Press Note: “Dead Men Do Speak”: Two Separate and Disturbing Developments in Punjab’s Courts – Victims of Fake Encounters Claimed as Sikh ‘Militants’ Alive and Still in Danger, Actual Victims Were Innocent Sikhs.”

“Dead Men Do Speak”: Two Separate and Disturbing Developments in Punjab’s Courts – Victims of Fake Encounters Claimed as Sikh ‘Militants’ Alive and Still in Danger, Actual Victims Were Innocent Sikhs.”


October 18, 2023

As legal cases continue their slow march through Punjab’s courts, two remarkable and deeply troubling developments have finally a piercing spotlight on a persistent and disturbing pattern in the state – innocent victims being falsely identified as Sikh ‘militants’ and subsequently killed in separate fake encounters. What makes these revelations even more shocking is that both ‘militants’ originally declared killed, are now confirmed to be alive and, even more disturbingly, under threat.

In the first case, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) recently filed murder charges related to a ‘fake encounter’ that unfolded 31 years ago. The Punjab police had initially claimed that the victim was Gurnam Singh Bandala, was a militant killed in an exchange of fire. However, investigations revealed that the victim Sukhpal Singh was, in reality, an innocent Sikh. 

In a parallel development, a legal battle has been unfolding in the CBI Court, Mohali, in the case of CBI v Dharam Singh. During the proceedings, it has come to light that one of the two victims in this case is still very much alive, despite official records indicating otherwise. The ‘militant,’ Jagir Singh, who was supposedly killed in the encounter, is now 71 years old and has spent 15 years in prison for a case registered at the very police station where he was officially declared deceased following the encounter by Ajnala Police.

Jagir Singh, after appearing through video conferencing from the hospital to confirm his identity and existence, has now gone missing, raising grave concerns for his safety. PDAP Lawyers representing Bapu Kashmir Singh, the father of Daljit, the second Sikh victim in the encounter, have implored the court to conduct a thorough investigation into the overlooked aspect of the CBI investigation – the need to ascertain the identity of the second victim, who was allegedly illegally cremated by the Ajnala Police.

These cases highlight disclosures made by Ex-DGP Virk, shedding light on the alarming fact that hundreds of individuals who were claimed to be ‘militants’ and reported as killed were, in fact, alive and living under new identities. Meanwhile, the victims in these encounters were innocent Sikhs, wrongfully targeted. Tragically, these deceptive practices were often employed to create new identities for ‘CATs,’ a euphemism for ‘Militants-turned-informers,’ or to enable Punjab Police officers to claim rewards for these supposed killings, resulting in out-of-turn and accelerated promotions.

As we mark the 17th year of our investigations and legal representation of victim families, it’s evident that these cases merely scratch the surface. They underscore the pressing need for truth, justice, accountability, and transparency in addressing the state-sponsored crimes committed against the predominantly Sikh population during the insurgency across Punjab

The ongoing 44 CBI cases have unearthed a wealth of evidence that was never fully examined or tragically overlooked for over three decades. As we continue our mission to uncover the truth behind these extra-judicial killings, we remain steadfast in our commitment to #IdentifytheUnidentified and bring truth and justice to the victims and their families.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Punjab Documentation & Advocacy Project

Landmark Verdict – Life Imprisonment for Punjab Police Officers in 31-Year-Old Fake Police Encounter Case

Landmark Verdict – Life Imprisonment for Punjab Police Officers in 31-Year-Old Fake Police Encounter Case

Justice for the brutal killings of Harjeet Singh, Lakhvinder Singh, and Jaspinder Singh

