Champions needed against High Court Stay in Punjab Secret & Mass Cremations Case
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Mr. Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court:
RE: High Court is Preventing Trial of Officers in Punjab Secret & Mass Cremations Case
Despite a 2016 Supreme Court decision which lifted a cruel 15-year “Stay” on criminal prosecution of 38 cases out of the tens of thousands that human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra uncovered 22 years ago, the Punjab & Haryana High Court has again put a “Stay” on the trial. This May, these 38 cases will be before the Court again: will human rights lawyers and media of conscience also be there? We the undersigned, justice-minded people from Punjab and beyond, hope so. Khalra’s work and sacrifice, and the struggle by so many families and activists in Punjab ever since, is again being challenged today.
Here is the story behind just one of the 38 cases:
This story debunks the propaganda about communal violence in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s. Chaman Lal ji’s son, Gulshan Kumar (a vegetable vendor) was tortured to death in a police station when his family could not meet the 2.5 lakhs extortion demanded by the police team led by then DSP Dilbagh Singh. As Chaman Lal ji, a Punjabi Hindu father whose son was killed and secretly cremated in 1993, tells us, “This was no Sikh terrorism, was no Hindu terrorism, this was only state terrorism.” Chaman Lal ji died at age 100 last year, waiting for his son’s case to be tried.
* The case of Chaman Lal’s son Gulshan Kumar crawled forward through the 1990s.
* In 1999, the CBI, filed a charge sheet verifying the family’s entire version, against 5 accused police officers. The trial began.
* The police officers were unsatisfied by the Court rejecting their defenses that Gulshan Kumar was a “Terrorist,” and was thus killed.
* They went to the Supreme Court of India. Between 2001 and 2016, for 15 years, the case simply sat at the Supreme Court.
* In 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the question of “sanction for prosecution” did not arise at this stage, and trial should proceed.
* In Trial (Patiala CBI) Court, under the learned Judge, trial started in July 2016, 2 days after Chaman Lal ji died.
* The police defendants attempted to continue the dates and excuse themselves at every stage: accused Dilbagh Singh argued he was busy with “IPS Induction Training Course” and needed to travel nationally and internationally for training, and the trial should be continued till 2017 at least! Dilbagh Singh’s name appears in several of extortion, kidnapping, and false encounters cases recorded by Khalra Misson Organization and others (For e.g., in Reduced To Ashes Vol 1, Dilbagh Singh is directly implicated in 4 cases).
* The learned trial Judge in Patiala was not impressed by the police's callous reasoning. He proceeded with the trial per law.
* Then, the police officers simply went to the High Court, and on 20 October 2016 this case was Stayed!
Now, on May 15, the High Court will hear the case will be heard again. The Court has kept 38 cases bundled, making this a very complex undertaking: even arranging the files of cases by old and poor litigants from over two decades ago is a herculean task! In the interest of justice, the Court should be giving these elderly cases of impunity special care and consideration; should follow the clear Supreme Court precedence; and should not entertain the same procedural arguments by the police and state prosecutor again and again. Human Rights minded lawyers and people must make a strong showing!
Five years ago, in April 2012, Punjab’s ‘Mass Cremations Case’ was declared complete and closed. India’s National Human Rights Commission ordered compensation in just over 1500 cases, 17 years after human rights defenders had first made the grisly discovery: tens of thousands of those who had “disappeared” from their homes during the Punjab conflict between 1984-1994 had in fact been secretly cremated by the state. The man who made this discovery, Jaswant Singh Khalra, was himself “disappeared” a few months later: despite national and international attention to his campaign. While junior officers responsible for Khalra’s abduction and death were eventually sentenced, the Supreme Court of India chose to extricate itself from the question of who was responsible for rendering thousands of (mostly) men to unclaimed pyres. Will the Court again, in 2017, simply accept that no one killed the people desecrated on the pyres of Punjab? Will we remain quiet? We the undersigned hope not:
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