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“Anti terror law does not apply on those involved in Gujarat riots.” This was stated by the former Punjab Police Chief K.P.S. Gill in response to a question on anti Muslim pogrom engineered by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.

Gill- who passed away on May 26 is often credited by the mainstream political parties of India for wiping out Sikh militancy in Punjab and bringing peace.
I had an opportunity to interview this man a number of times, but the controversial statement he made in relation to the Gujarat violence came during a radio chat following his appointment as Special Security Adviser in the state after his retirement.

The appointment was made after the bloodshed to restore normalcy to facilitate the next assembly election that saw Narendra Modi the then Gujarat Chief Minister getting reelected with a brute majority.

Thousands of innocent Muslims were slaughtered by the mobs led by the BJP activists after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burnt leaving more than 50 passengers dead. The Modi government had promptly blamed the incident on the Muslim fundamentalists and dubbed it as a terrorist attack. They not only accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting the crime, but also charged the alleged suspects for terrorism. However, those involved in well organized violence against Muslims were spared of the charge under anti terror law.

When I asked Gill that why those who killed Muslims were never charged for terrorism, he briefly said that the anti terror law doesn’t apply on them. Those enamored by the glorification of Gill ever since he became a celebrity for ending Sikh extremism continue to see him as a man who resolutely fought against terrorism but won’t ever dare to question why he did not take on terrorism perpetuated by the Hindu groups using similar techniques that were frequently applied to deal with the Sikh separatists.

The Sikh extremists seeking a state of Khalistan have been active in Punjab from early 1980s to early 1990s. Undoubtedly, they committed atrocities on Hindus, moderate Sikhs and political critics during their armed struggle, but Gill and the entire police force used much more violent means to crush their movement. Not only ordinary Sikhs suffered at the hands of the police, the political suspects were killed in staged shootouts in the name of so called war on terror through extra judicial means. The women had to suffer custodial rapes. Those involved in butchery were given out of turn promotions and bravery awards. Throughout this period Gill and his police force enjoyed the backing of the Indian state that passed draconian anti terror laws and supplied unaccounted funds to crush the insurgency.

Gill had become a media darling and was often praised as “Supercop” by political parties ranging from the left to the right. The BJP and his cohorts who wish to turn India into a Hindu theocracy saw him as a great saviour. It is a separate matter that it was self styled secular Congress that was mostly in power during that period and its attitude towards the Sikhs was no different from the one BJP is known to have towards Muslims.

The Congress had organized a massacre of Sikhs in 1984 following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. In June that year, Gandhi had ordered a military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar to flush out handful of militants who had fortified the place of worship. The army operation had left many pilgrims dead causing wide spread anger in the Sikh community. These ugly events of 1984 culminated into the Air India bombing in June 1985 that left 329 people dead. The crime was blamed on the Canada-based Sikh extremists seeking revenge for state repression. Interestingly, Gill had condemned both the military attack on the Golden Temple complex and anti Sikh massacre in one of his books, but he did not either see the anti Sikh violence or the anti Muslim pogrom of 2002 as glaring examples of terrorism against minority communities.

In one of those interviews I did with him he even tried to justify the killings of the militants in staged shootouts. Particularly when I asked him how he would like to explain why policemen never got injured in the so called encounters between the police and the Sikh militants, he replied with a counter question, “How do you explain drone attacks by US on terrorist camps?” He claimed that the police operations against militants in Punjab were much more humane as against those conducted by the big powers in their war on terror.

Notably, an Air India blast mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar had died in a staged shootout in Punjab in 1992. Gill was not able to explain why, not a single policeman had died in the so called fierce exchange of fire between him and the police.

The critics of Gill were mostly dubbed as “anti nationals” or the “apologists of the terrorists”, whereas several human rights activists and advocates were kidnapped and murdered. If this was not enough there was some kind of silence over his conviction in the infamous incident of sexual assault on a female administrative officer Rupan Deol Bajaj. Rather, the women supporters of the BJP frequently showed their solidarity with men like Gill by tying Raakhi – a band of bondage between sisters and protective brothers, according to Hindu tradition on their wrists.

Even if one agrees that the Sikh militants also indulged in human rights abuse, they were operating out of the constitutional framework. Moreover, they were killed with impunity. The question is why those who are shedding tears for Gill and paying tributes to him do not see the growing Hindu extremism in India as a threat to the peace?

Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, there is a huge increase in cases of violence and terror by the Hindu fanatics. Neither Gill nor his supporters who were so perturbed by terrorism in Punjab raised a question over Hindu militancy back then, nor they have raised it ever since the menace has spread across India under Modi. So much so, this government is also trying to give back door amnesty to the Hindu extremists charged and arrested for bombings. The extra judicial measures that were widely used against Sikh militants to deliver quick justice were not even considered to deal with them.

While the mainstream media is too busy paying tributes to Gill, a senior police officer in the Chhattisgarh state of India, Inspector General S.R.P Kalluri is being patronized on similar lines. He is posted in a state that is under the influence of Maoist insurgents.

Chhattisgarh is one of the several states with sizable population of the indigenous communities. Their traditional lands sit over natural resources and that’s why they continue to face eviction by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian establishment. Due to the structural violence against them many are forced to join Maoist movement. In the name of campaign against Maoists – the security agencies and the police have been harassing the tribal people. Staged shootouts and custodial rapes have become a common occurrence. Kalluri has been in the news number of times for openly threatening human rights activists and journalists questioning the state repression. Not surprisingly, the BJP supporters openly glorify Kalluri, whereas others try to demonize Maoists as “a biggest internal security threat.” For them, the tribal people remain indispensable and a road block on way to the development. Much like the Sikhs who merely form two percent of the Indian population, the tribals with only eight percent population can easily be othered by the government and the security agencies to assure the Hindu majority of peace and prosperity.

In the meantime, Muslims continue to face persecution every day. The Islamophobia in the western society has made the task of Modi and the Indian forces easy to target them. Apart from non state actors who often threaten and assault Muslims for eating cow meat that is considered blasphemous by orthodox Hindus, the police is in the habit of seeing them as potential terrorists. Particularly, in Muslim dominated Kashmir where a fight for self determination has been going on for years, the army and its vigilantes openly indulge in attacking the people in the name of national unity and integrity. Killings of Kashmiri insurgents in staged shootouts have always been seen as normal, while women in this conflict zone have been frequently subjected to sexual abuse. Perhaps, the security officials have become used to treat the bodies of women as battlefield because of top cops like Gill. Had he been given an exemplary punishment for harassing Bajaj, the women across India would have been spared of sexual violence at the hands of the protectors in uniforms.

Only recently, an army officer who had tied a Kashmiri man on a jeep to prevent protesters from throwing stones at the soldiers was honoured. And guess what? The Congress leader and the Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amrinder Singh welcomed it. He had also called upon aging and ailing Gill some time ago. Playing a nationalism card he went to the extent of calling his opponents based in Canada as Khalistanis and the Defence Minister of Canada Harjit Singh Sajjan as a sympathizer of Sikh militants. Sajjan’s only fault is that his father used to be associated with World Sikh Organization that once supported Khalistan. As against this Modi’s proximity with some well known Hindu zealots has been constantly overlooked.

The connection between KPS and Kalluri suggests that India has become a majoritarian democracy where the interest of the Hindu majority has to be safeguarded all the time to ensure electoral victory. Though officially India is a secular democracy it has repeatedly shown signs of being a Hindu state that is inclined towards keeping minorities under boots so that the eighty percent of the population that believes in Hinduism (read Hindu nationalism) can be swayed by the ruling classes in the name of nationalism. A true democracy is inclusive and considerate for all, including those on the margins and not just a majority.

To counter all this some might suggest that Gill was an intellectual who loved poetry and also promoted culture, but keep in mind that Hitler too was a great painter and architect, but that part of his personality remains rightfully eclipsed because of his crimes against humanity.

Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    All over the world, personalities who suppress peoples movements are praised by the government and the dominant media. Similar is the case with Gill who brutally supressed the mass movement of sikhs. The agitation of Sikhs in Punjab was for self – respect and against oppressive policies of Congress rulers. They were branded ‘ terrorists ‘ and mercilessly killed. The ‘ supercop’ Gill played a crucial part in crushing. Even the right wing hindutva forces opposed sikhs who now form alliance with sikh party for political convinience. The majoritarian view being imposed is regrettable

  • Anand Teltumbde

    Excellent Gurpreet!