Kids Corner

1984

Confessions Of An Indian Killer Cop
Part I

KANWAR SINGH SANDHU

 

 

 





EncounterAn encounter is a euphemism used in India by governmental authorities and a pliant media to describe extrajudicial killings by their police or the armed forces. In a fake encounter, the police or armed forces kill citizens (without any charges being laid or existence of any evidence to prove any wrong-doing by the victims) when they are either in custody or are unarmed, and then claim to have shot them in self-defence.

In such cases, the police may plant weapons on or near the corpses to provide a justification for killing the individual. To explain the discrepancy between records that show that the individual was in police custody at the time of his "encounter", the police may say that the suspect had escaped.

Such killings are not authorized by any court or by the law
. [[Wikipedia, et al]

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EDITOR’S CAVEAT

In the following expose, the term ‘terrorism’ is used willy-nilly in reference to anyone who is an activist working against human rights abuses by the state machinery. The Indian media thus endorses governmental abuses, as it does in the other blatant example of intentionally using misnomers when it refers to pogroms and massacres as ‘riots’. Similarly, the term ’militancy’ is used to label the resistance movement that arose in Punjab in response to the Indian government’s pattern of gross human rights abuses. 






Recruited as a constable in the Punjab Police in 1987, Gurmeet Singh Pinky rose steadily through the ranks in the next few years, his speciality being encounter killings.

It wasn’t an encounter killing, however, that saw him getting a life sentence for murder in 2001, but the random shooting down of one Avtar Singh Gola. He was quietly released last year and reinstated in service this May, but the order was overturned.

Now contesting the reversal in court, Gurmeet has, in a taped confession, spilled the beans on his years with the Punjab Police. Here is his chilling description of how fake encounters were routinely used by Punjab Police units to quell militancy and the individual cases he was involved in.

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In March 1986, with militancy spiralling out of control in Punjab, Julio Ribeiro, a Maharashtra-cadre IPS officer, was brought in as the Director General of Police.

To take the militants head-on, he framed the “bullet for bullet” policy.

Things spun further out of control, and President’s rule was reimposed in 1987. K.P.S. Gill was brought in to fine-tune anti-terrorist operations. In a no-holds-barred campaign lasting over five years, police scored major successes. A number of police officers too fell to terrorists’ bullets.

After the 1992 polls, boycotted by the Akali Dal and in which turnout was thin, a Congress government led by Beant Singh took charge. He supported the anti-terrorist ops to the hilt, which led to his assassination in a bomb attack in Chandigarh in August 1995.

However, when K.P.S. Gill handed over the Punjab DGP’s baton later that year, terrorism had been crushed. Punjab Police were credited with achieving the unthinkable. Since then peace has prevailed. But there was always talk of the brutal methods used. These voices have become louder, especially in the Sikh diaspora, with charges of human rights abuses all over the internet.

Now, with the SAD-BJP government facing strong anti-incumbency, radical Sikh groups have come together to raise a litany of grievances. There are rumblings in the police too. The moot point is: What was the extent of human rights abuses? Will there be closure to Punjab’s turbulent chapter, now brought alive by the sensational confessions of a former Punjab cop?

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In (the) name of fighting terrorism, utter falsehood was enacted day after day. Suspects were picked up in one place, taken to a second, kept in a third, and ‘encounter’ shown in yet another place. What I have seen and was associated with would shock people.” [Gurmeet Singh Pinky]


On November 2, 1992, when gunshots rang out of a fourth floor apartment on Antop Hill in Mumbai, local cops from the nearby police station rushed to surround the apartment building. Sweating profusely, with his nose bleeding and shirt torn, a plainclothes person rushed out with a pistol in hand. Shouting out to the Mumbai cops atop nearby buildings, he said he was a Punjab Police sub-inspector who had killed dreaded militant Rana Partap Singh alias ‘Khadoor Sahib’, a self-styled Lt General of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF).

Within minutes, the then DCP of the Mumbai area, A.A. Khan, was also on the scene. The revolver-wielding man was Gurmeet Singh Pinky [then a police officer and on duty], who had travelled overnight with a police informer and four others from Khanna in Punjab to hunt for the militant, who carried a reward of Rs 2 million on his head.

Pinky was already well-known in Punjab as a “hit man” for senior officers. The shootout at Antop Hill went on to find mention in Bollywood movies such as ‘Ab Tak Chhappan‘.

During K.P.S. Gill’s two tenures as DGP (1988-1990 and 1991-1995), the Punjab Police earned the distinction of quelling terrorism in the border state through a network of informers and with strong-arm actions, including encounters. During his 19-year career in the police, Pinky was at the forefront of some of these act­ions.

