On July 13, ten Sikh bus passengers traveling in Uttar Pradesh state were taken into custody and shot dead in what authorities have claimed was an armed “encounter” with police. An eleventh detainee has subsequently disappeared.
Eyewitnesses to the detention interviewed by Asia Watch reported that none of the detainees was armed, and Asia Watch believes that the detainees may have been summarily executed. A number of eyewitnesses who have filed affidavits in the courts have subsequently been threatened by the police. Police routinely engage in extrajudicial executions and disappearances of civilians and suspected Sikh militants in Punjab. The Pilibhit incident indicates that the police in Uttar Pradesh are engaging in similar human rights violations against alleged militants in that state.
Between June 29 and July 13, 1991, a bus carrying 25 Sikh pilgrims on a tour of Sikh shrines in the
states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra stopped for the night in the town of Etawah,
Uttar Pradesh The passengers included 13 men (two of whom were elderly), nine women and three children — two girls aged ten and fifteen, and a twelve-year-old boy. Asia Watch interviewed six of the
passengers, who related the following account.
After departing Etawah on the morning on July 12, the bus reached a police barrier at Kachla Ghat in Badaun district about 125 kilometers from Pilibhit about 11:00 a.m., where it was ordered to stop. A police van pulled up alongside the bus and directed it to a nearby police check post. The bus was then surrounded by three police vehicles — the van, a police truck and a jeep.
The passengers estimated that some 60-70 uniformed, armed policemen surrounded the bus. The police then ordered all thirteen men off the bus. They tied the men’s hands behind their backs with their turbans. The police slapped the men and insulted them. The two elderly men were then ordered to get back on the bus with their hands still tied while the police led the remaining eleven men into the police van. Twelve to fifteen policemen then entered the bus. They pointed their guns at the back of the passengers’ necks and ordered them to keep their heads down and not to look around.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. the bus was permitted to continue towards Pilibhit, accompanied by the three police vehicles. The twelve to fifteen police remained standing in the aisles of the bus, directing thedriver to follow the police convoy and ordering the passengers to keep their heads down.
They drove for six hours, passing Pilibhit and continuing until they crossed the Madhotanda canal and reached a fork in theroad where the Pilibhit Guest House is located. A number of police were standing in front of the guesthouse when the vehicles approached. At the fork, the police van, truck and jeep turned left, away from Pilibhit.
The police on the bus ordered it to turn right toward Pilibhit. Ten to fifteen minutes later, the police ordered the bus to stop on the banks of a canal. They untied the hands of the two elderly men and allowed the passengers to raise their heads. The police searched the passengers’ belonging for about 30-40 minutes, after which the police confiscated two cameras and all the belongings of the eleven men who had been taken into custody. According to the passengers, no arms were found. During the search the police told one of the passengers that they had been looking for the bus for
The police also asked one passenger, Joginder Kaur, if she was the mother of Lokhinder Singh, who has been detained since December 1990. Her older son, Talvinder Singh, was among the eleven passengers taken into custody. Joginder Kaur told Asia Watch that she did not know how the police identified her, as she had never seen any of them before. The bus then continued on for 30 to 40 minutes until it stopped at a petrol pump at Sakria. From Sakria, the bus drove on for another 15-20 minutes until it stopped at a hotel near the Kotwali police station. There, the police took turns getting off the bus and entering the police station. After twenty minutes all of the policemen were back on board and the bus continued on. At about 10:30 p.m. the bus
finally reached its original destination, the gurdwara (temple) on Pakria Mohalla street in Pilibhit. The
passengers were told to take their belongings and return to their villages while the police departed with the
bus and crew. This was the first time the passengers had been allowed to leave the bus. Despite repeated requests, none of them, including the children, had been permitted to eat, or to get off the bus to go to the toilet during the entire twelve-hour journey. On July 14 ten of the eleven men who had been taken into custody were reported as having been killed in three separate “encounters” with the police in forest areas near the Nepal border. The men were:
Baljit Singh (“Pappu”), son of Vasant Singh of Arjunder, Dha
riwal, Gurdaspur, Punjab;
Jaswant Singh (“Jassa”), of Gurdaspur;
Harbinder Singh (“Minta”) of Gurdaspur;
Sujan Singh (“Bittu”) of Gurdaspur;
Jaswant Singh Fauji of Gurdaspur;
Bichchettar Singh, son of Atma Singh of Gurdaspur;
Kartar Singh, son of Raunaq Singh of Gurdaspur;