Jatinder Hayer: Never Forget #SakaNakodar 1986

This is a tale of 35 years. A tale of tears and of injustice.

Jatinder Hayer
February 4, 2021 | 8 min. read

This is a tale of 35 years. A tale of tears and of injustice. 

Four victims were killed extrajudicially in the Nakodar police shooting incident of February 4, 1986. The agony of family members and loved ones have not ended. The parents of three of the victims have passed away awaiting justice and closure. 

Many of us will remember the more recent Behbal Kalan incident that took place on October 14, 2015, when villagers were participating in a sit-in protest at Behbal Kalan link road in Faridkot’s Kotkapura constituency. The protest was against the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib which had happened in the nearby Bargari village. The incident, subsequent inquiries, and political drama have been in the news recently as former Punjab DGP Sumedh Saini, suspended IG Paramraj Singh Umranangal, former SSP Charanjit Singh Sharma, and serving SP Bikramjit Singh are now among the accused in this high-profile case of police firing in which two Sikh protesters were killed. 

What most of us do not know, and many may not remember, is that an eerily similar incident took place in the town of Nakodar 29 years before Behbal Kalan. 

The Incident
On February 2, 1986, five Guru Granth Sahibs at a Gurudwara were burned. There was suspicion within the local Sikh community that this was the work of miscreants belonging to the radical outfit Shiv Sena.  

There were protests in the city on February 2nd and 3rd. On February 4th, local Sikh organizations staged a peaceful march to secure the burned texts and also show the community’s frustration with the police’s negligent attitude towards their genuine grievances as a curfew was imposed. While the procession was walking towards the Gurudwara, the police opened fire without warning and with the intent to kill. 

One among the five men leading the peaceful march, Ravinder Singh, was killed on the spot. As the mounted police hunted for those trying to escape, Baldhir Singh and Jhilman Singh were killed at a nearby farm. 

The fourth victim, Harminder Singh, in a clear case of vengeance and targeted killing, was forced to come out of hiding from a sawmill and shot in the mouth at point-blank range. Harminder was the district convener of the Sikh Students’ Federation and had been critical of police brutality against Sikhs in his speeches. 

The news of police firing quickly spread to the nearby villages. The City was now under complete lockdown. 

Upon learning about the police firing and that his son Ravinder Singh had been killed in the protest, Baldev Singh managed to get to the hospital with the help of one of his friends and timely phone calls to the city administration by local Akali politicians. 

In Civil Hospital Nakodar, Baldev Singh was led into room no. 26 by police officers on duty where he saw three bodies on the ground and a fourth, that of Harminder Singh, on a stretcher. Witnesses would later reveal that Harminder was alive when police brought what they thought were 4 dead bodies to the local hospital. When the doctors tried to save him, the police officer-in-charge insisted that they take him to the district hospital, approximately a 45-minute drive from the local hospital, in a police vehicle. It is suspected that the police took him away to wait long enough for him to die and then brought his body back to the local hospital for post-mortem. The post-mortem of all four was done in the dark of the night. 

At the hospital, Baldev Singh pleaded with the police station head to hand over the body of his son and even offered to take the bodies of others to their families. The police head told him that Baldev Singh had to go to the police station and get clearance so he could receive his son’s body. As he would realize later, this was a ploy to send him away from the hospital while police were covering up their crime.

Unclaimed, Unidentified
While Baldev Singh went to the police station for the required police clearance, the police at the hospital loaded the bodies of the victims on a truck and drove them to a nearby cremation ground. 

All four bodies were burned together by the police during the early hours of February 5th. The police records would claim that the bodies were unclaimed and unidentified. Needless to say, this was a lie not only because Baldev Singh had just been pleading with them for the body of his son hours ago, but also because all the victims had their identity cards on them and the names and addresses of two of the victims were also marked in their post mortem reports.  

The police were in a hurry to burn the bodies and with them the proof of their extrajudicial killing. The post mortem reports would show that all the victims had been shot from a close range and to their vital organs. The police shooting was intended not to disperse a crowd but to cause maximum casualties. 

Judicial Inquiry
By the morning of February 5th police brutality was front and center in the local media. 

Local politicians, members of the state legislative assembly (MLAs), and Sikh organizations staged a sit-in in front of the police station. At this point, the state government promised a judicial inquiry into the incident by a retired high court judge. 

The Justice Gurnam Singh Commission of Inquiry was set up and it submitted its report to the state government on October 31st, 1986. In contravention of the rule of law and established procedure under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, the government failed to place and discuss the report, along with the mandatory Action Taken Report, in the state assembly within six months of submission. Only part one of the two-part reports would be tabled in the state legislative assembly on 5 March 2001, that too without debate or notification to the victims’ families. 

