Gurdaspur — The feeling of indignation among the villagers here has often resulted from the use of extra constitutional means by the police to deal with the extraordinary developments which engulfed the region during the past few months.
The people from the villages from where a youth or two were alleged to be involved in Sikh activities or were missing complained of ‘‘repression” and harassment by the police. Though the word “repression”? Is very often loosely used, there are numerous instances of the police violating the rule of law in the name of restoring law and order. While this does help present a semblance of law and order, it is further alienating the people in the sensitive border belt.
However, in the villages the general complaint was that the police were, in many cases, falsely implicate people under the Arms Act by showing recoveries of weapons. Interestingly a magistrate was heard asking a lawyer what could be done about the large number of allegations of false recovery of weapons from the people.
Incidentally, more than half of the 900 or so pending cases in the special court at Jalandhur (where cases relating to Gurdaspur and Amritsar districts are tried these days as the special court at Amritsar is not yet functional) are under the Arms Act. Police officials of course discount this and explain that if weapons were not being actually recovered they could not be produced. However, the modus operandi seems to be to attribute the weapons and ammunition recovered from one person to a number of persons.
In order to pressurize the family members of the fugitives, the police often use arbitrary means. One of the most talked about cases is of Dukoha village near Shri Hargobind Pur (Gurdaspur district). One, Sucha Singh ‘‘Bahman’’ was wanted by the Amritsar police in a number of cases. In November, the police threatened that his brother, Hira Singh, would not be allowed to get married unless Sucha Singh was produced. Four days before the marriage the police came and as part of their pressure tactics, ploughed about two acres of his land where crops (‘‘toria’’) had beer sown.
Hira Singh is close to Congress (I) politician o! The area and with his hell he got married virtually under Army escort. He did surrender to the police four days later. Today Hira Singh is the “pradhan” of the block Youth Congress (I).
In Butran village near Mehta Chowk (Gurdaspur) from where one, Anup Singh is not traceable, the police also ploughed fields and damaged a part of his house. In Boparai village, from where Ajmer Singh has not been seen after the Army action, the police took away his father, Diwan Singh and detained him for many days. Their two tubewalls were uprooted and the villagers had to seek the intervention of the Batala subjudge to allow them to sow paddy a few months back.
In many cases, the police have been showing the arrests many days after the persons were actually detained. This obviously makes the people fear that their wards may be done away with and this may result in others in the family running away. One, Sukhdev Singh of Maulvikot village was detained on November 5 and was taken into custody from the cooperative bank where he was working. Three other persons, including Joginder Singh of Talwandi Nahar village were detained the same day. It was only when the relatives of Joginder Singh approached the High Curt at Chandigarh to know about the whereabouts of their relatives that the police showed their ‘‘encounter’”’ with the police on the night of November 9 near Hardowal village.
Meanwhile, Sukhdev Singh’s brother is not traceable.
According to informed sources, at least two magisterial inquiries are in progress regarding alleged ‘‘encounters’” by the police in the district a few months ago. Of these, the case of one known activist, Hira Singh of Kila Lal Singh village, provides important clues to the style of functioning of the security forces. Hira Singh was reportedly arrested from a building near the Golden Temple at Amritsar during the Army action in June last. Since him as facing a number of charges, he reportedly gave his name as Panthjit Singh of Godarpur village, who was a novice in the game and who was killed during the action in the same building. ‘‘Panthjit’’ was declared ‘‘white’’ by the security forces and sent to Gurdaspur jail for release after the verification of his antecedents, When the parents of Panthjit accompanied by the sarpanch of Godarpur village, Joginder Singh, went.to Gurdaspur jail to meet their son, they found that it was not Panthjit. Joginder Singh, the sarpanch, told this correspondent that this immediately created confusion in the jail and some old detenus also turned up at the scene. It was immediately known that the person posing as Panthjit was actually Hira, who had been detained in the jail even earlier. However, instead of taking remedial measures and detaining Hira whose identity was not known, the police allegedly allowed him to be released. He was killed in an ‘encounter’ a few days later while walking along a canal bank.
One disturbing factor noticed was that many of the persons detained or wanted were actually sarpanchs of the villages, who were supposed to be opinion makers in the villages. The list includes Ajmer Singh, sarpanch of Boparai, Hira Singh sarpanch of Dukoha, Joginder Singh, sarpanch of Talwandi Nahar, and one former MLA, H.S. Ghuman, from Ghuman village.
The people also complain that while the maximum cases. Registered were in Gurdaspur, no special court was set up in this area and the relatives of the accused had to go to Jalandhar for justice. Official sources, however, explain that the special court at Amritsar was expected to start functioning soon. The court at Jalandhar was so heavily burdened that in some cases the dates given fell as late as in December this year. The lawyers state that this was defeating the very purpose of special courts, one of the reasons for the constitution of which was speedy trial.
The indignation of the people finds shape in a number of ways. When two school children from Central School, Amritsar, arrested near Dera Baba Nanak, were presented in a court at Batala, shouts of ‘Bole So Nihaal’’ and “Sat Sri Akal’ were raised by the people and the lawyers defending them were put in an awkward position. Similarly, recently, proBeant Singh slogans were raised in Bhai Taru Singh Gurdwara near Sur Singh (in Amritsar district).
Talking to a crosssection of the nonSikh population, one found that most of them did not want the stringent measures taken by the security forces to be relaxed in the near future. This only speaks of the sense of insecurity among them. Mr. Gopal Krishan Chatrath, Congress(I) legislator from Batala, however, feels that the biggest harm due to the present state of affairs and lack of popular government was that the voice and problems of the people were not listened and solved.
In fact most of the officials one talked to in the two districts also felt that the problem was not administrative anymore and required to be solved politically. While, the Sikhs in this region feel that they were victims of state terrorism, the non-Sikhs feel that they were not given due consideration in the scheme of things. Bhagat Puran Singh, founder of the Pingalwara at Amritsar, was heard saying “Individual terrorism is bad but the state sponsored terrorism is worse.’’ Similarly, a non-Sikh transporter of Batala who was denied a bus route recently was heard complaining, “We have already come to live in Khalistan of sorts.” The rift is complete and nowhere is it more evident than when you travel in the two districts.
Article extracted from this publication >> March 1, 1985