Parmeshri Devi, 65, is clueless about jail sentence to three policemen who had tattooed the words ‘jeb katri, Punjabi for ‘pickpocket’, on forehead in the December of 1993. Sitting in her relatively well-built house in the village Chhintanwala in Sangrur district, her first reaction is that Sukhdev Singh Chhina, the then superintendent of police (SP) in Amritsar, should have got more than the three-year sentence that he has got.
The tattoos on her and three other women’s foreheads were removed by plastic surgery that was done free of cost after a court decision. There are hardly any scars on her forehead. Yet, scars remain, she says.
“This ‘jeb katri’ branding spoiled my family life. I have three daughters and a son. The two daughters who were married before the case, were divorced because of social stigma. The third didn’t get any marriage proposal. My son too died of depression as the police slapped many cases on all of us to pressurise us to not to give statement in court,” she alleges. Facing several cases of theft and related crimes, she has a knack for using legal terminology and a rare focus while speaking.
“Let us assume that I was a thief. But the police had no right to brand me as ‘jeb katri’. They only had to book us in the case and produce before a court,” she says.
Their petition says they were detained by the police from Amritsar on December 8, 1993, and kept in custody from December 8 to 15, during which the words were tattooed on their foreheads. After much media pressure and intervention of the human rights panel, the case finally reached a conclusion this Friday. A special CBI court awarded three-year rigorous imprisonment (RI) to the then SP Chinna and sub-inspector Narinder Singh Malli; and a year’s RI to assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Kanwaljit Singh. The cops had claimed that the tattoos were done by the women’s neighbours who were fed up of their thievery. Besides Parmeshri, the victims were Gurdev Kaur, Mohinder Kaur and Jaswinder Kaur.
THE NUB: ILLICIT LIQUOR AND MUTUAL THRASHING
Parmeshri talks openly about a bootlegging business, and puts it at the heart of the matter.
“SP Chhina (now retired) did the tattooing to take revenge for thrashing of some policemen when they had raided our bootlegging business,” she says. “Then posted at Sangrur, Chhina and his men used to take ‘hafta’ (bribe) to let us run the illicit liquor trade. However, despite this, his men raided us and thrashed even women and children. At this, we thrashed the police.”
“When we were nabbed illegally by the police Amritsar and produced before the SP, it was Chhina. When he came to know that we are from Bagrain village and the Sansi community, he just boiled with anger. He asked us if we were part of the group that had thrashed his men. As I said ‘yes’, he told Malli to label us ‘jeb katri’ actually.” She further alleges that several cases against her, her family and friends were lodged by the Punjab police to settle the ‘jebkatri’ case. “We reached a compromise under pressure in 1996, but the court didn’t accept that,” she says.
Villagers agree with her story, except the part about the daughters’ divorce. “The ‘jeb katri’ incident was only a trigger. Actually, the involvement of Parmeshri and her family, including daughters and sons, in crime was the reason,” said more than one villager, on the condition of anonymity.