The families would only become aware of the existence of this report in August 2018 when at the insistence of victims’ families, some of the state MLAs pressed the government of its whereabouts while debating what else but the Behbal Kalan incident. Upon learning that the judicial inquiry report was tabled, Baldev Singh filed a lawsuit against the police officers in the state High Court. It was then the state home department disclosed that part two of the report had gone missing.  

A review of part one of the report reveals a deliberate effort by the police to cause maximum casualties, breaking every rule in its own standard operating procedure for dealing with crowds. 

The report concludes that the firing was neither necessary nor justified. Paragraph 77 of the report states,

The order that effective firing should be on the lower part of the body was totally ignored and it appears that the four persons who died were aimed at the vital parts of their bodies so as to kill them. The position was not such that without effective firing, there could have been a danger to public property or life. The mob simply proceeded to go to the Gurdwara for “Darshan'' of the holy burnt ‘Birs’ and firing was ordered. For the simple injuries on the persons of some policemen, killing of four persons and injuring eight persons, was not justified. The police firing at Nakodar on the 4th February 1986, was, therefore not justified and could be avoided.

Kill Innocents, Get A Pat On The Back
In the immediate aftermath of the firing incident, accused police officers were temporarily suspended and then reinstated as soon as the media coverage died down. 

It is worth noting that a “kill squad” of police officers who were not normally posted in the area was brought in by then SSP Jalandhar, Izhar Alam, who would go on to become famous for his mercenary squad called ‘Alam Sena’. 

He had his confidants in charge of the operation and subsequent coverup. Not only did guilty police officers escape punishment, but also received out of turn promotions and gallantry awards. The successive governments went out of their way to protect them and deny justice to the victims. 

Two of the accused police officers would go on to become senior leaders in the governing party that hid the judicial report for years.

Records Expunged
When records of the incident and related police reports were requested under the Right To Information Act, the police responded by saying that they have no record of any such incident. 

It appears that the local police have destroyed all records related to the incident and will claim that it never happened, even though there is record of a judicial inquiry and news reports spanning over 35 years. The families are afraid that part two of the judicial report has been destroyed and that they may never see justice delivered. 

Are Governments Sincere?
Both the Nakodar and Behbal Kalan incidents happened when Panjab was ruled by Akali Dal. 

The judicial commissions were set up by the Akalis and police officers were protected by them as well. Izhar Alam, SSP, and Darbara Guru, ADC, two senior officers directly responsible for this incident would go on to occupy senior positions in Akali Dal. Alam would be awarded a party ticket to fight an election to become MLA, when Sikh activists opposed the party move, the ticket was instead awarded to his wife. It would be an understatement to say that Akali Dal - the supposed political representative of Sikhs in the state - works against Sikh interests.

Several Congress regimes have also come and gone. 

It is clear to the families that beyond lip service, neither Congress nor Akali Dal has any intention to pursue justice in cases where police are guilty of killing innocent Sikhs. Even when the families approach courts on their own, they have to face wall after wall of government and police obstruction. Several communique to every branch of government from the families, political activists, MPs, and MLAs have fallen on deaf ears. 

None other than the Chief Minister Amrinder Singh in the current Congress government in Panjab made a public commitment to deliver justice in this case but so far has made no progress whatsoever to even locate the missing part two of the judicial inquiry report. 

Coincidentally, Amrinder Singh was also a senior minister in the Akali Government when this incident happened in 1986.

Fight For Justice, Till The Bitter End
Since the filing of the court case in 2019 in the state high court, the proceedings have not moved at all, as the police and state agencies keep putting up roadblocks, and keep denying access to information necessary for the case to proceed.

The victims' families have been living with the trauma of the tragic murders of their loved ones. 

Not only did they lose a child or a brother, but the families were also harassed by the police. Family members were detained without warrants or any just cause, only to be released through intervention by local community leaders. 

Parents of three of the victims have died waiting for closure, but the families are determined to keep fighting till the bitter end. 

Baldev Singh was 39 years old the day his son was killed and he sat-in at the Nakodar police station. He is now 74 but is determined to keep on fighting for justice till his last breath.

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Jatinder Hayer hails from Edmonton, Canada, and is an engineer and an entrepreneur. He has held senior positions in both private and public sector organizations and holds an MSc from the University of Alberta. He grew up in Punjab during the 80s and 90s when militancy and state terror was at their peak. You can find him on Twitter at @edmhayer.


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