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3 Sikhs Sentenced to Death for Indira Gandhi Slaying

January 22, 1986|From Times Wire Services

NEW DELHI — A judge guarded by bulletproof glass today convicted a Sikh bodyguard of assassinating Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October, 1984, and found two co-defendants guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. He sentenced all three men to death.

"The present case is one of the rarest of the rare. The extreme penalty of death is called for," said Judge Mahesh Chandra of the Special Sessions Court, who heard the eight-month trial without a jury.

He said prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Satwant Singh, a bodyguard of Gandhi, shot her to death as she walked in her compound garden on Oct. 31, 1984, and that Kehar Singh and Balbir Singh were involved with him in a conspiracy.

Guilty of Other Charges

Besides the murder conviction, Satwant Singh was found guilty of conspiracy, illegal use of firearms and wounding a policeman at the scene.

All three are members of the Sikh religious minority, which makes up about 2% of India's population of 750 million. Their surname, Singh, means "lion" and is given to all male Sikh children.

But the chief defense lawyer, Pran Nath Lekhi, called the trial a farce with "no parallel in Indian judicial history" and said he would file an appeal within seven days.

"The judge is bent on raping the law. . . . No neck is safe in India the way this trial was conducted," Lekhi told reporters. He demanded a copy of the judgment and walked out of the courtroom.

About 200 police were deployed outside the courtroom at Tihar jail to prevent demonstrations by angry Sikhs. The jail was cordoned off, with heavily armed riot police guarding access roads, and no trouble was reported.

The government said Sikhs conspired to kill Gandhi to avenge the army's assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine, in June of 1984. Gandhi ordered the raid, which killed up to 1,220 people, to drive out Sikh separatists using the shrine as a command post.

But Lekhi alleged Gandhi was killed as a result of a plot that involved her son and successor, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, because she was losing popularity. He offered no evidence to back his claim during the trial.

Falcon's Omen

The bearded and turbaned defendants showed no emotion when the verdict was read by Chandra, who presided over India's most sensational political murder trial since Hindu fanatics were convicted of assassinating independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

Court documents said a chance flight by a falcon to Gandhi's home in early September, 1984, set the conspiracy in motion. The falcon, a good luck omen for Sikhs, was spotted by Balbir Singh, who pointed it out to Beant Singh, a second security guard who was gunned down by other guards the day of the assassination.

The two agreed the bird signified a divine order to avenge the Golden Temple deaths.

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