Thousands of mothers await their sons even though some may know that that the oppressor has not spared their sons’ lives on this earth. A mother’s heart is such that even if she sees her son’s dead body, she does not accept that her son has left her. And those mothers who have not even seen their children’s dead bodies, they were asking us: at least find out, is our son alive or not?1
-Jaswant Singh Khalra, human rights activist, killed October 1995
KPS Gill’s tale begins in 1988, when he came to Punjab as the Director General of Police. Punjab back then was a state reeling in militancy and facing it’s darkest times. To understand the Punjab phenomenon, we need to go further back, to around 1977 when after losing an election, the disgruntled former CM, Giani Zail Singh cooked up a strategy with Sanjay Gandhi to create an alternative sikh power house against the rising Akali Dal. This event marked the emergence of Sant Bhinderanwale and little did the Congress party realize that they had created a Frankenstein. Bhinderanwale, due to his radical ideas and exemplary oratory skills, became a rage in the revolutionary minds of Punjab and after realizing the extent of his hold and influence, he stopped heeding to his masters all together. The 1980s in Punjab witnessed a decade-long insurgency by Sikh militants, primarily attempting to procure greater autonomy. Militants were responsible for numerous excesses, including the killings of Hindu and Sikh civilians and assassinations of political leaders.
The Indian state reacted to all of this with utmost force. The particular state action which catapulted Punjab into a black hole was the 1984 army invasion of the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, Harmandir Sahib. The state attack was not just on the religious centre, but the political mecca of Sikhs as well. Along with the militants, thousands of innocent pilgrims were massacred and the holy building was almost completely destroyed by the army tanks. This attack affected the Indian Sikh psyche (even the moderate ones) more than anything ever had and it started to seem that India might lose Punjab. As a result of the simmering anger, in October 1984, the Sikh bodyguards of Indira Gandhi assassinated her. What followed the Indira Gandhi killing is the bloodiest riot in the history of independent India (leaving the partition). More than 10,000 Sikhs were killed by Congress party supporters (primarily Hindus) across the country. If anything could make the Punjab situation worse, it was this.
From May 11, 1987 to February 25, 1992, the Indian government dismissed the elected government in Punjab and imposed President’s Rule. This coincided with the time when KPS was brought in to try his iron hand on the terrorists. Also, the National Security Act was amended to allow detention without trial for up to two years in Punjab for acts prejudicial to the security or defence of India. Along with this, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987 gave rights to the police for using confessions in the court as admissible evidence. The police brutality that ensued saw thousands of terrorists being killed and prosecuted but a much greater amount of innocent Sikhs being framed in false cases and killed in fake encounters. Reports from different human rights groups, media houses like BBC, and the US state department explain in detail how Punjab police under KPS was worse than even the militants. What KPS promoted is called ‘meeting targets’ in today’s marketing lingo. A police officer who could bring a certain number of dead bodies of ‘alleged’ terrorists was rewarded and recognized highly. As a result, there were villages which ended up with no Sikh male at all in the age range of 15 to 40. They were either arrested, killed or they escaped to save their lives. Innocent or terrorist ceased to matter in KPS’s time, and then the families of those who ran away were often tortured while other measures like destruction of property and livestock were also used extensively.
In early 1995, human rights activists Jaswant Singh Khalra exposed over 6,000 secret cremations by the police in just one of then 13 districts in Punjab. Later, in the same year he was arrested by the police, but no records were shown of his detention. He was never found after. By the time Gill retired from the IPS in 1995, 500 Punjab police personnel were facing lawsuits already. By 1997, it increased to 1200 and the government had to disburse lakhs of rupees as damages in umpteen number of cases that ended up in victim’s favour. There is no dearth of such incidents, reports, evidence and court rulings that clearly dictate the mismanagement and brutality of KPS’s time.
The sins of Gill though, do not just end with his retirement. After leading the described reign of terror, he just went away from Punjab and never ever returned back. He did not care to fight for his junior officers and a lot of them ended up in jail while he lived a life of luxury and power. A few of those police officers committed suicide, the case of Ajit Singh Sandhu being a famous one. KPS Gill later ran another super mismanaged organization, the Indian Hockey Federation and got embroiled in the charges of nepotism and incompetence. Also, in 1996, he was convicted for sexual harassing a lady IAS officer named Rupan Deol Bajaj.
Despite all the known facts, there are many main-stream journalists like Shekhar Gupta who carry and propagate a very rosy picture of KPS Gill and his role in bringing peace to Punjab. Mr. Gupta’s hate for anything remotely related to Sikh identity and autonomy is well known and can be observed in his anniversary writings about Operation Bluestar. A more surprising piece of writing though was the recent opinion article by Hartosh Singh Bal in scroll.in, where he based his entire 2500 word essay on facts and numbers from an organization named Institute of Conflict Management Data. He did not mention even once that this particular body was founded and headed by KPS Gill himself. It’s not only strange but disrespectful towards the thousands of innocents killed by the same man. The only argument that Hartosh might have, is the first line of his piece, “Anything I write on KPS Gill cannot be unbiased.”