Encounters Rising, Ghost Of 30-Year-Old Disappearance Haunts Punjab Police

At a time when Punjab has seen 11 encounters in two weeks, the ghost of an alleged forced disappearance and murder of an acting Akal Takht jathedar has come back to haunt the state police over 30 years later.

Encounters Rising, Ghost Of 30-Year-Old Disappearance Haunts Punjab Police

At a time when Punjab has seen 11 encounters in two weeks, the ghost of an alleged forced disappearance and murder of an acting Akal Takht jathedar has come back to haunt the state police over 30 years later. 

Acting Akal Takht jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke had been taken in custody in December 1992, at the height of militancy in the state, and the police had said he had escaped from their custody a few days later. Villagers had, however, alleged that Kaunke had disappeared and was killed by the police in an encounter. 

An inquiry into the incident from 1998 has now surfaced which questions the police's claims and recommends a case against a policeman as well as further investigation into the incident.

The report has come to light days after a special investigation team informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that an encounter which took place in 1994 was stage-managed

Arrest, Inquiry

It was alleged that the then station house officer (SHO) of Jagraon had picked up Kaunke from his home on December 12, 1992 but released him upon the insistence of villagers when his seven-day-old grandson died. The jathedar was rearrested on December 25, 1992, and implicated in the murder of a village youth. 

The police then claimed Kaunke had escaped from custody on January 2, 1993, after breaking a constable's belt to which his handcuffs were attached.

On June 7, 1998, then additional director general of police (security), BP Tiwari, began an inquiry into the alleged extrajudicial murder of Kaunke and submitted it to the government in 1999. The report was never made public, and no action was taken.

On Friday, 24 years after the report's submission, the Punjab Human Rights Organisation, a body formed in 1995 to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Punjab, got its hands on the report and shared it with the current Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Raghbir Singh. 

Mr Tiwari concludes in the report, "Looking at all the circumstances, it is clear that then SHO and now Deputy Superintendent of Police Gurmeet Singh took remand of Bhai Gurdev Singh on December 25, 1992, from his home, and Kaunke never returned. The police not agreeing to this is not believable. It is also not believable that Kaunke was arrested on January 2, 1993, and he escaped after breaking the belt of the police constable to whom his handcuffs were attached during a firing incident between militants and a police party near village Kania."

The probe report recommended a case against then Jagraon SHO Gurmeet Singh for wrongful confinement and falsification of records and called for a further investigation into the incident. It also recommended investigating the role of other cops and raised questions on the police claim that Kaunke had escaped from custody.

Encounters

Punjab saw two encounters in a day on Thursday as part of its ongoing crackdown on gangsters. Four people were arrested in all, with one of them being shot in the leg as he opened fire at the police while trying to escape.

A day before that, an arrested gangster was killed in an exchange of fire with the Punjab Police in Amritsar while he was trying to escape.

These encounters were part of the 11 that the state has seen in just the past two weeks.