DELHI: After thirty-four years and numerous commissions, senior Congress party member Sajjan Kumar has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the mass murder of thousands of Sikh men, women and children across India, predominantly in states under Congress party rule.

Kumar is the most prominent figure to be convicted in connection with the genocide of Sikhs and was accused of leading a mob into a south-west Delhi neighbourhood on November 1, 1984. A witness, Bibi Jagdish Kaur, told a commission into the genocide that members of the mobs had appeared to know where the Sikh families in the area were living.

They broke down the door of her family’s home and started attacking her husband and eldest son, she said in an affidavit.

“My husband was killed then, but my son, after having two blows on his head, tried to escape but was caught by another mob coming from another direction,” she said. “They first beat him up with iron rods and then burnt him alive with kerosene oil.”

The next morning she says a mob came for her three brothers, who managed to hide on the roof of their house. “When the mob went away, they jumped from their hiding place in a hope that people of our locality, our neighbours, will protect them – but they instead attacked them and burnt them alive,” she said.

Bibi Jagdish Kaur told the commission the police had refused to register any details of the crime and appeared to be coordinating with members of the mob.

Sajjan Kumar, 73, was an MP at the time of the offences. He was tried with five others from 2010 but acquitted of all charges three years later.

The decision was overturned at Delhi  High Court on Monday when he was convicted of crimes including abetting murder and criminal conspiracy. He has until 31 December to surrender to police.

The court said it viewed the killings in Delhi and across India as crimes against humanity. “A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency,” the judges said.

Rajiv Gandhi, spoke of the killings at the time by saying: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” He was assassinated in 1991 by a Tamil suicide bomber. His son Rahul Gandhi is the current president of Congress and has faced international criticism and condemnation following his appointment of another genocide accused, as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh last week. On Monday, there were protests as Kamal Nath was sworn into office among repeated accusations that the appointment was conducted to protect him from prosecution.

Witnesses told the Nanavati Commission into the genocide that Kamal Nath had been present during the siege of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in Delhi where two Sikh men had been burned alive.