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1984

How India Surrendered All Pretensions To Being A Law Abiding State

KANWAR SINGH SANDHU

 

 

 





The following is an extract from a transcript of a speech that was given at a Human Rights Conference on December 10, 2015 in Chandigarh, Punjab.



At the outset … it’s a commendable effort on the part of various organizations that have got together to organize such a function. The need for such a function was required much earlier, such functions should have been conducted more often many years ago; had these been organized more than 20-30 years ago, then the dire circumstances that exist today would not have happened.

At today’s discussion / seminar, we have many accomplished personalities and legal luminaries such as Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Ajit Singh Bains and we have guests from Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir. I will not take much time but will discuss only a few points and since we have guests from other states I will try to speak in English as well, for the benefit of those who are not well versed in Punjabi.

Since I have covered conflict and resolution not only in Punjab but also Kashmir (I had a chance to go to the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir also known as Azaad Kashmir). I also have interest in the Defence & Security area. So I understand how the organizations have been functioning and how they have been engaging in activities that they ought not to be doing.

Incidentally I did a recent write up that appeared in the Outlook magazine and was posted on youtube.com. I was not aware of this conference but knew that December 10 is Human Rights Day each year. It is a coincidence that my recent write up and all my work to date coincides with this conference.

Let me give a brief introduction about my work so far, ever since I was covering Punjab in the 1980s and beyond. I was exposed to the way India’s Army, its Police and the Militants of the Resistance Movement functioned. Some of their stories did appear in the newspapers, but we did not have that many TV channels in those days.

However, I always felt that not enough coverage was being done on these incidents and violations in the media. There were military actions by the resistance fighters and let me say it plainly that there were many, whether we agree with them or not. These were reported, and to deal with this situation the State brought in various laws such as POTA or TADA, whether we agree with their validity or not is a different matter.

If the Punjab Police was not competent enough to deal with these freedom fighters, the paramilitary forces were brought in and if they were not successful then the Army was brought in, and so on.

Whenever there were excesses by the Police or the security forces, unfortunately not enough coverage was given to such incidents in the media. Some of us did cover these incidents in the media and let me share that whenever we tried, it took tremendous effort to get it published. One had to hedge the stories, get editorial approval and artificially ‘balance out’ the stories to get them published.

Such was the attitude of the media in those years. I always thought that the truth must come out in front of the world. One tried a couple of times and I wondered how the truth can be brought to light. This was a huge challenge as not much was mentioned in the official files.

While covering Punjab, I had tremendous excess to the Police files through my resources. I observed that there was insufficient information recorded in these Police files. There were many people in the Police who agreed with the workings of the security forces during those days, but there were also a few who did not agree.

It is through the courtesy of one of such senior officers that I was able to access a letter that provides positive proof that the excesses committed by the security forces in Punjab in those days -- which are still continuing in many other states in India today -- had full and direct approval of at least the highest level of Intelligence Agencies and the Home Ministry, if not the Central Government as a whole.

I am referring to a letter that was written in 1991 by the then Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau by the name of VG Vaidya, written to KPS Gill, then serving as DGP of Punjab Police. This letter is interesting as it is mentioned that many SSP’s of Punjab Police brag in front of journalists from outside Punjab and arrange meetings between the journalists and the resistance fighters in custody.

Then, after a few days, when these prisoners are described to have been killed in ‘encounters‘, the journalists started speaking up that these freedom fighters were in custody and had met with journalists while being behind bars, thus evidencing that the so-called ‘militants’ were clearly murdered by the police in cold blood in fake encounters.

A paragraph in this letter is interesting. It is mentioned in my write up in the Outlook magazine and I have posted this entire letter on youtube.com as well. It is recommended in the letter that these senior officers must not mention any of their limitations of their executive workings in their conversations with the journalists. The officers must give an impression while interacting with the journalists that the Police is functioning as per the law and no ‘fake encounters’ are being staged.

It is noteworthy that this letter does not instruct that the Police officers cannot stage ‘fake encounters’ but should instead follow the law, but rather -- they are instructed -- they must not mention or discuss such encounters with the media.

This communication happened at the highest level as the IB Director was communicating with the DGP of Punjab Police.

Over a period of time I collected such evidence and when I discussed this with the Punjab Police officers, many of them agreed to such police excesses but not one of them was ready to publicly admit the same.

With great difficulty and tremendous persuasion, however, I was able to convince an officer by the name of Gurmeet Singh Pinky to admit in interviews the excesses that were committed.

I am glad that we were able to get the truth as now we are finding out that many police officers are ready to discuss the violations. These police officers feel now that they have been used, they did not realize that the orders that they implemented in those years could lead them to a sentence of life imprisonment.

