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Punjab

Punjab Has A Sordid Story Of Encounter Killings

The government retaliation against Khalistani terrorism inaugurated a chapter in the state's history that's yet to end

Action time: Punjab Police personnel at Hoshiar Nagar village where two suspected killers of Moosewa Photo: Getty Images

On July 30, former Punjab Deputy IGP Harinder Singh Chahal stood near a newly-installed statue of Sidhu Moosewala—who was assassinated on May 29—alongside the slain singer’s father, Balkaur Singh, and addressed the mourners. As Chahal, who has been decorated with President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Services, mimicked a handgun and pulled the trigger, he touched upon the biggest unresolved murder mystery in Punjab’s music industry—the fatal shooting of Amar Singh Chamkila and his singer-wife Amarjot with two other members of their band, on March 8, 1988. “Those who had killed Chamkila, I killed them,” Chahal declared in Mansa’s Moosa village to a tepid response from the gathered crowd. Just a few days ago, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had congratulated the state police for killing two gangsters who were allegedly involved in Moosewala’s murder. Then too, the public response was of indifference, unlike the wild public celebrations after the encounter killings of criminal Vikas Dubey in Kanpur or after that of four alleged rapists in Hyderabad.

There is a reason why Punjab takes such encounter killings by police with a pinch of salt and scepticism. Punjab’s psyche has been wounded and bloodied by over a decade of armed insurgency that was marked by forced disappearances and staged encounters, a tactic that was widely used by the police to dispose of suspects. Over the years, Punjab’s insurgency has seen several films on the subject, some done sensitively, others not so. A new biopic on Sikh human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra (1938-1995)—starring Diljit Dosanjh and releasing shortly—is yet another effort to put the spotlight back on the state’s darkest phase.

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