Published On: Mon, Nov 27th, 2017

JAGTAR SINGH JOHAL: A SCOTTISH SIKH IN A PUNJAB JAIL

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JAGGIThe Sikh diaspora has been the pride of Punjab for more than a century. But the arrest of a 30-year-old Scottish Sikh of Indian origin has triggered a face-off between the Punjab government and sections of the diaspora across continents, with even British Prime Minister Theresa May weighing in.
Jagtar Singh Johal had flown down to Punjab for his wedding in October. A month later, he was arrested over his alleged connection with a spate of what is suspected to be targeted killings in the state over the past two years, including of RSS and right-wing leaders like Brigadier (retd) Jagdish Gagneja in 2016 and Ravinder Gosain in October this year, and a pastor called Sultan Masih in July. The Punjab Police suspect Johal’s hand behind the murders, especially in funding and arranging weapons for a terror outfit called the Khalistan Liberation Force.

Johal’s arrest was followed by allegations of his being tortured in custody. This spread like wild fire across the diaspora, with British and Canadian politicians raising the issue of human rights violation. While May told BBC that she was aware of concerns about Johal, the matter was raised in the House of Commons by Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scottish National Party (SNP). He represents West Dunbartonshire, where Johal and his family are based. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office has already conveyed their concerns to the Indian government.

Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman to be elected to the House of Commons, too feels the Indian government should help ensure that Johal’s human rights are not violated. “We don’t want an impasse between the two governments and would like to work closely with India on this issue. However, we would also like the Punjab Police and administration to be more democratic and transparent about the arrest of Johal,” Gill told ET Magazine from UK.

In His Defence
Punjabi and Sikh members of Gill’s constituency in Birmingham are concerned about issues like trial by the Indian media before formal charges are brought. They fear Johal may be tortured by the police to obtain a confession. “We expect the Indian government and the Punjab government to adhere to democratic processes. If there were concerns over Johal, who is a citizen of the UK, why were these not communicated to our government?” asks Gill.

Echoing her concerns is Johal’s brother Gurpreet Singh Johal, a solicitor in Scotland, who feels that since his brother was not in India when the alleged crimes were committed, he should not have been arrested in India. “My parents and I are deeply concerned about legal processes in India. We fear my brother has been tortured by the Punjab Police who are refusing an independent medical examination,” Gurpreet told ET Magazine on phone from London. He also expressed concerns about police officials and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh publicly accusing his brother of various criminal activities before formal charges were filed.

“Just think of the social stigma that my brother will face when he comes out of all this. And it’s not just him, his newly wed wife is suffering the fallout of senior administration making unsubstantiated charges against my brother publicly,” he alleges.

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