Fight to trace 'lost' Sikhs in Punjab

HARJIT SINGH, 22, a former employee of the Punjab State Electricity Board and father of two small children, 'disappeared' last April. There is nothing very unusual about that, for hundreds of young Sikhs have 'disappeared' in the Punjab over the past few years as armed Sikh opposition groups, demanding an independent Sikh state, have been locked in conflict with police and security forces.

What makes it different is that his parents have put together an exceptional amount of information about their missing son and that Sikh human rights groups have decided to make his disappearance a test case with the Indian government and judiciary. A petition for habeas corpus for Mr Singh is being heard today in the High Court in Haryana and John Major, the Prime Minister, has been presented with all relevant documents by the British Sikh community as he leaves for a visit to India.

A 'disappearance' in Punjab has come to mean almost certain death. But from recent information it seems possible that the young man has escaped the extrajudicial execution that frequently follows such arrests, and may still be alive somewhere in custody. Since death could follow at any moment, Mr Singh's case has been labelled an 'urgent action' by Amnesty International.

Harjit Singh was travelling on a bus on 24 April, returning from an interview with his former employers with whom he was again trying to find work, when the bus was stopped by police and he was arrested. His family know that he was detained first at various police stations. They know the names of the police who arrested him, and those of the officers in whose custody he was. They know that he was tortured, so badly that at one point he could not walk. His legs may have been broken.

They know, too, that he was then taken to the Mal Mandi interrogation centre in Amritsar City. His father, alerted by witnesses, arrived at the centre. He was told his son was dead, shot by a group of armed terrorists who attacked a police party apparently taking him to recover a cache of hidden arms. Police then produced ashes said to be those of Harjit Singh. Blaming deaths on armed 'encounters' has become a routine police tactic.

However, five months later, Mr Singh was suddenly spotted in the Beas area, near Amritsar, with a police escort. The High Court agreed to appoint a warrant officer to investigate.

When he reached the interrogation centre, the young man was spirited away, but not before he was clearly seen at a first floor window, apparently naked and chained to a wall. Other young men were with him, also chained. By the time the warrant officer was allowed to inspect the building they had all vanished.

There is no evidence to link Mr Singh to any of the Sikh opposition groups, but mere suspicion of being sympathetic to their aims has become enough for young men in Punjab to be seized by the police. What Sikh groups now hope is that international publicity may serve to deter police and army from engaging in the practice of 'disappearing' people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy