Chandigarh — The most disturbing aspect of the recent resurgence in Punjab and other parts of the country is the apparent induction of the new generation.

When the army began to feel relaxed in Punjab towards the end of last year, it was under the impression that most of the hardcore Sikhs had been effectively neutralized. Sporadic violence soon after the June army action was explained as a last ditch attempt by the remaining minor elements, which was expected to die out on its own.

However, many of those allegedly involved in recent violence do not figure in the “wanted persons” list drawn up last year by the security forces during the Army operation and the subsequent mopping up action. Alleged infiltrators from Pakistan like Fagir Singh, Amrik Singh, Narinder Singh, Balwinder Singh and Ajit Singh, who have been apprehended in recent months and on whose confessions the Government is relying for information about Sikhs in Pakistan had no previous criminal record.

Furthermore the five Sikhs arrested in Chandigarh last week for alleged violent activities in the city and Punjab, were barely in their teens. Two of them were still doing their matriculation and were in pre university classes. So terrible is the torture by army and paramilitary forces that there have been attempts by school children to cross over to Pakistan.

Another disturbing element is the sympathy for the persecuted Sikh youth, particularly in the rural areas of Punjab. Thus following their escape in November last year from police custody near Moga while they were being transported, four Sikhs stayed in about a dozen villages, while a massive hunt for them was continued.

But perhaps the most ominous aspect is the involvement of Pakistan, of which some clear indications are now available.

Many factors have given an impetus to Sikh agitation; There is the damage to the Akal Takht and the ambivalent policies of the Government and the Sikh leaders in the months after the Army operation followed by the November riots and the delay in holding an inquiry into them. Furthermore, for the past year, an essentially political and psychological issue has been tackled largely as a law and order problem.

The dubious role of the police has further aggravated the situation. There are several examples of Sikhs being shown on record to have been arrested from places other than their actual place of arrest.

Similarly the case of Gurinder Singh alias “Natti” who was arrested at Chandigarh last week following an encounter provides a pointer to the functioning of the police. When he was arrested he had only a few pellet injuries on his body. When he was hospitalized after about two hours he had dislocated bones and fractures all over his body besides crushed muscles which eventually resulted in his death.

There have also been allegations of torture by third degree methods of detainees. Though this has been denied by the Government before the Punjab and Haryana High court, significantly an inquiry by the Patiala district and’ sessions judge had confirmed the initial findings of a high court judge. Such blatant violations of the rule of law by the ostensible guardians of law and order only serve to alienate a large number of otherwise well-meaning persons.

Police sources explain that the encounter theory is enacted to get a longer police remand for interrogation. It also obviates the need to have independent testimony. Most people are reluctant to testify even if they have witnessed an arrest. Furthermore, the encounter theory automatically converts it into a scheduled offense under the Special Courts Act where it is extremely difficult to get bail.

Those concerned with human rights suggest a magisterial check on police functioning at the lower levels. Some legal experts even suggest that if the police feel that in the present system the judiciary did not respond favorably to their requirements, it could ask for changes in the system whereby police remand for the minimum number of days was granted for interrogation of alleged accused by judicial officers.

If government fails to control the situation there could be a call for the reduction of the Army in greater numbers in Punjab.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 31, 1985