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The Rape of Sikh Women- The black Days of Punjab History

IHRO Note: The Rape of Sikh Women- The black Days of Punjab History, A monthly watch by IHRO (April 1991)

The people of Punjab can not forget this period of black history. One wonders how the state managed all these atrocities and indignities upon their own people in the socalled largest democracy of the world. And from this one needs to learn: 

Rapists in militants’ garb

Apart from the State-sponsored vigilante groups, there are other individual gangs which are actively indulging in violent actions including molestation and rape of young Sikh girls and women in the villages in the garb of militants. A media report from Amritsar by Romesh Vinayak revealed such a gang. According to the report, members of this gang had made a number of women victims of their lust. Three of them were arrested by the Majitha police on February 24 while two others were identified. The gang members used to move around Majitha town and made secluded farmhouses their targets. Among the victims were a schoolgirl and certain married women.

Certain militant organisations had also announced rewards on the heads of the gang members. The gang members used to take away girls from their houses at gunpoint and drop the name of a top militant leader of the area to terrorise the family. After out raging their modesty they would sent them back. They usually claimed themselves to be members of a militant group. In certain cases, where the parents protested, the gang members threatened to wipe out the family. Not a single such case was taken notice of either by the police or the panchayat despite the fact that the gang had been operating for several months.

A minor girl raped

The cases became known when a 15-year-old girl was raped at a farmhouse in the presence of her elder sister who raised the alarm. Villagers chased the gang members and reported the matter to the police. The arrested members during their interrogation confessed to have raped at least six women in Majitha, Idgah and Rori villages. They also confessed that they were misusing the names of militants for their nefarious activities. Apart from indulging in rape, the gang members also forcibly took away 13 vehicles, including a car, which were recovered from them. An important pistol was also seized.

The policemen as kidnappers and extortionists

The matter does not end there. Even the police personnel, again in garb of militants, are involved in criminal activities. A report from Amritsar says that seven persons in police uniforms came to the house of Dharam Singh in an industrial colony on the Batala road on April 24 and forcibly took him away in a truck. Members of his family immediately informed the Vijay Nagar Police post suspecting that the kidnappers were militants as Dharam Singh had

been getting threatening letters. A joint patrol party of the state police and CRPF intercepted the truck. They found the kidnappers to be personnel of Sadar Police Station. Seven kidnappers including an ASI who headed the Sadar Police Station were taken to the Vijay Nagar Police post, from where two of them “escaped”, according to the residents. Amritsar Police Chief, Sanjiv Gupta, suspended other five police personnel including the ASI. An eye witness account revealed that the police officers posed as militants and took away Dharam Singh to extort money.

The families wiped out

The IHRO investigated and produced a series of reports suggesting false encounter killings in hundreds. A new phenomenon in evidence during the intervening period has been elimination of whole families including women and children. These killings have not only been disowned but also denounced by known militant groups including Panthic committees. Nevertheless, the media and the public opinion as a whole have been led to believe that the militants groups in Punjab were the culprits. However, the IHRO investigations do not bear out this charge fully. The militants groups do engage themselves in political assassinations of government security forces and police officials, members of rival factions and known police informers. However,

they invariably claim responsibility for the killings.

Much has been written by the IHRO about the counter-militant death squads sponsored by the State and other vigilante groups. The case in hand investigated by the IHRO team comprising Gurbhajan Singh Gill, Mukeshinder Singh Dhillon and Naib Singh pertains to the killing of two young Sikhs of Tibba village in Sangrur District by the police and its “Cats” on April 8. The team met several villagers including parents of the victims and recorded their

statements.

According to the investigation report, both Kuldip Singh alias Deepa (23) and Karnail Singh alias Happy (20) of Tibba village were picked up on the night of April 8 at bout 11.30 PM by con stable Gurcharan Singh of Sherpur police station, police “Cat” Devinder Singh Rasheen and a gang of six armed men posing them selves as militants. The young persons were killed the same night at a nearby drain outside the village.

Posing militants, Police kill Sikhs and Hindus

Quoting an eye witness account, the report adds that the Sherpur police first picked up Kuldip Singh from his house in the presence of his father and then they went to Karnail Singh’s house. He was not there. His father informed them that he did not turn up that night. He might be at his shop in Gandasinghwala, a nearby village. They rushed to that village and picked up Karnail Singh from there. The eyewitnesses revealed that a red Hero Honda motorcycle (PIT- 4782) was used in picking up both the Sikh “boys”.

