On July 23, 1989, Punjab Police officers abducted, tortured, and unlawfully killed 35-year old Sikh community leader Kuljit Singh Dhatt. For 25 years, his family has relentlessly pursued justice, attending over a hundred hearings, petitioning various courts and commissions, and enduring police harassment and intimidation of witnesses. On May 9, 2014, a judge convicted three police officers of abduction in order to murder Kuljit Singh Dhatt, sentencing them to a mere five years. The legal battle continues, now in the higher courts.
Here's a look at the strength and resilience of one family, through video interviews, photographs, and case documents, as they fought impunity for 25 years.
On the morning of July 23, 1989, Kuljit Singh Dhatt was on his way to the Bhogpur Sugar Mill when the Punjab Police illegally abducted him. Watch his family members and the eyewitnesses in his case discuss what happened on that fateful day.
Read an in-depth analysis of the Kuljit Singh Dhatt case, including the role of state institutions in fabricating evidence, intimidating witnesses, protecting the perpetrators, and delaying justice. The report spotlights those who have stood by the truth, from family members to eyewitnesses. The family filed a case in September 1989 and a sessions court delivered a verdict on May 9, 2014. Learn why it took 25 years to reach a trial verdict and why justice still has not been delivered.
In Loving Memory of Kuljit Singh Dhatt: Celebration & Resistance
Kuljit Singh Dhatt on his wedding day, with his family. His wife, Gurmeet Kaur, recounted to Ensaaf: "We were married in 1979. My husband was killed in 1989. We were together for ten years. We had a very good relationship...We had three children. The rest of the family--you can imagine the love if the family has been with you for 25 years and the brothers are fighting the case for 25 years."
Gurmeet Kaur, wife of Kuljit Singh Dhatt, on her wedding day on March 18, 1979. "My husband's loss will never be fulfilled," she told Ensaaf. "I feel that loss all the time."
Kuljit Singh Dhatt and Gurmeet Kaur on their wedding day on March 18, 1979. "He loved the children," Gurmeet Kaur shared with Ensaaf. "I remember once, while studying, my daughter received 99% marks...He took the card from our daughter and rushed after me saying, 'Look what great marks my daughter earned!' He was a happy person."
Kuljit Singh Dhatt and Gurmeet Kaur are married at the Gurudwara on March 18, 1979.
Kuljit Singh Dhatt stands with his brother Harbhajan Dhatt and his brother-in-law Sukhdev Dhillon, together on the evening of Kuljit Singh Dhatt's wedding, March 18th, 1979.
Kuljit Singh Dhatt sits with friends on his farm. "Kuljit Singh was a great man. He served the community and helped people very much," Surjit Singh Dhatt told Ensaaf.
Kuljit Singh Dhatt sits at home with villagers. "Kuljit Singh was a very good man. He was the village head. Even otherwise, he was very friendly with people. If someone needed assistance, he would go and help them," Gurmel Singh told Ensaaf.
The Punjab Police illegally detained and killed Kuljit Singh Dhatt on July 23, 1989. The Indian Express reported on the family's demands for justice. Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf that on that evening of July 23, then Deputy Superintendent of Police Ajit S. Sandhu told the family: "We did with Kuljit Singh, what we wanted to do....We aren't going to return the body. Do what you want."
Parkash Kaur, Indian independence hero Bhagat Singh's sister, speaks at a protest on August 4, 1989, demanding the truth about Dhatt's killing. Gurmeet Kaur told Ensaaf, "Our Biji (mother), Parkash Kaur, who did so much investigation for the case, was the reason the case has come as far as it has. Because of the love in the family, Biji made so many efforts for the case."
Parkash Kaur, Bhagat Singh's sister, speaks at a protest on August 4, 1989, demanding a high level inquiry into the custodial death of Kuljit Singh Dhatt.
Women attend a protest on August 4, 1989, following Kuljit Singh Dhatt's custodial killing in July.
The family performed the religious last rites for Kuljit Singh Dhatt on August 6, 1989. The above clipping was published in the daily newspaper to inform people of the Antim Ardas. Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf: "His death occurred under the watch of SPS Basra, DSP Ajit Singh Sandhu, SHO Jaspal Singh, Sita Ram (in charge of Gardiwala), and Sardool Singh."
Villagers gather for a protest after Dhatt's custodial killing.
Police surround the villagers at a protest that demanded justice for the custodial killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt.
Protestors stand on the roof, demanding information about Dhatt's killing by the Punjab Police.
On August 10, 1989, the Tribune reported that 60 sarpanches will resign in protest against the custodial killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt by Punjab Police.
On September 11, 1989, Prakash Kaur, Shaheed Bhagat Singh's sister, and Gurmeet Kaur filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court demanding a high level judicial inquiry into the abuses against Kuljit Singh and the suspension of implicated police officers.
The Sunday Observer, January 31-February 6, 1993 edition, reported how police illegally detained Harbhajan Singh on January 12, during the period that the Supreme Court-appointed inquiry commission was conducting its investigation. "There was so much pressure from the public that day, that the [police] couldn't take me out of the police station," Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf. "Due to that, I stayed alive."
Eyewitness Surjit Singh Dhatt recounts to Ensaaf how he heard Kuljit Singh's screams from police torture on July 23, 1989: "They tortured Kuljit Singh and Davinder Singh. We could hear the sounds of their cries and screams."
Advocate T.S. Bajwa and Harbhajan Singh Dhatt await a hearing at the Hoshiarpur Sessions Court on February 25, 2014. Bajwa reflected on the hearings to Ensaaf: "The ways in which [eyewitnesses] Sardar Gurmel Singh and Sardar Surjit Singh stood their ground against police pressure and provided evidence, we should all learn something from them. We can not be fearful. We should stand up for the truth."
Harbhajan Singh Dhatt, Advocate T.S. Bajwa and Jagjit Singh Dhatt await a hearing at the Hoshiarpur Sessions Court on February 25, 2014.
Harbhajan Singh Dhatt is surrounded by villagers, who have supported the family in their 25-year struggle for justice. "Kuljit Singh stood with the people against what was going on [police abuses]," Harbhajan Singh told Ensaaf. "The [police] didn't want anyone to oppose their actions...to remain alive."
The police officers involved in the Dhatt case wait for a hearing at the Hoshiarpur Sessions Court. On May 9, 2014, a Sessions Judge convicted three police officers in the abduction and murder of Kuljit S. Dhatt, sentencing them to a mere five years in prison.