My interviews revealed the violations that occurred in those years and a few that are happening even today. Even today all the violations are not coming to light. For instance, the police still have a secret fund. This fund is used by the Police to pay the informers for intelligence, and this fund is also being used to save the police officers that were involved in human rights abuses and are facing prosecution in the courts of law.

The use of the monies in this ‘secret fund’ is outright illegal. There are no receipts for the recruitment of expensive legal counsel and they are being paid through this fund. Not only this, the police officers that have been sentenced to life imprisonment and have lost their jobs as a result of their crimes, their families are also being paid the salaries from this ‘secret fund’.

I wonder what ‘Law of the Land’ permits such a transaction?

The sentencing of these police officers was done by the CBI (Criminal Bureau of Investigation) agency. So, on the one hand the CBI is investigating these police officers and then sentences them to jail terms; and on the other, a Government department pays them salaries too.

This is happening even today.

What transpired in Punjab in these last 20-30 years, many people feel that it occurred due to Police negligence or unlawful practices.

I beg to differ. I feel that what happened in Punjab, Kashmir or many other states, wherever para-military forces are being used and laws such as POTA or TADA are being applied, it is actually a failure of the civil society and a failure of each one of us. It is a failure of the Magistracy in this country. I am not a sympathizer of the British Raj, but they did have a system that the Magistracy would control the Police. But today the Magistracy has given up control and handed over absolute powers to the Police. Today we have the Commissioner system where the Magistracy is absent and the police officer himself is the Magistrate.

Therefore, this is a colossal failure of the Magistracy in this country.

This is also a failure of the media in this country.

In the last many years in Punjab thousands of innocent citizens have been killed. They are still dying in other states but the media has failed to report such killings or deaths. Over a period of time, it is a failure of the media, and this is the very reason why the mainstream media worldwide failed to prevent the exposition of the truth in front of the world.

Hats off to people like Jaswant Singh Khalra (Human Rights activist and Bank Director) and Ram Narayan Kumar (Human rights activist and scholar). They made huge efforts to uncover the human rights abuses. Ram Narayan Kumar passed away a few years ago due to natural causes and Jaswant Singh Khalra was murdered in an extra-judicial killing by the members of the Punjab Police in 1995.

These activists uncovered 2000-3000 extra-judicial killings only from one area of Punjab. Did the media not notice these killings? Did any journalist from the mainstream media attempt to report these murders?

I remember as a journalist for ‘India Today’ we did an insignificant write up, but how is it that hundreds of these citizens who died in the state of Punjab were never mentioned in the media. What a failure!

It is a failure of the Magistracy, a failure of the media, but even more importantly, it is a failure of our Judiciary.

With due consideration to the legal luminaries on the stage, I understand that their opinion might be different. Did the judiciary of the Punjab and Haryana high court not observe over a period of time these human rights abuses?

I need to mention this here, but not because of the fact that this conference has been organized by Human Rights lawyers, that these Human Rights lawyers did speak up, but the Judiciary did not speak up or act. The Judiciary never objected to these human rights abuses and if someone raised these issues then the Judiciary would not even consider their cases.

I recall that during the period of 1980-1990 a People’s Commission was proposed and even that was termed illegal by the Judiciary and it was never created.

To my mind the Judiciary was actively participant in the process of ignoring all human rights abuses and the suppression of human rights as well. The members of this very Judiciary would be rewarded for their crimes and go on to become Judges in the Supreme Court of India.

I was informed by police officer Gurmeet Singh Pinky that many police officials were tasked to intimidate the human rights lawyers. At least two lawyers specifically were attacked as well. Did the Judiciary not notice these attacks and acts of intimidation? Did even a single Judge object to these excesses?

As member of the ‘Day and Night’ news channel we did uncover how the phones of Judges were tapped illegally without any Governmental permission. The government official who admitted to be behind this phone tapping is today working at the Supreme Court of India.

What a failure!

Therefore, the Judiciary not only did not protect the human rights of citizens but also did not protect itself. I believe that the failure happened at multiple levels and now the time has come that we must introspect as a society and question the events that transpired in the last 30 years.

I was shocked and almost cried in one of my interviews with a police officer as he described that one of the victims died and then they threw away the body. I questioned further if an investigation was done about the death, and the answer was that there were so many similar cases that there was no time to conduct investigations.

Gurmeet Singh Pinky confessed that there numerous families in Punjab that have no clue to the whereabouts of their loved ones who ‘disappeared’ at the hands of government authorities in those years.

I went out to interview many such families and found to my dismay that they actually had no idea as to what had happened to their family members.

I am not ready to agree with the fact that even a so-called ‘militant’ should be killed in police custody. A ‘militant’ had to be tried in a court of law using the POTA or TADA laws or, if necessary, new laws could have been used. But extra-judicial killings are unacceptable.

