In the line of fire
In 1994, the families of the three youths approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court alleging their sons were eliminated in two separate fake encounters.
23 years after 3 constables were killed by the Punjab Police, a CBI court terms the encounter fake and convicts eight cops. The story of the legal struggle of the families
Daddyji, by the time you receive my letter, the CIA staff of Jalandhar police would have picked me. Somebody has sown seeds of suspicion in the mind of police against me. There is nothing to worry… take care of yourself.”
These were Rajwinder Singh’s last words, which he wrote in a letter, dated August 31, 1992, to his father, Joga Singh. On September 5, he was allegedly abducted and killed by his colleagues from the Punjab Police in an encounter.
Almost 23 years on, Singh, who lives with his wife and elder son in Hercules, California, US, often turns to the letter and broods over that fateful night in September 1992.
Rajwinder, then 21 years old, had joined the Punjab Police as a constable and was undergoing training at Ladda Kothi, Sangrur, Punjab. He, along with fellow constables, Baljit Singh and Mukhtiar Singh, were named by Vijaypal Singh, an alleged terrorist, as accomplices in a bomb blast in Jalandhar. The police arrested Baljit and allegedly killed him along with Vijaypal in an encounter in Nakodar, a town in Jalandhar district on September 1. A few days later, on the intervening night of September 5 and 6, they allegedly took Rajwinder and Mukhitar to Singha village in Jalandhar and shot them there. Baljit’s body was later found, but those of Rajwinder and Mukhtiar were not, and both have since been declared by the police as having “fled from the spot”.
“If he had fled, why did they not try to find him?” asks Singh, who was a government schoolteacher in Satnampura in Kapurthala district before moving to the US in 1996. He remembers his son as a “bright student who scored 93 per cent in math, a hockey player who wanted to play for India, and a good Samaritan.” And insists that “he did not flee, but was shot dead”. Over the last 17 years, Singh has been flying to India every year to “fight in courts for the truth”.
On March 31, his legal efforts, along with those of the families of Baljit and Mukhtiar, were vindicated: a CBI court in Patiala termed the encounter fake and convicted eight of the 25 accused policemen. The punishments range from 7-10 years of rigorous imprisonment to life imprisonment. Six of the eight convicted are retired, including 61-year-old former DSP Ram Singh who was then SHO of Lambra police station in Jalandhar district and under whose jurisdiction the September 5-6 encounter took place; and former ASI Harbhajan Singh, (62), SI Ajit Singh (76), Inspector Amrik Singh, (61) SI Sukhwant Singh (72), and Constable Nand Singh (70). The two serving officers include head constables Ajaib Singh (54) and Rajendra Kumar (47).
After the encounter, the Lambra police registered an FIR in which they said that Baljit was killed in the September 1 encounter after “he had opened fire. ” On September 6, they filed another FIR in which they said Rajwinder and Mukhtiar escaped from police custody during an encounter “after they too had opened fire”. Rajwinder and Baljeet were declared proclaimed offenders in the closure report filed on August 27, 1993, in a lower court.
In 1994, the families of the three youths approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court alleging their sons were eliminated in two separate fake encounters. The High Court directed a Jalandhar district and sessions judge to conduct an inquiry into the encounters. After the judge in his report said the encounters seemed “fake”, the High Court in February 1997 ordered the cases be handed over to the CBI.
The CBI court in its March 31 order said, “It is proved beyond shadow of reasonable doubt that no police encounter has taken place on September 5-6, 1992, rather the accused namely Ram Singh, Ajaib Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Singh and Amrik Singh, being public servants intentionally prepared false police record to show the occurrence of alleged fake encounter… it is improbable that Rajwinder Singh and Mukhtiar Singh have escaped from police custody in the presence of 21 police officials particularly when they were handcuffed and kunda of their handcuffs were tied with the belts of the cops.”
The post-mortem report on Baljit, examined by a board constituted by Directorate General of Health Services, disproved the police’s encounter theory in the CBI court. It said the injuries on Baljit’s body were “caused by torture and blunt force and that third-degree method could not be ruled out”. The bullet that was said to have been fired by the police in the encounter was actually fired from a country-made weapon, not used by any policeman who participated in the encounter. No bullet holes were found on the victims’ clothes. No cop was injured in the encounter although 39 rounds of shots were said to have been fired by the trio.
Brijinder Singh Sodhi, the victims’ families’ lawyer, said pursuing the case was not easy as “the Punjab Police enjoyed unbridled powers during and after the insurgency, and that was the most challenging task for the victim’s families”.
Baljit’s father Surta Singh “was beaten up by certain people who wanted him to withdraw the case”, says his mother Jaswinder Kaur, 75, who lives in Dheera village in Gurdaspur. “He almost became paralysed but did not give up. His fight ended only because he passed away in 2006,” she says.
Mukhtiar’s family, on the other hand, “was offered money by mediators to withdraw the case”, says his mother Gurmeet Kaur. “But despite being a family of low means, we didn’t give in,” she says.
Baljit, remembers Jaswinder, was 21 when he was killed. He had joined the Punjab Police along with Rajwinder and Mukhtiar. The trio had trained together and became friends. Belonging to a family of a small farmer, Baljit had studied up to Class XII and was a good student. “He used to say our good days would begin once he completed the training. He was helping the family monetarily,” she says.
Mukhtiar, who was 22 and engaged at the time, too, belonged to a low-income family. His father Harbhajan Singh would do menial jobs to make ends meet, and sold off his only acre of land in Kala Bala village in Gurdaspur to meet legal costs. The 75-year-old recalls his son as “a good student and an all-round sportsman — a football player, discuss thrower, and weight lifter”.
Despite the long-drawn legal battle and “the realisation that the convicted will appeal to the High Court”, Joga Singh, who is leading the legal efforts of the families, says he will “move the HC for compensation and also seek conviction of the other 17 policemen too”. “I want justice before I die,” he says.
Source:: Indian Express