PILIBHIT: Moments after the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad HC on Thursday commuted the life sentence of 43 cops accused in the 1991 ‘Pilibhit fake encounters case’ to seven years of rigorous imprisonment, some of the families of the 11 men and boys who were murdered then said it was “painful to see the policemen get away”. One of the relatives told TOI on Friday: “The trauma of the night of July 12, over three decades ago, has come back to haunt us”. Manjeet Kaur, 71, who lost her 17-year-old son, Talwinder Singh, said: “The court should have remembered that this case was not just about the fake encounters of 11 innocent pilgrims but also about the police atrocities the victims’ families went through in their quest for justice.”
‘We spent years in fear with police terrorising us’
She added, “Families were not handed over the bodies of their children as the police had cremated them together in a disrespectful way near Pilibhit Kutchery. My son’s body was never found and police claimed that he was not detained. Later we found out that he was among the 11 killed.” Manjeet said, “After the incident, I was completely numb, sleep-deprived, and spent years in the wilderness. People were scared of helping us… Police used to barge into my house at will… I couldn’t send my youngest daughter to school. We had to eventually leave our home and land in UP and go to Punjab. My four children didn’t have a childhood, but we were slowly recovering. Thursday’s judgment has shaken all of us again.” Talwinder Singh, a resident of Nawadia Banki under Banda police limits in Shahjahanpur district, was believed to be among those Sikh pilgrims travelling on a Pilibhit-bound bus when it was stopped by police.
The men were dragged out and some of them were allegedly gunned down in three separate encounters. Talwinder’s father, Malkeet Singh, said, “My son was very spiritual. He used to often travel to villages on religious tours. He had booked a bus for a tour to Sri Huzur Sahib Gurudwara in Nanded (Maharashtra) from UP.” Malkeet added: “Police crossed all limits of cruelty even after the crime. I hardly used to go home as they threatened to frame me in fake cases. They arrested me for no reason but later released me after the matter was raised in court by my counsel. I lived under constant fear. My family was always under surveillance. After struggling for nearly three years, we moved out of UP in 1994 and shifted to Punjab. But, our struggle for justice is still on.”
Hardeep Singh, a farmer, had lost his brother Lakhwinder Singh in that incident. He said, “The cops in Amaria knew my brother well and killed him because he could have turned into a witness (in the case) against them.” Vivek Kumar Rai, who represented the victims, told TOI: “All the families went through similar pain and suffering. In fact, in the case of Malkeet, a CBI probe had established that 11 people were indeed killed. The judicial probe that was carried out on the directions of the apex court had found that the 11th victim was Talwinder Singh, who organised the religious trip and booked the bus. He went missing after police detained him on that fateful night. Talwinder was a minor which is why the cops disposed of his body without autopsy.” The CBI had mentioned the detailed findings in their chargesheet against 57 cops, of which 14 are now dead, and the local court had sentenced the accused to life in jail.

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