Live Law: “Punjab Killings : Plea Filed In SC For Probe Into Alleged Executions Withdrawn With Liberty To Move HC”

 

The Public Interest Litigation filed in the Supreme Court seeking probe into alleged mass killings during the counter-insurgency period in Punjab has been withdrawn with liberty to move the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The petition filed by an NGO named Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP) and some individuals sought constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) or an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged killings. 

The matter was listed before the bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah on September 2.

Background

The petition sought justice for 6732 deceased who were stated to be victims of encounter killings, custodial deaths and illegal cremations by the Punjab police in 26 districts of Punjab during the insurgency period 1984-85, starting from Operation Blue Star and leading up to after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 

The petitioners stated that the deceased persons were killed in fake encounters or were abducted, kept in illegal custody, tortured and enforced disappeared by the Punjab police and security forces under the guise of security operations. Thereafter, those killed were secretly cremated the dead bodies as being “unclaimed and unidentified”.

PDAP also claimed to have evidence and detailed accounts of the same, supported by crucial eye witness testimony. It stated to have identified the dead bodies by carefully matching the date of disappearance, coinciding with the date of FIR and both of them coinciding with the date of unceremonious cremation. 19 of such case studies have also been set out in the petition as a representative sample. 

It was also clarified at the outset that the petition sought investigation into extrajudicial executions of persons apart from those that took place in the three crematoriums at Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Majitha as the proceedings for those three crematoriums were dealt by the Supreme Court in Prithpal Singh & Ors. v. State of Punjab, (2012) 1 SCC 10.

Grounds

Breach of Fundamental and Statutory Rights of Victims and their Families 

1. The breakdown of law and order in Punjab at the alleged time led to crimes against humanity in the guise of fake encounters, enforced disappearances and custodial killings by the Punjab police officials, costing lives of over 8000 persons. This amounted to violation of the Right to life and personal liberty guaranteed to all citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution.

2. The families of the victims were unequivocally entitled to the Right to Justice, Right to Truth, Right to Reparation and the Right to Non-Reoccurrence through Constitutional and Institutional safeguards. 

3. There has not been any acknowledgement, investigation or inquiry into cases of these persons who went missing through abductions and fake encounters and they remain unaccounted for till date. Resultantly, death certificates have not been issued to the families of these victims who, by dint of the same, face difficulties in matters of inheritance, succession and are denied employment on compassionate grounds, statutory entitlements and dues, pensions and government subsidies. 

Incriminating Materials

4. The cremation for unclaimed and unidentified took place from year 1984 to 1995 during insurgency operation. However, by 1995 when the militant movement was crushed, the corresponding numbers of cremations reduced considerably proving that these cremations were linked with Police disappearances.

5. The Punjab police claim that they never had any of the disappeared persons in their custody at any time while the data collected from cremation grounds and the Municipal Corporations indicate that those persons were taken to cremation grounds by the police in most cases and clandestinely burnt. 

6. The dates of killings and abductions of some 274 persons from the Gurdaspur district matched with the date of FIRs, date of receipt books for the purchase of firewood and cloth for cremation, the dates of cremations and numbers of bodies brought for cremation. However, the records are merely “the tip of the iceberg” and if CBI investigates the matter, then a significant number of such cases will be identified. 

7. In many of the cases, the FIR flatly contradicted that the deceased person was unidentified as his particulars, were either disclosed in the FIR itself or information containing their identity was contained in the police file. Thus, the Police party was aware of the identities of the deceased victims and yet they were cremated as unclaimed and unidentified.

8. The mandatory procedure to be adopted for cremating unidentified and unclaimed dead bodies is governed by the provisions of Punjab Police Rules, 1934. However, the same was not followed in any case and the cremation was effected in illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary procedure.

 

Unwarranted Impunity

9. The need for a through and independent Judicial probe is crucial because many police officers implicated in these killings are also implicated in a number of other crimes, which form a nexus between certain police officers from this period and the destructive drug trade in Punjab, corruption and unlawful acquiring property and sexual offences.

10. Many officers accused of serious human rights violations during this period have been awarded for bravery or have been promoted to the high ranks. This has exemplified the immunity and impunity such police personnel enjoy. 