Here are the key details:
1. **Conviction:** Retired DSP Gurdev Singh, retired inspector Dharam Singh, and Surinder Singh have been sentenced to life imprisonment under section 302 (Murder) and fined Rs. 200,000 each. Additionally, they were fined Rs. 25,000 and sentenced to two years imprisonment under section 218 (fabricating records).
2. **Accusations:** The officers were charged with abducting three Sikh youth from different places and subsequently killing them in a fake police encounter.
3. **Fugitive:** Punjab Police Officer Bhupinder Singh has been declared a fugitive by the court during the hearing of this case.
4. **Other Culprits:** Several other individuals involved in the case, including Ram Lubhaya, Harbhajan Singh, Satbir Singh, Amrik Singh, and Daljit Singh, died during the court proceedings. These officers were implicated in many other cases of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial executions.
**Victims of the Fake Encounter:**
5. **Harjeet Singh, Lakhvinder Singh, and Jaspinder Singh:** Harjeet Singh, Lakhvinder Singh, and Jaspinder Singh were brutally killed, following severe torture, their bodies were then illegally and secretly cremated; their entries appeared in the lists prepared by human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra among 2097 “unclaimed and unidentified” in Amritsar, which were relied upon at trial.
6. **International Attention:**
This historic case was highlighted by Amnesty International 27 years ago in 1995. During the proceedings, we relied on evidence of the disappearance of Harjeet Singh was raised in international forums, including by Amnesty International, as part of the case against the accused, marking the first time in Indian legal history.
7. **Impact on Harjeet Singh’s Family:** The impact of this long-standing struggle for justice on Harjeet Singh’s family, particularly his son Ramandeep, who was just 2 years old when his father disappeared, has been profound. Read more about their journey for justice and accountability [here](…/amritsar-fake…).
8. **Judicial Delays and Loss of Witnesses:** Of the CBI’s 55 witnesses in the fake encounter case, only 27 could record their statements, while the others died during this prolonged trial. The first witness statement was recorded in 2016, a good 24 years after the crime, while it took more than 31 years to deliver final justice.
9. **Additional Sources:** Read more about the case in The Tribune [here](…/3-former-punjab-police…).
– Further coverage on the verdict can be found in the Hindustan Times.
**Watch the News Report:** You can watch the news report showing police officers being detained and taken into custody here:
This verdict is a significant milestone in the pursuit of truth and accountability in Punjab for the mass human rights violations that took place between 1984-1995.
For more information on Amnesty International’s involvement in the case, you can visit the link (
DSP Gurdev Singh, inspector Dharam Singh, and Surinder Singh have been sentenced to life imprisonment

DSP Gurdev Singh, retired inspector Dharam Singh, and Surinder Singh have been sentenced to life imprisonment

Press Note: CBI Special Court convicts former Punjab Police inspector for 1991 abduction and disappearance of PSEB employee

Press Release

CBI Special Court convicts former Punjab Police inspector for 1991 abduction and disappearance of PSEB employee.

31 January 2022.

CBI Special Court Mohali – CBI Judge Harinder Sidhu convicted former Inspector Major Singh, then SHO of police station Sadar, Tarn Taran for the kidnapping, abduction, illegal detention and disappearance of Santokh Singh in 1991, during the height of militancy and human rights violations by the Punjab Police. Inspector Major Singh was convicted under sections 364 IPC kidnapping or abduction in order to murder and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with Rs 50,000 fine and section 344 (wrongful confinement for 10 days or more) and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment and Rs 20,000 fine. 

The victim Santokh Singh of Village Jaspal, Mehta district Amritsar was an employee of the Butari Sub Division of Punjab State Electricity Board. On the evening of 31 July 1991 he returned home from his duties at 8:30 pm, the accused Inspector Major Singh along with a police party from PS Sadar, Tarn Taran raided his house. The victim was taken in front of his mother Swaran Kaur, his wife Rajwinder Kaur who was carrying their newborn baby son at the time. Both women raised the alarm and a number of neighbours and witnesses from the village saw Inspector Major Singh tying the hands of Santokh Singh who was taken to police station Sadar. 

He was kept in illegal custody where other inmates witnessed his severe torture, they described his condition as critical, he was unable to eat or drink due to his tortured condition. Swaran Kaur pleaded for the release of her son and had even approached then SP Operations Khubi Ram who did not deny that he was in their custody and had promised her that her son would be released. After his prolonged detention and torture, he was not seen of or heard from again. As was the prevailing practice of the Punjab Police at the time the victim was enforced disappeared, meaning that he was murdered in police custody and his body illegally and secretly disposed of. For the last 31 years, Mata Swaran Kaur has fought a relentless battle for the truth and justice. In 1996 she filed Habeas corpus before the Punjab and Haryana High Court for the Punjab police to produce her son or investigate his abduction and disappearance. 

It was proved during the lengthy proceedings that Santokh Singh was a man of good character, with no previous convictions or connections to militancy or terrorism. A crucial piece of evidence was from the Punjab State Electricity Board employee records which showed that he had not attended work or collected his salary since the evening of his abduction.

