Kids Corner

1984

Labh:
A Tale Of Resistance To India’s State Terror -
Part III

RATTANAMOL SINGH

 

 

 




Continued from last week …


PART III




ACT 4 - The Great Escape


"There is nothing to fear now. He is free."



Sikh ‘extremists’ shot and killed six policemen today outside a courthouse in Punjab and escaped with three prisoners accused of slaying a Hindu editor, authorities said.

Four people, including a lawyer were wounded in the attack at the district court compound in Jullunder, a major industrial city in central Punjab, District Magistrate S.C Aggarwal said.

At least three attackers opened fire with automatic weapons as police led four Sikh prisoners into the courthouse. He said the extremists parked a blue police-style jeep across the street and fired over the courthouse’s 4 ½ foot high wall.


They escaped in the jeep and possibly one other vehicle with three of the prisoners and three rifles taken from the slain policemen

[Associated Press, April 5, 1986]





Spring 1986

Labh Singh was implicated in a number of cases from his time at Darbar Sahib. One of these was the May 2, 1984 killing of newspaper editor Ramesh Chandar, who was accused of being a government propagandist.

While transporting Labh Singh to his court date in Jalandhar, a friendly police officer warned him of the difficulty of getting a fair trial.

“There is no way they are going to let a lawyer take your case. There are three outcomes to this. Either you’ll be hung, killed in a fake encounter, or sentenced to life in prison.”

Arriving at the courthouse, Labh Singh explained to his father-in-law, Charan Singh Lahoria, “If I'm going to die, then I’d rather die serving our people than in prison. There is no fear now. Don’t worry, we will be free.”

Devinder was certain that Sukhdev’s dream of freedom was elusive, if not impossible, “He won’t be released from Jodhpur Jail, and even if he does, there is still the Ramesh case.”

The family next met Sukhdev at the Jalandhar Court in the spring of 1986, where he told his wife, “Don’t come to my next court date. Send Rajeshwar and your father instead.”

There were a number of people who adored Labh Singh. They often came to his court dates and brought sweets and milk for Labh and his three fellow defendants. The stories of their exploits while at Darbar Sahib were still circulating in Punjab, and in the aftermath of the attack and the subsequent military rule of Punjab, Labh Singh and company were regarded as heroic defenders. On the morning of the Ramesh trial, Labh Singh held his son while eating the sweets brought by the villagers. He then signalled over to the guards that he was headed to the restroom and handed his son to his father-in-law. Labh's older brother, Daljit, sensed what was to come and quickly motioned over to Charan Singh. He grabbed Rajeshwar and held him tightly.

As Labh Singh exited the courtroom door, an immediate barrage of gunfire blasted through the courthouse windows. Daljit Singh threw the shocked Rajeshwar to the floor and dove on top of his nephew in hopes of shielding him from the bullets flying overhead. During a very slight pause in gunfire, Daljit Singh handed Rajeshwar to Charan Singh while yelling, “Everyone is getting out. Take Rajeshwar and leave. Hurry!”

By now, the bodies of the dead and injured police officers littered the room, and Charan Singh and his grandson lept over them on their way out.

Arriving in Tanda, Rajeshwar dashed into the house, “Daddy ji ran away. Daddy ji ran away. The dead police officers were everywhere!”

Devinder was stunned by the audacity of her husband’s escape. He was finally free.

The prospect of seeing Sukhdev in a place other than a jail, a courthouse, or a funeral home had seemed unreal only a few hours ago. The rest of Punjab was equally in awe. For the next few days, news reports on both radio and television headlined -- ‘Labh Singh has escaped jail!’

A few nights later, a man rushed into the Tanda house. Devinder had never seen him before. He was in a hurry and asked to see the child from the courthouse. His urgency faded upon seeing Rajeshwar. He carefully held the boy and turned him around and around. He examined Rajeshwar for any signs of injury and was relieved when he realized the boy was unharmed.

An uneasy Devinder asked the man about her missing husband, “Where is he? What happened!?” Her delight at the prospect of a free Sukhdev was overtaken by the likely chance of his capture or death, “The police will kill him without asking any questions!”

