CUSTODIAL DEATHS IN PUNJAB -1997-June 2001

Figures shows that incidents of custodial violence and abuse of power by the police have been largely reported in the states where militancy and insurgent activities are at its peak. For example, Punjab and Kashmir tops the list of States where thousands of innocent people have been killed in fake encounters and summary executions. In Punjab, during the period 1988-1995, thousands of people were killed by the Punjab police in fake encounters, custodial deaths and summary executions. The situation is no better even today. The Police has become man-eater and resorting to extra-judicial methods is their favourite sport. There is an un-declared war against human rights by the police force. Innocent people are daily done to death in a very cruel manner which cannot be described in words. Even the women and children are not spared. The victim is tied upside down with pressure put on his head from below, heavy iron roller applied on his sensitive parts. Petrol is put on private and sensitive parts. He is mercilessly beaten with wooden stick and iron rod. The legs are torn apart at 180 degree and then pressure is put on the thighs. The nails are pulled and salt is put on the injuries. Electric shocks are given in the private parts viz.. penis and testicles. They are more brutally tortured and even killed publicly by the devils in khaki. Still every justice loving person in the country turns a blind eye to these gory details of police excesses when reported in the newspapers quite often.

Many politicians or police authorities says that the State of Punjab is now a peaceful state and the period of turbulence has gone for the good. Rule of law has been restored and human rights of the people are most respected. But the figures disclaim this theory. More than seventy five reported custodial deaths in four years and a thousand reported incidents of tortures of innocent people in police custody, casts a slur on the law enforcing machinery in the State. It will be our endeavour through this book to explore as to how far the State government and its law enforcing agencies have been sensitive to the human rights issues and respected the fundamental right to life and liberty of its subjects. Here is a fact finding report by the organisation which needs pointing attention of every justice loving person.

The tall claims of the Punjab government of restoration of rule of law have proved a farce with custodial crime becoming an order of the day. Policemen still consider themselves above the law. They have no fear of law or the Court. They know that they will be exonerated in the name of national security or maintenance of law and order. Their mindset is the same as it was during the earlier days of State terrorism. Their actions are the same. Rather, their authority has become more powerful with no action against their illegal actions. Under these circumstances, it would be foolish to claim of situation being under control. Even after four years of the so-called popular rule in the State, the situation has not changed a wee bit. The number of deaths have certainly gone down, but the killer instinct of a rowdy and inhuman policeman is still the same in the flesh and blood of the policemen. When more than seventy people have lost their lives in Police custody since the Akali government came into power, it would be a great folly to call it a State ruled by law. While the government is under bounden duty to protect the life and liberty of every citizen, loss of even a single life in Police Custody, must bring the head of every responsible officer bow down in shame. The moot reality is that the situation has been so badly mis-handled that it has become critical and every peace loving citizen is feeling insecure and prone to police brutality. Is it not a failure of the government where the police force has turned man-eater and the courts and the elected representatives of the people have closed its eyes and ears? The answer to all these questions is emphatically “betrayal of the oath”.

It is a shocking state of affairs in Punjab. Not only the government has failed to check its brutal force, the judiciary and the human rights agencies have also miserably failed to show its presence. It seems to be a matter of the past now that a judge is moved on reading the heart rending news of torture death in the morning day newspaper and takes suo-moto cognizance of the matter. Today the judges also do not feel concerned on learning that innocent people are being killed like animals in fake encounters, summary executions etc. One wonders if they would feel disturbed on seeing and hearing the wails of torture victims in the Police stations in Punjab. Every Court granting police remand of a suspect fully knows that the suspect will be given inhuman third degree treatment. It is their folly to believe that only third degree treatment could extract the truth from the suspect. It is no secret that the first thing a policeman does with the suspect in police remand is to give good bashing and then tell his fault. The title page of this book showing the policemen trying to put a shikanja ( knot with a rope) on a suspect, clearly exhibits the mindset of the police force in the state even today. Hats off to Mr.Amrik Saggu, Press photographer of “Daily Jagran”, Jalandhar for shooting such a secret incident.

