The Investigation Of Jaspal Singh Dhillon And Jaswant Singh Khalra Into The Disappearance Of Sikhs Between 1984 And 1995
The discovery of the practice of the Punjab police of
cremating thousands of young Sikhs as 'unidentified' bodies go some way
towards explaining the thousands of disappearances in this region, in
the years following 1984 onwards.
The original discovery by two human rights activists
of the disposal of over 3,000 bodies in this way in just 3 cremation
grounds in one district of Punjab.
After the publication of the report in January 1995,
the author's received threats from the Punjab police. Nine months later
Jaswant Singh Khalra, one of the two investigators, disappeared. The
Supreme Court of India ordered a full investigation of the report and
Khalra's disappearance by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Upon
hearing the petition Justice Kuldeep Singh described the discoveries as
‘Worse than Genocide’. The CBI confirmed the findings of the report and
the matter was transferred to the National Human Rights Commission for a
full Punjab-wide investigation. This enquiry has yet to commence.
This report explains the background to these
disappearances, the progress of the petition through the courts, and
continuing human rights abuses in Punjab.
Since the early 1980's there has been a great deal of
concern expressed by human rights groups, lawyers and families as to the
fate of those who 'disappear' in Punjab. Over the past decade, the High
Court of Punjab and Haryana has received an alarmingly high number of
habeas corpus petitions seeking the intervention of the Court in
ascertaining the whereabouts of those who were taken into custody by the
security forces operating in the region. Invariably, the authorities in
Punjab decline to acknowledge the arrest of those brought in for
questioning. More worrying are the hundreds of families who, through
fear, lack of resources or lack of knowledge of the available remedies,
had no recourse to official procedures. Many of these cases are only now
The number and similarity of these instances suggests
a pattern of long term and systematic human rights abuse. The findings
of the Akali Dal Human Rights Wing into the cremation grounds in the
District of Amritsar go some way to explaining the fate of a missing
generation of young, predominately male Sikhs.
The uncertainty of their fate is often the hardest
thing for families to deal with. In every village, human' rights workers
investigating the abuse of civil liberties are shown photographs of
missing relatives. Prevented from performing last rites, a family's hope
A common belief, and one that is encouraged and
propagated by the Indian authorities, is that many of the young men have
escaped abroad using false names and documentation to facilitate their
passage away from the violence. In a visit to London in June 1994 the
former Director General for Police, Mr K.P.S. Gill claimed that the
allegations of 'disappearances' were entirely unfounded as they
concerned young men who had left the country and were living abroad.
In January 1995 the Human Rights Wing (HRW) brought a
public interest litigation action in the High Court of Punjab and
Haryana calling for an investigation into their findings by an
independent investigative body. The petition was dismissed on the
grounds that the petitioners had no locus standi to present such an
action and that their findings were 'too vague' in character to warrant
Members of the HRW with film makers Tapan Bose and
Ram Narayan Kumar of the Committee for Information and Initiative on
Punjab (CIIP) made a film on the basis of the report in early 1995. The
report and the film were presented to the Supreme Court in April of that
year in a second public interest litigation action.
In September 1995, Mr Jaswant Singh Khalra, one of
the principle investigators, was picked up by police from outside his
house. The Supreme Court were immediately informed of his disappearance
by his wife Mrs Paramjit Khalra and Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra, President
of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). The Court treated
Mr Khalra's work and the findings of the HRW as an integral part of the
habeas corpus action and ordered an enquiry into both his disappearance
and the HRW report.
In July 1996 the Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI) presented its initial findings on the report to the Supreme Court,
naming 9 officers responsible for the disappearance of Mr Khalra.
In December 1996, the CBI presented its final report.
On the basis of this confidential investigation, which has yet to be
published, the Supreme Court appointed India's National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC) to make a full investigation of the HRW's work. At the
time of writing the NHRC has yet to commence its investigation. The CBI
have also been ordered to continue their investigations.
The Human Rights Wing Inquiry
At the inception of the Human Rights Wing of the
Akali Dal (now the Human Rights and Democracy Forum) the group decided
to set up a two-member team to investigate disappearances in Punjab. The
team consisted of Jaswant Singh Khalra and Jaspal Singh Dhillon,
respectively Chairman and General Secretary of the HRW.
Fully aware of the reputation of the Indian state for
inefficiency, HRW began the investigation believing that if the state
and/or its security forces were involved in these disappearances, at
least some clues would remain. Moreover, the police practice of
cremating bodies without the consent or knowledge of relatives was not
The team quickly uncovered some remarkable leads, and
learnt that the police regularly brought bodies to the municipality
cremation grounds for cremation, declaring them "unclaimed". Restricted
by finances, the group decided to limit its work to the Amritsar area
and its neighbouring police districts.
At the cremation grounds Khalra and Dhillon asked to
see all available records of cremations, and learnt that the bodies
brought in by the police were recorded in a different books. These
records take the form of receipt books recording the issue of firewood
for the cremation of the body. The group made copies of these records,
which appear in the appendices of this report. The team found that in
the Amritsar district alone (out of 14 districts at that time), and in
just 3 cremation grounds within this district, 3,000 bodies had been
cremated by the police as unclaimed between 1 June 1984 and the end of
1994. It is now known that over 50 cremation grounds in Punjab were
regularly used by the police to cremate bodies.
