By Sukhdev Singh: Vice President Punjab Human Rights Organization
THREE under trial prisoners were killed as a result of police firing in “high security” Sangrur jail on October 14, 1987, while a score of them, including Superintendent of Jail, were injured following what the police stated a “clash” and “rioting” by. The inmates. The cause of the affray reported by the police was that the inmates wanted to meet Mr. Gurdev Singh, a former head priest of Akal Takht, who was shifted to that jail a few days earlier, even as the jail authorities had refused permission for such a meeting.
Since the shooting took place in judicial lockup, the P.H.R.O. considered it a grave matter. It, therefore, constituted a five member committee of its activists to sift the truth after a detailed on the spot study. The members of the committee were Mr, Gian Chand Lehragaga, Mr. Jatinder Singh Gill, an advocate of Sangrur, Mr. Gurbhajan Singh Gill, a former Deputy Superintendent of Police, Punjab, who is an expert in holding enquiries, Mr. Mohinder Singh Jawanda, Kisan leader and Mr. Malwinder Singh Mali, coordinator of P.H.RO.
The members of the enquiry committee met advocates, journalists, policemen and jail and police department officers. These included Mr. Rajdev Singh Barnala, Mr. Narinder Singh Sidhu, Mr. Sukhminder Singh Shatti, advocates, and Lt. Col. HS. Kahlon. The government officers whom the committee members met requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the establishment.
A few under trials wanted to see Bhai Gurdev Singh but the request was turned down as per the jail rules. The interview was denied because the behavior of the inmates was not good. The under trials were agitated as a result of this refusal of interview. They did not hear Superintendent of Jail, Gurcharan Singh Grewal. So an alarm was sounded when Wassan Singh, Jagdish Singh and Balwinder Singh assaulted the Superintendent and, after the jail wardens and staff men armed with rifles came in, they tried to snatch weapons from them, Other under trials attacked the warden and the guards with bricks and pipes injuring many of them. In self-defense, the wardens fired upon the under trials killing the above three and injuring others. The injured inmates and guards were provided medical aid immediately.
Sangrur Special Jail is one of the top security jails where the hardcore freedom fighters are lodged. According to the practice, the premises regularly and without notice are searched so that the inmates do not have access to any weapons or missile. Even small kirpans worn by the Sikh inmates are removed. No bricks or pipes can be allowed to be stored inside or near the jail barracks. The relations between the Superintendent and his deputy are far from cordial. Warders are also vertically divided into factions. There are frequent allegations that the Deputy Superintendent tries to browbeat the Superintendent and sows seeds of discontent among the jail staff as well as among the inmates. The warders inside are not a happy lot due to inadequate service conditions and due to leave restrictions.
Under this charged atmosphere Bhai Gurdev Singh was shifted from Patiala on October 13. Earlier, he was confined to Jabalpur jail in M.P. He is a respected Jathedar and the Sikh inmates wanted to meet him but the request was turned down.
On October 14, at about 10 a.m., the Sikh inmates were out of barracks in the courtyards which was locked from outside. They demanded to see Bhai Gurdev Singh again but Mr. Jagrup Singh refused permission. The inmates started raising slogans against Mr. Jagrup Singh. The Superintendent too, reached the place and concurred with his deputy. Slogans against the Superintendent, too, were raised, then an alarm was sounded and about 100 warders and guards, armed with rifles and lathis, reached inside the courtyard and started thrashing the under trials who ran helter shelter. In the melee, many inmates and some warders, including the Superintendent, received lathi blows. After sometime peace prevailed but the jail authorities were not satisfied. Jagdish Singh Bhola, resident of Ahmedpur, police station Bhikhiwind, Amritsar district, Wassan, Singh, resident of Sakhira, Amritsar district and Balwinder Singh, resident of Gill Patti, Bathinda, were picked up and were not dead. The inmates were further infuriated and started raising slogans. The authorities became nervous and fired indiscriminately injuring more than two dozen inmates. These included Jagdeep Singh, Jagraj Singh, Piara Singh, Ranjit Singh, Basant Singh, Manjit Singh, Baldev Singh, Jagtar Singh, Gurmail Singh, Avtar Singh, Paramjit Singh, Gurdial Singh, Sukhwinder Singh, Gurcharan Singh, Kuldip Singh, Beant Singh, SukhwantSingh, Joga Singh, HarcharanSingh, Gumam Singh, Darshan Singh, Labh Singh, HarminderSingh, Gurdip Singh, Dilbar Singh, Jai Singh and Gurcharan Singh. Basant Singh later succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
The committee was distressed to know that no medical assistance was given to the injured for several hours. Attempts by advocates, pressmen and relatives of the inmates for interviews were frustrated by the Deputy Superintendent who, evidently, wanted the incident not to be known outside. According to insiders, the Superintendent was given lathi blows by the guards and warders belonging to the Deputy Superintendent’s faction so that the incident assumed proportion and the result should be the disgrace of the jail head.