11. A former officer of the Punjab police, Gurmeet Singh Pinky had publicly confessed that the Punjab police had formed death squads, during the 1980s to mid-1990s, who had tracked and killed Sikhs in Punjab and other states, with impunity, with the close cooperation and collusion of regional police forces.

Failure of State Govt.

12. The State of Punjab not only failed in maintaining the rule of law in the state but also allowed its own officials to commit human right violations by breaching standard legal procedure to be followed by the Police, for the detention, arrest and interrogation of suspects. 

13. The Punjab Police officers commonly threaten families of the victims so that they don’t approach any authority or the judiciary against the unlawful acts committed by the officers during their tenure of service.

Precedents

14. The Supreme Court in “Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association v. Union of India & Anr.”, had intervened in the Manipur case of extra-judicial killings and disappearance of 1528 persons and ordered an independent investigation by the CBI for effective remedy which later concluded that the “encounters were not genuine and that the use of force of the State agencies was excessive”. A similar probe was required herein. 

15. The Supreme Court had transferred the investigation related to the three crematoriums in the Prithpal Singh case to the CBI which aided a fair investigation and lead to convictions of a number of Punjab police officers.

16. The Supreme Court had noted the impartiality of the Punjab Police in the Prithpal Singh case in as much as it said “In spite of transfer of the investigation of the case to the CBI, the Punjab police officials did not cooperate with the CBI and were not lending proper support in conducting the investigation. The police officials of Punjab united in an unholy alliance, as their colleagues were involved as the case was going to tarnish the image of Punjab Police…” 

17. In a landmark case in UK, “R. v. Sawoniuk, Court of Appeal”, (Criminal Division) [2000] EWCA Crim 9, the court had rejected the defence’s argument that a fair trial could not be conducted given the passage of time (some 58 years). It was held that the defence “needs to show on a balance of probabilities that owing to the delay he will suffer serious prejudice to the extent that no fair trial can be held”. The same principle was followed by the Supreme Court in “CBI v. Sajjan Kumar & Ors.”, Crl. A. 1099/2013. 

18. In “Rubabbuddin Sheikh v. State of Gujarat”, (2011) 1 SCC (Cri) 1109, the Supreme Court identified the inherent difficulties in gathering evidence in such cases and the need to punish guilty officers, who malign and tarnish otherwise upright police personally.

International Law

19. The petition raises issues of constitutional importance in as much as there is an absence of domestic laws viz. criminalization of genocide, enforced disappearances and crimes against humanity. Thus, there is a positive constitutional obligation on this Hon’ble Court to develop the appropriate mechanisms for redressal and non-re-occurrence. 

20. India is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which expects its signatory nations to investigate acts of enforced disappearance and bring those responsible to justice; to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law; and to ensure that victims of enforced disappearance or those directly affected by it have a right to obtain reparation and compensation. 

21.Police’s actions were in violation of the Geneva Convention which provides that dead bodies of enemy combatants are to be identified, treated with respect and not defiled. However, the victims herein who were citizens of India were accorded less rights than a foreign enemy combatant.

Reports

22. As per the law laid down in “Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights”, the allegations of excessive force resulting in death of a victim by the armed forces or police must be thoroughly looked into. 

23. The Special UN Rapporteur on Extra Judicial killings, Mr Christof Heynes, released a UN commission report which identified that the immunity and impunity of certain police officers in India lead to gross human rights violations particularly extra judicial killings.

Remedies

Apart from an independent probe by an SIT or CBI, the Petitioner has prayed appropriate directions for:

(i) reparation and rehabilitation of the families of the victims;

(ii) institution of disciplinary proceedings against the officers engaging in criminality;

(iii) issuance of death certificates for the deceased; and

(iv) develop apposite infrastructure to rehabilitate the kin of the victims who have suffered for more than two decades. 

Read the original article here.

Press Statement From PDAP Following SC Hearing of PIL Related to 8257 Cases of Extra Judicial Killings in Punjab

Deccan Herald – “Punjab: SC to hear PIL for SIT on executions, killings”

Ashish Tripathi, DH News Service, NEW DELHI, AUG 31 2019, 21:17PM IST UPDATED: SEP 01 2019, 01:41AM IST 

The Supreme Court is to hear on Monday a PIL seeking a direction to set up an SIT or a ‘Truth Commission’ to uncover the “cold-blooded execution and killing of as many as 25,000 victims” in Punjab and in other parts of India during 1984 to 1995.

