25. September 2012 11:26
In Punjab, India Daljit Singh Bittu and Kulbir Singh Barapind have been arrested by the Punjab police. Kulbir Singh Barapind is the current president of the political party Akali Dal Panch Pardhani and also an elected representative of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. He is currently the only SGPC member that is not affiliated to Badal from the entire Doaba region. Daljit Singh Bittu is the former president of the ADPP and a long-time political activist.
There arrests have raised many eyebrows and concerns by Sikh leaders, political activists and human rights advocates locally and internationally. This is not the first time both these men have been arrested by the police on false premises. In 1995, Bittu was arrested and recently acquitted on all charges as the courts found the charges against him ill-founded. However, as a result of these cases he has spent the past 12 out of 16 years of his life behind bars. Further, out the 28 cases registered against him he has been acquitted in 24 and 4 are still pending a decision. Similarly, Barapind was extradited from the United States by the Indian government for militancy related cases in 2006. He was tried in three cases and acquitted in all of them.
There is a consistent pattern in the tactics used against Bittu and Barapind where the Badal regime is using its political arm of the police to arrest, detain and torture those individuals whose political ideologies contradict with the current government. It has recently been reported by the lawyer of Bittu and Barapind, Harpal Singh Cheema, that both men “were subjected to third degree physical torture by the police during custody.” This statement raises a red flag as Punjab’s political history is tainted with police repression, torture and murder. In previous movements where people have raised their voices against the oppressive governmental regimes they were faced with state-sanctioned violence. Bittu and Barapind are current examples of how the Badal regime is using violence as a means of suppressing any form of political dissent and forcefully silencing individuals by incarcerating them on baseless accusations that do not result in convictions. Under the current charges, both men were implicated under the Explosives Act, 1884 but without recovery of any materials that would implicate them in such an outrageous claim. Advocate Harpal Singh Cheema stated, “It’s strange that the police have registered the F.I.R against the ADPP leaders under the Explosive Act but at the same time the police have failed to show any recovery of explosives.” The police have still not produced any evidence in regards to why these arrests were made and instead have demanded to extend the custody of Bittu and Barapind. Considering both men have already attested to being subjected to torture, the Canadian Sikh Coalition is requesting human rights organizations to monitor these cases as torture may be used as a method to extract false testimonies.
According to Canadian Sikh Coalition spokesperson Moninder Singh, “this isn’t the first time the Badal regime has used force to suppress political dissent. These baseless charges are used as a tool to suppress the voices of leaders like Daljit Singh Bittu and Kulbir Singh Barapind who have politically organized and lobbied for a stronger Sikh nation. Even more disturbing are the comments of Badal’s appointed SGPC President Avtar Makkar who is saying the arrests are correct. Makkar well knows the history of the Indian states genocidal campaign against the Sikh people yet has continuously made statements like these to keep his position in-tact. As elected representatives, Bittu and Barapind are using democratic means to voice their political ideologies to the citizens of Punjab. However, the Badal government has taken this form of political expression as a threat and in return used undemocratic means to silence their opposition. The question on everyone’s mind at this point is how far will Badal go to ensure he maintains hegemony over Punjab politics? This continuous behavior will have the average Sikh calling for a review of the entire system which has been corrupted by Badal and his pawns”
The Canadian Sikh Coalition is using preventative methods to ensure that political activists like Bittu and Barapind are not subjected to state sanctioned violence by Badal’s corrupt regime. We are lobbying human rights organizations worldwide to keep an eye on this case considering India’s history of human rights violations. This is not a time to remain silent rather it is a time to spread awareness to ensure we do not have another chapter in Punjab’s political history that is defined by human right’s violations by the state.