‘Jodhpur detainees’ might not ring a bell for the average reader.
Briefly, 375 unarmed men, women and children were found in the Golden Temple when the Army entered on 6 June 1984. These people did not look dangerous, but the Army took no chances and had them all arrested anyway. In his book, My Life as a Police Officer, Julio Ribeiro (Punjab DGP 1986–1989) explained:
Many of them were not connected with Bhindranwale or the terrorists. They were there merely to offer prayers on the occasion of the anniversary of the martyrdom of the sixth Sikh guru. It was unfortunate that the operation was undertaken on that very day. Yet, since those who were arrested had been found by the Army in the temple, they were all bracketed together in a conspiracy case and charged with ‘waging war against the State.’ As it was not possible to separate the accused at a late stage of the investigation after the charge sheet had been filed, even the innocent were kept in custody along with the hard-core extremists.
All 375 of them were sent to Jodhpur Central Jail, and there they remained for the next 4–5 years. They were released in three batches, between March 1989 and July 1991. That’s a minimum of four years behind bars for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Of these, 224 detainees had appealed for compensation in the lower court, alleging ‘wrongful detention and torture’, but they failed to get any relief in 2011. Out of these, 40 of the detainees went in appeal to the District and Sessions Court, Amritsar, and, in April 2017, were awarded `4 lakh each as compensation with 6 per cent interest (from the date of filing of the appeal to payment of compensation). The compensation for all the 40 petitioners, including interest, worked out to `4.5 crore. The Punjab government gave an undertaking to the court to pay half the amount, but the Central government appealed against the order in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
In July of that year, the Centre withdrew its appeal. In the absence of any further news coverage, it is not known whether the victims finally got compensation.
One of the things that swung the case in the detainees’ favour was lack of evidence that any warning had been given. In his ruling, the Amritsar District and Sessions Judge Gurbir Singh termed the arrests ‘illegal’. He wrote:
There is no evidence that army made any announcements asking ordinary civilians to leave Golden Temple complex before launching the operation in 1984 …There is no written record of any public announcement by the civil authorities requesting the people to come out the complex. No log of vehicle used for making such announcements is there…. The event underlines the human rights violations by troops during the operation.
Also read: A bloody miscalculation called Blue Star
An additional bit of information. More than 100 of the Jodhpur detainees got speedier justice in the highest court of all, meaning they died before an earthly court could find in their favour.
This excerpt from The Legacy of Militancy in Punjab: Long Road to ‘Normalcy’ by Inderjit Singh Jaijee and Dona Suri has been published with permission from Sage Publications India.