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Terror unleashed by rightwallahs

The Home Minister makes another statement on a review of proceedings in cases of alleged human rights violations in terrorism-affected areas, including Punjab; at the same time, he scrupulously reaffirms the state’s commitment to human rights. The next day the media screams, once again, "Amnesty for cops in Punjab", and I wonder whether I have developed a selective deafness – or are they hearing what was never said?

I am fairly certain that I have never, for a moment, and not even in the outrage I felt after A.S. Sandhu’s death, even considered, leave alone asked for, "Amnesty" for those who are guilty of human rights violations. I am certain, equally, that the Home Minister has not mentioned any such proposal on any of the occasions on which he has spoken on the subject. How, then, is it that this word gratuitously and invariably finds its way into the discourse, which then ends with simulated expressions of extreme moral indignation from the pathetic apology of what passes for a human rights movement in this country?

The degree to, and the motives for, which the discourse is being deliberately distorted by the injection of the notion of "Amnesty" and by the arbitrary and unsubstantiated presumption of widespread human rights violations, must be understood. The Human Rights (HR) groups are engaged in an utterly dishonest campaign based on clear misrepresentation in order to turn public attention away from the real issues connected with terrorism. These distortions are a continuation of the campaigns of calumny and of malicious prosecution that resulted in the filing of literally thousands of motivated and entirely fabricated writ petitions in the "public interest" and complaints before the National and State Human Rights Commissions against the Punjab police.

The basic and real contention in the present debate is that the character of the processes that resulted in the chargesheets against policemen in Punjab was coloured, perverse and illegal, and must therefore be immediately reviewed so that the current process of "punishment by trial" is brought to an end. The proceedings against the charged personnel rest on evidence concocted by investigative agencies under pressure from sections of the judiciary who adopted a totally different set of values in these cases, ignoring the procedural safeguards available to all accused under the Constitution and criminal law of the land. The few convictions that have been secured are based on such concocted evidence, or on sheer conjecture, and cannot stand objective scrutiny.

More than four years after his death, the libellous campaign against A.S. Sandhu still finds echoes in the media. But what were the facts? This man was simply hounded to his death by the judiciary. Take, for example, the processes that led up to the charges against him in the Kuljit Singh Dhat case. The most incredible and tutored witnesses, including convicted smugglers, were arrayed against Sandhu. The Randev Commission, examining the evidence submitted by the prosecution, concluded that it was "highly improbable". In any normal proceeding, that would be the end of the matter. But the police have become a unique category in the judicial mind, one to which the laws of evidence do not apply. The Commission, consequently, evolved a convoluted argument leading up to the conclusion that "there is nothing improbable if he (Dhat) might have died in police custody." "Nothing improbable if he might have"! Is this the fragile logic on which the edifice of justice is based in this country? And on which an officer, who risked his life for his nation hundreds of times and for years at end, is to be driven to the very limits of despair, and eventually to suicide?

The media is either not aware, or deliberately ignores the fact that, at the time of his death, Sandhu had already been exonerated in every one of the seven cases in which the trial process had been completed. But for every case in which he was declared not guilty, a dozen other cases would be fabricated against him. Had he lived another 30 years, he would still not have been free of this process of malicious prosecution. When a proper investigation of the conduct of the courts in his cases is carried out, it will prove to be one of the blackest chapters in the history of the judiciary in India.

Substantial protection to policemen acting in situations of instability and violence is already available in existing laws, though this is scattered and there is no comprehensive legislation. The Supreme Court has, time and again, upheld related provisions. But trial courts have systematically ignored these provisions, apparently under pressure from the HR lobby and the media. In Punjab, there have been instances where presiding officers of courts were closely related to HR activists but continued to hear such cases in violation of all established norms. Judges have also lent their ears to drawing room gossip, and allowed their judgement to be swayed by their social and political contacts. The dominant judicial attitude, moreover, is based on a denial of the reality and gravity of the terrorist threat, and the unique circumstances it creates. This is the real context of the current debate on providing relief, within the parameters of the Constitution, to SF personnel operating in terrorism affected areas; and this is why there is the need to explore new legislative provisions to protect the Forces against the abuse of the legal processes by front organisations of terrorist groupings and by human rights organisations whose support and funding depends on the systematic exaggeration of allegations in their areas of operation.

I will reiterate, here, clearly, that what is sought is protection against the abuse of legal processes; not a licence to violate the rights of the people at will. A counter-terrorism campaign is based on discipline, and no counter-terrorism Force commander would every confer powers of arbitrary action on his subordinates. If he did so, he would be certain to fail in his objectives. I have said this again and again, and any objective assessment will prove me correct: the anti-terrorism operations in Punjab were the most humane counter-terrorism campaign undertaken anywhere in the world. That is the reason why terrorism in Punjab was totally vanquished and why all attempts to revive it have failed. As I had noted in my letter to the then Prime Minister after the death of A.S. Sandhu, the victory over terrorism in Punjab was not merely a military victory, it was a moral victory. Nowhere in the world has State Terrorism, irrespective of how many people it killed or tortured, ever been able to extinguish an ideology as completely as the idea of Khalistan has been extinguished in Punjab. An idea can never be destroyed by violence. Police excesses would have created an ever-widening base of support for terrorism. Instead, it was the support of, and floods of information from, the people in Punjab that made the decisive win over the militants a possibility.

Of course, there were some aberrations, and action was taken in all such cases that were brought to official notice. I recall that we dismissed at least three SP level officers, ten DSPs, and a large number of inspectors and other ranks. Interestingly, most of the officers and men who were dismissed on these charges now are back in service, and a few of those who failed in their efforts to be reinstated have joined the HR lobby.

The human rights lobby is guilty of a great deal of sloganeering and rabble rousing in Punjab. Yet, when some of the most prominent among those who have attained a degree of notoriety by jumping on to the HR bandwagon stood for elections in the State, they lost their deposits.

There is now a widening international debate on the legitimacy and efficacy of the existing processes and institutional mechanisms for the protection of HRs, particularly in situations of cross border terrorism and low intensity warfare. It has always been my contention that a cocktail of terrorism, a compromised HR lobby, and an insensitive and stagnant judicial system manned by frightened judges constitutes the gravest threat to the values of democracy, to human rights themselves, and to the unity and integrity of the nation. It is not just the police and the SFs that need protection against this perverse concoction, but, equally, the entire nation and the millions of citizens who are under threat from virulent and proliferating terrorist movements.

(Published in The Pioneer, September 8, 2001)





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