The petition filed by the ‘Punjab Documentation & Advocacy Project’, a human rights organisation, and victim families relied upon “investigations” which it claimed, “uncovered secret mass cremation of dead bodies of over 8,527 victims between 1984-95.

The petition is to come up before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah on Monday, September 2.

It alleged there were “enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and mass cremations” in Punjab during the period of militancy and counter-insurgency after 1984.

The petitioner claimed to have carried on investigations and collected information in some 26 districts and sub-districts of Punjab in 1,600 villages, 1,200 police FIRs and 150 RTI applications resulting in the discovery of 8257 victims and data of 6,224 cremations from several cremation grounds between 1984-95.

The petition, to be argued by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Satnam Singh Bains, sought a direction to the Centre and state to investigate mass state crimes, prosecute perpetrators and rehabilitate victim, citing examples in the Supreme Court such as the Manipur Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association vs Union of India case as well as international examples of truth commissions, and commissions to identify missing persons in post-conflict situations.

Read the original article here.

The Hindustan Times – “‘Extrajudicial’ killings in Punjab: SC to hear PIL tomorrow, victims’ kin pray for justice at Akal Takht”

‘Extrajudicial’ killings in Punjab: SC to hear PIL tomorrow, victims’ kin pray for justice at Akal Takht

Sep 01, 2019 01:16 IST

HT Correspondent

With the Supreme Court on Monday taking up a public interest litigation (PIL) related to alleged extra-judicial killings of 8,257 persons in Punjab during militancy, the families of some victims gathered at the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, to pray for justice.

The issue of extra-judicial killings was highlighted by human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra by getting records of unidentified bodies cremated in Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts from 1984 to 1993. Khalra was also kidnapped and killed by police later.

Nearly 70 families from across Punjab prayed for success in the fresh legal battle they have initiated by knocking the door of the apex court.

“My three sons and husband were killed In just over a year. I have waited for 30 years for someone to tell me what happened to them,” said Gurmej Kaur, 80, of Batala town in Gurdaspur district, who offered the ardaas.

“I did not know my parents were h killed in a fake encounter. I was a baby when my parents were killed. I grew up in an orphanage. I want to know the truth,” said Tejvir Kaur, 25, of Nagoke village in Tarn Taran district.

UK-based lawyer Satnam Singh Bains, who led the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project, a human rights organisation which has mobilised the victims’ families, said, “The PIL has identified thousands of missing people who were illegally cremated.”

“The families came from all over Punjab with a renewed hope of justice in the wake of recent convictions of police officers by the CBI court in Mohali. This remains a critical issue for the children of the disappeared people as they struggled for two decades in the absence of even a death certificate which has deprived them of educational subsidies, their mothers of widow pension,” he added.

Read the original article here.

7D News – “India: Punjab’s Disappearances”

India: Punjab’s Disappearances

Dnews London

Fri, 30 Aug 2019 18:01 GMT

“After 10 days (of detention), he was killed. When you have already killed our son, kill us too,” says an elderly gentleman from Punjab, a state bordering Pakistan in India. These are the opening lines of the trailer of ‘Punjab Disappeared’, a 70-minute documentary by the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PADP), a civil society organisation.

The film, directed by Jaswant Kaur, addresses the enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and mass secret cremations in Punjab from the period 1984 to 1995.

The relatives of the victims struggle and fight for justice, as a petition has been filed in India’s top legislative body, the Supreme Court.

In the 1980s, this north Indian state witnessed a political movement, which called for regional autonomy as an independent Sikh state. It was known as the Khalistan movement. A military operation, code-named Operation Blue Star, ran from June 1st to 8th 1984. It was a campaign to remove the religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who were said to be in the grounds of the Golden Temple, the epicentre of the Sikh faith.

Five months later, Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard. In the aftermath, a number of counter insurgency operations were launched and the security forces were given extraordinary powers. This resulted in extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of combatants as well as non-combatants. PADP has investigated 8,257 cases of such enforced disappearances and illegal cremations, which took place during those years.

Satinder Pal Singh, a resident of Punjab recalls the ordeal his family faced during the period. “Back then, being a Sikh (people who follow Sikhism) and sporting a beard, was reason enough for the authorities to detain or shoot people,” he says.

 “My uncle Ranjeet Singh had joined Budha Dal, a section of the Sikh Community (SC), in 1986. He was shot at, during one of their programmes, while he was praying. The atmosphere was extremely tense, and it was like a full-time job for people to defend themselves,” he says in the film. Subsequently in 1992, he lost his father Sardar Sukhdev Singh, who was a farmer as well.

“The prevailing situation was such that people could not even do their jobs. This was my father’s case. One fine day, he was arrested, detained for ten days without any reason, and later killed,” recalls Pal Singh.

Many other families from Punjab have similar stories to tell. Barrister Satnam Singh Bains, a human rights lawyer, shares the case of another victim, and one of the petitioners in the SC case. Jasbir Singh’s brother Punjab Singh was abducted from their home at 5pm on December 3rd 1991 in Dhapai Village in front of his family, including his parents, by police officers from Sri Hargobindpur police station. “His home had been surrounded by Inspector Baldev Singh, the then Station House Officer (SHO), along with seven or eight gunmen. Punjab Singh was then bundled into a waiting vehicle and never seen again. Mann Singh, the father of Punjab Singh and other village elders tried in vain to secure his release from the said police station and repeatedly told the SHO, that Punjab Singh was innocent and was not involved with the militant movement. The family was asked to pay a bribe of Rs100,000 to secure his release,” Bains said.

He further stated that out of desperation, Mann Singh mortgaged his land and paid bribes but to no avail. Even after the payment was made, Punjab Singh was killed in a staged encounter, along with five other people.

“On the December 11th 1991 at about 6am, SHO Baldev Singh along with other policemen, shot Punjab Singh and five other youths on an isolated footpath at Dhade Mahesh Village under the jurisdiction of Ghuman Police Station, one kilometre away from Punjab Singh’s home. The local villagers still remember the sound of the gunshots that killed the youths,” said Bains.

But who was behind these disappearances? Bains answered: “The prevailing narrative is that these officers were fighting terrorism. In the cases we have petitioned before the Supreme Court, we have shown that the victims were not terrorists, but had been killed and their bodies were secretly cremated by the security forces under a catch-kill-and-reward policy.”

He added that it had taken two decades for a small number of cases, which were investigated by India’s premier investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigation to prove conclusively that the victims were innocent young men, who were abducted from their homes, brutally tortured, and killed in staged encounters and their bodies were secretly cremated or thrown into rivers.

“These investigations also resulted in the conviction of some police officers, and it has been categorically proven that the victims were not terrorists, and that the highest echelons of the Punjabi police were involved in the killings.” Bains said.

Jaswant Singh Khalra unearthed the true scale of crimes

It was only after Jaswant Singh Khalra released compelling evidence of over 2000 unclaimed and unidentified bodies that the true magnitude of the issue emerged. Khalra himself was abducted and killed in 1995 after he attracted global attention for uncovering the facts.

Investigations since 2008

PADP started their investigations in 2008. “Over a 10-year period the organisation travelled extensively across Punjab, visiting more than 1600 villages to record testimonies of eyewitnesses and surviving victims whose loved ones had been abducted and tortured and then disappeared. Starting from the Gurdaspur district, we undertook a detailed and exhaustive process, attempting to match and corroborate the identities of those killed. We compared the records of those cremated by the police and security forces as ‘unclaimed and unidentified’ from records obtained from municipal cremation grounds, local administration and police reports.

“In this way they were able to piece together complex and intricate fragments of information, to reveal the sophisticated and systematic method of concealing victims’ identities and the secret disposal of their bodies.

“We repeated this process in 15 of Punjab’s 22 districts. We were able to access information of 6,140 cremations across 15 districts and over 1400 police First Information Reports (FIRs) of alleged ‘encounters’ or ‘escapes’ from police custody, which contained a wide range of corroborative evidential information, enabling us to establish not only the identities of victims but also those of perpetrators and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of thousands of victims.