According to the IHRO information, the motorcycle was forcibly taken from Jaloor village where the gang left the earlier stolen Chetak Scooter (PB-11-784). The same gang had forcibly taken Dr. Gokal Khan’s jeep from the Gandasinghwala village and killed Rekha Rani, a Hindu woman, in Kheri village. The villagers raised their voice against these killings and organised themselves to put pressure on the district police chief. The gang members were arrested in the presence of the public and later set free. It was a no more than eyewash since the culprits were roaming around freely and threatening Lakhbir Singh alias Jassi, the brother of Kuldip Singh and the other

eyewitnesses.

“What, hand-cuffs for me ?”

When constable Gurcharan Singh was being hand-cuffed along with others by the police officials in the presence of Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), SSP and DSP, Sukhdev Singh Chhina under pressure of over 15000 persons gathered there, he protested saying that “first I am asked to murder certain targets and now I am being hand-cuffed by the same officers. It is injustice”.

During the investigation some very interesting facts came to the notice of the team:

1. When Kuldip Singh was being over-powered by Constable Gurcharan Singh and Devinder Singh, Kuldip Singh had bitten them with his teeth. Gurcharan Singh when confronted by the villagers, was asked to put off his uniform and teeth marks were found on his body.

2. Early in the morning of April 9, Devinder Singh along with a plain clothed constable visited the house of Karnail Singh Happy and had warned him that he would be killed by the night. That was the reason why Karnail Singh preferred to sleep at his shop at Gandasinghwala and not at his residence in village Tibba.

3. When the police party had gone to the house of Sukhdev Singh in search of Karnail Singh, Sukhdev Singh had told his wife that the party was from Sherpur Police Station. He was beaten by the police officers with rifle butts telling Sukhdev Singh that they were “militants”, not police officers.

4. The SSP Sangrur issued Devinder Singh a revolver but during the last Chhapar Mela, he lost it. When it could not be traced, the SSP issued another revolver to Devinder Singh and no action was taken against him because he had been committing crimes at the instance of the Police.

IHRO on April 19, while making its report public and giving a lie to the police version as reported in a section of the press, regretted that the media carried the police story without verifying the facts. IHRO also called upon the print media to make spot investigations as the police often commit such crimes in the guise of militants.

The police high-ups involved in the killings

The fact that the culprits in this case were first “arrested” under pressure from the public and subsequently released clandestinely shows that high-ups in the police are involved in these killings and they are directly encouraging the `Cats’ to commit such crimes to put the blame on the Sikh youths. The IHRO recommended that the entire matter should be thoroughly investigated and persons responsible for extra-judicial killings and their mentors should be proceeded against howsoever-high positions they may occupy. Apart from State-sponsored secret squads, “Cats” and police in uniform indulging in unlawful activities, individual gangs also operate to extort money from the people. A report from Patiala says that police after a chase arrested (May 11) Madan Gopal and Vinod Kumar, (sons of Pandit Banwari Lal, resident of Naleen Kalan) from near village Panjola. They were responsible for writing threatening letters to their targets. The Patiala police chief, Satish Kumar Sharma, publicly confirmed that a car bearing a false registration number, in which they were fleeing, had been recovered from them.

A married woman raped in police station

IHRO received a complaint from Patiala to the effect that three officials of Amloh police station had, criminally assaulted Paramjit Kaur (wife of Gursewak Singh, a resident of Ladpur). In a representation to the SSP Patiala, on March 19 she stated that Amloh police picked up her and

her husband on February 11 last apprehending his husband’s involvement in some criminal case. While her husband was kept in the lock-up, two constables took her to the office of the SHO where they allegedly raped her. She has claimed that she brought the incident to the notice of

the Judicial Magistrate in whose court she was produced at Fatehgarh Sahib on February 16. The suspensions, arrests and registration of criminal cases against the vigilante groups, police “Cats” and security forces personnel notwithstanding, they are rarely punished. Nor the administration is interested in doing so. There do exist legal safeguards for the victims on paper but these are never applied in practice. Parents or next of kin of the victims have been moving from pillar to post to know the whereabouts of their wards but generally to no avail.

