The Sikh diaspora has been the pride of Punjab for more than a century. But the arrest of a 30-year-old Scottish Sikh of Indian origin has triggered a face-off between the Punjab government and sections of the diaspora across continents, with even British Prime Minister Theresa May weighing in. Jagtar Singh Johal had flown down to Punjab for his wedding in October. A month later, he was arrested over his alleged connection with a spate of what is suspected to be targeted killings in the state over the past two years, including of RSS and right-wing leaders like Brigadier (retd) Jagdish Gagneja in 2016 and Ravinder Gosain in October this year, and a pastor called Sultan Masih in July. The Punjab Police suspect Johal’s hand behind the murders, especially in funding and arranging weapons for a terror outfit called the Khalistan Liberation Force.
Johal’s arrest was followed by allegations of his being tortured in custody. This spread like wild fire across the diaspora, with British and Canadian politicians raising the issue of human rights violation. While May told BBC that she was aware of concerns about Johal, the matter was raised in the House of Commons by Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scottish National Party (SNP). He represents West Dunbartonshire, where Johal and his family are based. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office has already conveyed their concerns to the Indian government.Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman to be elected to the House of Commons, too feels the Indian government should help ensure that Johal’s human rights are not violated. “We don’t want an impasse between the two governments and would like to work closely with India on this issue. However, we would also like the Punjab Police and administration to be more democratic and transparent about the arrest of Johal,” Gill told ET Magazine from UK.
In His Defence
Punjabi and Sikh members of Gill’s constituency in Birmingham are concerned about issues like trial by the Indian media before formal charges are brought. They fear Johal may be tortured by the police to obtain a confession. “We expect the Indian government and the Punjab government to adhere to democratic processes. If there were concerns over Johal, who is a citizen of the UK, why were these not communicated to our government?” asks Gill.Echoing her concerns is Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal, a solicitor in Scotland, who feels that since his brother was not in India when the alleged crimes were committed, he should not have been arrested in India. “My parents and I are deeply concerned about legal processes in India. We fear my brother has been tortured by the Punjab Police who are refusing an independent medical examination,” Gurpreet told ET Magazine on phone from London. He also expressed concerns about police officials and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh publicly accusing his brother of various criminal activities before formal charges were filed. “Just think of the social stigma that my brother will face when he comes out of all this. And it’s not just him, his newly wed wife is suffering the fallout of senior administration making unsubstantiated charges against my brother publicly,” he alleges.
The family, who sold their hospitality business in Scotland a few years back, was in Punjab in April this year for Johal’s engagement. They own real estate in Punjab as well. “Even though we were born in the UK, my brother and I love India and along with our parents visit Punjab often. My wife is from Punjab and like me, my brother too decided to marry an Indian girl because of our strong ties with our land of origin,” says Gurpreet.Johal’s mother-in-law Amandeep Kaur told ET Magazine that the family was not able to speak to her son-in-law privately and could only talk for a few moments when he was produced in court. “My daughter, an innocent girl, was married for only a few days when this happened and we are all very worried about her. Instead of going to the UK to join her groom and his family and settling down in her new home, she is now facing this horrible ordeal and is in a state of shock.”
Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, Johal’s lawyer appearing at the Ludhiana court, meets him for an hour daily, and is concerned that no chargesheet has been filed. Since there are several more cases against him in both Jalandhar and Ludhiana, it could be a few months before the actual charges are known and he is sent to judicial custody from police custody.
“Initially he was not given access to legal representation and faced physical torture at the hands of policemen and is under severe mental torture. Since an independent medical board was initially denied to him, I’m not pressing for it now — it is too late to find any of the physical signs of torture like burn marks,” claims Manjhpur.
But senior Punjab Police officials say that Johal, who runs a website called Never Forget 1984, is “neck-deep” in the targeted killings of minority leaders, including Gagneja and Gosain of RSS and pastor Masih in Jalandhar and Ludhiana.“People from Punjab have settled down in different parts of the world and people in our state have deep links with them. We welcome them when they visit our state and we never harass innocent people. However, we have a strong body of evidence linking Johal to the targeted killings and the truth will be out as the cases against him progress,” a senior Punjab Police officer told ET Magazine in Chandigarh.
A UK Trial?
The police officer also expressed concern over a new wave of radicalisation in Punjab being run and funded by members of the Sikh diaspora through social media channels in a big way. “Our main concern is peace in our own state and we cannot let anyone get away after trying to entice our youth to commit crimes with help from across India’s borders,” he says.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Kanwar Sandhu, however, is not fully convinced about the Punjab Police case. “Some of the killings that the police are talking about are probably the result of rivalry between businessmen or political parties and may not have any connection with the conspiracy that the police are talking about.”Meanwhile, Sikhs of Indian origin around the world have sought justice for Johal. High-profile Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), publicly lent his support. Canadian members of parliament, Raj Grewal and Randeep Sarai, have communicated their concern over human rights issues to the Indian high commissioner in Canada, Vikas Swarup. In the UK, the Sikh Federation has been garnering support for Johal’s cause among members of the community, and protest rallies were held in London near the Parliament and the foreign office.
“Johal is born in the UK, and Sikhs from Southall to Scotland have been coming out in his support in large numbers. We are demanding that the British government act on his behalf and demand his trial for the alleged crimes here in the UK and not in India,” says Jaspal Singh, legal advisor to Sikh Federation, UK. He claims that a majority of UK’s 7,00,000 Sikhs support Johal and now the Punjab government is increasingly facing negative sentiments among its diaspora across Europe, Canada and Australia. Source : Economic Times
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