Her husband was now a fugitive in a state where the police force was arbitrarily arresting and killing its own citizens by staging fake encounters. Further, by all indications, Sukhdev was enlisted into the same group of people who had the nerve to blast their way straight into a heavily fortified public courthouse.

The man calmly replied, “Don’t be scared; there is nothing to fear now. He is free.”

Eventually, her concern about Sukhdev’s future was overcome by her desire to simply see her husband. Devinder told the man a statement that in reality was more of a desperate question, “I want to see him.”

“You will. Soon.”

And with that, the man left.

On one side of the Lahoria farms lie the Shimla mountains, and if one were to go through the fields below, there is a road that leads directly to Charan Singh’s house.

A few nights after the unknown man came to examine Rajeshwar, a young man the family would later know as Charanjit Singh Channi drove through those fields, parked his truck, and walked straight into the Lahoria house. It had now been seven years since the girls of Tanda Urmar sat gleefully on the stairs watching the wedding party from Panjwar arrive. Channi entered the house and woke the sleeping Charan Singh. The latter left with Channi and returned hours later.

Back home, he told Devinder, “I met Sukhdev at a doctor's house on the Darapur bypass. He had been shot in his arm, and here, they removed the bullet.”

A few nights later, a teenage boy came and took Devinder to a house by the Darapur bypass. She walked up a set of stairs to the second floor. Two men were seated and looked up as Devinder came within sight. The first was the man who came inquiring about Rajeshwar. The second, her husband.

The last time Devinder had seen Sukhdev as a free man was two years ago. On that day, the full might of the Indian Army was rapidly amassing outside the Darbar Sahib. Skirmishes had already begun and the military invasion into the complex seemed imminent. Labh Singh had told Devinder’s father to take her and leave. She relented, wanting to stay. Nevertheless, he said what seemed like his final farewells and marched away dutifully to join the resistance.

Devinder looked at her husband. This was not a jailhouse meeting room. No guards were present. He was not wearing shackles. She had not had to beg and plead to a prison guard to get here!

This was different.

He was free.

Labh Singh introduced Devinder to his companion: “This is my General. He freed me.”

Devinder realized he was the same man who had examined Rajeshwar just a few nights prior. His name was Manbir Singh Chaheru and he was the founder and leader of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF). Manbir had been inside Darbar Sahib with Labh Singh where they became fast friends. He spent much of the past year endlessly searching for ways to free him.

The Ramesh Chander case in Jalandhar finally presented him with an opportunity, and he orchestrated the court house escape. While Charan Singh was whisking Rajeshwar over the dead police bodies on one side of the courthouse and Labh Singh was running towards the getaway vehicles on the other, Manbir Singh stood outside and kept the police at bay by spraying bullet after bullet at the courthouse.

Manbir went to another room, leaving Devinder alone with her husband.

There was a marked shift in Labh Singh’s personality. Devinder grins when we ask her how Labh treated her during this interaction, “He just wanted to make me happy!”

When Devinder inquired about the gaping wound on his hand, Labh withheld the fact that he had been shot during the escape. Instead, he tried to allay Devinder’s concerns and crafted a story for her, “I hit the side of a 3 wheeler during the escape. There’s really no pain. You don’t have to worry.”

Nevertheless, the ever looming prospect of dying still had not left him. For Labh Singh, death was always a doorstep away, and he repeated his line, “If death is inevitable, then it is better to die doing something for the Quom (the Sikh Nation).”

He assured Devinder they would keep meeting and expressed that he was excited to see his children.

*   *   *   *   *

The first major action in which I was involved occurred when I got a message from Manbir Singh Chaheru, general of the Khalistan Commando Force. It said, ‘Singh, we need your services to get General Labh Singh released from police custody.' I replied that my body, mind and soul belonged to the Sikh nation and I was ready for anything. I then became part of the party of Bhai Manbir Singh Chaheru which got General Labh Singh, Bhai Swaranjit Singh and Gurinder Singh Bholla released from Jallandar police custody, with the resultant death of eight police personnel.

We had a Maruti car, a jeep and a truck with us. We all met at Such village on the outskirts of the Jallandhar bypass, and each was given a different duty to perform when we reached the Jallandhar courts. The plan was that the three Singhs, the prisoners, were at a given time to sit as if relieving themselves, for in that posture the police who were handcuffing them would have to be at their backs, and wouldn’t be able to see the other side. The three were to say at the agreed-upon, time that they were getting nature’s call.

