After the publication of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) notice in the Punjab illegal cremations matter, victims’ kin from other districts have questioned when they will receive justice.  As per its January 13, 1999 order, the NHRC limited its inquiry to three crematoria in Amritsar district, despite the pattern of disappearances throughout Punjab and the broad mandate handed to it by the Supreme Court:

The wounds have re-opened with the publication of a list of identified and unidentified youths killed in alleged fake encounters and cremated as unclaimed bodies in the three districts. The families are upset that despite their representations to the NHRC and the CBI, they have not been included in the list.

Most of the families are neck deep in debt and have already sold their land to meet the expenses of seeking legal justice, education of children and making the two ends meet.

Articles have appeared in national and local media, highlighting the plight of survivors.

On July 28, Ram Narayan Kumar and Ashok Agrwaal of the Committee for Information and Initiative in Punjab held a press conference in Chandigarh where they discussed their plan to focus on legal research:

The committee is petitioner in a case before the National Human Rights Commission pertaining to mass disappearances in Punjab. Addressing a press conference this morning, its members added that they would now “focus on legal research, besides building of clarity and solidarity on the issues like the principles of liability, in understanding aggregated violations, which the matter of cremations encompasses, and in developing standards to legally capture and quantify suffering, damages and losses for the purpose of evolving standards of reparation”.

Member Ram Narayan Kumar asserted, “We have done the work of documentation all these years with the objective to ensure that the matter of police abductions leading to illegal cremations proceeds on a factual basis. The matter must also conclude in terms of fundamental human rights guarantees available to the victim of abuse of power within the domestic and international human rights law framework. That requires a clear division of work and sharing of responsibilities. We expect the Association of Families of the Disappeared in Punjab, formed in January, to guide the victim’s families in Punjab in filing their complaints and claims in a prescribed format”.

The committee, he added, “will not get involved in the details of discussions about the compensation, and will concentrate on assisting the Association and the NHRC in the other remaining issues”.

In an article in the Tribune, attempting to revert to the rhetoric of terrorism whenever human rights issues come to the fore, P.P.S. Gill wrote of the excess of cases filed against Punjab police officers, highlighting the number dismissed by the High Court.  “A Judicial Blackout: Judicial Impunity for Disappearances in Punjab, India,” appearing in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, however, highlights the Court’s failure to apply the law to human rights cases filed on behalf of disappeared Sikhs.  For example:

Several High Court justices and lawyers described the judiciary’s attempts to ignore disappearances and “sweep the matter under the carpet.”[96] The High Court’s reliance on the police’s denial or its lack of motive as evidence of its innocence shows that the High Court did not intend to investigate these allegations. In Swinder Singh v. Punjab, Justice R. L. Anand dismissed the petition, asserting, “The directions sought by the petitioner cannot be printed in view of the categorical stand of the State that Mandeep Singh and Harvinder Singh were killed in a genuine encounter.”[97] Thus, the mere fact of the police denial led the judiciary to conclude that the petitioner’s allegations lacked merit and did not constitute a prima facie case of disappearance….

Although there is no statute of limitations for writ petitions, justices dismissed numerous petitions on the grounds of delay. At least nine of the cases I studied were dismissed for delay, six of which came from the bench of Justice R. L. Anand. He initially told me that cases are never dismissed for delay. When I questioned Justice Anand regarding his dismissals and whether fear of police reasonably explained the delay, he justified his dismissals. If people waited to file a case, that meant their grievances were not genuine: “If a man has kith or kin who have been detained illegally, he will rise to the High Court like anything… people are very vigilant of their rights.”[110] Supreme Court lawyer Ashok Agrwaal criticized the use of delay to dismiss petitions. Not only did early dismissal because of delay fail to acknowledge the reasons for delay, such as police harassment, people’s lack of knowledge of legal options, and people’s desire to use non-legal methods, but the dismissal also spoke to the general climate of impunity. Police merely had to harass possible petitioners for three years in order to defeat their petitions in court.

Reports published in this period by several national and international human rights organizations show that security forces used forced disappearances, custodial torture and extrajudicial executions as routine aspects of its counter-insurgency operations.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the police counter-insurgency operation as “the most extreme example of a policy in which the end appeared to justify any and all means, including torture and murder.”  While the government of India vehemently denied the accusations, it refused to allow UN human rights mechanisms and non-governmental organizations to visit Punjab to investigate and verify the truth. As part of its counter-insurgency operation, the Indian government passed several draconian laws that sanctioned police impunity.

Like an alarmist with no evidence backing his statement, PPS Gill even hints that these human rights cases are filed on the urging of Pakistan.  Instead of acknowledging the role of knowledge, justice and reparation in bringing true peace and justice, Gill warns that steps to address the abuses of the police counterinsurgency movement will “keep Punjab on the boil.”  Gill attempts to portray the achievements of the police, ignoring the role of the police in fabricating “evidence,” planting weapons, and filing false cases against victims. 

In May 2003, the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP) released the first volume of its Final Report, titled Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab. This 634-page volume contains extensive documentation and analysis of hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killing of victims by the security forces in Punjab during the political unrest of the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as an analysis of legislative, judicial and administrative impunity. Included in this first volume are more than 500 testimonies by the families of the victims describing 672 cases of extrajudicial executions by the police in the district of Amritsar alone.  As Peter Rosenblum notes in his preface to this volume, the careful analysis by the authors allows the reader to “pierce through the thick veils of ideology, intrigue and ‘state security’ that obscure our understanding of the campaign to pacify Punjab.”  The note on the use of TADA—a key example of draconian counterinsurgency legislation—challenges the Punjab state’s claims that the majority of the victims were criminals.


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