He claims to have had a hand in the arrest/killing of a number of top militants, including Sukhdev Singh Babbar, Gurmukh Singh Nagoge and Harkewal Singh Sarabha. Besides, he arrested well-known militant leaders like Jagtar Singh Hawara and Daljit Singh Bittu. He’s lost count of the reward money that he got for his “kills” in uniform. He also got the President’s Police Medal for his efforts.

Grotesquely overweight, today Pinky, 56, is a parody of the dreaded ‘killer cop’ he once was. Once the blue-eyed boy of senior cops, including Sumedh Singh Saini (who was Punjab DGP till October ’15), now he feels betrayed by the system.

“I have been used, exploited and let down by the very officers I had stuck my neck out for. I had risked my life time and again on their asking,” says a visibly angry and hurt Pinky. In a series of no-holds barred interviews, he has revealed shocking details of police kidnappings, encounters -- fake and real -- and also killings in cold blood by senior officers in his presence.

Doesn’t he fear the consequences of his revelations?

“I don’t care, for I have served a life term in jail for a murder that I did not commit. I was asked to keep my mouth shut on the promise that my interests would be safeguarded. But I am on the road [His wife, incidentally, was getting his police salary while he was in jail]. Why should the seniors who committed greater crimes get away?”

While many in police swear by his “extraordinary work” during the difficult militancy period, there are others in Punjab and abroad baying for Pinky’s blood. The former cop remains on the hit list of militants, and moves around with an armed escort.

But the man who had no qualms in using any means to achieve his ends now fears the same fate at the hands of the police.

“I fear being harmed for knowing too much and daring to speak out,” he says.

Recounted here are the particulars of the fake encounters he was involved in, in all their chilling detail:

HOW ENCOUNTERS WERE STAGED

In Ludhiana district, while the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) appeared to be the centre-point of most anti-militancy related activity, the real pivot was the 82 Battalion Head­quarters at nearby Dugri. CRPF Deputy Commandant Chanchal Singh and Ludhiana SP (Operations) B.S. Gill, a CRPF officer on deputation, coordinated most of the activity relating to suspected militants who were picked up and became secret informers (‘cats’ -- shortened from ‘concealed apprehension techniques’).

One of their prize catches, says Pinky, was Gurcharan Singh Saidpur of the International Sikh Youth Federation.

It was Saidpur who got suspected militant Kamaljit Singh of Bholath arrested in 1989, he says. Kamaljit had been involved in the ambush of a police inspector in Kapurthala district but had proved to be a hard nut to crack; he would only utter “Waheguru” when subjected to third degree torture.

Inspector Shiv Kumar of the Ludhiana CIA, according to Pinky, arranged for Kamaljit’s “encounter”. B.S. Gill, when asked about his specific role in the alleged fake encounter, said, “off-hand I am not able to recall what is being alleged. These are very old cases.”

On persistent questioning, he said he knew Pinky well and that the latter was apparently saying all sorts of things because he was angry with the police department.

Saidpur, according to Pinky, also identified KCF militants Sher Singh Sher of Pandori village near Phagwara, Patiala Medical College student Ajmer Singh Lodhiwal and Bakhtaura Singh Bathinda of Fallad village, the latter two arrested by the CRPF in Model Town, Ludhiana. Lodhiwal took cyanide when the CRPF tried to arrest him, Bakhtaura was picked up and his hip dislocated during interrogation. Sher Singh, along with Bakhtaura, says Pinky, was later handed over to Dehlon SHO Guddu Shamsher Singh, who arranged for his “encounter” as an “unidentified” person.

Sher Singh’s father Daljit Singh says they learnt about his killing in an “encounter” from newspapers, and was given his ashes and belongings by the Sherpur police in Barnala district only after running from pillar to post.

“No one ever told us how it all happened,” he says.

Bakhtaura’s mother, Jarnail Kaur, too says they were never informed about the whereabouts of her son nor was the body given.

“Later we learnt he was killed in an ‘encounter’ with some others. We never got his body for cremation,” she says.

The kith and kin of these militants, says Pinky, would never get to know anything about their fate because they remained in illegal custody and were never shown as arrested on paper.

*   *   *   *   *

The disappearance of Professor Rajinderpal Singh Bulara was one more sensational case reported during the peak of militancy.

On February 15, 1989, the Ludhiana police in Punjab had announced that the three persons killed in an encounter on January 26 had been identified as Prof Bulara and his two accomplices. The killing had resulted in a major shutdown of all universities in Punjab for many days.

Throwing fresh light on the killings, Pinky says:

“The encounter was fake. Prof Bulara was kidnapped and killed by the police. Also, there were four persons, not three, as claimed by my seniors, who were killed in that incident.”

