Lahore, May 19: Sardar Gajinder Singh, leader of the five Indian nationals who hijacked an Indian airliner into Pakistan in September, 1981 today recorded his statement before the Special court holding trial in this case.
The accused replied to various court questions based on the evidence against him as furnished by different prosecution witnesses. Later he read out a lengthy written statement to explain the circumstances which had compelled him and the co accused to take this step.
During court questions, the accused said that he along with one of his colleagues had entered the cockpit of the plane when the cockpit door was open after the air hostess had served refreshments to the pilots. He denied that the pilots had opened the cockpit door after hearing the shrieks of some woman passengers. He said none of the passengers had shrieked. He said that they had their kirpans but these were not blood stained.
Gajinder Singh said that on entering the cockpit, he told the pilots to take the plane to Lahore as they wanted to draw the world’s attention to the atrocities being committed on the Sikhs in India through this step. He denied that he had threatened the pilots in any manner. He also denied that his colleagues had threatened the passengers.
He said both the pilots looked at each other on his demand and then agreed to oblige him. The accused said he had not directed the pilots to give some specific reasons for landing at Lahore and the reasons which they gave to the Lahore Traffic Control were of their own. He also denied that he had asked the pilots to cut off contact with Lahore Tower till landing. In fact, he said, the pilots tried to evade giving answers to Lahore Tower during this time.
He denied that he had snatched the mike from the pilot after landing at Lahore. He said the pilot himself handed over the mike to him and told him how to handle it after which he talked to the Pakistani officials.
KILLING OF SIKHS
The accused said it was true that he told the Pakistani officials that he was a member of the Dal Khalsa Supreme Panchayat and had hijacked the Indian plane in order to highlight the brutalities being committed on the Sikhs in India, to avenge the killing of more than 100 Sikhs at Mehta Chowk and to protest against the arrest of Sikh leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
The accused said he had asked for permission to hold a Press conference where they could project their demands. He had also requested for a stengun for his personal security.
Regarding the demands for the release of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the payment of compensation for the Sikhs killed at Mehta Chowk, he said, these demands were presented to the Indian Ambassador during the night following the incident, and not to the Pakistani authorities.
Gajinder Singh told the court that he and his colleagues had treated the passengers with courtesy and politeness and had assured them that no harm would come to them as they had hijacked the plane only for a political purpose. In line with this policy he said, cold drinks and food were ordered for the passengers and many of them were also released in groups without any pressure.
The accused told the court that one night, at about 2 a.m., he was awakened from sleep and taken to an unknown place.
A person, who was present here, started taking down something on his own and also asked him some questions. The accused said he never knew that the person was a magistrate who was taking down his statement. Later he was asked to sign the statement which he did. He said this statement was not read out to him.
He further submitted that he had never seen the Police Inspector who appeared as a witness in this case.
Later, the accused read out a lengthy statement giving the background of the hijacking.
The statement was in Gurmukhi language and in it the accused listed some historic facts about the subcontinent and the treatment given to the Sikhs in India.
He said that before the partition of India, the Sikhs, the Muslims and the Hindus had jointly struggled for bringing an end to the British rule and in this struggle, the Sikhs had offered great sacrifices. It was a pity, he said, that in August, 1947, the Muslims achieved their independent homeland, and the Hindus took hold of the rest of the subcontinent but the Sikhs were left with nothing except some assurance by the Hindu leaders.
After Independence, he said the Hindus in India turned their back on all promises made to the Sikhs and instead, adopted various discriminatory steps against them. These included the ban on carrying kirpans although it was a religious obligation of them, declaration by the East Punjab Government dubbing the Sikhs a highly criminal community and the Indian constitutional provision treated Sikhs as a part of the Hindu religion.
The accused then traced the history of the Sikh movement for the Punjab province in India which he said sparked off a countrywide campaign by the Indian Government and the Indian Press against the Sikh community. During this campaign he said the properties of the Sikhs were looted, their houses were set on fire and large number of Sikhs was killed.
The accused said that in 1965 the Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi constituted a commission to look into the demand for the Punjabi province. This commission he said acceded to their demand but some important areas including Chandigarh was taken out of this province.
Gajinder Singh said that he had been arrested on several occasions for writing poems and pamphlets demanding rights for the Sikh community and he had been dubbed as an “‘extremist.”
The accused told the court that the bloodshed of the Sikhs had continued unabated in India during the long rule of the Indian Congress and also the two and a half year rule of the Janata Party.
In 1978, he said dozens of Sikhs were killed on petty matters. This he said compelled the Sikh community to struggle for freedom and for their rights. At this stage Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale came forward to lead the Sikh community.
During 1981, he said large scale arrests of Sikhs were made and their holy book was set on fire.
As a mark of protest to the cruelties of the Hindu majority he said, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale announced to court arrest at Mehta Chowk on Sept. 20, 1981 and lakhs of Sikhs converged there. Sant Jarnail Singh delivered a moving speech and then courted arrest. The police on the spot opened indiscriminate firing on the Sikh congregation as a result of which 100 persons died on the spot.
Gajinder Singh told the court that after the Mehta Chowk “massacre” the Dal Khalsa decided to bring these atrocities to the notice of the world at large and the hijacking was a part of that programme.
He said the hijacking had a political motive in keeping with the aspirations of two crore Sikhs living in India. The Sikh community all over the world had commended their act and it could not be considered a crime.
Gajinder Singh said that the Sikhs were a separate nation having their own religion, culture, language and values. They were a separate race distinct from the Hindus.
He said that the Indian Sikhs were fighting for their rights and in this struggle they stood in the feet of the Palestinians, the Kashmiris, the Afghans and the Namibians. Ninety per cent of the Sikhs he said wanted Khalistan as a homeland of their own. He said that he and his colleagues were not terrorists. They were fighting for in ternal liberation and should be treated as such.
The accused said the Sikhs in India were at the mercy of the Hindus because of the mistakes of their own leaders. He referred to the historic meeting of the Quaid Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with top Sikh leaders prior to the creation of Pakistan in which he had offered Sikhs numerous concessions if they supported Pakistan. He deplored that the Sikh stalwarts had turned down the offer of the Quaid Azam and instead, preferred to side with the Hindus. He said the bitter experience of the last 37 years had changed the approach of the Sikhs.