The three cremation grounds investigated by the HRW
were the Durgiana Mandir in the city of Amritsar, the Patti municipal
cremation ground, and the Tarn Taran cremation ground.
Durgiana Mandir, Amritsar.
The largest number of cremations took place in the
cremation ground near the Durgiana Mandir, in the city of Amritsar. The
officials at the cremation ground would not show records, but directed
the investigating team to the Amritsar Registry of births and deaths.
These records showed that over 2,000 bodies were cremated by the police
between 1 June 1984 and the end of 1994.
The records of cremations between January and
December 1992 (the first year of Beant Singh's government) are shown in
Appendix 2. They show that 300 bodies were taken to the cremation ground
at Durgiana Mandir in this year. Far from being unclaimed, 112 of these
bodies were named. 5 bodies were recorded as female, of which 3 were
named. 41 were recorded as having died of bullet injuries as a result of
police encounters. 24 of the bodies under had undergone autopsies at
Amritsar Medical College.
One of those cremated as "unclaimed" was Bhagel
Singh, also known as Gurdarshan Singh, from Deriwal village. In late
November 1991 he was picked up by the Punjab police in Bihar. The
incident was widely reported in the press. Many organisations in Punjab
feared that he would be eliminated in a false encounter. These records
show that on 19 December 1991 he was brought to the cremation ground
near Durgiana Mandir for cremation as an unidentified and unclaimed
Another of those cremated as 'unclaimed' was Mr Piara
Singh, the Director of the Central Cooperative Bank and uncle of a
suspected 'militant' (Harminder Singh Sultanvind). His abduction was
similarly well-publici sed. One morning a group of 'doctors' dressed in
wrnte coats and carrying stethoscopes drove up to his house in a jeep
and told Mr Piara Singh that a VIP was coming to the neighbouring
village to open a government medical clinic. They told him that they
needed some respectable citizens to attend the ceremony. Mr Piara Singh
accompanied them. He was never seen again, but his body was burnt at the
Durgiana Mandir cremation ground on 16 December 1992.
Another body was that of Mr Pargat Singh. He was
being treated at Guru Nanak Hospital in Amritsar when he was abducted by
officers from Raja Sansi Police Station. His 'unidentified' body was
taken to the Durgiana Mandir cremation ground on 5 November 1992.
Patti Cremation Ground
Records gathered by Khalra and Dhillon show that
between 1991 and October 1994 538 bodies were brought for cremation to
the Patti municipal cremation ground. Bodies were brought to the Ground
from at least 10 police stations: Patti (115 bodies), Khikiwind (103),
Valtoha (101), Khalra (61), Harike (50), Khemkaran (35), Kacha-Pacca
(9), Sabra (5), Karion (5), and Gh9.riala (2). A further 52 bodies were
brought in by the poljce. This is evidenced by the records of firewood
supplies, provided by Mr Sukhdev Singh Virdi, of Lahore Road, Patti.
The team also spoke to officials of the cremation
ground and many people in the town. The Human Rights Wing state:
"Officials at the cremation grounds informed us that
on some days only 2 bodies were brought by the police while on other
days even 10 bodies were brought together. Although firewood was
purchased for the cremation of one or two bodies, on many occasions
several bodies were cremated together. Another official, who got posted
to the Patti cremation ground about 7 months back, informed us that the
bodies brought back by the police were never cremated on the built up
concrete platform but were cremated in the ditches and neglected
portions of the grounds. As more than one body was cremated with the
firewood sufficient only for one body the limbs would mostly remain half
burnt or charred. This official on assuming charge of the cremation
ground gathered a large number of limbs and after sealing them in a bag
dumped them in the Rajasthan feeder (i.e. canal) close-by.
"A prominent citizen of Patti who is also a close
associate of a Congress MP and whose land is adjoining the cremation
grounds told us that stray dogs would often carry away half-bumt limbs
to his fields and he had on several occasions gathered the remains and
The team saw records covering 4 years.
Tarn Taran Cremation Ground
Receipt books recording the issue of firewood at Tarn
Taran municipal cremation ground show that 700 "unclaimed" bodies were
brought to the ground by the police. The records show the date and
number of bodies brought.
Having discovered illegal cremations in Patti and
Amritsar itself, the large number of bodies found to have been illegally
cremated in Tarn Taran was no surprise. Tarn Taran was, and continues to
be, one of the areas which has borne the brunt of the violence and
police brutality. As Joyce Pettigrew notes, the Tarn Taran area 'was
fought over by a number of warlords ... the Director-General of Police
had designated this area as the heartland of resistance. He believed
that if he defeated the militants in the Tarn Taran area, the battle
would be won in Punjab as a whole.'
The HRW findings show that many of the bodies were
clearly not unidentified or unclaimed. In those rare instances where
relatives do not claim bodies, police procedure and conduct is strictly
The Human Rights Wing also found evidence to show
that some of the police had made false entries into the record books in
attempts to deliberately disguise the identity of the cremated bodies.