Families of 1986 Saka Nakodar Police Killings Are Still Waiting for Justice

The government claims that Part II of the Justice Gurnam Singh Commission report, which contained affidavits and evidence, has gone 'missing'.

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Jalandhar: While participating in a peaceful march against the sacrilege of five saroops (copies) of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, four young men were gunned down by the police in Punjab’s Nakodar sub-division, Jalandhar district, on February 4, 1986. The case is similar to the 2015 Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan police firing, in which two young men were killed.

It has been 35 years, and the families of those killed have been waiting for justice, truth and accountability.

The four young men were Ravinder Singh from Littran village, Harminder Singh from Chalupar, Baldhir Singh from Ramgarh and Jhilman Singh hailing from Gorsian villages, all members of the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF).

Recently, Baldev Singh, the father of Ravinder Singh, who is settled in California, wrote a letter to chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi seeking justice and demanding Part II of the Justice Gurnam Singh Commission report, which was ordered at that time to expose the guilty officials. The government claims that the report has gone missing.

Known as ‘Saka Nakodar’ (saka in Punjabi means a historic incident/tragedy involving rare valour or sacrifice), Part I of the inquiry report was tabled in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on March 5, 2001, when chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was ruling the state. The crucial Part II, carrying affidavits, evidence and exhibits, is not available.

Punjab has a dubious track record when it comes to delivering justice in sacrilege cases. Whether it was the sacrilege case of 1978, Nakodar 1986, Bargari sacrilege 2015 and Behbal Kalan firing or the recent alleged attempts of sacrilege at the Golden Temple, Amritsar and in Kapurthala district, no justice was delivered, enraging the Sikh community.

Talking to The Wire from California, Ravinder’s brother Harinder Singh said, “After waiting for justice from former chief minister Amarinder Singh, we wrote a letter to chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi on International Human Rights Day on December 10, but there was no response. Our case is pending in the high court and the next hearing is on March 10, 2022. We fear that Part II of the report has either been weeded out or destroyed intentionally.”

Also read: With Sacrilege, Lynchings and Now a Bomb Blast, Tensions Are on the Rise in Punjab

Harinder, who is teaching at Stanford University, said, “The Justice Gurnam Singh Commission report released on October 31, 1986 had clearly mentioned in its findings that the police firing was ‘unjustified’ and ‘aimed to kill the protestors’. Even the assembly of the protestors was not ‘unlawful’. They were protesting peacefully but the police shot the four youths without any warning.”

“Now, chief minister Channi should table Part II of the report in its entirety, including the Action Taken Report by Justice Gurnam Singh Commission in the Vidhan Sabha and make it public. In case there is no Action Taken Report, CM Channi should initiate one and place it in the assembly,” he pleaded.

Harinder also urged Channi to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to bring charges against the perpetrators of this atrocity while the witnesses, perpetrators and aged parents of the victims are still alive.

The family has also been actively running a twitter handle – Saka Nakodar-4Feb86 – to raise their voice for justice. Post Saka Nakodar, Harinder’s father Baldev Singh quit his government bank job and moved to Canada and then settled in California in the mid-1990s.

Another retired judge, Justice Ajit Singh Bains, had also conducted a separate and independent inquiry titled ‘A mischief at Nakodar’ and held the police accountable. “The then SGPC president Gurcharan Singh Tohra had also constituted a committee to probe Saka Nakodar. Ironically, even the SGPC never made its findings public,” he pointed out.

However, when the incumbent SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami was asked about the Saka Nakodar inquiry report, he said, “I am not aware of the facts and cannot comment.”

Harinder said that there was one exception, the then AISSF president Paramjit Singh Gazi, who kept fighting for justice and supported the families. “We are extremely thankful to him,” he said.

Apart from this, ex-AAP MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, Jalandhar MP from Congress, Santokh Chaudhary, ex-SAD leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and AAP MLA from Kharar, who is also a veteran journalist, Kanwar Sandhu took up this issue but justice was not done.

During an election rally in Jalandhar ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal was asked about Saka Nakodar, he denied any information about the case and left.

About Saka Nakodar

On February 2, 1986, five saroops of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib were found desecrated by unknown miscreants at Gurdwara Arjan Sahib, Mohalla Guru Nanak Pura, Nakodar.

