Every time I sat down to pen this piece, I was stopped by a voice within. It shouted to me:
“You will be labelled a Khalistani. You will be abused, slandered and trolled by thousands. Your loyalties will be questioned, upbringing will be targeted and you might even be threatened with murder.”
I finally stood up and shouted back. The story started two weeks ago when Jagtar Singh Johal, a UK citizen, was arrested by the Punjab Police. He was travelling with his newly-wedded wife and a female cousin when their car was apprehended by plain-clothed policemen and Jagtar was forcibly put into a van with a sack on his head.
The incident happened around Jalandhar and his wife was told nothing except that he is being taken to Faridkot. Jagtar is a UK-born Sikh man with no immediate family in Punjab, except his grandaunt who lives in the ancestral village. He was on a visit to the state in order to tie the marital knot which he did with much fanfare on October 18.
With the dramatic arrest, the ordeal had just begun. Jagtar wasn’t taken to Faridkot but instead to Bagha Purana and it took days for his kin to locate him. To add to it, there was no FIR filed against his name and nobody, including his lawyers, was allowed to meet him.
When he was finally presented in court, it was told that he was being held on the grounds of financing the purchase of weapons used in the killing of prominent Hindu leaders in Punjab.
The same day, Jagtar alleged that he was being brutally tortured by the police through electrocution of his ear lobes, nipples and genitals, and was being coerced into a confession. On the other side, the police raided his in-laws’ house and harassed his wife’s family for multiple days.
They took the male members of his in-laws’ family into detention and allegedly asked questions such as “when did you last go to Pakistan” and “what do you think about the idea of Khalistan”. The police also paid a visit to his grandaunt and, after questioning her, disconnected her landline phone – her only means of staying connected with the family.
The Sikh population in the UK has taken the episode seriously and there have been widespread protests to put pressure on the nation to intervene.
Earlier, the police weren’t allowing British consulate officers to meet Jagtar, but after 175 UK MPs came forward in his support, the officers were finally given permission.
The behaviour of the investigators has been strikingly notorious all the way. As an example, they did not allow Jagtar to retain the warm clothing that his lawyers and family had brought for him. His supporters in the UK fear that he has been targeted for the magazine he runs highlighting the Sikh genocide of 1984 and amid claims that he was “influencing the youth through social media”.
What is worth noting is that the police are yet to ascertain what they want to charge Jagtar with. Over the days, they have come up with different stories.
An officer who did not want to be named told newspapers that the police had been keeping an eye on his Facebook profile for long and “we visited every person who had made a comment on fiery posts of Johal endorsing Khalistan and other issues of radicals. Some key radicals were zeroed in on, and by using our sources in the UK we kept on tracking Johal’s links with other groups. It was found that he was actively associated with the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and knew some pro-Khalistani forces in Pakistan as well”.
In another account, the police mentioned that they are finding clues to ascertain whether Johal was aware that the money, which he was sending through hawala, was to be used for buying weapons for the killings or he was just made a scapegoat for using hawala money to park his business profits.
As Indians we are not startled much by such sagas and this seems just another story of police excess. What is worrying though is the stereotypical trend that has started to emerge in Punjab since the last year.
As many would know, before the 2017 state elections, the AAP had a strong wave and was poised to sweep Punjab as predicted by pollsters left and right. To counter some of the NRI support for AAP, Congress’s CM contender Capt Amarinder Singh was supposed to visit Canada but was legally blocked by a Sikh organisation of North America.
He was so miffed that he vowed not to ask for NRI support and threatened them with not letting them ever visit Punjab if he came to power.
The strategists in the Congress came up with the idea of using the blockage to their advantage. They started pitching AAP as a party funded by Khalistani NRIs, and as a result won handsomely on the urban and Hindu vote.
Had it stopped at just being an election strategy, it wouldn’t have been troublesome but since then, the Captain has not been willing to meet Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan, has spoken openly against newly-elected Canadian NDP chief Jagmeet Singh and openly labelled the Canadian government and its several ministers as pro-Khalistan.
In Jagtar’s case, through the Punjab Police DGP, the state government has attacked the British government for being complicit in Khalistani terrorist activities. The exact statement was: “We have enough leads with us that the British government was aware of such plots being run on their land and the mingling of ISI sleuths with the Sikh extremists in that country.”
The fear I want to express here is about the subsequent alienation of not only the Punjabi NRIs but of responsible and developed countries worldwide. In his quest to appease the specific radical Hindu base, the Captain might end up pushing Punjab back to the black days, intentionally or otherwise.
As a layman, it is hard for me to believe that a mastermind of numerous killings will come all the way from UK to India, endangering his freedom, when he was anyway getting his plan executed comfortably from UK.
On the other hand, it is relatively easier for me to see this as an attempt of the current dispensation to serve their narrative, but maybe it is just me.
If for a moment we do believe the story being projected by the police, even then the treatment being meted out to Jagtar is uncalled for. Would the police and administration have behaved in the same manner had it been a white guy from the UK?
Ponder over this thought and you would understand why all of this is happening to Jaggi, the name Jagtar’s friends know him by back home, in Scotland.