In a significant judgement Additional Sessions Judge Ajay Pandey acquitted Tajinder Pal Singh and Satnam Singh two of the five hijackers of Indian Airlines flight IC 423 who forcibly gained control over the plane by holding their kirpans on the pilots’ neck and made the flight land in Pakistan on 29, September 1981.
It’s been almost 36 years since the five militants — Satnam Singh, Tejinder Pal Singh, Gajinder Singh, Jasbir Singh and Karan Singh hijacked Delhi-Amritsar-Srinagar bound flight with 111 passengers and 6 crew members on board.
The five Sikh separatists belonging to Dal Khalsa – a separatist sikh organization demanding the creation of Khalistan a separate Sikh homeland — armed with knives took control of the aircraft and made it land in Lahore.
One of the hijackers cut his palm with a kirpan and raised the blood stained palm to show that he was serious and threatened to detonate grenades — which later turned out to be guavas wrapped in newspaper.
Gajender Singh — the leader of the hijackers talked to India’s ambassador in Pakistan Natwar Singh and put forward his demands which included the release of dreaded Sikh militant Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale arrested in connection with the assassination of Lala Jagat Narain — the owner and editor of Jalandhar-based Punjab Kesri newspaper group and a sum of $ 5, 00,000 in cash.
Throughout the hijack drama, President Zia spoke to the then President Sanjiva Reddy twice and assured him of Pakistan’s “full cooperation.” At New Delhi’s behest, the Pakistani Corps Commander in Lahore Lt Gen Lodhi flew in his team of crack SSG commandoes who were put on stand-by. Shortly after midnight, the High Commissioner gave an all-clear signal to Lt Gen. Lodhi who ordered the commandoes to move in to capture the hijackers and free the hostages.
In an unprecedented move, the Indian Cabinet met the next morning and passed a resolution thanking Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq for his help and formally made a request to extradite the five hijackers.
This incidentally was the first ever case of hijacking by the Sikh militants.
Pakistan however decided not to extradite the hijackers who were tried by a Pakistani court in Lahore and given life imprisonment in 1986. After serving the sentence both of them were released and deported from Pakistan in 1994. Thereafter, they lived abroad.
However, Satnam illegally entered India in 1999 and surrendered in court. He was reportedly given a clean chit by the court in 2001.
Meanwhile, Tejinder was deported by the Canadian authorities. He too approached the court in 2002 and was granted clean chit citing Satnam’s case as a precedent.
The Delhi Police however filed a supplementary charge sheet and went on to slap charges of sedition against them.
The defense lawyers appearing for the two accused contended that since the two have already spent 35 years of their lives in litigation and already served a life sentence in Pakistan, they should not be tried for sedition.
Based on this plea, they sought their discharge from the case but a session’s court dismissed their plea.
In 2011, Delhi Police charged them under various sections of the IPC – 121 (waging war against the government of India), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the state), 124A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy). The Delhi High Court dismissed their plea seeking a stay on the session’s court order and asked the trial court to proceed with the matter.
The prosecution reportedly took the plea that the principle of double jeopardy does not apply as the offences for which they were tried and convicted in Pakistan are different from the ones mentioned in the current charge sheet.
Meanwhile the other three hijackers, Gajinder Singh, Jasbir Singh and Karan Singh, are staying abroad.