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Bhai Kulwant Singh

INDIA LIQUIDATED SIKH LAWYERS AND THEIR RELATIONS

Bhai Kulwant Singh with his Family
India prides itself as a great democracy governed by rule of law. This claim is belied by the reality. There is hardly any rule of law or democracy in practice. The shocking incident involving the deaths of an advocate of Ropar in Punjab, his spouse and their minor son at the hands of the police, is a grim reminder of the ugly face of the Indian state terrorism. Indian state has launched a murderous campaign against Sikh activists, their relations and defense lawyers in the state of Punjab that reached its lowest ebb when a young Sikh advocate Kulwant Singh Saini, his spouse Amarjit Kaur and 18-month-old son Karanbir, were clandestinely liquidated by the police.

The International Human Rights Organization (IHRO) received information that Kulwant Singh along with his spouse and son had been picked up by the Ropar police on January 25, 1993, from (near) the Ropar police station. They had gone there to bring back one Manjit Kaur and her son of their village Budha Bheora who had been arrested earlier that day. Before continuing to the police station, Kulwant Singh telephoned Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Ropar, and Jaspal Singh, who had assured him that the woman and her son would be released by the evening. The Station House Officer (SHO), Ropar confirmed that the DSP had ordered their release and asked the advocate to take the woman and her son to their village. Kulwant Singh, his spouse and their son drove to the Ropar police station.

The Ropar District Bar Association lawyers on January 27 went on strike demanding police action to locate their colleague and his family. Later, all district and sub-divisional bars in the States of Punjab and Haryana joined the strike. On February 8, the Ropar police chief Sanjiv Gupta claimed that the lawyer and two members of his family had been kidnapped and killed on January 28 by two Sikh militants and that their bodies had been pushed into the Bhakra Mainline Canal and the bodies had been washed away. The police further claimed that the two militants, who had surrendered to the police and had confessed the crime, committed suicide hours before the police made announcement in this regard. Interestingly, the police announcement came after more than 5000 lawyers of the Chandigarh High Court struck work to protest against what until then was known as the disappearance of Kulwant Singh and his family.

An IHRO two-member team had thoroughly investigated the matter. Significantly, the police kept silence about the incident for two weeks even when there were repeated media reports about the disappearance. The police made no efforts to make even a show of inquiring into the disappearance. The story of kidnapping by militants was concocted only after lawyers at Chandigarh went on strike. According to IHRO investigations, the police itself telephoned the advocate on January 25 at 9 PM to reach the Ropar City Police Station to take away the woman and her son who were in the custody of the police and the advocate had been following up the case with the police to seek their release. In fact, he had been asked by the Budha Bheora village panchayat (council) to help them for their release. And it was about this case that the advocate had gone to the police station. Evidently, the police un-acknowledgedly arrested him along with his spouse and son only to bump off into the canal together with their Maruti car (No DAQ 3804).

There are holes in the police story that leaves no one in doubt in Punjab that it is a cold-blooded murder not only of the advocate but also his spouse and son. The motive behind the so-called kidnapping shown by the police is that the advocate had been opposing the militants’ plan to surrender before the police. This false plea was dismissed by thousands of lawyers of Punjab and Haryana who organized sit-in protests seeking a judicial inquiry into the murders by the police.

Kulwant Singh’s father Jagir Singh Saini told the IHRO team that the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police himself admitted before him the custody of his son, daughter-in-law and grandson on February 5. He also told that the claim of the police that two militants had kidnapped and killed his son and his family was totally wrong because one of the so-called militants, Harprit Singh had been produced by the Bagarpur village panchayat before the Ropar police a week earlier to the incident. “Then, how could he commit the crime?” Jagir Singh questioned the IHRO team.

On March 2, 1993, thousands of lawyers from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh held a demonstration near the Punjab Government offices at Chandigarh and later courted arrest in support of their demand for a judicial inquiry into the murder of Kulwant Singh, his spouse and their child. Earlier, the lawyers held a rally on the High Court premises, criticizing the Punjab Chief Minister, Beant Singh, and the Director General of Police (DGP), Punjab, KPS Gill (The detailed report is Annexure-A).

In a tragic commentary on India’s democracy, the DGP KPS Gill reportedly vetoed a move to hold a judicial inquiry into the matter. Beant Singh reportedly told a deputation of lawyers of Chandigarh that he was all for a judicial probe but his police chief did not want it. The chief minister clearly indicated that the police chief was fully aware of the captivity of the advocate and his family. Some circles even suggest that the murders have taken place at the instance of KPS Gill (WSN: February 26, 1993).

Unfortunately, the Government did not take notice of the closure of the courts for over three months. The lawyers ultimately had to stop their agitation in the interest of their clients. What is worse is that the chief justice and judges of the Punjab and Haryana high court remained mute witness to the drama. They even rejected a writ petition regarding these murders on technical grounds.

The IHRO also sought a judicial inquiry into the matter, while releasing its report to the press on February 17. Amnesty International, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (Lawyer to Lawyer Network) and other world human rights groups and some of the democratic governments have also written to the Indian Government in this regard, but to no avail. Kulwant Singh and his family have been liquidated for his professional activities as lawyer. He has been rendering legal aid to most of Sikh political and Khalistan activists in law courts. He was also general secretary of the Akali Dal from Ropar district.

Earlier, Jagwinder Singh (25), an advocate of Kapurthala (Punjab) was “arrested” on September 25, 1992, and now suspected to be eliminated by the police in custody. He was picked up by three police officers from his home in Mohalla Laxmi Nagar, Kapurthala, on September 25, at about 6 AM. The police officers had informed him in the presence of his family members that they were from the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA), staff, Kapurthala. They told the advocate that Kapurthala Senior Superintendent of Police wanted to get his legal advice on some matter. The Kapurthala police later denied his arrest, while members of lawyer’s family witnessed the police party taking him away in the police Gypsy van.

Jagwinder Singh’s father, Sukhdev Singh, and mother, Nasib Kaur, told the IHRO: “We can identify the police officers." As in the case of Kulwant Singh, the lawyers' community in the state of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh observed strike for more than two months in protest against Jagwinder Singh’s disappearance at the hands of the police but the State Administration did not move an inch. Whereabouts of the lawyer remained elusive. He, too, has been defending Sikh activists in law courts. He was earlier a member of the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF). He has been harmed for his political views and professional responsibilities.

A year earlier, yet another advocate, Ranbir Singh Mansahia of Bathinda was abducted by the police on September 11, 1991, from his home early in the morning. The lawyers agitated against his abduction. The abductors were armed police officers in mufti. The advocate was bundled into a car and taken away. According to the Bathinda District Bar Association’s subsequent inquiry, the abductors were police officers who were sent there by the then SSP, Faridkot, Swaran Singh. The lawyers protested against Mansahia’s disappearance for over a month, but nothing came out. The IHRO could not make out whether he was made to suffer for his professional activities or for settling private scores, or for some ransom.

The Ropar, Kapurthala and Bathinda incidents involving the clandestine elimination of three Sikh lawyer activists and Kulwant Singh’s spouse and their infant son by the police are merely a tip of the vast iceberg of murders and disappearances. It is now a routine affair in Punjab for the police to disappear or kill any one they like. The police itself is the judge, prosecutor and executioner. This trend needs to be checked immediately in the interest of humanity. We in IHRO, therefore, urge the international community, democratic governments and public opinion to take note of these state barbarities and exert pressure on the Government of India to put and end to these gruesome murders.