On 21 January 1998 the CBI was directed by the High Court to conduct an investigation. The CBI inquiry concluded that Santokh Singh had been abducted and illegally detained by Inspector Major Singh. A case was registered by the CBI on 21 August 1998. The charge sheet was filed on 21 April 1999, it has taken 22 years for the trial to conclude due to the repeated and concerted efforts of the accused to derail the proceedings. The matter was stayed by the High Court in 2002 then the Supreme Court in 2003, which was eventually dismissed in 2006. The accused again further delayed the trial and in 2016 the Supreme Court again ordered the trial to proceed. Again in 2016, he sought a stay on proceedings which was dismissed by the High Court in 2017. When the trial resumed in November 2019 for final arguments the accused again stalled the proceedings by securing a further stay in the High Court, which was vacated in December 2021. The trial resumed in January 2022 and today some 31 years after Santokh Singh’s abduction and disappearance the accused was finally convicted. 

The 10 years sentence was unduly lenient for such a grave and heinous crime, “ my legal team will review the Judgement and we will be asking the High Court to impose a life sentence for my son’s abduction and killing” 

For more information 

Advocate Jagjjit Singh Bajwa and Satnam Singh Bains 9988227597 email: [email protected]

The Punjabi version of the press note is available here – Press note Punjabi


Complainant: Swararn Kaur

Complainant: Swararn Kaur

Victim: Santokh Singh

Victim: Santokh Singh

Convicted: Former Inspector Major Singh

Convicted: Former Inspector Major Singh

Joint Press Note: The 26th of January Republic Day Farmers Protest and forcible attempts to remove peaceful protestors.


Joint Press Note

The 26th of January Republic Day Farmers Protest and forcible attempts to remove peaceful protestors.

 At least one person killed. 200 detained, protesters arbitrary beaten and registration of false criminal cases against the protesting leadership.
We write with collective concern as to farmers protest in Delhi which took place on the 26th of January 202, Republic Day. An estimated 200,000 protestors took part in a largely peaceful tractor rally that led to at least one death and resulted in the detention of 200 protesters, footage posted on social media showing people fleeing from police indiscriminately firing teargas at them and the detention and beating of protestors assembled at the Red Fort. There have been reports of protesters injured by the firing of live rounds. There has been at least one fatality of a farmer Navdeep Singh Hundal, a 26-year-old farmer from Uttarakhand at ITO in Delhi.
Despite the Supreme Court of India having directed the Delhi police to take a decision to allow the protest on the 26th of January, there was an abject failure to properly police this protest which has led to these events and the use of force was entirely disproportionate At other protest sites there is footage of officers seen beating protesters with batons and attacking tractors and other protest vehicles with lathis.
Despite a sustained attempt to demonise the peaceful protests over months, from certain sections of the Indian media, the farmers have shown maturity, dignity and leadership. As with any large scale protests, there were sporadic incidents of violence, however these did not mar what was otherwise an overwhelmingly peaceful and successful protest. By contrast, there have been no violent incidents on the Singhu, Tikri or Ghazipur borders where the protesting farmers have been camping peacefully against the three new farm bills, for the last three months. The organisers of the protest have been congratulated from all quarters as to the success in which these organised protest of mass rallies have been conducted.
We remind the Indian authorities of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which prohibits the use of firearms and ammunition by law enforcement that causes unwarranted injury or presents an unwarranted risk. The international covenant on civil and political rights states that firearms are not an appropriate tool for the policing of assemblies and must never be used to disperse an assembly.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Punjab and Delhi has witnessed much bloodshed cycles of violence and counter violence in which genocidal pogroms, enforced disappearances extrajudicial killings took place on a widescale and have still not been resolved, for which thousands of victims still await justice. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the notorious Saka Nakodar shooting in which 5 innocent protestors were gunned down in Nakodar, Jalandhar for which their families are still awaiting justice. No right thinking person would wish to see any escalation of violence, retribution or a return to those dark days.
The Police and State Security Services are now indiscriminately detaining people, slapping charges under UAPA, terrorism, sedition and anti-national conduct on hundreds of people associated with the farmers protest, including the Farmer leadership.
The actions of protestors are neither ‘terrorist’, seditious nor anti national. They simply disagree with a Government policy.
The Government is now exercising extraordinary powers to deploy heavy security and disperse farmers protest and deny them the rights to freely protest, which is of considerable concern as the protesters are camped at various protest sites on Delhi’s borders.
We ask for the release of detained protesters, with reports emerging of their ill-treatment and torture in custody. An immediate CBI led investigation to establish the cause of Navdeep Singh Hundal’s death and to investigate claims that he was killed as a result of police firing or whether it was accidental as has been claimed by Delhi police. The Supreme Court should preserve all CCTV of Delhi’s CCTV entry points to unearth the truth of how the violence was allow to happen. Human rights organisations will continue to monitor ongoing developments, human rights violations and urge the Government of India to show restraint and continue to engage with the protesting farmers groups on the issue of the three farming laws. The shutting down of social media accounts, restricting internet services as well as cutting off electricity and water supply, where a large number of protestors are elderly and vulnerable. The forcible attempts to remove the protestors from the protest sites is illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary. The registration of FIRs against the farmer leadership not only complicates a very complex and delicate process in their ongoing dialogue with the Government but is also a severe and draconian attack on their fundamental right to protest as well as their constitutional right to object to these laws.
Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project
Khalra Mission Organisation
Punjab Human Rights Organisation
Lawyers for Human Rights International
People’s Union for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Law Network
The Punjabi version of the press note is available to view – Press Note 29-01-2021 Punjabi
Image from the Press Conference