“Our documented case studies revealed systematised disappearances, killings and illegal cremations having taken place in all 22 districts of Punjab in a broadly similar manner with relatively minor regional variations and practices,” Bains said.

A case in the Supreme Court

The experience was traumatic for the families of the victims and Bains stated that their investigations revealed an overwhelming majority of families of those who disappeared, have had no official acknowledgement from the State as to the fate of their loved ones.

“Most have had no access to justice or recourse to the courts to ascertain what happened. Today thousands of families across Punjab turn their attention to the Supreme Court awaiting the first hearing, asking again, ‘What happened to our loved ones?’ They hope to get this question that has eluded them for over two decades finally answered.

“There is a remarkable spirit of determination. In many cases we have represented the victims who despite abject poverty and threats, have fearlessly deposed before the courts, even after 25 years. Our latest attempt is to bring these cases back before the Supreme Court, and it has given hope to many others,” he said.

The case was filed in summer this year and they hope it will come up for hearing shortly. “The Supreme Court is now being asked to set up an Independent Commission to finally uncover the truth. Whilst this has been a long-standing demand by the people of Punjab, the latest evidence and its corroboration provide new hope for justice,” Bains said, updating 7D News about the status of the case.

Read the original article here.

The Tribune – “SC to Hear PIL On Missing Persons Tomorrow”

SC to hear PIL on missing persons tomorrow

SC to hear PIL on missing persons tomorrow
Families of persons missing during the militancy period gather for ardas at Akal Takht on Saturday. Tribune photo: Sunil Kumar

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, August 31

The Supreme Court will hear a PIL on September 2 related to mass cremation of 8,257 missing persons in Punjab, who were reportedly killed in fake encounters or were abducted by security forces during the militancy and counter insurgency period after 1984.

Satnam Singh Bains Barrister, one of the petitioners from Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), a human rights organisation, claimed that in the petition, they had identified thousands of these missing persons and also mentioned the identity of those cremated illegally.

The investigations conducted by the PDAP have uncovered the secret mass cremation of over 8,527 victims between 1984 and 1995.

The families of several victims came together for an ardas at Akal Takht here today. A majority of the families have no official acknowledgment from the state regarding the fate of their loved ones.

Advocate Jagjit Singh Bajwa said, “The families will travel from all over Punjab to Delhi with a renewed hope for answers, justice and accountability in the light of recent conviction of police officers in the Mohali CBI court. This remains a vital issue for the children of the disappeared who have grown up without their fathers, struggling for two decades due to absence of even death certificates, which has deprived them of educational subsidies, their mothers of widow pension and in some cases hereditary right to land.”

“The ardas highlighted the families’ ongoing struggle for justice and recognition. It also highlighted their determination to pursue this legal battle to its logical conclusion,” added Bajwa.

 

Read the original story here.

Live Mint – “Punjab killings: SC to hear PIL on September 2”

Punjab killings: SC to hear PIL on September 2

  • The PIL has been filed allegedly on the basis of new-found evidence
  • The PIL lists the detailed information collected from 150 RTI applications, resulting in data from several cremation grounds between 1984 and 1995

The Supreme Court will, on Monday, hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) related to enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and mass cremations of over 8,000 missing persons in Punjab, who were killed in fake encounters or were abducted by security forces during the period of militancy and counter insurgency after 1984. The PIL has been filed allegedly on the basis of new-found evidence.

The case is listed before the division bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, and comprising Justice M.R. Shah.

The PIL has been filed by the kin of those who disappeared, and is allegedly based on victim testimonies recorded over a number of years followed “village to village documentation by systematically identifying villages and travelling to affected areas, auditing them for human rights violation.”

The PIL lists the detailed information collected from 150 RTI applications, resulting in data of several cremation grounds between 1984 and 1995.

The petitioners alleged that investigations and records presented to the court previously showed that the Punjab police and security forces would abduct, kill and secretly cremate dead bodies. Instead of cremating one body at a time, the police often cremated several dead bodies together in a single pyre. The petitioners also alleged that in some cases, up to 18 dead bodies were cremated in a single day from just a single incident. The whole move was in grave violation of the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitutional stating the Right to Life and Liberty, according to the petition.

The petitioners will be represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Satnam Singh Bains.

