In troubled Punjab, the districts Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozepur are the most disturbed Ones, because they border Pakistan In them, Batala tehsil must be the worst for the first bus killings and the first encounters. Some of the most dreaded freedom fighters belong to its villages.

Because of Gobind Ram too, the Senior Superintendent of Police, who in his two years bloodied that prosperous part of the countryside far more than anyone else in ten years,

Batala tehsil, of Gurdaspur district was so disturbed that it was made into a police district and a SSP was assigned to it. Gobind Ram was sent there early last year and he let loose a reign of torture and terror unprecedented in Indian history.

Unable to stay in their villages, because of the beatings administered to them by Gobind Ram and his men, the youth ran-away to join the militants thus increasing their numbers substantially.

Last week I traveled in some of these villages on a bicycle, villages whose very names evoke fear. Dyalgarh, next to the scene of the first bus massacre of September 12, 1984 in which eight persons were dragged out and killed; Kali Bamni at whose tube-well the first major encounter took place in June 1986, in which Gurmej Singh, Ranjit Singh and Makhan Singh were killed; Malkpur the home of Lakhwinder Singh Lakha who killed himself by swallowing a cyanide capsule to evade capture on May 12 this year but whose body was later tied to a tree and shot so that the police officers could get the reward of Rs 50,000 on his head; Dabanwala, Sarchur and Kastiwal where the Robinhood figure of Pandit (Ramesh Pal) a Hindu of the Bhindranwale Tiger Force, holds his sway but in a just manner, people say not hurting the innocent.

I also visited villages in the notorious Patti area of Amritsar, which is another story to be told another day.

In this border belt there are two governments one during the day and another at night. The day government does not Promise protection at night and the night one does not care what happens by day.

In Batala block villages sugarcane was ten feet tall. These were hiding places for militants and therefore scenes of encounters when police surrounded them to kill.

Tube-wells were pumping the first water to the young pale green wheat on that gentle generous loving landscape. But these were again places of encounters because the huts housing the pump motors were also places of refuge.

On the field verges stood the delicate foliaged shisham tress, soft in the morning sunlight. To these young boys had been tied and shot, and declared killed in encounter.

Whatever gave life in that countryside also took it but very quickly these days?

In March 1986, when Julio Francis Ribeiro came to hunt in Punjab, the police record showed there were a total of 101 militants. In April 1988 their number had gone up to 178. But in those two years that Ribeiro was the Punjab police chief over 800 were killed according to police records. Who were these extra 700 if not innocents?

There was big money in killing “terrorists”. The SSP of Amritsar, people say made Rs 5 lakhs of “clean” money in three years in this way.

When Gobind Ram came to Batala he began summoning panchas and sarpanchas of villages to police stations for questioning which was done by administering them a good “shoe-beating”. It was practiced on a regular basis.

A large piece of raw, rough uncured leather, with a handgrip was called the “shoe” or akaldan. With that the policemen would beat those brought for interrogation to centers that have sprouted everywhere in schools, factories and even in panchayat places. Its lash inflicted a searing pain on bare skin, but left no mark after a couple of days when the skin remained red.

When the panch and sarpanchas of Kali Bamni and Malkpur were brought before Gobind Ram he ordered 50 lashings to each panch and 20 to sarpanchas. One of them complained that he was old and so Gobind Ram ordered his policeman to give him only 10!

He rounded up boys between the ages of 18 to 25 for questioning and beating that accompanied it to obtain general information that comes to the village at night? Where are Dharam Singh Babbar and Baba Ranjit? Who gave them money and food? Just fishing expeditions punctuated with beatings.

The young men ran away. Sometimes the whole village would flee on seeing a police party approaching and spend days out.

Manpreet Singh 21, a student of B.A. final in DAV College, Batala was taken in for questioning to find out if meal was served in his house to militants involved in the bus killing near his village two years ago.

The family paid a large sum of money to get him released. He was then sent to Germany for fear that if he remained home he might be killed in a fake encounter.

After breaking his ankle, the BSF handed over Sardar Ravel Singh to Batala Sardar police. While he was in custody there, Batala’s Lahore Gun House was looted and Ravel Singh was charged with that crime. Three weeks later, after villagers pressed for his release. He was freed on bail on October 3. He is still on bail.

Senior police officers in most districts have set up their own private armies, recruited from plain criminals. Their members are known as Black Cats.

Rashem Singh’s beard and hair were gray and he was wrapped in a cotton khes, the day being cold and rainy. He was sparse of build and sharp of feature, a man of dignity and pride.

Lakha, his son he said, had left home some years ago, when he was only 18 because of cases registered against him by Qadian police. Two years ago police raided the village and arrested Rashem Singh along with five young men who had the word Lakha in their names. All were later released except Rashem Singh. He was detained for 12 days and tortured to get information about his son.

He would be made to sit on a bench with his legs stretched straight in front. Planks would then be placed on his thighs, on which four policemen would climb causing excruciating pain. At time he thought his knee joints would not hold.

Then he would be made to lie down and policemen would grab his legs and pull them apart as if wanting to tear him into two. It was called chade phado.

