International Day of the Disappeared
On this International Day of the Disappeared, Ensaaf calls on the government of India to provide truth and justice to all survivors of the disappeared in India.
Here, families share their testimonies of how security forces unlawfully abducted their loved ones during the Decade of Disappearances in Punjab.
Last seen: January 1989
In January 1989, Sukhminder Kaur and her family had invited guests to their home for a wedding. The spirit was light and jocular. Her son, Sarabhjit Singh, was about 17 years old and he was celebrating with the rest of his family. That night, close to 11 o’clock, between 10 and 12 policemen from Bhogpur police station jumped the outer wall of Kaur’s residence and knocked on her door.
Kaur remembers that she heard sounds outside but could not tell how many people were at her door. She peeked outside to see who was there and recognized her neighbor. She did not see anyone else so she opened the door. Suddenly, the team of uniformed men stormed through and demanded to check her place.
Kaur’s son and his uncle were sleeping in one of the rooms, and policemen pulled them aside. The police abducted the two men from Kaur’s home and locked her and the rest of her family inside. Although her relative was released a few days later, Kaur never saw her son again.
She visited police stations all over the state to search for him, often traveling with her son-in-law or other members of her village. But she never found him.
A month after police abducted Sarabhjit Singh, Kaur received a letter from him asking her to pick him up from Pathankot station. When Kaur and her family traveled there, the police, however, claimed not to have him in their custody.
Kaur and her family have written letters to the Chief Minister and the Governor of Punjab asking for help but did not learn anything from them. Ultimately, in an attempt to force the state to disclose the fate of her disappeared son, she filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Twenty-seven years since her son’s abduction, Kaur is still waiting for truth and justice.
Last seen: March 1993
Hardeep Kaur was married to Charat Singh and lives in Moga district. She describes her husband as a very “gentle” individual who took good care of her. He supported the militancy ideologically and worked as a farmer. He was thirty-eight years old when policemen stormed their home and threw him in a car. The police abducted him in March 1993, and Hardeep Kaur has not seen him since.
Before they disappeared him, security forces had abducted and interrogated Charat Singh 14 to 15 times in prior detentions. They tortured him relentlessly. Kaur says that policemen beat him brutally, used wooden “rollers” on his body, and tore him apart at the groin. Although his condition continued to deteriorate, police persisted to abduct and torture him. They also charged him with harboring militants and imprisoned him in Faridkot Jail for two years.
After security forces abducted Singh the last time in 1993, Kaur learned they held him in a horse stable in Faridkot for 60 to 70 days. Kaur says she went to “various police stations and there is not one SHO [Station House Officer] or ASI [Assistant Sub-Inspector] that we didn’t inquire from about Charat Singh. But we learned nothing” about him.
In 1996, Kaur and her family filed a petition with the Punjab and Haryana High Court. She and her family had a witness who was willing to testify. Policemen threatened him with death if he came forward. But the witness refused to back down. A short while later, police coerced Singh’s older brother to sign documents closing the case, and the family did not appeal.
Kaur does not believe her husband is alive today, but security officials continue to visit her home.
Last seen: December 2012
In June 1992, Jagjit Singh was 16 years old. He worked as an electrician at a local shop in his village in Moga district.
His employer, the shop’s owner, supported a militant organization. The owner threatened Jagjit Singh and his family, suggesting he would have militants kill them all if Singh revealed the owner’s ties. But police discovered the owner’s links to the militancy and arrested him. Jagjit Singh fled the scene. Subsequently, a member of his village council told his parents that if Singh came to their home, they would hand him over to the police but get him released soon afterwards.
Singh followed his parents advice and went to his friend’s home. Twenty uniformed security officials of the Punjab Police from Mehna took him into custody.
Twenty years later, in December 2012, the family found Jagjit Singh in Patiala Jail. He was in poor condition. Shortly after that meeting, he was moved again. To this day, the family does not know where he is. Charanjit Kaur believes her son is alive and is still waiting to learn what happened to him.