Unheard: Atrocities On Sikh Women in Punjab
“If any action occurs in this village, every single male is going to be taken out and shot. Then we’re going to take all the women to our camp and there we’re going to create a new breed for Punjab.”
Brig. RP Sinha addressing assembled Sikh villagers on March 8, 1991, International Women’s Day
And this was the way International Women’s Day was celebrated in Punjab. The untold story of the Sikh Resistance Movement is the story of Sikh women. It is a feature of Punjabi culture that atrocities on women are rarely reported and remain hidden. Families feel ashamed to speak of the treatment women received at the hands of Indian Security Forces, but this story must be told.
Many Sikh women participated in the Sikh resistance movement as fighters. Like their sisters from past ages, Sikh women joined their brothers in the fight for freedom. Many brave Singhnees fought side by side with their Singhs and attained Shaheedi. The examples of Shaheeds Bhai Ramininderjit Singh Taini Babbar and Bibi Manjeet Kaur Babbar , Bhai Pritpal Singh and Bibi Harjeet Kaur, etc are notable.
Sikh women often worked as messengers for Sikh Resistance groups as well as preparing hideouts and serving tired Sikh fighters.
But unfortunately, many Sikh women were also the target of the bloody thirsty Indian Security forces. Sikh women were ruthlessly tortured, not only physically but also mentally. They were used as tools to force the surrender of Sikh fighters who were their relatives and also as a means of humiliating families. When Sikh women were arrested with their husbands, the husbands were often forced to watch the rape of their wives. Rape was used as an interrogation tool.
The Indian Forces also began a program of “shudhee karan” which was a code name for the rape of Sikh women. They joked that the offspring of their rapes would change the genetic makeup of the Sikh community and they would kill the Resistance in this way. Many rape victims took their own lives, unable to live with the ongoing humiliation at the hands of the Indian police.
The first example of the atrocities heaped upon Sikh women is that of Bibi Amandeep Kaur.
Bibi Amandeep Kaur was the sister of Bhai Harpinder Singh Goldy aka. Pamma of the Khalistan Commando Force. She was only twenty when she was arrested, tortured, raped and then killed by the Punjab Police.
Bibi Amandeep Kaur, before her Shaheedi was on the run but had the courage to tell her story to human rights workers.
Here is her story in her own words, shortly before she was murdered:
“Jaswinder Singh Sraa son of Surjeet Singh of Jassowal village Ludhiana district. Was born and brought up on the UK. He presently lives in Mississauga Canada.
He came to India on October 12, 1991 for marriage on October 24th. We along with my father Jaswant Sngh, village Headman Bhag Singh and Member of Panchyaat Meet Singh went to the office of the sub-registrar, Rampura Phul, for registration of the marriage. As we came out of the courtroom, the SHO of Phul, picked up three of us, me, my husband and my father. We were taken to Phul Police Station where SSP Kahlon, SP Mohkam Singh, DSP Aulah and SP of Operations were present.
The SSP on seeing us, promptly ordered that my two male relations be stripped naked in my presence. He then took out the picture of his slain son and addressing them remarked that he had taken the revenge for the murder (by dishonouring me, the sister of an underground Sikh activist).
Kahlon then started abusing my husband and father. He took hold of a lathi to beat the two. It was then the turn of his subordinates who beat us with their leather belts. The SSP ordered that my husband and father slap each other.
After this cruel exercise, we were blindfolded. I was relieved of my two wedding rings, a pair of ear-rings and one golden chain. From my husband, the SSP snatched $500 and a bracelet of 3.5 tolas and his wedding ring. My father was similarly robbed of Rs. 2500. I and my husband were put into our van PCL-8433. We heard the SSP directing his staff to set our house on fire and bring the wife and younger daughter of Jaswant Singh (my mother and sister) to the police station for similar treatment.
After Kahlon left, we were brought back to the police station. While my husband and father were put in the lock-up, I was kept out for maltreatment [i.e. for sexual assault].
Early next morning we three were taken to Sardulgarh by our van. On October 27, my mother Surjeet Kaur was brought to us. She told us her story of dishonour [rape], torture and maltreatment. She was kept in a Rampura police station and at the head office of CIA Bathinda.
