“Punjab Bulldozed” is a report to the world on the Operation Black Thunder-II recently published by the Punjab Human Rights Organization (PHRO), headed by Justice A.S. Bains, formerly a Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The book under review is based on reports of investigations and interviews conducted by a PHRO team, which form part of the booklet in shape of annexures.
The booklet is woven around the argument that the Operation Black Thunder-II was preplanned and it was conceived in panic in view of the apprehended increased Pakistan pressure on Punjab as a sequel to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
According to the report, the Center’s political approach underlying the Operation Black Thunder-II which, in face, provides an unbroken thread particularly since 1982, has its own logic and consequences. The Operation “Bluestar” was conducted skillfully in so far as preparatory measures on political front were concerned. A great deal of propaganda against militants was made and a section of the then Akali Dal leadership neutralized. The Operation Black Thunder-II, now so named, conducted through Barnala, “the Panthic Government” and the S.G.P.C. on April 30, 1986, was aimed mainly at convincing the world about the fact that Mrs. Gandhi after all, was not wrong.
“This time, the Government of India brought into play through Sushil Muni, such characters as Prof. Darshan Singh Ragi and Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode, to pave the way for launching yet another operation. And the intelligence and propaganda agencies so managed things that the world at large smoothly understood the inevitability of the Operation certified so unwittingly, if not wittingly, by no less a person than Bhai Jasbir Singh himself, the militants’ own appointed Jathader of Akal Takht.
“Eye since Barnala ministry’s dismissal in May 1987 the Government of India had been following a policy in Punjab that had only one dimension: to use mindless force against militants.”
The PHRO investigated and produced a series of reports suggesting false encounter killings in hundreds especially in Amritsar, Gurdaspur, and Faridkot and Kapurthala districts. There have been killings of prisoners either in jails or while being produced in the courts during the past two years.
A new phenomenon in evidence during the intervening period has been the elimination of whole families including women and children. These killings have not only been disowned but also denounced by the known militant groups. Nevertheless, the media and the public opinion as a whole have been led to believe that the militant groups in Punjab were the culprits.
The PHRO investigations don’t bear out this charge fully. It is notable that this phenomenon pertains essentially to Amritsar district, where counterterrorist groups such as Santokh Singh Kala, Red Brigade, “Panthic Tiger Force” and “Khala Commando Force,” were operating. The media and the public have been kept carefully uninformed about these groups. Both these factors appear incontrovertible. The counterterrorist Santokh Singh Kala has, in his interview, boasted of his mission being blessed by none others than the Indian Prime Minister and the Advisor to the Punjab Governor.
The Press unfortunately completely blacked out the misdeeds of men like Kala who had been issued identity cards by the C.R.PF., who was permitted to steal cars obviously to commit crimes” provided he returns such cars to the Police within ten days” and whose crimes were not to be recorded by the Police.
Much has been written about the discovery of dead bodies from the Akal Takht debris. In at least one case, the whole matter smacks of a disturbing conspiracy. One of the bodies recovered from the debris is of Kuldip Singh which has been identified by the man’s unfortunate mother. The woman actually reported the alleged disappearance of her son in the first week of March 1987. The then S.S.P., Amritsar, Izhar Alam, told the Press on March 9, 1987, that the bullet ridden body of Kuldip Singh had been recovered from “the outskirts of Amritsar.” The mother next day demanded the dead body but was refused. How come the dead body has now been discovered from the Akal Takhat debris? Does the incident bear out the charge that the “Alam Sena” functioned from within the complex?
Violation of human rights in Punjab is not the only or the dominant theme of this report. Considering the issues involved in the context of recent happenings in the State, this report covers a wider field of analysis of the policies and practices of the Centre vis-à-vis Punjab. Needless to say, the report covers a series of human rights violations in the course of Operation Black Thunder-II conveniently glossed over by the official media.
The exposure of the counterterrorist’s groups patronized by the Government is an important feature of the PHRO Report.
The authors of the report have tried to highlight the political intrigues and use of mindless force by the State machinery when matters could be sorted out otherwise.
An essential thrust of argument in this report is on abandoning by Delhi of its confrontationist course in Punjab. Since the Punjab tangle has been complicated by the ruling party at the Centre over the past few years, a rolling back of the evil process could contribute a lot towards restoring normalcy so that a solution could be devised within the democratic framework rather than through conflict and war. P.H.R.O. as such made a set of recommendations to help solve the Punjab problem. These recommend a tions, if honestly implemented unilaterally by the Government of India, would unleash their own dynamics to create an atmosphere conducive to a negotiated settlement within the framework of Indian unity, but not within the framework of Indian Constitution, which in any case, could be amended:
- In the first instance the 59th amendment to the Constitution should be rescinded. In addition, all the antidemocratic, black laws enacted for Punjab should be repealed.
- All prisoners held in connection with the Punjab problem should be set free or tried under the normal democratic laws.
- All those responsible for the November 1984 massacre of Sikhs following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination should be brought to book as speedily as possible. Those responsible for fake encounters in Punjab also face process of law.
- There should be headcount of the casualties resulting from the Political turmoil in Punjab:
There is absence of knowledge of those who suffered at the hands of the State and its agencies. The State has been odd handed all these years: it has only given the lists of causalities as a result of violence indulged in by private groups and individuals. Without the headcount, a proper plan of relief and rehabilitation cannot be thought of.
- Those that lost their positions in public and private sector services as a sequel to the Punjab problem should be reinstated. These include military and police officials whose services were dispensed with under emotional stress by the authorities.
6.In keeping with the spirit and social aims of the freedom movement reflected finally in the All India Congress Working Committee resolution favoring the creating of a “Punjabi speaking State out of the (then) existing State of Punjab”, strictly on linguistic basis. Thus, not only the Punjabi speaking areas in Haryana and Rajasthan but also those in Himachal Pradesh should be merged into Punjab. More specifically the areas comprising Bhakra, Pong and other hydroelectric projects should be transferred to Punjab.
- The constitutional right of Punjab to its river water resources (Entry 17, List II, and Schedule 7) should be restored and respected in to and not curbed or curtailed through devious means. In turn, Punjab should show goodwill towards its neighbors and allow water supplies on the basis of equitable bilateral, time bound agreements on consideration, the controversial, politically motivated, S.Y.L. canal should be dismantled forthwith.
The implementation of the abovementioned schedule, the book observes, will create its own momentum to pave the way for a negotiated settlement of the Punjab issue on the basis of liberal autonomous powers granted to Punjab. No harm will come to India if powers are similarly transferred to other States as well. An inbuilt mutual dependence of different nations in India could be provided in the new scheme of Constitution which should also incorporate the U.N. principle of peoples right of self-determination where mutual dependence fails.
But the new policy, the report opines, will perhaps require new brains and new hands to devise it and to operate it. A policy of ‘vendetta in dealing basically with political problem has worked nowhere; it is unlikely to work in Punjab either.
According to this venture, the operation at Amritsar (May 918, 1988) has its own lessons for the militants. They cannot leave the serious matters of politics to be interfered with by ruffians and ritualizes. They can also not afford to indulge in mindless violence involving death and destruction of the innocent poor in the guise of fighting an unjust Indian State.
The booklet, despite having some infirmities of presentation, is a first of its kind and a daring commentary on the political events culminating into violence since the fall of popular Government (May, 1987) in Punjab.
Article extracted from this publication >> January 6, 1989