The abduction of 15-year-old Shruti Sachdeva on September 24 on the home turf of the ruling Badal family by a 19-year-old criminal, Nishan Singh, cannot be seen as an isolated case. Rather, it speaks volumes about the fast deteriorating law and order situation across the state, where the police have simply become inept, lethargic and a political tool in the hands of the SAD-BJP leadership.
Standing testimony to this sad reality is the pat on the back the Faridkot police received from deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on September 23 for efficiently organising a mela (fair) in memory of Sheikh Farid. The very next day, when Shruti was dragged out of her Dogar Basti residence by Nishan and his five accomplices around 9.40am, the same police not only failed to perform their bare minimum duty but displayed incompetence and nonchalance. No arrests have been made, and the girl remains untraced.
In fact, instead of concentrating on nabbing the abductors, the top brass of the police -- including Bathinda inspector general (IG) Nirmal Singh Dhillon, the then Ferozepur DIG Paramraj Singh Umranangal and the then Faridkot senior superintendent of police (SSP) Gurinder Singh Dhilllon -- went into overdrive to establish that the girl had eloped with Nishan and even willfully married him at an undisclosed location.
Both Umranangal and Dhillon held a joint press conference on October 8 to release pictures of the so-called marriage ceremony of Nishan and Shruti. At no point did the police express concern that legally Shruti was still a minor, and the marriage was thus unlawful. Even Nishan, being below 21, could not have got married, legally speaking.
Worse still, Umranangal even went to Shruti's house on October 5 around 9pm, when her father Ashwani Kumar Sachdeva and mother Seema Sachdeva were in distress, and showed an envelope to them claiming that it contained a letter written by Shruti. Umranangal told them the letter said Shruti had gone away on her own. At no point, however, did he show them the actual letter allegedly handwritten by Shruti.
The DIG did take away some papers as samples of Shruti's handwriting, but no forensic examination of the letter has been done till date, three weeks and counting.
It is not the first time that Shruti has gone untraced. She was missing from her house from June 25 to July 27. When the police recovered her from Kharar, she said she was forcibly taken away by Nishan and have been repeatedly raped by him.
The Faridkot police, after much reluctance, registered a rape case against Nishan, who faces at least 17 criminal cases before even getting out of his teens. For nearly two months, Nishan roamed freely in Faridkot city under the nose of the police but was never apprehended despite several requests made by Shruti's parents.
A local Akali leader admitted that the police were entirely responsible for spoiling the case. "First, they did not take the case seriously and let Nishan roam freely in Faridkot. Later there was no coordination between the top brass of the police and the lower officials. They tried to mislead the people by tarnishing the image of the girl," said the Akali leader, refusing to be named.
According to a cross-section of people in Faridkot, Shruti in her immaturity might have developed some infatuation for Nishan. But after coming to know of his criminal past, she wanted to get rid of him. That's why he was provoked to abduct him, believe many locals.
"The Punjab police are working like stooges at the behest of Sukhbir Badal, who holds the home affairs portfolio. The police's efficiency is gauged only by how many Congressmen they have booked in vendetta cases. They have lost lost the art of professional investigation," said leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar, who met Shruti's family, "The transfer of the DIG and SSP does not resolve the issue. It seems the Punjab police are only to protect the high and the mighty, not for the common man."
Support for Shruti's family; Badals stay away
There has been an unprecedented outpouring of support for Shruti's family and anger against the SAD-BJP government and the police. On October 13, Faridkot, Jaitu and Kotkapura observed complete bandh. Punjab Student Union and communist leaders such as Hardev Arshi, Joginder Dayal, BJP leader and former health minister Lakshmi Kanta Chawla, Congress leaders Avtar Brar, CLP leader Sunil Jakhar, Giddarbaha MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Muktsar MLA Karan Brar and Punjab Mahila Congress president Malti Thapar were all in Faridkot to protest against the Akali government. The local public has formed a 31-member joint action committee.
But despite it being a constituency from where deputy CM Sukhbir Badal was twice elected as MP, none of the members of the family has met the family. Sukhbir stayed away from Faridkot on Sunday even though he was scheduled to attend a bhog ceremony. Local Akali MLA Deep Malhotra, a liquor baron, did meet the family and expressed solidarity, claiming the he was doing his best to tackle goons in the city.
Shaken awake, authorities just make promises
The outpour of anger against the Akali government had forced deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal to issue strict action against the police officials if they did not perform and trace the girl. But it was too late. The police picked up several boys and some girls of reputed families who were suspected to have been touch with Nishan at any given time during the last few years. The police even tortured some of them but failed to trace the whereabouts of Nishan or Shruti. The only excuse the police gave to the protesting public was that the phones of Nishan and Shruti were switched off. Now, IG Nirmal Singh Dhillon has said that the police have some vital clues. The then DIG Paramraj Singh Umranangal and the then SSP Gurinder Singh Dhillon, who have since been transferred, were using the same words to pacify the people for 19 days. New SSP Gurpreet Singh Toor has repeated the promise. Off the record, top cops blame each other for botching up the case.
THE CHIEF ABDUCTOR
Nishan Singh, 19, is the son of Sukhjit Singh, a retired Indian Air Force (IAF) captain who died more than a decade ago. His father was the first cousin of a senior serving IAS officer of Punjab. Nishan was first admitted to the prestigious boarding institute The Lawrence School in Sanawar, and later at a school in Faridkot, but did not study beyond Class 8. According to the police, there are 17 criminal cases against him pertaining to theft, intimidation, brawls, rape, and for possessing illegal arms. However, since he was a minor, he faced no tough punishment. His mother Navjot Kaur, who is on the run after being booked by the police, has been known to have close association with Dimpi Samra, a local resident. Samra is a co-accused in the Shruti abduction case. It is alleged that since the death of Nishan's father, Samra has been eyeing his property and encouraged the boy to take to illegal activities.
THE GIRL KIDNAPPED
Shruti Sachdeva, a 15-year-old Class-10 student at a school in Faridkot, had gone missing for the first time on June 25. Traced to Kharar a month later, she alleged abduction and rape by Nishan. But after she returned, her parents never sent her back to school. Her father Ashwani Kumar Sachdeva is into the car sale-purchase business while her mother Seema Sachdeva is employed as a high-grade assistant with the LIC. Both Ashwani and Seema sustained serious injuries when they resisted Nishan on September 24 as he abducted Shruti on gunpoint along with five accomplices.