Never say never again
Jorge Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Every now and then one comes across reminders of the grisly recent history of India, such as this reported in Hard News:
On a September morning in 1995, Jaswant Singh Khalra was washing his car outside his Amritsar home. His wife had just left for the library where she worked.
Khalra had spent the last few months perusing the cremation records of the three crematoria in Amritsar, reflecting on the vast quantities of wood that had been purchased, travelling around the countryside, speaking to families whose sons had gone missing, peering at the death and birth registries in the municipal office, meeting with doctors whose task it was to conduct post mortems at the civil hospitals, and comparing these with news reports on encounter killings. There was only one conclusion he could reach. That men, whose numbers ran into thousands, had been burnt to cinders in these cremation grounds. Their bodies sometimes piled one atop each other. Khalra’s enquiries had hardly gone unnoticed. He had been warned several times, in particular by the Tarn Taran SSP, Ajit Singh Sandhu, who had threatened to disappear him.
As he washed his car that morning, a Maruti van glided into the street, and armed commandoes of the Punjab police pulled him in. His body was never recovered.
More than two years later, SPO Kuldeep Singh gave a statement to the CBI – which had been directed by the Supreme Court to investigate Khalra’s disappearance and his findings of the dead and disappeared – that Khalra had been held secretly at the Jhabal Police station and had been interrogated at the home of SSP Sandhu by KPS Gill. Kuldeep Singh testified that Khalra was shot dead in the police station on the evening of 28th October and his body dumped in the Harike canal. The killing was followed by a night of revelry at the Irrigation department guest house. SSP Sandhu and KPS Gill were guest of honours.
Piara Singh whose Maruti van had been requisitioned for an operation by the Jhabal police station in September, testified to the CBI. Kikkar Singh, who had been held in the Jhabal Police station in late October also testified that he had been witness to Khalra’s torture at the police station.
But then, the CBI dropped its star witnesses pleading that their statements were not substantiated by material evidence. Kikkar Singh was implicated in five criminal cases. Kuldeep Singh was forced to lodge a case of bribery against Khalra’s widow.
The system worked to frustrate every move to uncover the truth. The Congress which signed the license to kill; the Akalis who promised to institute a Truth Commission into mass disappearances but reneged when they came to power; the BJP which dared anyone to touch the ‘heroes’ of the anti-insurgency ops; the CBI which let the enquiry collapse quietly; the NHRC who was tasked with uncovering the extent of mass crimes but settled for Rs one lakh each for families for 18 disappeared; the security establishment whose symbol Gill became. (Tavleen Singh was doing exactly what she is doing now: railing against “the human rights wallahs”). How they all worked together like a well-oiled machine, bound by the pact of silence. The pact of the State against its people; the pact between the political rulers and the agencies.