The petitioner also sought directions for wider inquiry of the mass state crimes detailed in the petition, as well as the establishment of an SIT or a Truth Commission to uncover the execution and killing of 25,000 victims in Punjab and in other parts of India during that period.

Read the original article here.

First Hearing on Monday 2 September 2019 at the Supreme Court of Punjab’s 8257 cases of Missing Persons Killed & New Evidence of Secret Cremation of Dead Bodies As “Unclaimed and Identified”

The Supreme Court of India will hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) related to the enforced disappearance, extra-judicial killing and mass cremations of over 8,000 missing persons in Punjab who were killed in fake encounters or were abducted and forcefully disappeared by security forces during the period of militancy and counter-insurgency after 1984. The petition identifies hundreds of these missing persons and meticulously pinpoints the identities of those missing and illegally cremated which the PIL describes as: 

“one of the largest exercises of human rights investigation and data-collection into mass cremations undertaken in India since independence.” 

The investigations uncover secret mass cremation of dead bodies of over 8,527 victim between 1984-95 by the Petitioners, the Punjab Documentation & Advocacy Project (PDAP), a human rights organisation and victim families. The Petition is based on information collected and investigations in some 26 Districts and Sub-Districts of Punjab. The PIL details the information collected following a 10-year investigation of victim documentation from 1,600 villages, 1,200 police FIRs and 150 RTI application resulting in data of several cremation ground between 1984-1995 of 6,224 cremations and how this evidence  is just “the tip of the iceberg”.

The matter is listed to be heard on 2 September, 2019.

Further details on the case to follow. Follow us on our social media channels to get regular updates on the case.

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/punjabdisappeared

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/missingpunjabis

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/punjabdisappeared

Al Jazeera Reports on Gurmej Kaur’s and Simarjeet Kaur’s Struggle for Justice – “Families of Punjab’s disappeared pin hopes on Supreme Court bid”

Families of Punjab’s disappeared pin hopes on Supreme Court bid

Rights group which documented 8,000 cases of enforced disappearances files case at top court, stirring hope for justice.

by Bilal Kuchay

[Reproduced from the original article published on Al Jazeera English Website]

 
Gurmej Kaur holds an image of her husband and sons who died in the 1980s, at the height of tensions in Punjab as calls for a separate Sikh state led to a bloody crackdown [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]
Gurmej Kaur holds an image of her husband and sons who died in the 1980s, at the height of tensions in Punjab as calls for a separate Sikh state led to a bloody crackdown [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

Punjab, India – A collage of four men wearing turbans hangs on a wall in Gurmej Kaur’s village home, in the Punjabi district of Gurdaspur.

At 80, she carefully stepped up on a bed, brought the frame down, and cleaned her glasses with her white headscarf.

“The man with the white beard is my husband. The three young men are my children,” she said.

“They were all killed by the police and security forces in fake encounters and labelled as Khalistan militants.”

In 1980s Punjab, the heartland of India’s Sikh minority, there were heightened calls for a separate Sikh homeland in the northern Indian state.

Known as the Khalistan movement, the armed bid for greater autonomy led to violence.

In June 1984, the government sent troops to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, targeting religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other Khalistan fighters.

Hundreds of people, including Bhindranwale, were killed in “Operation Blue Star“.

Punjab [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]
Simarjeet Kaur, centre, lost four family members in alleged police encounters [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

Months later, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards – an event which led to anti-Sikh riots in which thousands were killed.

As the Khalistan movement grew, Punjab security forces were given greater powers to crush dissent, resulting in torture, enforced disappearances and fake encounters – a term widely used for police-led killings against unarmed civilians – usually rebels or suspects.

In 1986, Gurmej Kaur’s youngest son, 12-year-old Sukhdev, was arrested by police, accused of possessing weapons and ammunition.

“It was a common phenomenon in Punjab then. Civilians were abducted, taken into illegal custody and tortured,” said Gurmeet Kaur, Gurmej’s daughter.

Justice has been denied to these families because no government had the political will. It was a state policy – otherwise, how can police or a security officer get away with such crimes?

MOHKAM SINGH, A LEADER OF THE UNITED AKALI DAL PARTY

Police claimed they had recovered a gun from Sukhdev and accused him in a murder case in Amritsar, which the family denies.

