Human Rights

Early Investigations And The First Reports On State Atrocities


From early 1988, when reports of police atrocities amid the escalation of the Sikh separatist violence became regular part of the news from Punjab, members of the Committee travelled in the State to investigate.

During these travels, we came in close contact with many who had suffered illegal detention, interrogation under torture and other atrocities. We also met relatives of those who had been eliminated in police custody. In many cases we found that detainees had been done to death after prolonged interrogation under severe torture.

One case from Muktsar subdivision of Faridkot district involved Bhipinder Singh Sarang, a fifteen year old lad, a student of class X, and a local football star. He had been picked up from the house, taken to Sadar police station in Muktsar and was tortured under interrogation. We met eyewitnesses to his torture, and also a local youth leader who had seen Bhupinder Singh in police custody. Bhupinder Singh was shown to have been killed in an armed encounter.

We also documented the case of a sixteen year old Gurbaksh Singh from Guru Harsahay subdivision of Ferozepur who had been produced before the police by a group of prominent citizens. The police then picked up Gurbaksh Singh's sister Balbir Kaur and her husband Mahal Singh. Gurbaksh Singh was later shown to have been killed in an armed encounter, along with another young Sikh, Balwant Singh. Mahal Singh was arrested under TADA. Balbir Kaur was released after eight days of illegal detention in the course of which she suffered severe torture and sexual abuse. She took to bed, and died three months later. We documented dozens of such cases which exposed a clear pattern of illegal abductions, custodial torture under interrogation culminating in executions, explained away as deaths in armed-encounters.

More common were the cases in which persons had been whisked away by unidentified men, appearing out of the blue, in vehicles without number plates, to be taken to undisclosed places for interrogation, and made to disappear for ever. We documented dozens of such cases. Rarely in some instances, did the disappeared return from the Dragon's Belly. This happened only when the High Court of Punjab and Haryana or the Supreme Court of India issued directions for their production. We became directly involved in some such matters. We also came across several examples of purely bestial abuse of police powers, against the absolutely innocent and the meek.

In one case, the police officer in-charge of a post at village Bham in Batala subdivision of Gurdaspur district, kidnapped two teenage girls Salvinder Kaur and Sarabjit Kaur in front of eyewitnesses in his official jeep. The officer in-charge of police station in Hargovindpur denied their custody. Four days later, their naked distended bodies were recovered from a nearby canal. Officers of Hargovindpur police station tried to pressurize the parents to sign a declaration that the bodies were unidentified and unclaimed, and were threatened that they would be eliminated in an "encounter" if they disobeyed. But the Sub-divisional Magistrate of Batala interfered and had the bodies handed over to the parents for cremation. One month later, the district's Senior Superintendent of Police told a newspaper that the policeman alleged to have kidnapped the girls was actually having an affair with one of them. The policeman was later arrested on charges of kidnapping, rape and murder to be soon released on bail as the prosecution failed to submit the charge sheet against him within the stipulated period of three months.

We also came across examples of the police terrorizing the whole villages in the border districts known to be the strongholds of separatist militants. Unable to distinguish silent sympathizers from active separatists, the security forces were using collective humiliation and intimidation to wean them away from their political sympathies.

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