Bathinda: During her morning walks, a 38-year-old widow from this southern city of Punjab often ran into assistant sub-inspector of police Gurvinder Singh. He started wishing her good morning, but those greetings turned to advances, which turned to stalking.
When she did not yield, she alleged in a complaint to police on 12 May, Singh planted opium on her 19-year-old son and had a police team take away a motorcycle and car, which he returned when she paid Rs 100,000.
When her son was taken on 7 May 2021 on remand till 10 May, Singh finally got her mobile number, called, whatsapped and coerced her into meeting her on 10 May. She did, which is when he raped her.
The next night, he forced his way into her house. This time, Singh was caught by neighbours, and the encounter captured on camera. Singh confessed, the video went viral, and he was arrested and dismissed from service on 12 May.
“It is a case which reflects the sordid state of affairs in Punjab Police, particularly the Crime Investigation Agency unit at Bathinda,” Justice Arun Monga of High Court of Punjab and Haryana said on 27 May. “The very protectors/enforcers of law and order have turned into predators, making a 38-year-old widow-mother victim of their lust.”
“The allegations and factual averments in the petition were so grisly and frightful that one could only hope those were fictitious,” said Justice Monga, referring to the mental torture the widow underwent when her son was framed, the extortion of money and valuables, blackmail for sexual favours and rape.
Justice Monga disbanded the all-male special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the Bathinda district police, replacing it with a three-member probe team led by additional director-general of police Gurpreet Kaur Deo, senior superintendent of police D Sudarvizhi and deputy superintendent of police Prabhjot Kaur.
The team will investigate both cases, the sexual assault case against Gurvinder Singh under section 376 IPC (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, and the plea that the Bathinda police framed the petitioner-victim’s son by planting the contraband item. On 3 August, Justice HS Sidhu sought a copy of the report, and deferred the matter to 6 August.
Police filed a case against her son, who is studying to be a medical technician, under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985.
The police are silent on the Bathinda rape case. Chief minister Capt Amrinder Singh in 2019 had tasked Deo, now head of the court-appointed SIT in the Bathinda case and then head of an anti-narcotics Special Task Force (STF), to act against policemen abusing the NDPS Act.
When Article 14 sought comment from Deo about measures she took following the CM’s directive, she directed the query to director general of police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment via phone and text messages.
Police, Peddlers & Politicians
The nexus that some among the Punjab police have with drug dealers, politicians and the abuse of the anti-narcotics law for personal gain and sexual gratification are among the reasons why the state has failed to tackle the state’s high rate of substance abuse, among India's highest, according to the latest available government data from 2019.
An STF formed in 2017 reported that between April 2017 and April 2020, 114 criminal cases against 148 police personnel had been registered for misusing NDPS, and inquiries launched against 61, mostly mid-level and junior officers.
In the latest inquiry, announced on 31 January 2020, Anwar Masih, a former selection board member and a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, accused an additional inspector general and three deputy superintendents of police of framing him.
Masih attempted suicide outside the STF office in Amritsar on 14 July. He alleged that officers demanded Rs 20 lakh and an SUV to quash a case against him under the NDPS Act. The STF alleged that 194 kg heroin and other chemicals were seized from a residential building Masih owned in Sultanwind village of Amritsar on 31 January 2020.
In April 2021, during the Covid lockdown-curfew, a constable was dismissed and another constable and an ASI suspended in three separate incidents of drugs smuggling all in Bathinda district.
In March 2021, the Punjab government suspended an Indian Police Service officer along with juniors named in an STF report.
In January 2021, a CIA inspector and six police officials were suspended for implicating a resident under NDPS Act in Amritsar.
Among prominent cases was the investigation into a senior superintendent (SSP) and a deputy superintendent (DSP) of the Bathinda police within weeks of the formation of the task force in 2017. They were investigated for releasing from jail a drug dealer who a sub-inspector had arrested with 1,500 habit-forming drugs.
A year later, Bathinda police arrested a station house officer and a sub-inspector for allegedly accepting bribes and letting off a drug peddler.
Another high-profile arrest was that of Jagdish Singh Bhola, a former DSP, who in 2019 was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for his involvement in a multi-crore drug racket in Mohali.
Police prey on colleagues too. In October 2020, a DSP from the anti-drug STF itself was arrested in Bathinda for alleged sexual abuse of the wife of an assistant sub-inspector.
The DSP had arrested the ASI, his wife and son under the NDPS Act. The woman was granted bail. When she pleaded with the DSP for the release of her husband and son, he sexually assaulted her. When she complained to senior police officials, a raid at the hotel where the policeman would summon the woman led to his arrest.
‘An Eyewash To Pacify The Public’
The numbers of police officers arrested and suspended are of little consequence, according to former Punjab police DGP Shashi Kant, who assisted the high court in Jagdish Bhola’s case investigation.
A whistle-blower who named several high-profile individuals in the politician-police-peddler network, Kant told Article 14: “A few dismissals and suspension of guilty police brought under media glare is just an eye-wash to pacify the public.”
It is “common”, said Kant, for police in Punjab to harass people by misusing the NDPS Act to seize their properties, extract money, settle scores or “whatever they want”.
The Bathinda case reached the high court on the strength of villagers who rallied around a rape victim to gather evidence against the culprit. There are “several such cases” that go unreported, said Gurpreet Singh Bhasin, the Bathinda woman’s lawyer.
“Victims stay silent fearing police vengeance,” Bhasin said, recalling another recent incident where a woman sexually abused by a police official met the lawyer with video recordings but soon after decided against pursuing the case out of fear.
“No politician sells his assets to fund his election campaign,” said Kant. “The nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and police with Punjab’s drugs trade is explained by the enormous money involved. This is why roots of this menace run so deep, firm and wide here.”
In April 2014, the former DGP revealed the names of six politicians from the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Congress and the BJP for patronising drug cartels in the state.
Kant criticised Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s demand in June for a National Drug Policy.
“I wish CM had demanded this at the beginning of his tenure when he could have implemented much,” said Kant. “Raising it now at the end of his chief-ministership closer to the next assembly election makes it look like an election gimmick.”
Pressure To Withdraw Complaints Against Police
Bhola Singh, a relative and neighbour who helped the woman record the ASI’s abuse in Bathinda, told Article 14 that CIA police were “exerting pressure” to withdraw the complaint against remaining police personnel who had detained the victim’s son and planted contraband.
“They are saying only once we withdraw our complaint will they weaken the case against our boy under NDPS Act,” said Bhola Singh. “We are being threatened, but we want justice for our son and punishment to the guilty who harassed him unduly.”
The woman—widow, rape victim, mother, petitioner—said she wanted to start a new life in Bathinda city. Despite the support of some villagers, she fears the backlash from the police, as the case wears on.
She has sought 24x7 security for her and Bhola Singh and transfer of the police personnel named in the case and additions of sections 376C (sexual intercourse by a person in authority) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC to the case.
Her son, she said, no longer steps out to meet friends and does he speak to anyone, including his mother. Tearfully, she said: “Ever since my son was released on bail, he has become sad and quiet.”
(Seema Sharma is a freelance journalist based in Chandigarh).