There were a few who were murdered without any reason, for instance a citizen travelling with 200,000 - 300,000 Rupees ($3000-$4500) was murdered in cold blood by a police officer as the money on the citizen was stolen by the police officer himself. Even physically handicapped men/women were thus killed or drowned in local rivers/canals.

I do not know what can be done today.

These confessions from Gurmeet Singh Pinky (an ex-officer of the Punjab Police) has shocked the Punjab and the Central Government. The Government never expected the truth to come out like this and these revelations have now brought shockwaves. Even this has been revealed that bribes were paid by many serving SSPs of the Punjab Police to get transferred into even more ‘lucrative’ positions.

Since we have so many accomplished personalities and legal luminaries present here, we must discuss that there must be district level inquires, state level inquires, judicial inquires, a People Commission must be created, and a Truth and Reconciliation commission must be created similar to the one created in South Africa. We must collectively introspect and deliberate on the actions we as the citizenry must take. No doubt it will be a huge task for all of us.

I used to think as to how the ‘militancy’ in 1992 suddenly stopped. How is that very few voices are heard in Punjab and India, but there is fierce debate on human rights issues around the world. We discovered a really sad trend from the cases that we investigated and researched: that from 1988 to 1992 many families that were affected by the human rights abuses by the local Police forces or the Security agencies were either killed or left the country and moved to other countries.

This explains the feelings and debate among the diaspora around the world. Many citizens were able to save their lives from the Police and are alive today only due to the reason that they escaped to other countries.

I do not have a solution to this dilemma and the human rights disaster in front of us, but we all must come up with a plan to bring closure to this disastrous era of the last 30 years.

 

[Kanwar Singh Sandhu is a prominent journalist in India and has worked with The Tribune (Executive Editor), India Today, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, etc.]


Edited for sikhchic.com

January 21, 2016

 

Conversation about this article

1: Jaspal Singh (Glendale, California, USA), January 21, 2016, 3:39 PM.

Here's some more reading I'd recommend on the issue of the Indian State's lawlessness: http://www.hindustantimes.com/books/rohith-should-have-killed-those-who-wronged-him-dalit-leader-at-jlf/story-nL6oJm0yDoV0GFQmDX1NIO.html

2: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), January 25, 2016, 7:07 AM.

This is maddening, utterly frustrating and annoying, to have an esteemed journalist be clueless, that he believes a 'militant' could be tried under POTA and TADA. "Tried" points to the possibility of acquittal, found innocent, it also holds the lofty idea of "innocent until proven guilty". One was not tried under TADA, one was assumed guilty and one had to prove his innocence, one did not face any witnesses providing testimony to one's guilt. TADA and POTA were not laws, they were a license given to government employed and sponsored "criminals" to commit murder, rape and steal. Look at India's current Prime Minister Modi, for God's sake. What Human Rights Conference? Sounds like a junket to me for clueless idiots and corrupt journos.

3: Arjan Singh (USA), February 03, 2016, 11:20 PM.

Ajay ji: I agree with much of your comment. Imagine, during those dark days in India 1984 and beyond, when innocent law-abiding citizens were brutally murdered for their faith or physical appearance, such human-rights conferences were not even held in public. There was a complete ban on lawful protests or human rights activities to ensure that all killings were executed with Stalinist efficiency. To me, the fact that this conference or such events are now being organized is a sign of hope. I agree with you that all the comments by this journalist might not be accurate and I can only imagine that the law and order system of India has collapsed to a level that most citizens do not even understand the laws (POTA or TADA) that were used against them. I beg to differ with your comment that this journalist is ‘clueless’, as several times in this transcript he clearly states that the use of TADA or POTA was a failure of the civil society and failure of each one of us. He does mention that the validity of these laws (TADA or POTA) was questionable. At one point in his speech he does mention that so-called ‘militants’ had to be tried under POTA or TADA. I am sure you are correct in your observation that these laws were a carte blanche to the authorities and there was no legal trial to prosecute the accused. I believe this specific comment by this journalist was more of an imprecise choice of words rather than an intentional gaffe. One must understand that the civilian population was completely driven into terror by all power centers of the Indian State, and only in the last few years do we see that people are gaining the courage to speak up about those dark days. I have read in the news about many former policemen, civilians, witnesses, lawyers, journalists, etc. who have come forward to reveal the true extent of human rights violations that were committed. Stay tuned for another write-up that will cover the speech by Markandey Katju (a former Supreme Court Judge) at this same conference. The true extent of the rot in the judicial system of India will shock one and all, and I am sure one will appreciate the efforts of this journalist (Kanwar Singh Sandhu), even if all his statements are not accurate. It was in the news that this journalist was assaulted in a jail in Punjab where he had gone to interview another witness, so one can safely assume that he must be receiving multiple threats to silence and stop his exposé.

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