Story of Punjab Police: Catch an Innocent, Kill him in “Encounter” to Claim the Reward for a Wanted Terrorist
NEW DELHI, Dec 16: A sordid incident of the police stage managing a fake encounter of an innocent villager to pass his body as that of a wanted terrorist to claim the bounty on offer for killing the militant has come to light 29 years after the inhuman act.
Dalbir Kaur was just 19 years old and two months pregnant when police in Punjab picked up her husband Sukhpal Singh and killed him in a fake encounter and passed off his body as that of the wanted terrorist Gurnam Singh Bandala in 1994. Though Bandala was caught alive some four years later, it still took more than 25 years for Dalbir Kaur to get justice and the world was told the dead man was not a terrorist but a victim of fake encounter. A case has now also been registered against the police officials responsible for the fake encounter, some of them already dead.
The terrorist Bandala was found alive four years later but Ms Kaur and her mother-in-law had to fight a long and arduous legal battle that has finally, 29 years later, culminated in a special investigation team informing the high court that the encounter was stage-managed. A case has also been registered against a former inspector general and other police officials.
Sukhpal Singh was a resident of Kala Afghana village in Gurdaspur district, and Ms Kaur, who is now 48, says he was kidnapped by police officials in 1994 and then shot dead to claim the bounty on wanted terrorist Gurnam Singh Bandala. For Ms Kaur and her family, the ordeal was just beginning.
“My mother-in-law ran from pillar to post for justice. She was the one who started this legal fight. It took 29 years and an SIT has now finally said the encounter was fake, but I have lost my mother-in-law and even my son, who was born after my husband’s death, along the way,” said Ms Kaur.
Ms Kaur’s daughter was just a year old when her father was killed and has almost no memories of him. “You can imagine what kind of a life I have had without a father. I was not told about him and I came to know what had happened only over time,” said Jeevanjyot Kaur.
In 1994, a team of Punjab Police officials claimed to have killed Bandala. Sukhpal Singh’s family filed a case on July 29 that year, alleging that some police officials had kidnapped him and killed him in a fake encounter. Bandala was caught alive in 1998. “My mother-in-law even met the terrorist Bandala in jail to ask him if he knew anything about where her son was, but got no information,” said Dalbir Kaur.
In 2007, 13 years after the encounter, an investigation was ordered under then Additional Director General of Police, JP Virdi. But Virdi died in 2010, which led to a lull in the investigation. In 2013, Ms Kaur approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Responding to this demand, the Punjab Police set up another inquiry, which was headed by Additional Director General of Police IPS Sahota. Later that year, the police also constituted a special investigation team.
It took 10 more years but, on December 10, 2023, the SIT, led by Special DGP Gurpreet Kaur Deo, filed an affidavit in the high court stating that Sukhpal’s encounter was stage-managed and the initial police FIR in the case was registered by falsifying the facts.
The court was also told that a fresh case for destruction and fabrication of evidence and under various other sections of the Indian Penal Code was registered in October against former Inspector General Paramraj Singh Umranangal, then deputy superintendent of police of Morinda, Jaspal Singh, and assistant sub-inspector Gurdev Singh (who is now dead).
Senior Advocate Pradip Virk from the Punjab and Haryana High Court praised the family for relentlessly pursuing the case. “The credit goes to this family who pursued this case. Lawyers can only fight the case when the family does so. They have shown that if you pursue the case, then even God delivers justice.”