Chandigarh: The Punjab Police believes militancy is returning to the state even though activists have termed it a ploy to turn people's attention from developmental issues plaguing the state.
The police claims that it has busted many groups and arrested many people who were planning to carry out terror activities in the state. It says that several of the arrested men were planning to kill those who wrote or spoke against Sikhism.
The latest such case involves seven youth who were arrested from Ludhiana on 29 September for allegedly being a part of the banned terror outfit Babbar Khalsa International. However, human rights activists and the accused’s kin have called these arrests the police’s way to divert public attention from real developmental issues.
The police said that although the youth have no criminal past, it found incriminating evidence against them.
It said that the seven accused were held for trying to disturb law and order by getting overactive on social media platform. The police also seized a 32 bore pistol, two 315 bore pistols and cartridges from the accused.
The arrested accused were Kuldeep Singh alias Rimpi, 29, who worked as a granthi (one who reads religious books in a Gurudwara) in Basti Jodhewal of Ludhiana, Jasvir Singh alias Jassa, 32, of village Balipur of Tarn Taran; Amanpreet Singh alias Amna, 21, of Shakti Nagar of Jalandhar; Onkar Singh, 30, and Jugraj Singh of village Jhadu; and Amritpal Singh, 30, of Amritsar. The seventh is a minor and a resident of Moga in Punjab, the police said.
Ludhiana police commissioner RN Dhoke said, "The youth have no criminal background but their operations were funded by Surender Singh Babbar of Babbar Khalsa International who operates from England." A case had been registered against the seven under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and the Arms Act.
The police said that it has proof of the arrested accused were talking to terrorists and working for them as sleeper cells. Dhoke added that three of them were school dropouts and were helping others in identifying 'anti-Khalistan' pages on social media platforms and the people running them.
The police also said that it has deactivated their social media accounts, which contains a lot of inflammatory content. "We have clinching evidence and if needed, we will bring members of Babbar Khalsa International to Punjab from the United Kingdom," Dhoke added.
Kin and activists tell a different story
Human rights activist Gurnaam Singh, however, alleges that the youth have been made scapegoats to a state-sponsored terrorism.
"Terrorism has been the past of Punjab and people have always been concerned about their safety and lived in fear of its revival. Every government, be it Shiromani Akali Dal or the incumbent Congress government has used this tool to keep people engaged in non-productive issues," he said.
Sukhbir Singh, the maternal uncle of Kuldeep Singh, says that the arrested youths were not terrorist but with a religious bent of mind. They were a member of a WhatsApp group, in which they used to talk about Sikhism.
"They are not terrorists but youths with a religious bent of mind and a deep faith in the Sikh religion. Whenever there was a malicious and derogatory campaign on social media against Sikhism they used to answer the narrative and that just became their fault," said Sukhbir.
Harbhajan Singh, a neighbour of another accused Amratpal Singh, said that the accused was just a religious person. "Forget about terrorism, he never even spoke ill of others," Harbhajan added.
According to Gurnaam, this was not the only time when youths in Punjab were targeted by the police.
Not the first such case
Punjab sees many such arrests even though crime rate in the state is way below the national average. "Punjab has a crime rate of 129.6 against the national average of 220.5 and is one of the four states which are placed at the bottom in terms of FIRs registered per lakh population, said Punjab DGP Suresh Arora.
On 31 May, the police arrested four Babbar Khalsa International terrorists from Mohali. The police said the arrested individuals had senior Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and few Shiv Sena leaders on their target.
In a joint operation, the Border Security Force (BSF) and Punjab Police arrested two people suspected to be Khalistani terrorists on 22 May. The accused were allegedly linked to a terrorist organisation in Canada and Pakistan and were nabbed while receiving an arms consignment from Pakistan.
The cops seized two AK-47 rifles, five hand grenades, one modified machine pistol, four pistols and 450 bullets were during the arrest. The group too had several leaders who spoke against Sikhism on their radar.
Future in the dark?
Gurnam says that the police makes these arrests to please the government, but in the process, it leaves the suspects with no career prospects and in a bad economic state even after they are let go.
Sukhbir Singh Bajwa, 42, was arrested in Mohali when he was 19-years-old. He said that his only fault was that he used to inscribe Sikh teaching on walls.
Bajwa was acquitted after an eight-year trial. But he could not get a government job after he was acquitted and had to fend for himself by working odd jobs. No one invites him to social functions and whenever there is tension in the area, the police arrive at his place to inquire about his activities.
Even in the latest case, all the seven youths are from modest backgrounds.
Gurnaam alleges that the police frame youths who don’t have any resources or any way to defend them. "Lawyers demand a lot of money to fight their case and even if they get acquitted from a court, they can’t enjoy a normal life,” he adds.
"Even family members of such youths do not come forward in the fear of being arrested," adds Harbhajan, a neighbour of one of the accused.
The families of the seven youths are living in constant fear of being picked up by the cops. Such is the fear that they have left their homes to escape police harassment. "They are terrified as the police would pick up family members whenever they wanted and there was no one to address their grievances," says Sukhbir.
Sat Singh is a Rohtak based freelance writer and Manoj Kumar is a Chandigarh based freelance writer. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
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Updated Date: Oct 31, 2017 15:57:21 IST