Victory: Judge Convicts Police Officers in Dhatt Case
Family Will Appeal Sentences
On May 9, 2014, Judge Poonam R. Joshi convicted three Punjab Police officers in the abduction and murder of Kuljit Singh Dhatt, 25 years ago. Additional Sessions Judge Joshi convicted recently retired Deputy Inspector General SPS Basra, retired Deputy Superintendent of Police Jaspal Singh, and retired Inspector Sita Ram under sections 364 (abducting in order to murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 218 (public servant fabricating record to save person from punishment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Two other accused, Ajit Singh Sandhu and Sardool Singh, died during the trial. Despite the allegations of abuse against these officers, Basra has received the President’s Medal of Gallantry three times, and Sita Ram has received it once.
Jaspal Singh and Sita Ram are serving sentences in other murder cases—Jaspal Singh has a life sentence for his role in the abduction, torture, and unlawful killing of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra. In this case however, four hours after announcing her verdict, the judge issued a disappointing ruling on their sentences. Their convictions carry concurrent sentences of five years, three years, and two years, plus a fine. The police officers will be eligible for parole after two years.
The Dhatt family will appeal the sentences. Ensaaf provided litigation support in this case and will continue to aid the Dhatt family in their struggle for justice. We were able to provide legal support because of the support from the community. We urgently need your financial support in order to continue our work.
“The judge gave the convicted officers a slap on the wrist, despite acknowledging their roles in the unlawful killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt,” said attorney Jaskaran Kaur, Co-Director of Ensaaf. “The family and the attorneys have persevered through 25 years of intimidation of witnesses by the accused police officers, fabrication of police records, destruction of evidence, delay tactics and over a hundred hearings, among other obstacles.” The Dhatt family is also pursuing two related cases to bring other accused to trial and enhance the charge to IPC 302 (murder). The family is represented by attorneys Rajvinder S. Bains and Tejvir S. Bajwa.
Kuljit Singh Dhatt, a resident of village Ambala Jattan in Hoshiarpur district, was married to Gurmeet Kaur and had three children. His brother Harbhajan Singh's mother-in-law is Prakash Kaur, the younger sister of Indian independence hero Bhagat Singh. On July 23, 1989, the Punjab Police abducted, tortured, and unlawfully killed Kuljit Singh Dhatt. Prakash Kaur and Gurmeet Kaur immediately filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court, which ordered a judicial commission. Harbhajan Singh has actively contested the case, on behalf of Prakash Kaur.
In 1993, the commission submitted its report, implicating these five police officers in the unlawful killing of Kuljit Singh Dhatt. The Supreme Court ordered the registration of a case in 1996, and the five police officers were arrested but later released on bail. The trial, however, did not begin until 2012.