Representatives from 6 leading human rights organisations come together to release a joint press note. 

Live Mint: “In Punjab, families of the ‘disappeared’ await justice”

In Punjab, families of the ‘disappeared’ await justice

The narrative to discredit the farmers protest harks back to a long dead secessionist movement for Khalistan. But what really remains of the Punjab conflict is hundreds of families, whose sons they say were killed by the police and mass cremated, still awaiting justice.

10 May 2007: Jagir Singh (68) holds a picture of his son Sukhpal Singh, who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in 1994. (Photo: Getty Images)

On 29 June 1991, Gurmeet Singh was nearly 2 years old, when he last saw his father. His parents—Rattan Singh and Jaswinder Kaur—had gone to attend an ardaas (prayer service) for Gurmeet’s paternal uncle. At 11am, Punjab police raided the gathering. Rattan Singh was among those who were picked up. “He was taken to a police station in Gurdaspur and tortured,” says Gurmeet, now 30. He came to know of this years later from his grandfather, Varayam Singh, who raised him and his younger sister.

By the time the local MLA and panchayat members reached Talwandi in Gurdaspur the next morning to demand the men be released, Rattan Singh had been “killed in an encounter”, and cremated. They returned with his ashes.

From the early 1980s till 1995, Punjab was in the grip of militancy, as a political demand for autonomy developed into a separatist movement. Between bombings and bus-burning, people recall times where men would walk through the districts of Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Amritsar, armed and fearless. Many left the state. The early 1990s saw the bloodiest phase as the state launched counter-insurgency operations, arming the state police with laws such as The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act (1983) and The Punjab Disturbed Areas Act (1983). They would pick up or shoot men on mere suspicion, and often their families as well.

Human Rights Watch report conducted during that period revealed that torture in police custody included “electric shock, applied to the victim’s genitals, head, ears and legs; prolonged beatings with canes and leather straps; tying the victim’s hands behind the back and suspending him or her from the ceiling by the arms.”

At the age of 10, Gurmeet pieced together information from local panchayat meetings and things he was told. This was how he came to understand why his mother had remarried, abandoning both siblings. “Aise mujhe pata chala ki police ne brutality ki (That’s how I learnt of police brutality),” says the daily-wage worker, who earns close to Rs. 300 per day. As we speak, his voice trails after every sentence.“Humari zindagi narak thi (our lives were hell).”

Varayam, too, was routinely detained until 1997. The children would spend hours at a neighbour’s home, unsure whether their grandfather would return. With an education cut short—Gurmeet studied till class 8 at the Dhan Mata Gujri Ji Trust “where children of martyrs were sent”—he grew up in the shadow of violence, silence and a persistent terror. “Main kisi se nahi baat kar saka. Aap ko toh pata hai ki Sarkar kuch bhi kar sakti hai, sab unhi ke haath mein hai (“I could never speak to anyone about this. You know the state can do anything, everything is in their hands.”)

Nearly three decades later, Gurmeet may be looking at a glimmer of hope. On 20 December last year, the non-profit group Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP) filed a writ in the Punjab and Haryana high court, detailing the “disappearance” and mass cremations of more than 8,000 men by the police between 1984-95, across 1,600 villages in 14 of the state’s 22 districts. Among this number, which hides the trauma of broken families and psychological stress, is the “extrajudicial killing” of Gurmeet’s father, Rattan Singh.

As farmers gather today at the borders of Delhi, demanding a repeal of three new laws they fear will put corporate interests before theirs, a counter-narrative has emerged to discredit the protests. It harks back to this tumultuous phase in Punjab’s history, alleging links between farmer groups and the secessionist movement for Khalistan, ignoring nuance and the barely healed lesions of a decade-long conflict.

