Human Rights

The Watery Graves

The Spokesman Weekly Newspaper, Volume 41 Number 22, April 13, 1992

Numerous bodies of murdered young men, all of them Sikhs and between ages of 15 and 25, have been fished out of various canals in Punjab, especially in the districts of Ludhiana, Sangrur and Ropar, which are nowadays hotbeds of militant activities and, thus, the centres of state repression also. The million-dollar question is: Who dumped them into these watery graves?

The theory of suicides, through drowning, gets punctured at the very outset, as almost all these men had their legs tied and their hands fastened behind their back with a belt either of leather or of steel; not only this, their bodies were also loaded with some weights so that they would sink to the bottom of the canal immediately and would reappear on the surface of the water after they get bloated with water. No person, however desperate to end his life, could do all the above things himself. This can be the handiwork of other persons.

Many options must be examined. Normal murders, either out of family feuds or personal vengeance, are ruled out because all the victims were more or less of the same age group and were definitely Sikhs with long hair and beards. Another argument can be that these could be abducted persons or rival gang members killed by the militants. Anyone, with the slightest knowledge of guerrilla warfare, would not subscribe to this theory, for it suggests that first the militants committed the crime at some place and then carried the bodies all the way to a canal. In all the killings which have taken place in Punjab, the militants have vanished from the scene after the crime. The needle of suspicion, therefore, points ominously to the security forces whose involvement in extra-judicial killings is well known. Dumping of the bodies into the canal is the safest way of preventing identification. If the body is dumped somewhere else, it would be discovered sooner or later, torture marks would be visible, and, above all, besides ascertaining the cause of death, the person would be identified. Once the person is identified, there may be many among his relatives or friends who were, eye-witnesses to the arrest of the dead man by the security forces. Throwing bodies into the canals after stripping off the clothes ensures that there will be no identification.

The security forces have abundant manpower and vehicles at their disposal and can easily move a body from anywhere without being spotted or checked. Even otherwise, canal bridges have become notorious for what are dubbed as "encounters" between the security forces and the militants and for accomplices of suspected militants being taken for recovery of arms. Invariably, after these "encounters", the police proclaim that the detained person had "escaped," though in actuality he was done to death. It is now a firmly established fact that fake encounters and custodial deaths are endemic to the Punjab police and are the sole means of dealing with those. who fall foil of the force. The rot of the Police Punjab is symptomic of the collapse of the state administration in the face of the militant threat.

Home | Human Rights | Library | Gallery | Audio | Videos | Downloads | Disclaimer | Contact Us