Tuesday, May 8

Fake kills, real issues

Punjab has yet to come to terms with what it suffered for more than a decade, but there are still answers to be had before the state can move, writes Hindustan Times in its series Killers in Uniform.

“Extra-judicial killings are de facto state policy in india... they continue to occur with alarming frequency... and the central govt has failed to prevent such occurrences” — South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre in a written statement to the UN panel in 2003

The gujarat fake encounter case has brought back memories of “escapes” and “encounters” involving terrorists — which, in fact, were nothing but extra-judicial killings — in Punjab. Former police chief of Punjab Julio Riberio was said to have instituted the “bullet for bullet” strategy in 1986-87, another name for encounter killings. His successors, especially K.P.S. Gill, fine-tuned the policy The . macabre result was that a number of top terrorists arrested were subsequently reported to have “escaped”. They have not been heard of since; the presumption is they were shot.
An additional factor was the provision of bounty anywhere between Rs 10 and 30 lakh for particular terrorists. This provided great incentive for false encounters where low-grade militants and others were killed and passed off as top terrorists. To erase telltale signs, the wide network of irrigation canals was used to dump the bodies. Besides, the cremation grounds in Amritsar and Tarn Taran were used to cremate the unidentified ones among them.
During the past few months, a number of well-known terrorists, who were supposed to have been killed in encounters, with money on their head claimed, have surfaced. What now comes out is that those who were actually bumped off in their place as “terrorists” were either peripheral criminals or, worse, innocent citizens.
While in Gujarat different dimensions of the fake encounter case un fold, in Punjab the real face of the “encounter killings” is popping out from police files, in many cases after great labour on the part of victims’ families, courts, human rights activists and, of course, the media.
The stories revisited by HT in Punjab include those of people who faced charges varying from none to terrorism. The one that stands out is that of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra from Amritsar, as it was a killing that was not only extra-judicial in itself, but also an attempt to cover up “thousands of other such eliminations”. And the one string that runs through all of them is the utmost effort of the state police to keep the truth from emerging, little surprise, though.

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