“Kisanon ka Khalistan se kya lena dena? Kisan hai toh jahan hai (What have farmers got to do with Khalistan? The world lives on the toil of farmers)” says Jaspal Singh, a 50 year old farmer from Gurdaspur. His younger brother Rashpal, he says, was killed and cremated by the police in 1992. There was no warrant, no trial and no due process. Jaspal has remained silent for over 25 years, but now his brother’s name finds mention in the PDAP petition.

In 2008, the PDAP started a fresh investigation into the human right abuses during the conflict. Over 10 years, it filed queries under the right to information Act, studying 1,400 police FIRs and decades-old records of cremation grounds, analysing archived newspapers and recording testimonies of eyewitnesses and the relatives of those who had disappeared.

“The investigations and records presented to the court show that the Punjab police and security forces would abduct, kill and secretly cremate bodies. Instead of cremating one body at a time, the police often cremated several together in a single pyre and in some cases, up to 18 bodies were cremated in a single day from just a single incident,” says Satnam Singh Bains, a barrister and convener of the PDAP.

The petition includes a call to establish a “Missing Persons Commission” on the lines of the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons in Argentina. “…even the Geneva Convention provides that during times of war or inter-country conflict bodies of enemy combatants are to be identified, treated with respect and not defiled, yet these victims were citizens of India, who were accorded less rights than a foreign enemy combatant,” it says.

History of blood and ashes

In 2017, the PDAP organised a People’s Tribunal in Amritsar. Over two days, a composite panel of retired judiciary members, prominent activists and academics from across India heard testimonies of the forgotten survivors whose loved ones had ‘disappeared’. The audience was a sea of bodies—nearly everyone either wiping tears or with fixed gazes, holding frayed photographs and old paper clippings—memories and scraps of news about the dead. For many of these 700 families, this was the first time they told their stories.

The cruel irony of human rights in Punjab was that one of the first to raise this question during the 1990s was also among the last of the victims of state excesses: Jaswant Singh Khalra. A human rights activist, he uncovered disappearances, killings and secret cremations, drawing attention globally to the issue.

“Thousands of mothers await their sons. Even though some may know that the oppressor has not spared their sons’ lives on this earth,” said Khalra in June 1995 in the Canadian Parliament. “But a mother’s heart is such that even if she sees her son’s dead body, she does not accept that her son has left her. So the mothers who have not even seen their children’s dead bodies, they were asking us, at least find out: is our son alive or not?”

Punjab witnessed unprecedented violence between 1978 and the early 1990s. In 1966, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ceded to a demand from Sikhs for their own state and created a separate Punjab state along linguistic lines, separating the Hindi and Haryanvi-speaking parts from East Punjab state (as the part of Punjab province in India after Partition was known), and incorporating other Punjabi-speaking areas. A sense of discrimination and of being a minority persisted, and in 1973, the Shiromani Akali Dal made a list of demands, in its Anandpur Sahib Resolution, for “creation of such an environment where Sikh sentiment can find its full expression”.

Fall outs of the Green Revolution, the Union government’s interventions and an increased communalisation of politics led to a struggle for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan during the 1980s. Operation Blue Star, when the military launched an operation against militants in the Golden Temple, the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the ensuing violence in Delhi in which more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed, fanned the embers of sectarian violence. In 1988, the 59th Amendment to the Constitution suspended fundamental rights in the state. By 1995, the resistance of the rural Sikh population to both militancy and counterinsurgency put an end to Punjab’s most tumultuous phase after independence.

By then, according to a report in The Tribune, over 21,000 people had been killed in Punjab—over 8,000 were categorised as militants, 11,696 were civilians, and 1,746 were security force personnel (among them, 1,415 Punjab police officials). The militants would abduct people, threaten or kill judges, politicians, media professionals and police officers and their families. In this context, the state was given a free hand. The first DGP sent in at the time, Julio Ribeiro implemented the famed “bullet for bullet” policy and then under Punjab police DGP KPS Gill until 1995, Punjab saw a spate of “fake encounters”, custodial deaths and mass cremations.

“They virtually converted this into an ideological argument: Since things are bad, anything the police does should be accepted,” says Human Rights lawyer and senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, who formed the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab in the 1980s along with four others. “The human rights violations in Punjab were horrible. If you reach a place where there is no difference between you and the extremists in your violence, then what is it that we are preserving the state from?”

In the 1990s, Khalra was the director of a cooperative bank in Amritsar when two of his colleagues disappeared. “It all began when he committed himself to helping these families find out what had happened. Sure enough they found the two had been picked up by the police, killed and cremated. The families were not even handed over their remains,” says his wife Paramjit Kaur Khalra.

