Security in Punjab going from bad to worse, says ‘sarpanch’ Harbhajan Singh Dhatt
BY RATTAN MALL
EVEN 25 years after Punjab Police murdered Kuljit Singh Dhatt, his older brother, Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, who is the son-in-law of Indian independence hero “Shaheed” Bhagat Singh’s sister Parkash Kaur of Toronto, is still seeking justice.
Harbhajan Dhatt, who is the sarpanch (elected head of the village government) of Ambalan Jattan village in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, told The VOICE on Wednesday that the High Court has issued a notice to the State of Punjab and the three accused for November for the enhancement of their sentences. Well-known lawyer Rajwinder Singh Bains is representing Dhatt.
Last May, an additional sessions judge convicted the three surviving police officers accused in Kuljit Dhatt’s murder back in 1989 – SPS Basra, Jaspal Singh, and Sita Ram – under sections 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) of the Indian Penal Code. They were sentenced to five years in prison and were fined Rs.210,000 each.
However, Harbhajan Dhatt wants the charge against all of the accused to be enhanced to murder.
ACCORDING to the account from the website ensaff.org (http://www.ensaaf.org/dhatt/report), “Kuljit Singh was the director of Bhogpur Sugar Mill and had served as sarpanch of village Ambalan Jattan since 1978. He was also a member of the governing council of the Khalsa College and the Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Gardiwala.”
It said: “On July 23, 1989, around 8:30 a.m., Punjab policemen, led by then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, abducted Kuljit Singh Dhatt, Gurmel Singh, Surjit Singh, and other individuals from Gurmel Singh’s house in village Garhi.”
Later, everybody except Kuljit Dhatt, was released.
The account states, “Although the police abducted and killed Kuljit Singh Dhatt on July 23, 1989, they later concocted a story implicating Kuljit Singh in the July 19, 1989 murder of a local villager Iqbal Singh. According to the police and their records, on July 26, 1989, the police apprehended Kuljit Singh and he confessed to the murder of Iqbal Singh. Then, after a few hours, around 2 to 3 a.m. in the morning, they took him to the River Beas, where he confessed he had hidden weapons.
“At this point, the police give two versions of events. In one version, recorded in First Information Report (FIR) No. 78, a police constable began digging in the sand for the weapons, but then Kuljit Singh ripped away his handcuffs, which were linked to the belt of a different constable, and, while still handcuffed, jumped into the river and escaped. In the second version, stated in affidavits submitted before the Supreme Court by police officers DSP Ajit Sandhu and SI Sita Ram (dated Nov. 4, 1989), Kuljit Singh himself started digging in the sand while handcuffed, and then ripped his handcuffs from the belt of a policeman and disappeared into the river.”
According to the account, “On September 11, 1989, after appeals to government officials fell on deaf ears, Parkash Kaur and Gurmeet Kaur filed a habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Court. … On March 30, 1990, the Supreme Court ordered the Punjab and Haryana High Court to appoint a retired Sessions Judge as a Commissioner of the Supreme Court, charged with conducting an inquiry into Dhatt’s disappearance. … It was almost two years before the Commission, led by Justice H.L. Randev, could begin its inquiry. … In October 1993, Justice H.L. Randev submitted his report, implicating five police officers in the unlawful killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt: namely Ajit S. Sandhu (who committed suicide in 1997, after serving as Senior Superintendent of Police), Jaspal Singh (in life imprisonment for murdering human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra), Sardool Singh (who died in 2008), SPS Basra (who retired in late 2013 as Deputy Inspector General), and Sita Ram.”
What followed were scandalous delays, but the Dhatts pursued the case relentlessly.
To cut a long story short, as The Tribune newspaper reported last May after the convictions: “The SC [Supreme Court] later ordered registration of a case against the accused policemen. They were booked for criminal conspiracy, abduction and illegal confinement. Parkash Kaur again moved the SC and after the SC rap, the FIR [First Information Report] was amended and Sections 364 (abduction with the motive of murder), 365, 466, 218, 201 and 120-B of the IPC were added. The accused moved the high court, seeking quashing of the FIR.
“The case remained pending in the high court for more than 14 years. Canada-based Parkash Kaur moved the Supreme Court, seeking early hearing.”
When the three surviving accused were convicted last May, the sentences just added insult to injury.
But Harbhajan Dhatt remains determined to get justice for his brother.
SECURITY GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE
HARBHAJAN Dhatt, who visited The VOICE office with well-known local activist and volunteer Raminderjit Singh Dhami, told me that the security situation in Punjab is going from bad to worse, thanks to the politicization of the police.
He said the sister of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Hoshiarpur is an MLA in the same jurisdiction. He was appointed a month ago. “What greater political interference can you have?’ he wondered.
He noted that whether it’s the Akali Dal or the Congress or the BJP, they just want to run the show according to their own whims. If they don’t like someone, they get a false case registered against that person.
Talking about the menace of drugs plaguing Punjab currently, Dhatt pointed out that other states bordering Pakistan (from where the drugs are being smuggled into India) – Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Jammu and Kashmir – did not have the same problem. “What is the state’s intelligence services doing about it? What are the police doing?” he asked. Even the adjoining state of Haryana and the union territory of Chandigarh did not have a drug problem.
He said Punjab had “no plan, focus or vision” on how to deal with the drug menace.
Just after the terrorist threat had been dealt with, Punjab is now facing the drug problem, he lamented.
Dhatt alleged that police themselves were harbouring criminal elements to do their dirty work, including grabbing land belonging to some Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). This was all well known.
He said that in Faridkot there had been 23 kidnappings in just one year [2013-14] – “that is the home district of the Chief Minister [Prakash Singh Badal]” – and no case has been solved.
“Ladies’ purse snatching” cases were rampant. “Why are these taking places and what measures are we taking to deal with them? This is all the result of the drug menace … laxity of police,” he added. “There is no purse snatchings in Chandigarh. Why is Punjab facing this problem? Haryana does not have this problem either.”
He blamed all the political parties for these problems.