In our planning we made it a point to ensure that those police personnel should not get killed. Our plan was not to kill them but simply ask for hands up. Only if they did not obey were we to shoot them down.

When the confrontation occurred, Bhai Manbir Singh Chaheru was standing with his back towards the jeep, holding a Thompson gun. Bhai Satnam Singh Atalgar had a .455 revolver and I also had a .455 revolver and one Singh was holding a Sten gun. When the police refused to raise their hands, we went ahead and shot them down. As it happened, one .455 bullet also hit the hand of General Labh Singh.

As we were getting the prisoners out of that place, Bhai Manbir Singh continued to fire one bullet at the window and one at the door so that the police still inside would not dare to come out. We managed to get the three of them into the jeep, but then there was something wrong with the starter. Luckily, we had planned to have a car on the other side of the road, since there was a railroad crossing nearby and we had feared being held up in our escape if there was a train. When we dashed across the railway the bridge was in fact closed, but Bhai Manbir Singh Chaheru flourished his revolver and the attendants opened it right up.


[Account of Charanjit Singh, 'Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants', Cynthia Mahmood]

*   *   *   *   *

A few months later, Manbir Singh was picked up by the police and killed in an ‘encounter‘. Devinder’s husband was quickly chosen as his successor.

This is how Labh Singh became General Labh Singh.


*   *   *   *   *



Act 5 - The Usual Suspects


"Our people need you to live.”


When nations wake up, even history begins to shiver.

During such momentous movements a Banda Singh Bahadar bids farewell to his peace-dwelling and destroys a state of oppression like Sirhind, a Che Guevera turns down a ministership of Cuba, loads a gun on his breast and entrenches against the enemies in the forest of Bolivia, a Nelson Mandela rejects the ideology of apartheid and prefers to spend his life in a dark prison cell.





January 1987

In the winter of 1986, General Labh Singh’s cousin, Paramjit Singh, came to Tanda with instructions for Devinder to head for Ludhiana. A few days later, the family followed Paramjit’s directions and sat in wait at a safe house outside the city. A rickshaw pulled up outside the house, and two men emerged.

The first was General Labh Singh. The second was Harjinder Singh Jinda, introduced to Devinder as Vicky.

After exchanging greetings, they gathered back into the rickshaw and headed for Ludhiana, eventually arriving at a two story house in the neighborhood of Ghumar Mandi.

On the first floor lived a family that operated a food cart. Devinder walked past them and up the stairs where she first met a young woman named Kamaljit Kaur. There were several residents in this house, and each had their own code name.

Sukhdev was Jamal Singh. Kamaljit’s husband was Satnam Singh Bawa aka Surjit Singh Bijlee SDO. He rented the house, and the neighbors thought he was on the local electricity board. Together they had two children.

Harjinder Singh Jinda was codenamed Vicky. Devinder Kaur became Amrit Kaur.

The Ludhiana House also had a revolving door of people Devinder would meet. Reading off their names seems like conducting a roll call of the government’s most wanted list - Manjit Singh Manju, Ravi, KC Sharma, Baba Dalip Singh, Nima, Daljit Singh Bittu, Gurnam Singh Gama, Gurnam Singh Pehlwan Sultanwind, and Charanjit Singh Channi.

Devinder remembers the house as a happy, lively environment. The neighbors believed the group operated a trucking union, and this was the cause for the commotion.

After two days, Devinder’s father and Rajeshwar left for Tanda. On the same day, Satnam Singh Bawa, Kamaljit Kaur, Manjit Singh Manju, and Jinda planned to go to the mountains.

“The kids are on holiday, and they want to go away.” Labh Singh was also leaving in the evening, “The trucks need to be loaded and fueled. There’s work to be done there, and I’m going for a few days.”

Devinder was told, “If anyone asks, tell them that they’ve gone to their jobs and will be back soon.”

Devinder asked Jinda, “How will I stay at home by myself?”

In response, Jinda took Devinder to a room where he would pray. The room contained a bed, two chests, and a small table. Jinda nonchalantly opened both chests and revealed the contents to Devinder. She was terrified. The first chest contained a tremendous amount of money. The second contained a tremendous amount of guns.

