PUNJAB – DARK CLOUDS OF STATE REPRESSION

Even after fifty years of India’s Independence and ter-centenery celebrations of the Khalsa Panth, the State of Punjab suffers the wrath of Police brutality and indifference of State machinery towards the economic and political development of its subjects. The Problem which started with the religious fundamentalism in the forefront, attack on the supreme religious temple, Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar by the Indian army and killing of thousands of Sikhs across the country in November 84’anti –Sikh riots, mass genocide of Sikhs at the hands of butcher brigade of Julio F.Riberio, K.P.S. Gill and commanders like Ajit Singh Sandhu in Punjab and continuing onrush of Security forces have burnt the soul of every peace loving citizen. The nature burdened the people with so many tragedies that their eyes lost tears and they find no words to explain their grief and sufferings. Many torch-bearers of human rights and social activists paid the price of fearlessly treading the path of political justice with their lives. Grief stricken subjects cursed the foe that made their mother-land a bloody-battle field where the life lost its sanctity and every day either you or I could have fell to the prey of mis-deeds of the devils in uniform, the Punjab Police.

Whereas the official figures put the total number of “persons” killed in Punjab during the period 1985 till December, 1996 in their fight against so-called

terrorism in the State, as 15,000 , various investigating agencies and N.G.O.’s after taking details of persons “missing” from their homes and counter-checking it with the Police records, describe the elimination of more than twenty five thousand Sikh Youth of Punjab by the Punjab Police as the most sordid event in the history of the country. No other state in the Republic of India, have suffered such a loss. The Congress Govt. under the draconion leadership of Beant Singh, the slain Chief Minister of Punjab, lent free hand to the Police force headed by “Super Cop” K.P.S.Gill which created a situation where even the subordinate level of police functionary became the Judge, jury and the executioner. Boys were picked up from their houses or fields and taken blindfolded to isolated places and asked to run and a burst of AK-47 rifles culminated their story in the next day’s newspaper which reported, “ The police was ambushed by a gang of militants led by the Chief of ABC (Sikh militant organisation) and in the ensuing encounter five militants were killed and 4 AK-47 rifles and a large catche of arms and ammunition was recovered from them.” But no body dared to ask as to why not even a single bullet hit the Policemen in the cross-fire. Hundreds and thousands of policemen got out of turn promotions, monetary rewards and postings of their choice for their “heroic” deeds. One feels sad that the State and the Judiciary abets this crime in uniform by remaining silent.I felt ashamed as a human being when the High Court of Punjab & Haryana used to dismiss hundreds of Habeas Corpus petitions filed by parents of the “missing” Youth after receiving the Police report that on such and such date the detenue was killed in an encounter or that the detenue is not in their custody. Even a Writ Petition filed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court Bar Association, Chandigarh in the High Court of Punjab & Haryana for seeking inquiry into the alleged “Killing” of a fellow Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Kulwant Singh of Ropar and his wife and two years old child at the hands of Ropar Police was dismissed with objectionable comments against the Lawyer community for observing a month long strike against the dastardly killing. Later on, the Supreme Court passed unprecedented strictures on the High Court and ordered a C.B.I. inquiry into the alleged killing. The C.B.I. in its report submitted to the Supreme Court held the Ropar police responsible for the heinous crime of killing the Lawyer,his wife and two years old child, which ultimately resulted in the trial of One D.S.P. and four police inspectors of Punjab Police.

It is another story that now all the police officers are roaming scot free and intimidating witnesses with impunity.

To sum up, Police acts of commission, corruption and barbaric methods of torture, kidnapping and ransom, false encounters, summary executions and custodial deaths put to shame any civilized society, but the State Government had gone on a long vacation with its eyes and ears closed to the unending tale of woes of the victims. Police terror was breaking the backbone of the State , On the one hand, whereas poor economic condition of the agriculturists due to indifference of State Government in meeting their demands of adequate water and fertilisers on subsidy on the other hand ,besides rampant corruption, mal-treatment of weaker classes, mis-administration of Govt.departments, Landed this State into a situation where rule of baton replaced the Rule of Law. The assassination of the Chief Minister, Beant Singh on 31st October,1995 paved a way to the end of corrupt and inhuman Congress Rule in the State. The Shromani Akali Dal-BJP which had been in the forefront of inciting the village folk across the State against the Congress regime, jumped into the election fray and decided to fight the by-elections jointly , held in January,1997. They promised the end of “Police Raj” and justice to the victims of State terrorism, besides releasing all the TADA detainees lodged in different jails in Punjab . Establishment of corruption free administration, respect of Human Rights of the subjects and giving loans and facilities to the farmers were the prominent issues on which the Shromani Akali Dal contested the elections. Expectedly, the SAD-BJP alliance got a sweeping majority by routing the Congress with only four seats in the State Assembly. With the Akali Dal-BJP govt. coming to power on February 12,1997 came the recognition that the State needed a new type of police force, one which would protect the citizens against crime and ensure their rights were not violated. The People of the State heaved a sigh of relief and hoped for a better tomorrow without any Police brutality and corruption-free administration.
But all their hopes have turned to ashes. After assuming the reigns of the State, the first thing which the Chief Minister of Punjab and the President of the Shromani Akali Dal ,Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, did was to order the withdrawal of C.B.I. enquiry against his confidant, Mr. Bikramjit Singh and the withdrawal of TADA cases against thirty one politicians including himself. Not even a single police officer was condemned for his acts of vandalism. No corrupt civil servants were taken to task, rather a new policy of hiding every wrong in the administration gathered force. The farmers already burdened with the financial crunch and lack of farming facilities were denied free water or electricity and the situation was made to reach a point where hundreds of farmers under the fear of debt committed suicide with the State not even showing any pity on their conditions. In Bhatinda District alone as many as seventy farmers reportedly committed suicides due to failure to pay off their debts. The plight of the families of such helpless citizens could be well imagined. Gurdaspur Distt.with largest number of suicides described the pathetic conditions of the agriculturists in the State.