The murder of two innocent namesakes

There is a typical case of this nature. According to a complaint made to the Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, two namesakes (One Harpal Singh belonging to Gaggerwal and another to Waring Mohanpur villages in Tarn Taran area) were picked up from the house of a bank manager in Mohni Park locality near Khalsa College, Amritsar in the afternoon of October 3 last year. The two youths, according to their parents, had gone to the city on October 3 to attend to domestic chores and the police did not want them in any case. Harpal Singh of Waring Mohanpur was employed in a private firm at Tarn Taran. Both were married and had one child each.

The next day (October 4), there was a report published in a newspaper about two unidentified youths having been killed in an encounter with the police in the Sultanwind locality during the intervening night. Sensing foul play, the parents approached an Akali leader, Harbhajan Singh Sandhu, who inquired from the local police. The police at first denied having taken any Harpal Singh in custody. However, later, a senior officer confirmed that the two were “let off” after a few hours of detention.

Inquiries with the police about the identity of the youths killed in the city on the night of October 3 did not yield anything. Mounting public pressure made the police show the photographs of the “killed, unidentified militants”, whose bodies were cremated without being declared unclaimed for at least 24 hours. The parents recognised the photographs as those of their missing wards. The police, however, insisted that the youths were not named Harpal Singh and refused to show the clothes of the deceased to their parents.

Several local leaders took up the matter with the Deputy Commissioner, but nothing came out. It was on the intervention of the then State Chief Secretary, S L Kapoor that a magisterial inquiry was ordered into the episode. The inquiry conducted by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, L D Hans, has clearly established that the police without the registration of any case against them rounded up the youths.

Top police officials boycott the inquiry

Magistrate Hans submitted his report to the Deputy Commissioner, Sarabjit Singh in April and he reportedly accepted the findings. During the conduct of the probe, lasting nearly five months, the magistrate cross-examined more than two dozen independent witnesses and junior police personnel. He also collected circumstantial evidence from various sources before reaching the conclusion.

However, surprisingly enough, none of the police officials including SSP, Sanjiv Gupta, connected with the disappearance of the youths, turned up before the inquiry officer despite repeated summons. The report noted that the police had failed to establish that the youth were let off. It also did not pinpoint the responsibility of any official.

Several eyewitnesses, who deposed before the magistrate confirmed that the said youths were apprehended in full public view and severely beaten up before being bundled into the police vehicles. The inquiry report also noted that the police did not record the rounding up of the two youths nor was any weapon recovered from them. The police could not relate the place and time of their “release” and did not even mention at whose guarantee were they let off.

Sanjiv Gupta maintained that he had not so far received a copy of the report. He, however, insisted that the police let off the said youths. The police, he told the media, did not maintain the record of each person apprehended for questioning. Instead of further investigating the matter as suggested by the magistrate, the administration is learnt to have closed the matter. The Deputy Commissioner has written to the parents of the youths merely informing them that the inquiry could not trace their sons and that they were not

in police custody.

The parents of the youths have now decided to sue in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to get justice. God knows what justice will the parents get from the High Court as the judicial authorities failed to prosecute any police offenders. Moreover, the recent amendment to the CrPC insulating the police and security forces personnel against any probable legal action is a pointer to the shape of things to come.

A clean-chit for Brigadier Sinha

A statement by the Punjab Government spokesman, reported in a section of the press on April 13, giving a clean chit to a Brigadier (R P Sinha of the Indian Army) who abused and insulted Panches and Sarpanches of the Amritsar district at village Sarangra on March 8 and who had made derogatory remarks about their womenfolk, is a clear signal that “The king can do no wrong”.

The IHRO investigations showed that the Brigadier had threatened the villagers that all male members would be killed and their women folk taken to army camps to breed a new race if there was any militant activity in their villages. The Brigadier’s activities reveal the worth of the Prime Minister’s claim that the army was deployed in the State for conducting “routine

exercises”. Killing of six innocent Sikh farmers at Nathuke Burj village in Amritsar district by the army is also a telling story of how the army is conducting itself in Punjab.

According to information collected from different channels by the IHRO, six villagers of Nathu Chak riding an ox-driven cart were on their way to petrol pump to fetch diesel in the early hours of February 26. As they neared Nathuke Burj village, they were asked by an ambush party of the Army to stop. They did not heed the order. The army personnel opened fire without warning, killing four of them on the spot and injuring the other two. The tow succumbed to their injuries before being shifted to hospital. The incident took place around 4.15 a m. By 6:00 AM, a large number of villagers from the surrounding areas gathered and sat on dharna around the dead bodies…. :

http://www.ihro.in/images/INDO-US.pdf (Indo-US Shadow Over Punjab, pp 51-58)

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