What started as a quest to find his friends led to the discovery of a number of “unidentified” pyres. The first registers documenting these listed over 300 cremations from the Durgiana Mandir ground in 1992. He obtained similar records of two other crematoria in Amritsar district, and in 1993, filed a PIL (public interest litigation) in the Chandigarh high court with his findings. “He would receive threats from the police like, ‘we have disappeared 25,000 people, we have no problem if that’s 25,001’,” says Paramjit.

Early on 6 September 1995, Jaswant asked a bewildered Paramjit to promise that she would be able to raise the children alone. “I didn’t understand it, but he obviously knew something was about to happen,” she recalls. Later that morning, after their two children left for school and Paramjit set out for work at the University library in Amritsar, the Punjab police surrounded the colony. Before she could even begin the day’s tasks and just after she had marked attendance, Paramjit got a frantic call from one of her neighbours: The police had taken her husband.

“At this point I had two options, to keep quiet and continue like nothing had happened, or to actually do something about it,” says Paramjit. She filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court and spent the next 16 years of her life getting justice for her husband, whom she never saw again.

It was only 3 years after the case began that they found a witness.“The gunman of the officer who took Jaswant confessed to the CBI that Jaswant had been eliminated and burnt,” she says.

“It is horrifying to visualise that dead bodies of large number of persons allegedly thousands could be cremated by the police unceremoniously with a label “unidentified,” the Court said in its order in 1996. It also directed the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to appoint a high powered team to investigate the matter, limited to the cremation grounds in Amritsar. Simultaneously, the NHRC awarded monetary relief of upto Rs. 2.5 lakhs to the next of kin of the deceased, however it did not investigate which officers were responsible for these killings.

In 2007, the Punjab and Haryana High Court gave life terms to five police officers, and acquitted a sixth in the case. In November 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences.

Paramjit’s children were 12 or 13 at the time and found out about their father’s death as teachers and children talked about it in school. She has spent nearly two decades doggedly pursuing justice and has since committed herself to find ways to compensate victim families, to ensure justice, no matter how delayed. In 2019, she contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Khadoor Sahib constituency and came in second. “Neither can we forget this pain, neither can we bare this pain, neither can we forgive this pain,” she says.

Over the years, the position of the Punjab police has been consistent: Its officers were not trained to fight “internationally sponsored terror” and “tactics had to be deployed” to eliminate militancy and “bring Punjab back from the brink”. A CBI court has convicted a number of officers for illegal cremations, judgements that have upset Punjab police, which has argued that policemen “who worked under a reign of fear and terror” should be treated with leniency. The Punjab police DGP and state chief secretary did not respond to Lounge’s requests for interviews over phone, text and email.

“Human rights are for the benefit of the system too, and the collective. To ensure that you don’t go after wrong people,” says Ramakrishnan. “If you summarily kill off a bunch of people and call them militants, then are you really freeing the state of terror? It’s no one’s case that lethal force cannot be used in private defence, but the law is the law—there has to be some accountability.”

For 25 years, Jaspal Singh has been waiting for just that—accountability. The police, he says, picked up the fourth of 6 brothers on 4 June 1992. Rashpal Singh was in his 20s; a singer and composer, “much beloved in their village”. “Bohot yaad aati hai, tamboora le ke raat ko gaana gata tha, toh gaon ke log bolte the raunak laga ditti (we think about him constantly, when he would sing at night everyone would say he added life to the village).”

Once they received word from someone Jaspal says was a “god-fearing police officer”, the bothers co-ordinated efforts along with local leaders to bring him home. They found their way to Chandan di Madi, a cremation ground in Gurdaspur. “Two men were killed and cremated that day, one was our brother and the other man remained unclaimed. We brought home the remains of two brothers that day,” he says.

Missing stories of women

If “accountability” has been missing from the Punjab story of the 1990s, also absent is the story of women during the conflict. As Mallika Kaur, a lawyer and writer who focuses on gender and minority issues in the US and south Asia points out, “Within the marginalised Punjab conflict, as is most often the case, gender dynamics have been further marginalized. Or at best described in a very unidimensional and politically expedient way: the turbaned Sikh man as angry and prone to violence, the Sikh woman as the hapless victim.” She adds, “These descriptions caricature human lives and aspirations. And about women’s stories, there are embarrassingly few accounts, especially in English. For Punjab’s conflict narrative, where the aftermath of 1984 ravaged the countryside, women’s bodies are accepted as hidden, silent, receptacles.”

