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Nineteen years ago today, at exactly 5pm, a bomb exploded at the secretariat complex in Chandigarh. This one event brought to an end the mass human rights abuses being inflicted daily on Punjab’s population, by none other than Beant, the Chief Minister of Punjab and those in power around him. Widespread use of torture, rape, extra judicial killings and unreported cremations were among the inhumane tactics used to terrify and subdue a minority who after suffering years of injustice, were demanding the universal respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms while living within India.

Beant did not hold a mandate; he came to the post of Chief Minister of Punjab, even though more than 90% of voters had boycotted the state elections held in the year 1992. The Centre had granted him full powers to ‘teach the Sikhs a lesson’ and use whatever methods needed to stamp out any thoughts the Sikhs held of ending their ‘slavery’ at the hands of an independent India. To aid Beant in this mission, the Centre virtually signed a blank cheque which allowed the Punjab Government of the day, to hand out handsome cash rewards to those so-called police officers and their informants, per each ‘head of a Sikh’ they caught – didn’t matter who or what age or the fact they were completely innocent of any crime. The earlier promises made to the Sikhs who played a pioneering role in India's struggle for independence from the British, that they too would experience the glow of freedom, were conveniently forgotten.

The Asian Human Rights Commission sums up the situation in the 1990’s in their report, the"government under Chief Minister Beant Singh created a situation where even subordinate police officers became the judge, jury and executioner of innocent people. Sikh boys were picked up from their houses or fields and taken blindfolded to isolated places and told to run. A burst of AK-47 rifle-fire then ended their lives."

Dilawar Singh was a police constable under Beant’s rule and during his employment, he had witnessed many atrocities. He could no longer bear the burden of the terrible crimes being committed under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’. A whole generation of Sikhs had been wiped out and the widespread oppression and brutality continued. Being in the perfect position to end Beant’s reign, he became a member of the group that took the action which brought to a close the ‘dark decade’ Punjab had witnessed.

Today at the supreme throne of the Akal Takht, a commemoration service was held for Dilawar Singh which was widely attended by a large number of Sikh organisations. Parminder Singh and Gursharn Singh from Sikh Relief, Baldev Singh (AKJ), Harpal Singh Cheema, Balwant Singh Gopala and Jagtar Singh Hawara’s sister and her husband Harpreet Singh Rana were among those present. At the close of the day, a letter signed by those organisations present, was handed to the Akal Takht Jathedar, requesting that Shaheed Dilawar Singh’s photograph should take its place among the other great heroes, in the Ajaib Ghar museum in the Harmandir Sahib complex. It was Dilawar Singh’s actions on this day nineteen years ago, that lifted the hope and pride of the people of Punjab who were literally on their knees under the brutality of state terrorism which had taken grip over tens of thousands of ordinary Sikh families.

© The Sikh Organisation for Prisoners Welfare 2019