Jinda didn’t seem to be concerned by the money or the guns, and in his typical playful manner, he told Devinder to simply come into this room and pray whenever she felt scared. Before leaving, Jinda brought presents for Pardeep and told the ladies of the neighborhood, “If the kid wants something, go get it for him.”

One morning, Devinder was seated at a table with her husband and Jinda. “Vicky, I read the newspaper this morning, and it says so many things about this Jinda. He is such a phurteela, I want to meet him. You should have him join your group. He’d be of much help.”

Devinder only knew Jinda by his codename, Vicky, and it would be several years before she recognized him by his true identity. Jinda looked at the General and hid a sheepish grin. Barely able to maintain his composure, he told Labh Singh, "We should listen to bhabiji (sister-in-law). Let's spend the day tomorrow looking for Jinda."

He turned to Devinder, "You're right bhabiji. He'd be a lot of help. We'll find him and bring him here." A silent Labh Singh casually smiled and carried on eating.

Jinda would typically leave wearing one set of clothes, returning a few hours later in a different outfit. Devinder didn’t understand this and asked, “Why are your clothes different?” He’d tell Devinder that they’d gotten dirty, or he had spilled the chaa he was drinking at a hotel. Devinder didn’t make too much of it.

Devinder remembers an occasion where her husband became angry with Jinda. Jinda had bought exorbitantly expensive 300 rupee shoes for Labh Singh. Labh Singh threw them at him, “Don’t waste the Quom’s money.”

Jinda continued to playfully egg on the general, “Come on brother, you have to try them on.” Labh repeated, “I’m not going to waste the Quom’s money.”

Eventually, Jinda’s persistence was too much, and Labh tried on the shoes. Jinda grinned while attempting to maintain his sarcastic tone, “Our business is going well, and our chests are full. You should buy bhabiji gifts too.”

Labh sighed. “No, Vicky.”

Manjit Singh Manju was another resident of the house. He had very long arms, and Jinda would use this as an excuse to bring Manju to Devinder while saying, “Remember, Sant ji’s arms were very long too. Also, you know Manju is a really good kid, but he won’t get married!”

“Vicky, you also refuse to get married.”

The girls of Ghumar Mandi were very stricken with Jinda and would often come to Devinder and Kamaljit. “Are you going to get your brother-in-law married soon?”

Devinder feigned ignorance, directing them to Kamaljit who would reject their proposals with one of the following lines,

“We’re not getting Vicky married.”

“He doesn’t make any money.”

“Maybe when he finishes college and stands on his own feet. Jamal Singh and my husband are the only ones that do work.”

“Vicky doesn’t do anything.”

“Vicky wastes too much money.”


To Be Continued …


Edited for sikhchic.com
August 4, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 04, 2015, 2:27 PM.

Sikh men such as General Labh Singh not only had a huge impact on Punjab during their lives, but continue to impact modern Punjab. A few days ago Pakistani Muslim terrorists attacked a police station in Gurdaspur. It was amazing to witness the fear of the ruling elite through the media. At one point the media kept stating that they did not know the religion of the men, once it was ascertained that they were Muslims, the reports still hung on some alleged "Khalistani" connection or at least the separatist movement was referenced in the majority of articles. Why would they keep hammering on about Khalistan when the men were clearly Muslims? Because men like General Labh Singh continue to put the fear of God into the majority community even decades after their death.

2: Gary Singh (Punjab), August 09, 2015, 12:42 AM.

The idea of freedom stays alive due to the sacrifice of brave men like Labh, Jinda, and many more like them. The war can go on for 100s or 1000s years but the idea must live on. One day the masses will wake up to the idea that freedom is our only survival option! Khalistan is our destiny! Even in the age of AI this war will continue ... Thank you for beautiful writing!

3: Tinku (Punjab), August 09, 2015, 7:23 AM.

Creation of Khalistan does not need lot of sacrifices. It does need very good planning. First and foremost to be taken advantage of is the fact that the majority religion is divided by castes and languages. Second is the fact that the majority and the second majority are at each other's throats most of time. So how can these be exploited?

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A Tale Of Resistance To India’s State Terror -
Part III"









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