Amreek Kaur, 55, and her husband, Jasbir Singh, were arrested from the same gathering Gurmeet’s father had attended. As we speak, her voice is steady, as if the memory has almost hardened her over the years. “They took me to a separate place and beat me so hard, the SHO ripped my hair so brutally, it still doesn’t grow in that particular spot, to this day.” She then describes what broke her even more than the physical abuse. “They were celebrating and distributing sweets to us in jail, they even handed me some. I was only told later that it was because they had killed those men—one of them being my husband.”

Amreek was finally released and asked to go home with her father and local leaders through the village, instructed not to use the main road by the police. In between, she slips in something, almost in passing. “It was horrible, unhone itni gaaliyan di, andar humein kapde bhi nahi pehnne diye (they hurled such abuse, they didn’t even let us wear our clothes inside).” Was there a lady constable, I ask. Amreek says there was not.

“There are countless stories of rape and sexual and physical violence against women during the violence, “says Mallika. “But these stories have not necessarily been heard with the nuance and sensitivity they deserve. Through the conflict, women persevered as breadwinners after men were taken or killed: they tilled lands, ran businesses; they have been fearless litigants and organisers for justice…they have been the grandmotherly and motherly embrace that added a semblance of normalcy for kids growing up with unspeakable trauma; they have been the storytellers and the repository of our recent history.” Many families of those who “disappeared”, where bodies were cremated as “unclaimed or unidentified”, have not been given death certificates.

The PDAP has documented some of these struggles too. Even as mothers take on full-time jobs to raise their children—some at beauty parlours, others in the fields or as dailywage labourers and teachers, they have had trouble accessing succession and inheritance rights. This is because as families of the ‘disappeared’, where bodies are burned as “unclaimed or unidentified”—many have not been given death certificates.

Amreek raised all 3 of her children with some help from her family. Still, like Gurmeet, her son Vikramjit was young at the time, and the death of his father had long term implications for his professional life. “I tried to join the army in 2003. I cleared all the stages, but when it was time for the inquiry, they wrote that I am a terrorist’s son. That was the end of my dreams.” Only 4 years old at the time, Vikramjit had to cut short his education and help support the family along with his older brother. He started as a dailywage labourer at the age of 8 and would earn between Rs.50-100 per day.

“If we had our parents, we would have at least had some guidance,” says Gurmeet. “But what kind of future do you expect children like us to have? We have had to give up our education, we can’t get good jobs but we have to fend for ourselves, and constantly live in fear. This is all we are.” His voice trails.

Too long a wait

Even as the PDAP’s new petition ignites a fresh hope for justice beyond Amritsar, for some who chose the legal system to hold the state to account have not lived long enough to see it through. For nearly 18 years, the question of sanction to prosecute police officers lay gathering dust with the courts. Eventually, a few months after the Supreme Court dismissed it in 2016, 100 year-old Chaman Lal, who had been fighting a case for his son Gulshan Kumar’s disappearance, died. He was the sole eyewitness in the case.

“There was also the case of a woman who was travelling with her son Balwinder, who was taken by the police and killed—they were looking of a different Balwinder and admitted as much to his mother at her home, where she was asked to make them tea while they told her,” says Bains of the PDAP. “She was pursuing his case, and had been for decades. She died earlier this year.”

Still, after all these years, families young and old are hopeful. For years, Bakshish Singh could not hang the photo of his disappeared son at home—it had the date of his death written neatly on the side—out of fear that he may be picked up or threatened. Eventually, over time, he put it up. His grand daughter was 10 when she first asked him who this man was and what happened to him. The 84 year old has lived out his days now, he says. “But we all have rights don’t we? No court of law says he was a militant. I have lived an honest life. Do I not deserve some dignity?”

While the opinion among the state authorities is that the diaspora has long tried to revive a conversation long dead after all these years, the question that Bakshish Singh asks continues to loom heavy on the forgotten families of Punjab’s ‘disappeared’.

Read the original story here.

