In response to a question in the Punjab Assembly, the Punjab government admitted that nearly 25,000 people had died as a result of political violence in Punjab since 1984. They were allegedly victims of ‘encounter deaths’ a word which is recognised as synonymous with extra-judicial executions in India by international human rights organisations and institutions with expertise in the region. (see Disappearances)
In 1994, the U.S. State Department reported that the Indian government paid over 41,000 cash bounties to police officers for extra-judicial executions.
According to police figures published in 1993, security forces in Punjab killed 2,119 militants in 1992 under the euphemism of encounters, and their bodies quietly disposed of. There were initial reports that Punjab’s irrigation canals had become dumping grounds for bodies of those killed. Newspapers of the time reported that the Rajasthan government formally complained to Punjab’s Chief Secretary that these canals were carrying several bodies, with their hands and feet tied together.
In March 1992, according to a newspaper report,1 "the government of Rajasthan had formally complained to Punjab’s chief secretary that these canals were carrying large numbers of dead bodies into the State....that many dead bodies, with hands and feet tied together, were being fished out when water in-flow in canals was stopped for repair works." The report is replete with case histories of police abductions interrogations, deaths in custody, trauma deaths, punitive punishment of whole families, and terrorising of entire villages.
"In one case, the police officer-in-charge of a post at village Bham, in Batala subdivision of Gurdaspur district, kidnapped two teenage girls, Satvinder Kaur and Sarabjit Kaur, in front of eyewitnesses in his official jeep. The officer-in-charge of the police station in Har-Gobindpur denied their custody. Four days later their naked distended bodies were recovered from a nearby canal. Officers of Har-Gobindpur police-station tried to pressurise the parents to sign a declaration that the bodies were unidentified and unclaimed, and were threatened that they would be eliminated... if they disobeyed."
In January 1995, the water level of the Sirhind Canal was lowered for repair work. One dozen bodies of young Sikh torture victims were found at the bottom of just one shore section of the canal with the hands and feet bound. There are hundreds of miles of the canals through the province.
There has been no attempt by the government to investigate the cases of extra-judicial executions and no attempt to inform families of the victims.
On April, 1995, the United Akali Dals released their estimate of the number of Sikhs killed during the 1984 – 1994 period, they put the figure at 145,000.
The United Nations Special Rapportuer of Torture, Nigel Rodley reported that people are "routinely tortured" in India, and that torture is “endemic in every one of India’s 25 states.”
The UK based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture has found other particular methods of psychological torture to effect Sikh victims of torture to include:
• victims threatened with further punishment, death or harm to family
• mock executions
• threatened with "false encounters", where an individual is told that police could easily make it appear that the detainee had been shot in a gun battle or whilst trying to escape
• having turbans knocked from their heads (for Sikhs to have their turbans forcibly removed in public is extremely embarrassing(humiliating))
• Extreme humiliation, often with the removal of the five sacred objects which baptised Sikhs wear at all times. There have been incidents in which particularly devoted Sikh have their hair and beards cut, alcohol forcefully poured down their throat and cigarette smoke and ash blown in his face (strictly against the tenants of the religion).
There are methods of torture uniquely developed by the Punjab police including the “Cheera” splitting the legs of victims at 180 degrees, that are seen only in Punjab. Torture persists as a result of the continuing culture of impunity developed within the criminal justice system in the state during the 80’s and 90’s.
1 Reports carried by the Pioneer on 26 and 27 March 1992