Bulara, who was teaching at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, had gone underground in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. It was again on a tip-off from Saidpur that the police took action, says Pinky. They nabbed Bulara on the afternoon of January 25, 1989, from outside a restaurant in Sector 15, Chandigarh, along with three others.

The police were in four vehicles, and Saidpur in one of them, identifying the four as they came there. The raid was conducted by a CIA party led by Shiv Kumar (who later became SP). The SHO of Payal police station, Sant Kumar (who later became DSP), was also with them. Pinky, then a junior functionary in the CIA, took active part in the whole operation.

Prof Bulara had come on a tractor belonging to his relatives. “One of the four resisted being picked up and a cyanide capsule had to be pushed down his throat by Inspector Sant Kumar,” Pinky recalls.

While he collapsed, the remaining three were bundled into the vehicles and taken towards Ludhiana. A constable was asked to drive away the tractor Bulara had come on. En route, the raiding party flashed a message to (then SSP) Sumedh Singh Saini and SP (Operations) B.S. Gill, “goal scored, match won”.

Promptly, a message was flashed back, “Come to Dugri (HQ of the 82 Battalion of the CRPF).”

The three were produced before Saini, who was present along with K.P.S. Gill.

“We had covered Prof Bulara’s face with a blanket,” recounts Pinky. “He was ushered in before Saini, who in filmi style clapped his hands and said, ‘khul ja sim sim’ and we lifted the veil.”

The SSP then asked Bulara if he had threatened to eliminate him for allegedly humiliating his wife in custody. When Bulara denied having said anything like that, he was brought face to face with Saidpur.

Pinky claims he was witness to what happened then. He heard Saini tell SHO Sadar Kanwarjit Singh (later SP) to give Bulara the “train ride (“gaddi chadaoo”), and asked the rest of them to go and celebrate.

“We, who had brought Bulara from Chandigarh, were given Rs 10,000, and we drank ourselves silly that evening at a restaurant,” says Pinky.

Prof Bulara and two others were killed that night in a fake encounter in a riverine area (“Bet”), and passed off as unidentified persons who were heavily armed. The weapons “planted” on the three had been recovered with Saidpur’s help from a place in Ropar district.

Those killed along with Bulara included Davinderpal Singh Happy of Mullanpur Garibdas and Prabhjit Singh Mintu of Chandigarh. The person forced to take the cyanide pill outside the Chandigarh hotel was Avtar Singh of Dao Majra village near Payal.

It was only on February 15, 1989, that, bowing to public pressure, the Ludhiana SSP addressed a press conference in which he stated that those killed in the Bet “encounter” had been identified and included Prof Bulara and two others.

Prof Bulara’s wife, Rajinder Kaur, who later became an MP, told me that while they knew that her husband was killed in a fake encounter, they still don’t know the details of how he was killed.

“The whole police story,” claims Pinky, “was hogwash.”

When we tried to contact Shiv Kumar for his version, the cellphone was immediately switched off.

RELEASED OR KILLED AS PER WHIMS OF POLICE OFFICERS

Pinky claims that various militants and criminals were held, released or killed on the whims and fancies of the senior officers.

In February 1990, when Saini was transferred from Ludhiana as Bathinda SSP, Pinky too moved with him. On transfer, says Pinky, various militants-turned-‘Cats’ were rounded up and handed over to different SHOs to be killed in staged encounters.

One such was Gurpreet Singh of Sibia village, near Raikot, a student of GNE, Ludhiana, who was wanted in a number of cases. He was handed over to Raikot SHO Piara Singh Multani to be “encountered” as an “unidentified person”.

Saidpur, however, escaped that fate, though he too had been initially handed over to the Samrala SHO for “doing the needful”. He had proved to be “our biggest asset”, says Pinky, and he was allowed to go abroad to the US as a “reward”. In fact, says Pinky, Saidpur feared getting killed by militants and was deliberately framed in a case under the Arms Act in Ropar district and sent to jail.

Later, when he applied for a passport, a favourable police report was managed so that he could go abroad. Now in Seattle, Saidpur vehemently denies having helped the police in identifying any of the militants. He claims he had no hand in Prof Bulara’s arrest and killing and was taken into custody a day after the professor’s killing.

He admits that he remained in the illegal custody of the security forces for over a year but this was because he had refused to cooperate with them.

“Pinky, who is a convict in a murder case, can say anything. Yes, I was arrested in Ropar, but not under the Arms Act,” says Saidpur.

He also denies having been helped to get a passport made and claimed that he got his passport made in Delhi by paying off someone.

“I am still on the government’s black list and am being targeted by the police because some of us sitting in the US support the orphans of the militants,” he said in a lengthy telephonic conversation.