The child spent seven months in jail before a court acquitted him.

He rejoined his school and the family was relieved, but Gurmeet said it was the “beginning of the worst time” as police harassment soon resumed.

“Police would beat him, abuse and humiliate him so regularly that he quit studying. He was forced to leave home and live in a rented room,” said Gurmeet.

Police told the family to bring Sukhdev back to the police station, threatening “consequences”, she said.

“Police destroyed our crops several times and damaged our house as well.”

Three years later, in November 1989, police picked up Kaur’s second brother, 19-year-old Gurdev Singh, from the family’s fields.

Several villagers witnessed the “abduction”, the family said.

The police reassured the community that he would be released the next morning.

“A week later, we read in a newspaper that Gurdev was shot dead in a police encounter,” said Gurmeet.

Just over a year later, a third son – 21-year-old Hardev Singh – was picked up by police from his student accommodation in Batala town. He was killed on the same day.

Two months passed and Gurmeet went to see her father Sulakhan Singh and brother Sukhdev, the boy who was arrested at 12, at their rented house in Batala.

She saw hundreds of policemen surrounding the house and her father and brother “dragged” out of the building.

“I rushed home to inform my family. Soon, villagers from different villages in tractors went to the senior superintendent’s office and demanded the release of both Sulakhan and Sukhdev.”

However, police told the villagers that they had been killed in an encounter along with two other men.

“We were not even given their bodies. They were cremated secretly,” Gurmeet said.

Al Jazeera’s multiple attempts to seek a response from Punjab officials regarding the Kaur family’s case were unsuccessful.

From 1983 until 1995, during “counter-insurgency” efforts in Punjab, thousands of Sikhs were killed or allegedly went missing.

More than 10 years after the anti-Sikh riots, in 1995, Punjab-based activist Jaswant Singh Khalra filed a petition with the Supreme Court of India claiming police had cremated 25,000 bodies, which they labelled “unidentified” and “unclaimed”.

Later that year, Khalra was abducted and killed by the police.

Simarjeet Kaur, 65, from the Punjabi city of Gurdaspur, is among those still seeking answers.

She said she lost four family members in alleged police encounters.

“There was no inquiry, no compensation given. There was no one we could approach to get justice,” Kaur told Al Jazeera.

“Instead of bodies, police would hand over ashes and tell us not to come to police stations looking for our family members.

“We don’t even know whose ashes were given to us.”

‘Justice denied’

Mohkam Singh, a leader of the Sikh-centric United Akali Dal party, said said the disappearances were state-sanctioned.

“Justice has been denied to these families because no government had the political will. It was a state policy – otherwise, how can police or a security officer get away with such crimes?” he said.

On July 7, 2019, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) concerning disappearances and “fake encounters” involving more than 8,527 peoplein Punjab was filed at India’s Supreme Court by a human rights group, the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP), on behalf of the victims.

Before my death, I want to see the killers of my children and husband punished for their heinous crimes. The Supreme Court is our last hope.

GURMEJ KAUR SAID, 80-YEAR-OLD WIDOW

“The victims should be given compensation,” said Satnam Singh Bains, a barrister and activist with PADP.

For some victims’ families, the PIL is their last hope for closure.

“I hope the country’s biggest court gives us justice,” said Simarjeet Kaur.

Punjab’s Home Secretary Satish Chandra said he was unable to comment on PDAP’s report until the case “comes up in court”.

Back in Gurdaspur, surrounded by friends and her two daughters, Gurmej Kaur said: “Before my death, I want to see the killers of my children and husband punished for their heinous crimes. The Supreme Court is our last hope.”

Punjab [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]
Satnam Singh Bains, a barrister with PDAP, said the group investigated 8,257 cases of enforced disappearances and illegal cremations during a 10-year investigation [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera] [Al Jazeera]

Media Coverage of Punjab Disappeared’s Amritsar Event

Read how the press covered the screening of our documentary Punjab Disappeared as well as our recently filed PIL in the Supreme Court of India regarding 8257 cases of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and secret mass-cremations. 

 

Punjab’s Ajit Newspaper, 8th July, 2019

 

 

Dainik Jagran newspaper, 8th July, 2019

 

 

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