“My son Davinderpal has suffered on death row for 18 years for speaking against the Indian State’s destruction of our family and our Sikh community. He saw police murder his father and my sister’s husband for nothing. While the sons of Punjab are bled by Delhi’s tyranny, we pray for justice, peace, and liberty like we find in USA.”
— Upkar Kaur, Davinderpal’s mother and a US citizen
Torture. Imprisonment. Murder.
This is the story of how state terrorism in India destroyed a family.
Indian State Terrorism Began in 1984
“The failure to provide justice to religious minorities targeted in violent riots in India is not a new development, and has helped foster a climate of impunity. In 1984, anti-Sikh riots erupted in Delhi following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard. Over 4 days, nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed, allegedly with the support of Congress Party officials. Few perpetrators were ever held accountable…. In the late 1990s, there was a marked increase in violent attacks among members of religious communities, particularly Muslims and Christians, throughout India, including incidents of killings, torture, rape, and destruction of property. Perpetrators were rarely held responsible.”
— US Commission on International Religious Freedom
￼The tragic tale of Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar (pictured in early 1990s with his wife, Navneet Kaur) begins with the murder of his father, Balwant Singh, and of his aunt’s husband, Manjit Singh Sohi.
Newly married, Davinderpal was a mechanical engineer and college professor of just 26 years when Indian Police disappeared his father, uncle, and two of his cousins in December 1991. On orders from then Director General of Police in Punjab KPS Gill, Chandigarh SSP Sumedh Saini arbitrarily arrested the four men. Balwant and Manjit were never seen again. The two cousins returned after severe torture. One’s leg had to be amputated. The Bhullar family was shattered.
In Grand Trunk Road, Steve Coll wrote about KPS Gill’s operational philosophy, saying: “Gill’s vision was darker. It existed outside of conventional political morality because it rejected politics – rejected, even, human nature.”
In 1993, Davinderpal was accused of bombing offices of All-India Youth Congress, a thug outfit of the ruling party used in targeting Sikhs for elimination. There is no evidence he was involved, but police immediately announced to the media that Davinderpal was the culprit.
He insisted upon his innocence. Fearing the same fate as his father and uncle, however, he sought political asylum in Germany in December 1994.
In January 1995, Germany rejected his asylum and extradited him to India. Yet in October 1997, a German court ruled his deportation violated German law because he faced torture and the death penalty in India.
￼He did not receive a trial until 2000. He was denied access to an attorney during his initial imprisonment and trial. Of 133 witnesses, not one identified him as guilty. He was convicted to death with no other shred of evidence besides a coerced and unsubstantiated confession signed by a thumbprint.
Davinderpal disowned the confession, saying it was extracted under torture. He said he was forced to thumbprint a blank sheet of paper. Of course, he is an educated man and would have placed his signature on a legitimate confession. Truthfully, he cannot confess to what he did not do.
He appealed the death sentence verdict. In 2002, India’s Supreme Court upheld the penalty in a 2 to 1 split decision. Presiding judge M. B. Shah dissented, arguing for innocence because witness testimony conflicted with the account in Davinderpal’s disowned and coerced confession.
Never before has a death sentence been upheld by a split decision. Indeed, the court abandoned all pretense of due process of justice, declaring that proof “beyond reasonable doubt” should be a “guideline, not a fetish” and that procedure is only “a handmaiden and not the mistress of law.”
Davinderpal appealed to India’s president for clemency, which was rejected in 2011. Finally, the Supreme Court allowed a second appeal of his death sentence. The penalty was upheld on April 12, 2013. An innocent man now faces the noose. India is expected to hang him, in secret, at any day.
Davinderpal’s health has failed. He is receiving psychiatric treatment for mental illness. He remains hospitalized. On April 16, 2013, Dr. Nimesh Desai declared: “As a human being and as death-row convict Davinderpal Singh Bhullar’s doctor, my conscience does not allow me to clear this person to be hanged. He is not mentally fit to be medically cleared for hanging,”
For the past 18 years, Professor Bhullar has been detained in appalling conditions which include torture, deprivation, and isolation. He is already an almost lifeless person. He leaves behind a devastated remnant of his family. Only his mother, Upkar Kaur, his brother, Tejinderpal Singh, and his wife, Navneet Kaur, survive. They have found safe haven in the USA and Canada.
Meanwhile, Sumedh Saini was rewarded for murdering Bhullar’s family by a promotion in 2011 to Director General of Police in Punjab. With KPS Gill as his role model, Saini is continuing the same policing tactics used to bleed Punjab from 1984 onwards. These include silencing the slightest dissent with arbitrary arrest, torture, indefinite detainment, and murder in custody.
Another common Indian police tactic was revealed in 1995 when US Congressman Dan Burton spoke on the house floor, saying: “The State Department Human Rights Report this year said over 41,000 cash bounties were paid to police in Punjab for extrajudicial killings of Sikhs between 1991 and 1993…. This goes beyond just one ethnic group or one religious group.”