Continued tomorrow … Part II


The author is a distinguished senior journalist based based in in Chandigarh, Punjab and has worked for India Today, Indian Express and Hindustan Times. After heading the ‘Day & Night’ channel, he now runs a production house, Free Media Initiative.


[Courtesy: Outlook. With input from Chander Suta Dogra and Kasif Farooqi]
December 6, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Kaala Singh (Punjab), December 06, 2015, 12:25 PM.

This guy started off as a militant and then switched sides to join the police and started killing his former mates. As per Pinky's revelations, many militants were in touch with the police and were betraying their colleagues. A large number of innocents having nothing to do with militancy were killed for land and money.

2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), December 06, 2015, 3:43 PM.

In civilized countries, if a person said "I helped kill 50 people", that person would be arrested. There would be an investigation and even if all he did was lead 'militants' into 'traps', his efforts would be seen as being an accomplice and conspiracy. He would have to bear the brunt for each murder. In medieval and uncivilized countries like India when a person says "I helped kill 50 people", society says "okay".

3: Raj Singh (Canada), December 06, 2015, 5:21 PM.

Where the heck was/is Amnesty International? Helping the Indian government demonize Sikhs?

4: Tony Singh (Canada), December 06, 2015, 8:04 PM.

'Sikhs' rounding up and murdering "Sikhs"? No, just because many of the cowardly murderers wore turbans and had beards does not make them Sikhs ... they were just cold-blooded killers in the employ of a criminalized government.

5: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), December 06, 2015, 9:46 PM.

This article says that Black Cats were murdered by the police once they were done with them. This isn't true, or at least is not completely true. They were fake killings created to allow the Black Cats an opportunity to slip out of the radar of the militants when the police were done with them. I wonder how much of what he is saying is true, half truths and straight-out lies.

6: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), December 07, 2015, 4:19 AM.

"A picture is worth a thousand words " This picture says it all. Look at the murdered Sikh man. Unarmed, shoeless and scantily dressed. Look at the armed policemen and their body language. Sikhs who still chant the mantra of "Save the Sikh religion ... it is in grave danger ..." To them I say, shake yourself and wake up. It is your very existence that they are after. Save the Sikhs first. There will be no Sikhi without the Sikhs.

7: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), December 07, 2015, 5:36 AM.

I find these articles frustrating. I know there were fake encounters and the police were cold blooded killers, and in fact even sanctioned the 'militancy'. What I want to know is why the term 'militant' is used for the killed. What offences or crimes made Prof Bulara a "militant" or for that matter any individual who is called a "militant". If we just look at the reward money that was given to the police, the number of people killed in encounters is mind blowing. Inderjit Sing Jaijee in his book "Politics of Genocide" quotes a figure of Rs. 600 million (I am going by memory). Do we honestly think all those killed were militants? Khalra exposed 2800 killed and secretly cremated just by looking at the amount of wood used in cremating the dead by the police in one district of Punjab alone. The British didn't kill this many Sikhs in 100 years of occupation of Punjab. And let's not overlook the fact that all the police 'murderers' and turncoats just didn't walk over to Ribiero and Gill and just signed up to become murderers. They were bribed, manipulated, forced to commit murder with threats of killing their family, rape, and jail time. I used to think that Pinochet must have been a devil, a Hitler incarnate, I was dismayed to learn he is only responsible for the murder of 3000. He is a freaking angel compared to the whole cadre of Indians. Their PM is a genocidal maniac.

8: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), December 07, 2015, 10:45 AM.

@7: I would like to make a slight correction relating to Jaswant Singh Khalra. He did not discover 2000+ unidentified cremations of individuals, that was the number of INCIDENTS of cremation. The cremation workers told him that they would use the amount of wood for one body for multiple bodies, sometimes up to eight. At that time in Punjab there were 13 districts in Punjab. Now do the math. Remember, these unidentified bodies were separate from those found in canals or staged in fake encounters.

9: Kaala Singh (Punjab), December 07, 2015, 11:47 AM.

It is common knowledge that the Central Govt in India offered big cash rewards for killing Sikh resistance fighters. The Punjab Police was simply making money by killing innocents and then passing them off as 'militants'. Pinky is right in saying that some people had a vested interest in keeping the pot boiling. Peace meant no money for the real criminals in positions of power. If all those killed were real 'militants' with weapons, I doubt if the police could have killed so many without suffering heavy casualties themselves. Pinky also says that in many places the "Cats" were killed after their "jobs" were done. This may have been done to show police "casualties".

10: Raj (Canada), December 20, 2015, 3:07 PM.

Have our gurdwara committees have thought of buying these magazines and sending them to MPs and Congressmen in the diaspora?

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Part I"









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