Big rollers would then be rolled over his thighs and legs to break their muscles. He could not walk for 20 days after that treatment. His long hair would be pulled and then there were the inevitable beatings with the pieces of leather called “shoe”. His panchayat member intervened and he was then released.

Six months later he was taken in by BSF to Dhariwal and kept there for three days. Then his wife Mahinder Kaur, 50 and their farmhand were taken to Dyalgarh where she was beaten up and tortured. The beatings were administered by policemen who would keep on asking her, where is your son, Lakha? Sometimes Gobind Ram would give a hand in beating her cursing and abusing her all the time in a language that would bum anyone’s ears.

Both husband and wife were then taken to Gurdaspur jail where they were held for eight months before being released on bail.

I however did meet a Sikh teacher whose uncle a communist party worker had been done to death for opposing the separatist demand of Khalistan. And some relations of a family which was completely wiped out, including a 15 day baby shot through the heart. But they were all Sikhs. When one thinks of it, one finds that most victims of terror whether that of state or extremists are Sikhs.

I do not know of teachers who are forced to pay Rs 100 a month out of their salary and villagers who are ordered not to light up lamps in their pump-house huts in the fields at night.

But then who are these terrorists whose orders prevail? Police undercover agents have penetrated almost all militant organizations in substantial numbers except the Babbars perhaps.

In Amritsar knowledgeable people estimate that some 60 percent of the members of the Bhindranwale Tiger Force are men sent in by the police and SO percent in the Khalistan Commando Force and the same number in the Khalistan Liberation Organization.

In this mix up in the militant ranks, it is impossible to tell who is out there killing the innocent. Those sent in by the police have to show that they are more heartless to soft targets in order to prove their credentials.

There is Dr. Sohan Si went underground after retiring as the Director of Punjab’s Health Services to join the Khalistan movement. His son an IAS man is a secretary to the Punjab government in Chandigarh.

The sarpanchas of Dabanwala, Sarpanch of Dabanwala, Sarchur, Jangra, Beluwala, Kastiwal, etc. in all 76 villages unable to bear the regular beatings, went together to the Deputy Commissioner of Gurdaspur district. D.S. Kalha and submitted their resignation en masse last year. He listened patiently but did not accept their resignations.

He was then transferred out of the district by Governor S.S. Ray for listening to complaints. Gobind Ram then summoned all those who had put in their resignation one by one and administered them a fresh round of beating for having the audacity to resign.

People say, as he or his men beat them, he would shout You have seen (Guru) Gobind Singh. Now you see Gobind Ram!

He took to raiding village at night. There he would knock softly on the door of a house, and if the ‘owner opened it quickly he would accuse him of expecting a militant and with that excuse administer him a thorough beating in front of his family.

At another house, if the door was opened after some delay or the owner inquired who was there before opening it, he would accuse him of hiding militants and giving them time to get out. The house would then be searched and its inmates beaten on the ground that they were sheltering militants.

The lady sarpanch of Dyalgarh Bibi Surinder Kaur, 50 had to spend a year underground to escape police beating. She filed a writ in High Court and when the court ordered that she could not be taken in without a proper charge she returned home.

But that did not save her. When she heard that police in spite of court order was going to arrest her on the ground that she had provided a meal to some militants she again fled the village going to Delhi this time and taking a plane from there to United States, where her elder son works, on August 23, 1986.

Then 50 men of the Border Security Force raided her house on September 15 at four in the morning. They came in two jeeps and a lorry. Her husband Sardar Ravel ‘Singh, 55 a well off farmer was taken to BSF interrogation center at Aliward when they failed to find his wife.

There besides questions about the whereabouts of his wife, he was asked how she became a sarpanch. He answered: And how did Indira Gandhi become Prime Minister?

Meanwhile militants heard of that extortation bid. On the appointed day the rest of the money was to be paid, they occupied some houses in the village and when the Black Cats arrived to collect, they were fired upon,

That was the undoing of the village. The whole lot was taken to the police station and given a severe beating notwithstanding: the fact that it was the Black Cats who had caused the incident by their bid at extortion.

It was an open season on farmers for extortion. If they went to the police to complain that militants had forcibly taken money from them the police wanted to know how much. If it was a sizable sum, the police would say that they had money. “You know the difficult time we in the police are passing through,” they would tell. “If you have money, why not give some to us also. Say Rs 10,000.” When the police suggests, one knows it is an order.

That brought an end to villagers going to the police to report extortion by terrorists.

In Malkpur village I ran into 60 year old Sardar Rashem Singh father of the dreaded Lakhwinder Singh Lakha, killed according to the police in an encounter.

Lakha he said was a matriculate, and unemployed when he: went underground to join the Khalistan Commando Force, in which he later became a Lt General. The parents remembered him as a nice body. He was almost a ‘child when he went over to the militants.

Near Batala railway station is the notorious interrogation center of Beco an engineering company equipped with all sorts of gadgets for torture. People say it also contains a furnace into which they add, Gobind ‘Ram would order the bodies of those killed in torture to be thrown in.

Every village in Batala and almost every family have its own story to tell of beatings, arrests, detention and torture.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 5, 1990