The deep study of the pattern and modus operandi of the policemen in killing suspects in police custody vert recently have led us to hold without any iota of doubt that whosoever is taken into custody by the police is sure to loose his life, lest he is too hard to bear the police torture, no matter, whether he is innocent or too poor to bribe the policemen.

Punjab Police, notorious for its fake encounters, custodial deaths and other heinous crimes, received a blow, when the encounter theory of killing a youth, Kashmir Singh of Pandori Rukman in Hoshiarpur district on 14th March, 1997 came out to be a false one. Even the Sessions Court, Hoshiarpur held the said incident to be a cold blooded murder of an innocent youth by the policemen and convicted the police party. He sentenced all the guilty police personnel to life imprisonment for the offence of murder. A compensation of Rupees five lacs was also awarded by the National Human Rights Commission to the next of kin of the deceased. Similarly, the tale of torture method described by Sapinder Singh, the brother of a victim of Police torture, Devinder Singh alias Bhola, a youth of village Hassanpur in Ropar district who was tortured to death on September 18, 1999 shook the conscience of every justice loving person with grief. According to the eye-witnesses who were also tortured during illegal custody,the victim was tied upside down with pressure put on his head from below, heavy iron roller was applied on his sensitive parts. Petrol was put on his private and sensitive parts. He was mercilessly beaten with wooden stick and iron rod. His legs were torn apart at 180 degree and then pressure was put on the thighs. The nails were pulled and salt put on the injuries. Electric shocks were given in the private parts viz.. penis and testicles. Not bearing the inhuman torture, the victim succumbed to his injuries then and there. The accused policemen who were arrested and brought to trial, have recently been sentenced to life imprisonment for the custodial death. Many victims of police brutality have even gone un-noticed. What was the fault of Iqbal Singh of Jaitu in Faridkot when he was picked up by the Muktsar police on January 5,2001 and was so badly tortured that he died in the lock-up? But the police is so hardened liar that it claimed that the victim had committed suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom of the lock-up. Similar story was cooked up by the Police in the case of Surinder Pal who died in Police Station Dasuya in District Hoshiarpur on 7th January, 2001. The same day Avtar Singh, a youth of Ludhiana was shot dead by a militant turned Police Inspector Gurmeet Singh Pinky in Ludhiana because he objected to their drinking session at a public place. Is the life of these victims so valueless that the State government or the Police authorities could not afford to pay ex-gratia compensation to the next of the kin of the deceased killed by the Policemen ? The tragedy does not end here. Exactly a month later in 2001, Jaspal Singh, a 17 year old Dalit youth of Village Saheri in District Ropar fell to the torture methods of Punjab police and died in Police Station Morinda on 7th February, 2001. To add insult to the injury, every organ of administration including the civil and police administration in the district tried their level best to save their policemen who were responsible for the tragic death. The courts also showed little concern at this dastardly act. Another dalit youth, Madan Lal of Kapurthala was tortured to death in Police Station Kapurthala on 15th February, 2001.

One thing quite similar in all these incidents was that the police authorities and district administration failed to take necessary action against the guilty persons and even left no stone unturn to save the erring policemen. No action was taken against any of the guilty policemen, unless the masses came to the street and protested by laying road blockades, dharnas and even gheraoed the police station. In other words, the public outcries and street protests played an important role for forcing the authorities to take strict action against the erring cops.

Another thing noticed in the case of prison death being quite common was that in every case, the jail authorities cook up the theory of the victim committing suicide in a fit of depression. It is not amazing that in about twenty five cases of prison deaths reported to the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, almost all the cases have the same theory of suicide either by hanging or consuming some poisonous substance in the cell. Still, the Commission failed in its duty to take such liar jail authorities who not only killed the prisoners, but also attempted to conceal the truth from the Commission. Although compensations have been awarded to the next of kin of the victims, no criminal proceedings have been initiated nor any jail official arrested or tried for murder, who was found prima facie guilty of negligence in performing his duty which resulted in the death of the prisoner.