There is also evidence that the inmates killed as a result of the firing had prior understanding that they might be made a target of revenge by the Deputy Superintendent. At least two of them Jagdish Singh Bhola and Wassan Singh were said to be marked men. They had undertaken hunger strike while in Nabha Jail to protest against the alleged fake encounter killings of Balwinder Singh and Ram Singh in Nabha Jail in December 1986. They were shifted to Sangrur jail in the first week of January 1987. Both had written to the Inspector General of Prisons in May, 1987, requesting for their transfer from Sangrur jail because, they alleged, the jail authorities wanted to kill them on one or the other pretext. In June, 1987, when the D.LG. And the A.I.G., Prisons, visited the Sangrur jail, they had made the request again to shift them but the request was ignored. These facts were verified by Lt. Col. Kahlon who was confined in Sangrur Jail from January, 1987 to July 1987.
Mr. Rajdev Singh, Mr. Sukhminder Singh Bhatti and Mr. Narinder Singh Sidhu, advocates, filed a petition with the Designate Court, Sangrur, Mr. R.S. Sharma, bringing to his notice the facts of the case of the killings. The court, prima facie, found substance in the complaint and directed the S.H.O. to register an F.I.R. The Committee understands that no F.I.R. was registered by the S.H.O.
On October 16, 1987, Counsel Rajdev Singh and others sought interviews with certain under trials through the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sangrur, but the Deputy Superintendent defying the court orders, did not allow the Counsel to interview their clients. Contempt of court proceedings against the Deputy Superintendent, Mr. Jagrup Singh are pending,
A few jail warders and other staff members in the course of interviews with the members of the committee affirmed on assurances of anonymity that the inmates had no weapon of offences such missiles could not be concealed there owing to constant supervision and surprise checks. About 100 warders and guards attacked about three dozen unarmed under trials. The attack was led by Mr. Jagrup Singh. Under trials went helter and shelter in-side the walled compound. Due to mixing up and melee a few jail warders and staff members, too, received lathi blows at the hands of the armed staff members. The circumstances of the infighting make the committee suspect that the Superintendent was intentionally beaten up by men owing allegiance to Mr. Jagrup Singh. After the incident, water pipes were pulled out by Mr. Jagrup Singh and his men to make it appear that the inmates had used the pipes as lathis. Actually, the Pipes are not so easily removable.
ROLE OF PRESS AND POLITICAL PARTIES
The incident was reported on the next day of the occurrence by the Press largely based on the cock and bull story given out by the police. This was due to the fact that the local Pressmen were not allowed to go inside the jail. The true story started coming out in the subsequent days. A few Chandigarh based correspondents showed enterprise to rush to Sangrur to report the matter. But their efforts were stonewalled by a bureaucracy that had a lot to conceal from the public.
However, the Press in general did not follow up the event considering the gravity of the issue involved. There was not a single story based on interviews with the victims of the incident. Nor any information was gathered from the correspondence between Sangrur and Chandigarh. Photographic Representation of the event was absolutely zero, No one important newspaper took editorial notice of the incident.
All this may be due to intense pressure the Press in Punjab is under the RayRibeiro team who reportedly send out threats to those newsmen who dare report any such development.
‘No organization, except the P.H.R.O. and one or two Akali Dal factions, protested against the incident.
The P.H.R.O. regards the incident too serious to be ignored in this manner. Such treatment of under trials is rare in the annals of politics in the world.
- The Committee finds substance in the view that at least two of the killed members were marked by the police and jail authorities of Punjab as ones who deserved to be “silenced” in some or the other manner.
- The death of the three Sikh youths inside Sangrur jail appear to be the result of a deep rooted conspiracy in which involved are not only the Deputy Superintendent of Sangrur jail and his faction but also certain high ups in the State.
- The incident took place at 11 a.m. on October 14 but the F.I.R. was written and sent to the Chief Judicial Magistrate at 5 p.m. These delay further points to the suspicion of a joint enterprise.
- The failure of the S,H.O. to register a case of murder despite the order by the Designate Court, contempt proceedings against the Deputy Superintendent and the failures of the State government or any other senior authority to hold a credible enquiry all point to the conspiracy to eliminate the marked men by hook or by crook.
- Already the State police killed in similar manner Manbir Singh Chaheru, Roshan Lal Bairagi, Tarsem Singh Kohar, Manjit Singh Bhindi, Subheg Singh, Sukhdev Singh Sukha, etc. All of them were killed after taking them out of judicial lock up.