Punjab Today

Rule is Jail, not Bail

Jaspal Singh Manjhpur

Punjab is not different from the rest of India with the exception that it is a state where the Sikhs are in majority. The Indian state has never accepted the truth that the Sikhs are a unique and separate religion and they have their own culture, way of life and aspirations. The policy of assimilation and elimination of Sikhs into the main stream has been forwarded persistently and ruthlessly. The suppression of just religious and political aspirations led to demolition of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takhat at Amritsar in June 1984, genocide of November 1984 and mass killings, plunder and rape of Punjab.

On 10 December 2013, on international human rights Day, at International School of Business in Mohali, Mr Sukhbir Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister (Who likes to call himself CEO) was wooing multinational and national investors likes Reliance, Mittal, Bharti etc and business tycoons promised 65000 crore in investment. While a few hundred metres away at Gurdwara Amb Sahi, a brave Sikh Bhai Gurbax Singh Khalsa was observing hunger strike unto death for release of Political Prisoners convicted for life.

Following the national pattern, Punjab has been turned into a police state. Some say in Punjab there is a government of Akalis who fought against the British and also refused to kowtow to Emergency. But they are not the same Akalis today. Punjab's govt. of Akali Dal is now the part of mainstream Indian political system and on the way of fulfilling the economic, social and political policies to strengthen the centralized, unipolar cultural system of Manu.

In 1947 there was transfer of power from British to Brahmins of the region. The people of Punjab have continued their struggle for freedom in different forms, i.e. Punjabi suba morcha and Dharam yudh morcha. The main demand of Dharam Yudh Morcha is implementation of Anandpur Sahib Resolution passed in 1973. In fact, Anandpur Sabib Resolution is the 'pain killer' for degraded Indian political system in which the real soul of a true political system was exhorted. It wanted to make the Indian subcontinent a unique and humanitarian federal political system in which flowers of different cultures and religious will be held in a Bouquet,

In modern India, the era of draconian laws begins in 1985. Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, commonly known as TADA, was an anti-terrorism law which was in force between 1985 and 1995 (modified in 1987) against the background of Punjab insurgency and was applied to whole of India. It came into effect on 23 May 1985. It was renewed in 1989, 1991 and 1993 before being allowed to lapse in may 1995 due to increasing unpopularity and allegations of gross abuse. The sentence ratio under this act was only 1% and its task was only to keep the political opponents behind the bars for a long time.

Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was also the same as TADA, was enacted on 28 March 2002. Since the law was enacted, many reports about the gross abuse of the law were surfaced. POTA was arbitrarily used to silence political opponents. In December 2004, Indian government repealed the act after repeated public protests. But before doing it, the Government had already made amendments to Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 and added the chapter IV in it, which was same as TADA and POTA. In 2008, the UAPA was made more lethal. The sections 3, 4, 5, 8 and other sections of administrative works of TADA, the sections 3, 4, 5, 8 and other sections of administrative works of POTA and the sections 15, 16, 23, 24 and other sections of UAPA Act are same. So why not the UAPA Act be also repealed.

Disturbed Areas Act, National Security Act, Waging of War against govt. of India, sedition, construction of many new jails, large number police recruitment, Magistrate's powers equivalent to Commissioners of police under New police act, annual increase of Police budget are also the symptoms of ever increasing powers of the police state in Punjab.

Punjab govt. also passed Punjab Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Act and Punjab Special Security Group Bill in 2010 through which government is trying to create a 'private force' to keep the opponents under the thumb.

In ordinary law the rule is bail, not jail. But under these special laws and act the rule is jail, not bail and EVERYONE GUILTY TILL PROVED INNOCENT. All these draconian laws are a clear-cut violation of fundamental, political and civil rights of the people. This would also undermine the right to freedom of speech and expression.

From 2009 onwards Punjab police registered hundreds of FIRs under different sections of UAPA. Hundreds of youth were arrested in around 50 cases under this law. In normal case if any recovery of country-made weapon is affected then an accused can be released on bail in 10/15 days. But if he/she is also booked under UAPA then it will take 1 to 3 years for such release.

The colonial British regime enacted repressive laws ignoring the different cultural sensitivities of Indian subcontinent. But rule of law had never been established in this part of the world and it would not be until the laws honoured the cultural values of people. In today's India, laws empowering army with special powers in J&K and Northeast are the reminder of the colonial mentality of present rulers. Sister Chanu Sharmila who is on an indefinite hunger strike demanding the repeal of draconian law—Armed Forces Special Powers Act deserves support from all citizens concerned about democracy. Her struggle is the struggle for the dignified living of humanity.
Prof Devinderpal Singh Bhullar (Tihar jail, Delhi) and Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana (central Jail, Patiala) are on death row and approximately 20 Sikh political prisoners are confined as life convicts in different jails of India under TADA. The number of senior citizens political prisoners in Punjab jails is mind-boggling—Bapu Assa Singh (94), Bapu Maan Singh (69), Bapu  Harbhajan Singh (84), Bapu Balwinder Singh (61), Bapu Mohan Singh (72), Bapu Saroop Singh (64), Bapu Avtar Singh (76), Bapu Sewa Singh (73),Jaswant Singh Azad (75), Bapu Gurjant Singh (71).

There are approximately 120 Sikh political prisoners in different jails in India especially in Punjab. There are 80 political prisoners in Punjab jails alone and about 100 on bail under UAPA.

Bhai Daljit Singh Bittu was a prominent sikh militant of the 1980s and he was arrested in 1996. After release in 2005 he continued his struggle and floated  a new party named Akali Dal Panch Pardhani in 2008. Till date the poilice has registered 38 cases against him. Meanwhile he has been acquitted in 33 cases while appeal of one case pending is in Supreme Court in addition to four UAPA cases. Police sent him to jail 8 times after release in 2005 under 121, 121A, 124A, IPC 107/151 Cr.P.C and under different sections of UAPA. 5 Cases registered under UAPA are of the same subject matter in different times, i.e 2009, 2010, and 2012. Now he is on bail since November 2013.

Similarly, cases have been registered against Bhai Kulbir Singh Barha Pind (President, Akali Dal Panch Pardhani) who was extradited by Government of India from USA in 2006 and tried in 3 cases but courts acquitted him in 2008. In 2011 he  was elected as a member of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee from Phillaur constituency. He was elected president of Akali Dal Panch Pardhani in August 2012. The police arrested him u/s 107/151 Cr.P.C on 20-09-2013 and sent him to jail in mid-night of 20-21 of Sept 2012. The police raided his home and falsely planted a pistol recovery from his home.

On 21-09-2012 the police arrested him after taking a warrant from a magistrate. The police tortured him physically and mentally against the treaty of extradition. Even after the order of magistrate, the authorities did not examine him medically. False witnesses of false recovery of weapons were declared hostile and bail is yet to be granted by High Court.
[This is a slightly abridged version of a speech delivered by the author who is a lawyer at District Court, Ludhiana, at a meet organised recently by the Committee for The Release of Political Prisoners in Kolkata]

Vol. 46, No. 34, Mar 2 - 8, 2014