A day later, on February 4, Ravinder Singh, Harminder Singh, Baldhir Singh and Jhilman Singh were peacefully marching towards the gurdwara premises to collect the desecrated saroops of the holy book, when they were killed by the Punjab Police.

Among the four, Ravinder was shot dead on the spot, Baldhir and Jhilman were gunned down together in a cattle shed, and Harminder, who was shot in his mouth point blank, died on the intervening night of February 4-5. Harminder was declared brought dead at Jalandhar Civil Hospital.

The post mortem of all four were done in the dead of night on February 4-5, 1986 and the families were not even allowed to witness the cremations.

“On the night of February 4-5 in the harsh cold, my father ran from police station to hospital, from hospital to cremation ground on a scooter but nobody helped. After identifying the bodies, my father followed the police vehicle, which was heading to Jalandhar to cremate them. But by the time he reached, they had lit the pyre by putting kerosene oil on all bodies together at a cremation ground in Jalandhar,” Harinder said.

Also read: Why Are Gruesome Lynchings Being Justified in Punjab?

At the time, Izhar Alam was the SSP, Jalandhar and additional deputy commissioner Darbara Singh Guru was the acting district magistrate. Alam died in June this year, while his wife Nisara F. Khatoon is the SAD MLA from Malerkotla. SAD had also fielded Darbara Guru from Fatehgarh Sahib seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but he lost, following protests over Saka Nakodar. Before this, he contested assembly polls on the SAD ticket twice but lost.

Soon after this tragedy, then Punjab chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala had ordered a judicial inquiry by a retired high court judge. The Justice Gurnam Singh panel submitted its judicial inquiry report to the Punjab government on October 31, 1986. But it was never acted upon or tabled in the state assembly.

It was only after consistent media reporting and follow-up by members of the Punjab assembly that Vidhan Sabha speaker Rana K.P. Singh disclosed during the February 13, 2019 assembly session that the report was placed in the state assembly without the Action Taken Report on March 5, 2001.

“In 2001, when CM Parkash Singh Badal was ruling Punjab, the Gurnam Commission report was available in the Vidhan Sabha Library. But we could only receive part-1 of the report. Later, when our legal counsel inquired, the Vidhan Sabha Library and Home Department indicated that part-two of the report has gone missing,” he added.

Experts speak

Veteran journalist and AAP MLA from Kharar (Mohali) Kanwar Sandhu, who had reported about Saka Nakodar in The Tribune in March 1986, in a written reply to The Wire stated, “An officer of Home Department had shared the inquiry report with me. He was hurt on some officers of the department stating that if action was taken on the report, it could demoralise police officers doing a ‘difficult job’ (or something to that effect). This was how the government handled this case. Even the opposition did nothing to raise the issue. After getting the report, I did this story and it was front-page news in The Tribune.”

On consecutive governments’ failure, Sandhu said that ideally, successive governments should have taken action on the report after 1986-87. “It is criminal negligence on their part not to have proceeded on it. So, also on the part of Vidhan Sabha, where report was laid on the floor of the house. Now, I am not sure if action can be taken after 35 years, as crucial evidence would be hard to find. But least the government could have done is apologise to victim families and given salutary compensation to them. Vidhan Sabha could now have passed a resolution condemning the killings. This would have forced the political parties to drop such guilty officers from favour,” he added.

When asked if the inquiry report has actually gone missing or the government just doesn’t want to act on it, Sandhu said, “Government and Vidhan Sabha should have ordered an inquiry into the missing part of report and fixed responsibility of officers whose pension benefits could be withheld.”

Former president of AISSF and currently the editor of Sikhsiyasat.com Paramjit Singh Gazi said, “Saka Nakodar is not a case in isolation. There are a series of cases like this in which justice has been denied to the victim Sikh families. There is a set pattern behind such denials.”

Gazi added that instead of registering an FIR, holding an investigation, arresting accused policemen and filing a chargesheet in such cases, the government appoints a commission in order to prevent regular criminal proceedings from taking place. “Then the government sits over the reports of such commissions, delaying and ultimately denying justice. Such commissions are appointed to cool the tempers of people and evade the regular process of criminal law from taking place. This happened in many cases including 1986 Saka Nakodar, 2012 Saka Gurdaspur, 2015 Kotakpura and Behbal Kalan police firing cases,” he added.