The Gujarat fake encounter case may have jolted the nation into taking a fresh look at the India’s use of extra-judicial killings over the years to eliminate those it believed were inimical to its interests. But the issue returned to haunt Punjab early last year when a “dead” terrorist was reported to be alive and doing business.
Sukhwinder Singh “Sukhi” of Hoshiarpur, who once figured in the list of “dreaded terrorists”, was declared dead by the police in 1992. In February 2006, the Hindustan Times reported that he was alive and running a travel agency in Jalandhar.
The single revelation set off a statewide furore: Who was killed instead? Why was a terrorist “rehabilitated”? How many other similar cases were there? Were innocent people eliminated in their place?
With the accusations getting wilder by the day, the then state DGP, SS Virk, finally lost his cool, and in a press conference let the cat out of the bag: It was not just Sukhi, but at least 300 other “terrorists” who had provided the police intelligence that had been similarly rehabilitated, he declared.
The figure was just the fuel required to turn the issue into a full blaze. Human rights activists, opposition parties, the media, everybody demanded to know how many people were killed instead.
Thousands of “unidentified” bodies had been cremated by the state police in Amritsar and Tarn Taran. Was there any connection? After more stories of dead terrorists resurfacing appeared in the media last month, the Punjab government set up a commission headed by a senior police officer to probe the fake killings. But with no clear terms of reference or timeframe fixed, little is expected of it.
For families who have lost loved ones in what they believe were extra-judicial killings, the fight for justice has always been a lonely one. Many of them have soldiered on, despite the delays, the obstacles and public apathy.
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