Lawyer who documented 6,733 Punjab disappearances, illegal cremations booked on 2019 I&B complaint

13 May 2021
The PDAP says it has documented at least 6,733 cases of disappearances and illegal cremations between 1984 and 1995, a period of turmoil in Punjab. It released a documentary on these cases, titled “Punjab Disappeared,” in 2019. That year, the MHA told the I&B that the documentary propagated “the agenda of pro-khalistan elements.”
The PDAP says it has documented at least 6,733 cases of disappearances and illegal cremations between 1984 and 1995, a period of turmoil in Punjab. It released a documentary on these cases, titled “Punjab Disappeared,” in 2019. That year, the MHA told the I&B that the documentary propagated “the agenda of pro-khalistan elements.”

The Chandigarh Police registered a first-information report against a United Kingdom-based lawyer Satnam Singh Bains on 19 April, nearly two years after the ministry of home affairs sent “inputs” about him to the ministry of information and broadcasting. Satnam is an activist who founded the civil-society group Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project in 2008. The PDAP aims to uncover excesses committed by security forces in Punjab between 1984 and 1995, a period of turmoil in the state. The PDAP says it has documented at least 6,733 cases of disappearances and illegal cremations in this time. It released a documentary on these cases, titled “Punjab Disappeared,” in 2019. That year, the MHA told the MIB that the documentary propagated “the agenda of pro-khalistan elements.” The MIB complained to the Chandigarh Police about this, but the police did not find any substance in this claim. The MIB had also mentioned that the documentary was screened without certification—in April this year, Satnam was booked for this offence.

The PDAP has led perhaps the most expansive effort to show the scale of the mass state crimes that took place in Punjab under the guise of curbing militancy. Based on its work, a crucial petition that seeks to show the state’s heavy handedness in 1980s and 1990s was filed before the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 14 November 2019. Satnam is a counsel of the petitioners and the PDAP’s documentary is a part of the petition. The petition notes that families of many victims have lived without closure; without knowing whether their kin are dead or alive. It says that many family members have been denied basic rights—such as death certificates of the victims, access to pension and succession rights—just because the state has chosen to not acknowledge the crimes of the police and security forces. The petition seeks an “independent and effective investigation into these killings and a diligent prosecution of those involved in the murders and the subsequent cover-ups.”

The case against Satnam indicates a clampdown against the PDAP and the petitioners. The MIB complained to the police in July 2019, but the FIR against Satnam was only registered in April 2021. Rajvinder Singh Bains, Satnam’s co-counsel in the petition, said, “We read it as a crude attempt to undermine the legal defence of the victims and the exercise of prosecuting the guilty [police officers] and an attempt to prosecute those who we called human rights defenders.”

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Keywords: Punjab police Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project
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