The protesters in Punjab could face an attempt to murder case if they damage any property of a ruling party leader. This could lead to seven-year imprisonment and disqualify them for government jobs.
On May 6, during an agitation in Faridkot against the Moga bus horror, the police slapped Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on 13 activists of the Punjab Students Union (PSU) and seven other people for smashing a New Deep company bus of Shiromani Akali Dal’s Gidderbaha halqa (area) in-charge Hardeep Dimpy Dhillon. Still behind bars since that day are a girl and a 13-yearold boy among other people. The boy’s grandmother, aged 80, is named in the FIR (first-information report), and the allegation is of attempting to kill the bus driver.
The protesters that day were out to stop the buses that belong to the ruling family and its supporters. They were in anger over the Moga incident in which a girl had died after being thrown off an Orbit bus of the Badal family.
Instead of producing the arrested protesters in a competent court within 24 hours as required by law, the police took them to a CIA (crime investigation agency) interrogation centre in Faridkot, where they were beaten up and abused all night in the presence of the Akali leader, as the one of the PSU members has claimed in a counter-complaint in the Faridkot district court.
Of the 20 accused named in the FIR, 13 were brought before the Faridkot magistrate next afternoon (May 7), and he declined to give the police their custody. “Octogenarian Balveer Kaur, one of the accused, was at home in Budhuwala village that day; while her grandson, Harpreet Singh (13), was among the protesters,” said PSU general secretary Karamjit Singh. The child is in juvenile home since, as his parents have refused to get him out on bail until the “false cases” against all the protesters are dropped.
SAD leader Hardeep Dimpy Dhillon, whose bus was vandalised, said he could neither get the HT in touch with the driver nor disclose his whereabouts. “The driver took a serious injury, which amounts to Section 307 by the medico-legal report,” he said.
“They targeted my bus only because I am close to (deputy chief minister) Sukhbir Singh Badal,” said Dhillon, adding that his New Deep Transport owned 80 buses and the Badals had no stake in the business. Denying that he had joined the police in thrashing the students inside the lockup, Dhillon said he hadn’t been to Faridkot in “many, many days”.
It is not for the first time that attempt to murder charges have been slapped on the PSU protesters and then withdrawn. Last year, nine were booked under same section during an agitation in Barnala for student passes; and another 41 for fighting for the rights of landless peasants at Bald Kalan in Sangrur district.
In both instances, the cases were withdrawn after the accused declined to seek or accept bail. “Almost 90% of the public transport in Punjab is in the hands of the private players, and student passes are valid only on state-run buses,” said PSU leader Karamjit Singh, adding: “A student-pass holder has to shell out an average of ` 80 a day, since there are no government buses on most routes.” The PSU is an offshoot youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).