In July 1991, Balwinderjit Kaur, 21, was two months pregnant when she undertook the pilgrimage to Hazur Sahib in Nanded, Maharashtra, with her family.
Married into a family of devout Sikhs in Gurdaspur, Balwinderjit was very excited about the journey. But little did she realise that the trip would leave her scarred for life.
“We had left Gurdaspur on June 29 and were on our way back after visiting the shrine when on July 12 morning our bus was stopped by some policemen. All men, including my husband Baljit Singh,23, brother-in-law Jaswant Singh, were asked to get off from the bus and taken away in police vehicles. I was left inside the bus with my mother and mother-in-law. The bus was taken to the police station where we were told to wait,” Balwinderjit told HT over phone from Lucknow.
“A day later, older men were sent back. We were told that the other men would join us once their verification is done. We were sent to a gurdwara for a night stay. We were trying to get in touch with the local people to find out what was happening. A day later, news came that 11 Sikh men have been killed in an encounter,” recounts Balwinderjit , who is in her 40s now.
“My husband and brother-in-law were among those killed in cold-blood. We did not know what to do. We came back to our villages and started meeting members of the Sikh Pratinidhi Board in Uttar Pradesh. It was only due to their efforts that the case went to the CBI and finally today justice was meted out to us,” she said.
Balwinderjit was in Lucknow along with five victim families to hear the verdict of a special CBI court that sentenced 47 policemen to life imprisonment for killing 10 Sikh pilgrims in a fake encounter at Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh 25 years ago.
“Real justice will, however, come on the day when these policemen are hanged to death. We will approach the high court seeking death penalty for these guilty cops” she says.
“We have been fighting for justice for 25 years. My mother-in-law Surjit Kaur, who was on the bus with her two sons that fateful day, died waiting to see guilty being brought to the book,” she adds.
Her son, born six months after the encounter, is now an engineer who is looking for a job. “I managed to educate my son. But no one has ever tried to help us. The Punjab government could have helped us monetarily or at least given a job to my son.”
Accompanying her to the court is 75-year old Ajit Singh whose son Harminder Singh was also killed in the encounter. “We (seven families of Punjab and three from UP) have fought this arduous battle on our own. We would make sure that at least one of us was present in every hearing that has taken place in the case since. My son has a daughter who has done BSc nursing and I wish that at least she along with the other children of these unfortunate 11 men who were killed by police, are given jobs,” he says.