In our absence, the police from Rampura Phul ransacked our house and removed all our belongings. The village panchayat was not let anywhere near the house. No seizure report was prepared and handed over to the panchayat or anyone else.
I, my mother and father were kept in Sardulgarh police station for 12 days. But my husband was moved to Phul police station on October 29. The SSP was present there. He ordered my husband’s release on October 30, telling him to forget about his marriage to me and leave India immediately, which he did the next day. In the meantime, the village panchayat came to know of our detention at Sardulgarh and they came there to rescue us but we were removed stealthily to Boha police station.
At Boha, I was not given even water for washing under SSP’s order. We were maltreated there [the woman was reluctant to give details of the mistreatment].
After eight days, the three of us were removed from Boha to CIA Bathinda. My mother and I were released from three weeks of illegal detention. My father was kept in CIA Bathinda and at Phul and was produced in a court on November 30. A case was registered against him.
While we were in custody, Jaswinder Singh, who happens to be brother of my father, telephoned DGP KP Gill at telephone No. 753-546840 requesting him to intervene but Gill told him that Kahlon did not listen to his advice.
We have learnt that the SSP had picked us up because on October 23, 1991, some millitants had abducted six traders of Phul and the police suspected my 16-year-old brother Harpinder Singh Goldy aka. Pamma’s hand in the abduction. My brother had gone underground in the wake of police harassment in August 1991 when he was studying in class 10 + 1 .
I have gone underground to escape further humiliation and torture because the SSP Harkishan Kahlon is after me, for unknown reasons. Because of the “treatment” given to my husband, he has left me and does not wish to keep me as his wife any longer.”
Bibi Amandeep Kaur stayed in hiding until January 21 1992. The police then played a sinister game. They asked he to return to her house, returning all her property and insisted they would not harass her any more. They also bailed her father the day before. Jaswant Singh did not trust the police so he did not return home. Amandeep Kaur did. When her mother was out, two gun men with masked faces came on behalf of SSP Bathinda, Kahlon, and shot Bibi Amandeep Kaur dead on January 21st at 7:30pm.
Bhai Harpinder Singh Goldy, brother of Bibi Amandeep Kaur, at age 18, also later sacrificed his life for the cause of Sikh freedom.
Another such case is of Bibi Gurmeet Kaur. Bibi Gurmeet Kaur was a student of the 10 grade at village Lehrkaa near Kathoo Nangal. Bibi Gurmeet Kaur and her older sister Bibi Parmjeet Kaur had gone to visit their father Swarn Singh and brother Satnam Singh who were in prison for giving shelter to Sikh Resistance fighters. They had returned home on April 21, 1989 when the Indian police raided their home and arrested Bibi Parmjeet Kaur. The police told villagers that the Deputy Commissioner wanted to record her statement. Parmjeet Kaur was kept in custody one night and then returned home. Next Gurmeet Kaur was arrested and kept for two nights. She too was released but threatened with dire circumstances if she told what had happened to her. Gurmeet Kaur did not remain silent and recounted what had happened to her.
When Gurmeet Kaur was brought to the police station, she was stripped naked and tortured in the verandah of the police station in plain view of all the police officers. That night, the police blindfolded her nd locked her in a room. In that room, drunken Indian Police officers took turns raping her. Gurmeet Kaur fell unconscious and when she woke the next morning, she found herself covered in blood and stark naked.
The next day, Gurmeet Kaur was tortured again. The perverse and twisted police officers went so far as to put salt and chili peppers into Gurmeet Kaur’s private parts.
On April 24, when Gurmeet Kaur was released, she could not walk. She was taken to hospital for treatment by the villagers.
These cases are not unique. Gang rapes and humiliation were common in Punjab. 19 year old Baljeet Kaur, sister of Sikh fighter Bhai Gurjeet Singh was also gang raped. Bibi Rachhpal Kaur was arrested for no reason but for having caught the eye of the police party and on September 5, 1989 was gang raped by the Kali Das Sharma and other police officers.