Chandigarh, May 9: Seven prisoners pulped to death by the jail staff. They had been detained under TADA. Forget for a moment that they were Sikh prisoners. This happened in Pilibhit jail in Uttar Pradesh on the night intervening November 8 and 9, 1994. This can be termed as a crime against humanity reminiscent of dark ages. But this happened in democratic India, claimed to be the biggest democracy in the world, about 47 years after this country had come out of about 1000 years of slavery, not just independence from the British rule. At another level, it was the most ghastly prison crime in India after the Bhagalpur blinding in 1980. The raw wounds associated with the days of militancy days continue to bleed.
Parkash Singh Badal in his third term as the Chief Minister had distance his government from ordering judicial probe into period of turbulence in the state on this very logic that it would reopen the old wounds. He was wrong. The judicial probe might have healed the wounds.
The revelations front-paged by The Tribune in the story by Shahira Naim datelined Pilibhit has given graphic details of the ghastly tragedy that should shake this ‘nation’ along with the disclosure as to how the case was withdrawn from the court. This also raises question mark on the role of judiciary that did not question the intention of the Uttar Pradesh government.
In case of Bhagalpur blinding too, little notice was taken by the media when a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the under-trials whose eyes had been deliberately damaged by the jail authorities as part of the medieval era punishment. A single column story appeared on October 11, 1980 in the Delhi edition of The Indian Express on an inside page headlined "10 undertrials blame police for losing sight." It was alleged that the police had poured acid in their eyes. This is unthinkable in a democracy.
It was more than a month later that a detailed and well-researched story was carried by The Indian Express datelined Patna that shook the Parliament. On November 22, the front page of the paper displayed the picture of a blinded man under the heading "Eyes punctured twice to ensure total blindness." The expose continued with The Indian Express Executive Editor Arun Shourie writing two front-page articles questioning jail procedures and the functioning of the police.
Going by the report front-paged in The Tribune, 28 Sikh TADA detainees lodged in barrack number 7 were shifted to another barrack, their legs tied and they were mercilessly beaten up by the jail staff in the presence of jail superintendent Vindhyachal Singh Yadav. Six of them died on the spot while one more succumbed to injuries in the hospital. The remaining 21 received serious injuries.
The chief minister happened to be Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1994. The only action taken was ordering CD-CID probe. Chargesheet was filed against 42 jail officials but it was quietly withdrawn on March 3, 2007. The chief minister again was Mulayam Singh Yadav. The matter ended there. The court readily concurred with the state government with a note that “there is no apparent reason on the basis of which the plea to withdraw prosecution should be turned down”.
Years back, naked women staged demonstration in Manipur carrying a banner against the Indian Army in Manipur. The issue was of alleged rape of some Manipur women by security forces. More recently, Soni Sori, a tribal woman activist, was subjected to inhuman torture in police custody in Dantewada for being a Maoist.
This is the dark underbelly of this biggest democracy in the world.
This gruesome tragedy in Pilibhit is related to the turbulent period in Punjab that continued for more than a decade. Badal is an astute politician but perhaps he might not have visualized in 1997 that the past would continue to strike back.
It may be mentioned that it was only last month that a special CBI court had punished 47 policemen in the case of fake encounter in Pilibhit in which 10 Sikh pilgrims were taken out from the bus and gunned down in 1991. They were shown as terrorists. The probe was entrusted to the CBI in which the encounter was established to be fake.
If not out of any commitment to democratic values and human rights which at one time the Akali Dal used to stand for, he should institute time bound probe by a sitting high court judge into the dark period in Punjab at least to partly blunt the high anti-incumbency that his party is confronted with in the run up to the February 2017 Assembly elections. The alliance partner BJP matters the least. He had given his concurrence earlier to for the construction of memorial in the Golden Temple complex to commemorate the martyrdom of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and others in the Golden Temple complex who were killed in Operation Bluestar, the army attack on the Golden Temple complex in June, 1984. He should take another bold step that should go down in history as at least his one achievement during his five terms.