Urgent Need For Establishing the Truth
In 1991 the 'Movement Against State Repression' (MASR) prepared a draft format for conducting a census into human rights violations in Punjab on an annual basis beginning with 1984. The scheme was discussed with several other human rights groups and their suggestions were incorporated. In 1992, the Punjab Civil Service officers went on strike to protest police highhandedness and criminality. At that time, the Punjab Civil Service Association submitted a memorandum to the governor of Punjab demanding a judicial commission to investigate instances of criminal misconduct. Also in 1992 – February to be precise – Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal demanded a fresh inquiry into the November, 1984, genocide and punishment of the guilty.
'Movement Against State Repression' found the time opportune to formalise its own concerns regarding fake encounters, tortures, custodial deaths and disappearances into a comprehensive scheme for a census that would cover the entire state. Few non-government organisations are capable of mobilising a large number of investigators at village level; the most suitable were the Akali Dals, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the Bharatiya Kisan Unions and the census proposal was placed before these organisations.
In 1993, human rights groups – Movement Against State Repression, the Punjab Human Rights Organisation and People’s Union for Civil Liberties – three former advocates-generals of Punjab, had petitioned the United Nations to conduct such a census. The UN’s response was sympathetic but many formalities and clearances stood in the way.
By 1995, the situation had improved somewhat. At the invitation of the UN Human Rights Commission, the Movement Against State Repression submitted a report on the human rights situation in Punjab coverng the years 1984 to 1994. The proposal for a census was submitted along with the report. But it was not until 1997, when a normal poll with reasonable voter turn-out brought back a freely elected government, that these organisations could hope to attempt a systematic focus on human rights violations
Before the Akali Party formed the government in 1997, it had pressed for an inquiry into the genocide of Sikhs in November 1984 at Delhi and other places. The Akali manifesto declared that, if elected, the government would set up a commission to investigate excesses in Punjab during the period 1984 to 1997: a full government inquiry into violent deaths and disappearances during the preceding 15 years was promised. The Akalis were voted to power largely because of this assurance. While the Akali government continued to talk about Punjab, under pressure from their coalition partner, the BJP, they reneged on their commitment to set up a commission of inquiry. Others felt that the Akalis were not interested in such an investigation as they had skeletons to hide.
On October 25, 1998, a hundred eminent scholars and representatives of Sikh institutions wrote to Chief Minister Badal:
Recalling your repeated assurances in the ears before the 1997 elections and the manifesto of the Akali Party, we know you are aware of the need to inquire into human rights violations in Punjab during Operation Bluestar and the 15 years that followed. Indeed, your coalition partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party is also interested in such an inquiry and even your political opponents, the Communist parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Akali Dal – Amritsar, as well as many smaller parties, have also urged an official investigation into that turbulent period in the state’s history.
The SGPC and your party have repeatedly demanded that the Central Government conduct an investigation into the October 1984 genocide in Delhi and other states. On October 24, the SGPC president, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, again demanded that the BJP government investigate the 1984 genocide. We cannot expect the BJP government to take this demand seriously if the state of Punjab has itself done nothing to investigate Operation Bluestar and human rights violations in the years up to the formation of your ministry within the borders of your own state.
Refusal or delay in taking up such an investigation can only lead to accusations against some members of your government and the Akali Party; it may be construed that they have something to hide and therefore are not interested in pursuing the truth. When the Congress ruled Punjab, the then Chief Ministers were also approached with the proposal to conduct a census; their disinterest in the project was taken to imply too close an involvement of the party in unsavoury or illegal events of the period.
Conducting a census into human rights violations will be a powerful deterrent to the commission of human rights violations in future. It would be a path-breaking move in India and would have a salutary effect on the conduct of law-enforcement and anti-insurgency operations in all parts of the world and would be considered similar to Nelson Mandela’s commission for truth and reconciliation in South Africa.
A list of killings and disappearances in Punjab, as per the records of the Punjab Police and other investigating agencies, has already been sent to you by the Movement Against State Repression.For easy reference, we enclose another copy. This brings home the enormity of violations.
We hope that your government will set an example of commitment to the rule of law and right to information by taking up this census. Fears that such a census would ‘open wounds’ are unfounded. Rather, this measure would provide relief and consolation to thousands of greiving parents who do not know whether their sons are alive or dead;.
In February, 1997, a proposal for a census was put before the newly elected Punjab govt with a copy to the Union govt. But already other priorities had surfaced and nothing more was heard of the inquiry, nor was there any response to the census proposal.
Meanwhile in 1997, the Supreme Court directed the National Human Rights Commission to look into the matter of cremation of police victims as unidentified bodies. Both the government of Punjab and the Central govt opposed involving the National Human Rights Commission on the ground that the mandate of the commission did not permit due to one-year bar. On Sept 11 1998, the SC ruled
…there is no reason why the Commission at the request of the Supreme Court cannot look into the violation of human rights even though the period of limitation indicated in sector 36(2) might have expired … the matter relating to 585 fully identified bodies has already been referred to the commission which has rightly held itself to be a body sui generis in the instant case.
Subsequently the inquiry identified more than 1500 bodies and compensation was paide to next of kin – but the culprits were not punished.
It is further said that the commission, led by the Supreme Court Chief Justice who expounded and enforced fundamental rights, is truly an expert body to which reference has been made by the court in the instant case. Terming the unceremonius cremation of thousands of bodies with the label unidentified as “horrifying”, the court had earlier ordered the CBI to investigate the matter to determine and establish issues such as culpability of those responsible for violation of human rights while the National Human Rights Commission was asked to inquire into other facets of the case.
The CBI conconcluded that the Punjab Police cremated a very large number of bodies as unclaimed and identified. The report raised several questions:
– Was there any public notice asking people to identiy the bodies?
– How did they die?
– Whose bodies were these?
– Was any record maintained in relevant police stations?
– Were any post mortems done?
Almost as many people were admittedly killed in Punjab per year for the next 10 years as were killed in the Delhi riots in 1984. After coming to power in Punjab along with the BJP, the party has developed a convenient amnesia where its earlier commitment to human rights is concerned. At least two lakh citizens were killed during the 10 years of militancy in Punjab. A memo submitted to the Punjab Governor in 1986, the Punjab Civil Service Officers Association averred that around 2 lakh persons had been killed. The death of even a single man should not pass unnoticed … how grave then is the death of lakhs? Such an investigation is indeed necessary.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All