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NEW DELHI – An Indian court on Monday convicted a former politician for his role in riots that swept India in 1984, leaving thousands of Sikhs dead in bloody pogroms, and sentenced him to life in prison.
The Delhi High Court reversed an earlier acquittal of Sajjan Kumar in the riots, which broke out after then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards.
The 73-year-old Kumar, then a leader in Gandhi's Congress party, was convicted of inciting a New Delhi mob to kill a Sikh family. He was ordered to surrender by Dec. 31 to begin serving his sentence.
More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed just in New Delhi in the riots.
A handful of other officials have been imprisoned for the violence, but India's criminal justice system moves painfully slowly. Powerful suspects are often able to dodge prosecution.
In their ruling, the judges said many of those responsible for the 1984 riots had escaped justice for too long.
"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," they wrote.
The judges also wrote that "there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress the cases against" Kumar.
Gandhi was killed after violently suppressing a Sikh insurgency that culminated in an army assault on the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism, where militant Sikhs had taken refuge.
In the days after her death, mobs of Hindus went from house to house across northern India, pulling Sikhs from their homes, hacking many to death and burning others alive.