Press Note: Farmers in India and the fundamental right to protest

Press Note:

Farmers in India and the fundamental right to protest

International Human Rights Day 2020

As the protests against India’s new farming laws intensify across India, the Government of India has an obligation to protect and uphold protestors human rights, not to demonise them.
Weeks of protests by farmers from Punjab and Haryana intensified against three controversial farming laws which abolish Minimum Support Pricing (MSP) for farmers, led to a call for protestors to make their way to the national capital Delhi. On the 8th of December the protests had spread with farmers across India leading a country wide strike and shut down (band). Many of these poor and marginalised farmers, battled against the onset of winter amidst a world-wide pandemic travelling the 500km by foot, on tractors, scooters and other vehicles.
During the initial stages the farmers were prevented from entering Delhi by armed police and paramilitary forces using water cannons, tear gas and batons. The use of arbitrary force on these unarmed and peaceful protestors was condemned in the strongest possible terms. The use of water cannons, tear gas and canes (lathi charging) and other coercive measures was disproportionate and unjustified. Such measures can only be deployed where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. In places there are credible reports of arbitrary arrest, detention with even the Chief Minister of Delhi alleging that his support for the farmers have led to his house arrest. In the present circumstances, where a large number of peaceful unarmed protestors are exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest the use of force is illegal under both Indian and international law.
The right to protest is a democratic and fundamental civil right under the Indian Constitution and protected in international law as an inviolable right and tradition which must be respected and upheld. We are deeply concerned of reports that the Haryana State Government has arbitrarily arrested and detained a number of leaders of farming organisations and protestors. It is reported that one protestor, who is alleged to have turned off a water cannon, has been charged with Section 307 of the Indian penal Code (Attempted Murder) others have been beaten and at various intersections farmers have had their tractor-trolleys and trucks impounded and many implicated in false and fabricated cases, a pattern which repeated during the nationwide protest in recent days. Outside of Punjab and Delhi there have been reports of arrests of 1100 people in Madurai district in Tamil Nadu of which 240 are women.
We are equally concerned of some sections of the Indian media irresponsibly reporting a benign and sinister motive behind the protests claiming that ‘terrorist elements’ are leading the protestors and thereby maligning the farmers and legitimate protests, without any objective basis or foundation for asserting so. The role of journalists in ensuring that events are reported in an objective and fair manner is paramount so as not to inflame an already volatile situation and we remind the Indian press of their own ethical obligations and responsibilities as set out in their code of conduct set forth by the Press Council of India which prohibits reporting of “inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material” and places a positive obligation on journalists to report accurately and fairly.
Punjab, indeed many other states in India, have a deep-rooted proud history of protest and civil mobilisation. The role of Sikhs and Punjabis in peacefully agitating against British rule was a cornerstone of the Indian independence movement, and post Indian independence. Punjab has seen various civil protests (morchas) to secure the right of Punjab and Punjabis in the last five decades. We are concerned that during the 1980’s many legitimate demands for autonomy were similarly mischaracterised as terrorism and legitimate demands for federalism and autonomy were labelled as militancy, terrorism and violent separatism. The last mass scale mobilisation of Punjab farmers advocating for reform was the Grain Roko Morcha (stop grain protest), which culminated from the wider protests for autonomy arising from the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1976. The failure of the then central Government to positively engage with those issues and the brutal crackdown in Punjab which followed were instrumental in the cataclysmic events of Operation Bluestar in June 1984, the pogroms and genocidal massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and across India in November 1984, resulting in a decade of violence and insurgency between 1984 – 1995 in which thousands of Sikh youth were enforced disappeared and extra-judicially executed by state and security forces with basic fundamental rights suspended and violated.
In our work in documenting these deaths and disappearances during that period, we can confirm that over 90% of victims came from an agrarian or farming background. Punjab has never recovered from those scars. All right-thinking Punjabis do not wish to see a return to any cycle of violence and brutal violations of human rights that took place during this period and are concerned at the violation and curtailment of fundamental rights of those protesting against these oppressive and coercive measures as well as the demonisation and mischaracterisation of their legitimate concerns and grievances.
The farmers and protestors have faced serious and grave threats to their liberty and their fundamental right to peacefully assemble, association and freedom of expression and speech. If the Government of India and State Governments continue to use excessive and disproportionate force, including the use of tear case, water cannons, lathi and baton charge, as a deterrent to those who are exercising their fundamental right to peacefully protest, then India is in breach of both its own constitutionally enshrined rights and of International human rights law.
We call upon the State and central government to allow the protestors to exercise their right of peaceful protests without the fear of arbitrary arrest, detention or hinderance and to engage in constructive dialogue with all stakeholders in order to find an equitable solution. We remind the Government of India that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has in recent days urged the Government of India to allow protestors to exercise their fundamental right to peaceful demonstration. We also ask the Government of India to release all protestors arbitrarily detained and the withdrawal of criminal cases against them. Both the Central and State Government must allow safe passage of farmers and protestors who are making their way to Delhi and other protest sites across India.
Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project (PDAP)

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