SAN FRANCISCO, California—Indian police seeking entry to the U.S. should be denied visas based on involvement in the practice of torture, said a human rights group this past Tuesday, citing its new report claiming torture is all pervasive in the Indian police system.
Three top-ranking Punjab Police officers have been invited by the North American Punjabi Association to speak in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno and Tracy. “Officers in every Indian police station use torture,” said Arvin Valmuci, communications coordinator for the California-based Organization for Minorities of India. “The U.S. State Department should deny visitor’s visas for IGP Gurpreet Dheo, DIG Parmodh Baan and ADGP S.K. Sharma.”
Valmuci cited the group’s November report, “Demons Within: The Systematic Practice of Torture by Indian Police.” The report, he said, concludes: “Torture is so universally accepted and encouraged among the ranks of India’s police forces that it is a virtual certainty that anyone who is a police officer in India knows that torture occurs, has definitely been exposed to it, probably has participated in it and almost certainly has helped cover it up.”
The OFMI report cites figures from the Asian Center for Human Rights, saying that four people have died or been killed in police custody in India every day between 2002 and 2009. A large number of these, said the Center, are tortured to death. “India is in a worrying state of denial about torture,” concluded the group. In an interview with one Punjab Police officer, two Physicians for Human Rights members were told, “In his police station alone, between 4,000 and 5,000 acts of torture were committed each year from 1985 to 1990.
“Indian police officers are greatly rewarded for participating in torture,” said Bhajan Singh, a founding director of OFMI. “Mohammad Izhar Alam is a prime example.” In October, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Badal promised former Punjab Police DGP Alam an MLA seat. U.S. State Department memos revealed by Wikileaks exposed Alam for leading a death squad in the 1980s and 90s. Self-styled as “Alam Sena,” the death squad targeted thousands of Punjabis for elimination in “encounter killings.”
Encounter killings, OFMI explained, are in-custody murders by Indian police staged as armed encounters. Top-ranking officers like Alam, as well as those invited to speak in CA, order such behavior from street officers. A Human Rights Watch report from 2009 quoted one Indian officer who said, “I was told to do an ‘encounter’ … I am looking for my target.”
“Human rights activists who try to expose Indian police atrocities are themselves disappeared,” said Valmuci. “Just look at Jaswant Singh Khalra case. He compiled evidence in 1994 that Punjab Police had murdered up to 25,000 people over 10 years — they were tortured in custody and extra-legally killed. Their bodies were wrongly marked as “unidentified” and then illegally cremated. But when Khalra went public about these crimes, police abducted him in 1995, torturing him and killing him in custody.”
Five officers were witnessed kidnapping Khalra on September 6, 1995. Others, including one officer who came forward, testified to his murder in custody. After sixteen years on the case, attorney Rajwinder Bains finally achieved a court victory in November 2011 when India’s Supreme Court upheld life sentences for all five officers who killed Khalra.
Asked why officers like Alam are rewarded, Rajwinder Bains, attorney for the prosecution in Khalra’s murder case, said: “People like Alam,” he responded, “paved the way for the current rulers by killing any opposition. The police kept the current tyrants in power, so the government must return the favor.”
There is precedent as well as reason for forbidding Indian police officers to enter North America. In 2009, Canada denied entry to Ranbir Khattra, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Punjab Police, saying in a letter signed by Canadian Embassy Vice Counsel Sharon Hogan: “You are at the very least willfully blind to the crime against humanity committed by the Punjab Police in Amritsar district.” In 2010, Canada again denied visas to several Indian police officers, as well as members of other Indian security forces like the Intelligence Bureau (IB), because of their knowledge of and probable involvement in severe human rights violations.
“On the U.S. Visitor’s Visa Application,” said Valmuci, “all must answer if they have participated in, ordered or engaged in genocide, torture or extrajudicial killings. Any honest police officer in India could only answer ‘yes.’ Torture and custodial killings are still universally practiced by Indian police. We urge all Indian diaspora to take action to prevent Dheo, Baan and Sharma — or any other Indian police officers — from entering the U.S. by calling their respective congressional representatives. For more information, contact us.”