots erupted after Indira Gandhi's assassination for ordering troops into Golden Temple [File: Munish Sharma/Reuters]

A court in India has sentenced to death a man convicted of murder during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that left nearly 3,000 people dead, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The 1984 carnage erupted just hours after Prime Minister Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards.

The violence, which occurred mostly in the capital New Delhi, lasted three days when Sikhs were raped, murdered and burned alive, while their homes and businesses were torched. 

Additional Sessions Judge Ajay Pandey on Tuesday handed the death sentence to Yashpal Singh and a life sentence to Naresh Sherawat, both for murder, rioting and other charges.

The pair were convicted last week of killing Hardev Singh and Avtar Singh, two men in their 20s, during the riots.

The verdict was pronounced in the high-security Tihar Jail due to security concerns after the convicts were attacked on a New Delhi court’s premises last week.

Singh and Sherawat “took out the victims, who were hiding inside a room, injured them with dangerous weapons with the intention to kill and threw them down from the first floor”, causing their deaths, the judge said while delivering the punishment, according to The Hindu newspaper.

Relatives of victims rejoiced after the judge announced the ruling, the first since 1996, which follows the setting up of a special probe in 2015. 

They said they were relieved that “justice has been finally served” and hoped that next up would be two former Congress ministers, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.

‘Ray of hope’

Government-appointed commissions in the past failed to prosecute more than a handful in minor cases.

India’s top investigating agency blamed Kumar for inciting the mobs, but he was acquitted by a court in 2013.

Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s chief minister, welcomed the ruling in a Twitter post, saying that he hoped “others involved in the attacks are also soon brought to book for their horrendous and inhuman acts”. 

Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a politician from Punjab, said the verdict gave Sikhs “a ray of hope”.

“We will not rest till the last murderer is brought to justice,” she added in a post on Twitter.

At 20 million, Sikhs make up a little under two percent of India’s population of 1.25 billion.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies