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Canadian Sikh Diaspora want scrutiny of Sikh man’s custodial death

March 16, 2011 | By

File Photo: Sohanjeet Singh (Blue Turban) in Police Custody

File Photo: Sohanjeet Singh (Blue Turban) in Police Custody

Vancouver, CANADA (March 15, 2011) Sohan Singh, an Amritdhari Sikh, died under suspicious circumstances on Monday while in custody of Indian police forces in Punjab. The circumstances indicate foul play, claimed the Canadian Sikh Coalition (CSC), which asserted that Singh was tortured in custody by police for a week before his death.

Police in Punjab arrested Singh on March 7 after accusing him of involvement in a failed bombing in Amritsar. He committed suicide a week later, claim police, by hanging himself from his cell roof, using only a small patch of cloth provided for a head covering after his dastar was taken away. However, his widow, Bhinder Kaur, described Singh as a strong-willed man, claiming that “he has died due to police torture.” Kaur and various Sikh human rights groups allege the suicide story was concocted by police as a cover-up.

“No proof was offered nor any case filed to support accusations of militancy,” said Parvkar S. Dulai, director of CSC, “whereas the Indian state’s long, sordid history of silencing those who peacefully question its policies through brutal torture and murder in custody has been heavily documented. A country which cages and abuses law-abiding citizens to silence critical voices is neither free nor democratic.”

In December 2010, cables obtained by Wikileaks revealed that the U.S. embassy in Delhi has concluded in recent years that India “condones torture.” The determination was reached after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) advised U.S. officials that Indian authorities commonly employ electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation to torture detainees. Noting that all branches of India’s security forces engage in such misconduct, one ICRC cable stated: “The abuse always takes place in the presence of officers and … detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed).”

Police also lied about the location of Singh’s arrest, said his widow, having seized her husband from their home rather than a public bus stand. The CSC claimed that Indian police habitually fabricate the details of arrest reports, even basics such as location, date and time of detention. “Falsified reports enable the disappearance of minority rights activists,” claimed Dulai, “who are often illegally detained for weeks or months at a time.” He explained that this is one tactic used by police to protect themselves from repercussions when they torture and sometimes kill those held in custody.

The CSC joined other organizations, including the Khalra Mission Organisation, formed in memory of disappeared human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, in demanding a prompt investigation. They argued that the Indian state, which has failed to prosecute political leaders implicated in massacres of minorities, including L.K. Advani, Kamal Nath and Narendra Modi, who still serve in high offices, cannot be trusted to conduct inquiries. Instead, they demanded establishment of a medical board under the oversight of the United Nations or some similar international authority, to which Singh’s body should be immediately released for independent autopsy.

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