By Ashis Biswas
The state of Assam, especially the Dibrugarh town has been drawing big attraction now as the Sikh secessionist leader Amritpal Singh has been lodged in this jail alongwith the other pro-khalistani Sikhs who were arrested earlier. The town is totally under the control of the security forces. The state administration is keeping close watch on the activities of local sikh population some of whom have sympathies for the arrested khalistanis.
Relatives of pro-Khalistani activists who recently met Sikh prisoners currently being held at Dibrugarh Central jail in Assam under the provisions of the National Security Act (NSA) , have made no complaints about any excesses or mistreatment on part of local authorities.
However, the Assam government upgraded the personal security cover provided to Chief Minister Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma, following the public threat issued against him by a spokesman of separatist Sikhs of for Justice (SFJ) organisation a few days ago. It held him ‘accountable’ for the safety and well being of Sikh prisoners while in custody.
Mr Sarma chose not to respond in his official capacity. But speaking out of turn, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) — also considered separatist — reacted. It deplored the SFJ’s statement, pointedly reminding it of Assam’s proud record in maintaining communal and ethnic harmony.
The jail visit of the prisoners’ relatives, preceded by a similar fact finding trip made by a high-powered delegation from the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), has been widely covered in the mainstream media in Assam and Punjab.
Altogether nine suspected Khalistani activists, known for their suspected involvement/ close links with the top secessionist leader Mr Amritpal Singh, have been lodged in the Dibrugarh central jail. They were flown in two batches, the first batch of four people being sent off on March 19 this year.
In the meantime in Assam, Mrs Narinder (Niru) Kaur w/o pro-Khalistani leader Mr Daljit Singh Kalsi, had met her husband at the jail for over an hour. Her son Simranjit accompanied her. Later Mrs Kaur, who spent nearly four hours at the jail, according to local media reports told newspersons that there seemed to be no harassment for prisoners by way of their accommodation or food. She also took the opportunity to describe most of those in jail as innocent people who had broken no laws!
However, local authorities had taken no chances when it came to dealing with security –related issues. The prison, guarded by commandos, has been put under a multilayered surveillance system. Mostly prisoners are put up in separate rooms.
On a different plane, the SGPC also sent a team to meet the prisoners to learn more about their conditions. Led by Mr Bhagwant Singh, the team from Amritsar sought to provide legal aid for these being held in Assam and further, would also examine whether the NS Act was really applicable in the matter. According to some accounts they were also critical of certain decisions taken by the police.
They felt there could have occurred some misunderstandings / miscommunications in some cases . For instance the flag widely known to have been flown proudly by Maharaj Ranjit Singh, the most powerful ruler of the Sikhs, had often been carried in processions etc enthusiastically by Sikhs in India too. But most people including some in positions of authority, mistook it for a flag raised aloft by pro-secessionist Khalistanis!
Security officials in Assam maintained that their vigil had not been carried to obsessive levels. The situation was still somewhat delicate, as the recent grenade attack on an Indian army vehicle at Poonch, Rajouri, showed recently.
Four among the five men killed were Sikh soldiers recruited from Punjab while the fifth victim was from Odisha! Clearly this was no time for complacency, they maintained. (IPA Service)