The illiteracy level of the State saw a considerable decline owing to indifference of the State machinery in maintaining govt. school buildings and posting of adequate teaching staff in the rural areas. As per the report submitted by the Secretary Education, Punjab, on a Petition filed by our Organisation, Lawyers For Social Reforms in the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, Chandigarh , it has been awfully admitted that there are only 649 School buildings in the State which are in dilapidated condition. Only 2003 schools of primary, middle and Senior Secondary level Lack teaching staff and more than 10 million rupees are required for providing basic amenities such as drinkable water and toilets in the school buildings. As per our initial investigations, majority of children in rural areas of Punjab prefer doing labour then going to school. Increasing problem of unemployment is one of the reason for this situation. At present, there are more than two lakh educated unemployed and equal number of illiterate unemployed youth in Punjab. Brain drain and extremist movement is another piquant question remains to be answered. No body seems to be worried about the country or the State, and rampant corruption and free-for-all policy has further aggravated the deteriorating law and order in the State.

The Punjab police even today maintain private goons, patronize criminals ,grab lands belonging to poor and weak, uses muscles to crush opposition. Everyday excessive use of baton with an occasional dangling of a carrot is made in most of the Police stations in Punjab. It is quite often said here that when policeman could not solve the problem, he himself becomes part of the problem. Today, the State has “bestowed” awesome powers to the Police force. Tragically, the perspective, value and ideals in life which makes him responsible are lacking. In the forgotten corners of dusty Police stations, lathi and roller continue to make harsh contact with flesh and bone. The devils in uniform have sat in judgment over their own case and made the judiciary redundant. This violates the principles of natural justice and subverts the very basis of the Rule of Law. Only the innocent people of the State who daily undergo the traumatic agony of police brutality can tell that a policeman is more ferocious than the wildest animal. If today people hesitate to go the Police station and their eyes get pale color on seeing a Policeman, much of its credit goes to the Punjab Police.

What is more shameful for the citizens of the State is that inspite of speaking loud and high about upholding the Rule of Law and giving opportunity to the released militants to bring them into the national mainstream and rehabilitate themselves, by the Chief Minister of the State, the Director-General of Punjab Police, Mr. P.C.Dogra and his brigade is picking up Ex-militants from their homes and planting cases of explosives and other arms and ammunition and claiming in widely publicised press conferences that these terrorists were arrested while attempting to Kill V.V.I.P.’s of the State and their family members. And the Chief Minister of Punjab have turned a blind eye towards the plight of the citizens who had voted him to power. No body says that Crime should not be controlled, but when the basic Human Right to life and liberty of the citizens on a mass scale are eroded by the State forces, then no words of condolence can heal the wounds. Even the Lawyers, Human Rights Activists and media men are being targetted and implicated and provoked by the D.G.P. himself when he shouts that “ Eye is being kept on Human Rights bodies” and
“Most Human Rights bodies funded by militant organisations abroad” and the slogans of the like.

The Chief Minister of the State had declared on 2nd October,1997 that the cases of all those prisoners who are languishing in jails under TADA and other crimes would be considered and they will be released within a short period. But the declaration was forgotten soon thereafter and even till today, there are more than 20,000/- Sikh youth who had nothing to do with the militant activities and they are languishing in jails as it was in the Congress regime in 1992-96. I do not find any words to differentiate this government with the Congress Government of Beant Singh . Now the Chief Minister of the State have also started making provocative statements by saying that “ Peace would be maintained in the State at all Costs.” But for the sake of humanity, Let me advice the rulers of the State that the people of the State wants peace in the State but not at the cost of lives of innocent people who have nothing to do with the Crime or any criminal activity. And the peace of the State must be restored , but not by nailing the innocent citizenry of the State but by bringing to justice all those Police officers who have committed atrocities on the human beings taking themselves to the the Judge, Jury and the Executioner.
I cannot do anything except striving for the upholding of the Rule of Law in this land of the Saints and praying to the almighty to give senses to the Rulers of the times enabling them to respect the Human Rights of the Citizens and do full justice to each and every subject of the State.