November 21, 2012 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Ludhiana, Punjab (November 21, 2012): Dr. Assa Singh, aged 93, could barely walk without support of some other person. He stood on trial of a 1987 bank robbery case for more than 25 years. Police had accused him for handling money allegedly robbed by Sikh militants from a Ludhiana branch of Punjab National Bank on February 12, 1987.
On November 20, 2012 a designated TADA court convicted him under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for recovery of cash shown against him by the prosecution and sentenced him to undergo 10 years of imprisonment.
It is significant to note that TADA ceased to be operative since May 1995 as the Indian State did not dare to renew it because of massive opposition as this law was being widely misused.
Now even after 17 years after the expiry of TADA, Assa Singh along with 11 others is punished to a sentence that is considered too harsh for most of the convicts.
Assa Singh, owner of 30 acres of fertile land near Sham Chaurasi, District Hoshiarpur took part in numerous political agitations organized by Shiromani Akali Dal, the political party that represented the Sikhs in India after partition of Punjab in 1947. He was arrested more than six times for being a part of, as well as for organizing peaceful demonstrations, protests and agitations against the anti-Sikh policies of the Indian state.
In 1970, one of his sons went to Canada followed by another in 1977. With the income earned from 30 acres of land along with money sent by his sons he purchased 21 acres of land in 1980.
According to defense pleaded by Assa Singh, during the trial, it was the earning of farming as well as money sent by his sons from Canada, amounting to rupees two lacks that was seized by the police from their house in the first week of December 1987 along with Gold jewellery, sale deeds, passbooks and other documents.
Assa Singh was kept in illegal custody and was falsely implicated in Ludhiana Bank robbery case. He was charged with TADA for the alleged recovery of currency notes amounting to rupee One Lakh Fifty thousands. The prosecution case alleged that he was a part of conspiracy to rob the bank though there was nothing to prove the conspiracy.
He stood on trial for consecutive 25 years.
Few years back he was exempted from personal appearance in the court due to the fact that he was aged above 90 years and was suffering from old age health problems.
On November 17, 19, 20 in 2012 he was brought to Ludhiana for hearing the final order in this case by his family members.
On November 20, 2012 while all others charged in this case were standing in the court Bapu Assa Singh was sitting calmly on a chair meant only for the advocates, as he could not stand for too long.
When the Additional Sessions cum designated TADA judge Sunil Kumar Arora pronounced that Assa Singh along with others is convicted under Section 120-B (IPC) read with section 342, 395, 397 and 506 of Indian Penal Code (IPC); u/s 412 IPC and u/sections 3 (2), 3 (3) and 4 (2) of TADA, all present got stunned. But the judge had more surprise.
After pronouncing his order holding all the accused persons guilty for all charges levelled by the prosecution Judge Sunil Kumar Arora left the court room temporarily. After about half an hour he returned and pronounced almost similar sentence for all those who were held guilty, including 93 years old Assa Singh and 83 years old Harbhajan Singh.
Assa Singh at the age of 93 is sentenced to undergo 7 years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 120-B (IPC) read with section 342, 395, 397 and 506 of Indian Penal Code (IPC); 5 years of rigorous imprisonment u/s 412 IPC, and 10 years rigorous imprisonment each under sections 3 (2), 3 (3) and 4 (2) of TADA. After pronouncement of the sentence judge left the court room.
Others convicted and sentenced in this case are Harjinder Singh (47), Daljit Singh Bittu (52), Gursharan Singh Gamma (57), Balwinder Singh (60), Saroop Singh (63) Gurjant Singh (70), Mohan Singh (71), Sewa Singh (72)Avtar Singh (75) and Harbhajan Singh (83).
After pronouncement of sentence finger prints of Assa Singh were taken and the police personnel helped him to wake out of the court and get into the jail guard bus waiting outside the court room.
According to defence lawyer and senior advocate of Punjab & Haryana High Court, Advo. Puran Singh Hundal, it’s a faulty and harsh decision. He said charge of TADA was not proved on file against any of the 12 persons who stood on trial. In the case of 9 persons charged for allegedly keeping the robbed money, there was nothing on file to prove the charge of 120-B. He told reporters that the decision is liable to be challenged in the Supreme Court of India.
Commenting on the decision Akali Dal Panch Pardhani leader Bhai Mandhir Singh told reports that the TADA court’s decision sentencing Bapu Assa Singh and others to undergo 10 years rigorous imprisonment signifies two facts: firstly that Sikhs are slaves in India, and secondly that atrocity has been committed by the Indian court in the name of justice.
“Such a harsh sentence for persons at the last stage of their life is in-fact an act of barbarity” he added.
“These Sikhs are sentenced not for any act or offence alleged to have been committed by them, but for holding the political ideology that signifies the quest of self-determination by Sikhs, during their lifetime” he told Sikh Siyasat News (SSN).
Commenting on the supposed purpose behind awarding such a harsh sentence, he said: “The motive is clear that the State want to terrorize the Sikh activists. It (the State) has sent a clear message that – either abandon the idea of freedom or be prepared to spend lives in jails”.