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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 17:46 GMT
Police to pay for Sikh killings
By Asit Jolly
BBC News, Chandigarh

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, centre, with supporters
Militant Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (centre) with supporters (Photo: Indian Express)
Police in the Indian state of Punjab have agreed to pay compensation to the families of people who died in police custody in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The victims were arrested in police operations against Sikh separatists in the Punjab.

A Police spokesman in the state capital, Chandigarh, said compensation of 250,000 rupees ($5,500) would be disbursed to 109 families.

The move was ordered by India's National Human Rights Commission.

Petition

The NHRC's order was issued in response to what has come to be referred as the Cremations Case.

This refers to dozens of people cremated by Punjab police in the city of Amritsar who the police had declared to be "unidentified bodies".

An investigation by the federal government's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) found that they were corpses of people who had been arrested or picked up by the police on suspicion of involvement in the Sikh separatist movement.

It was the Indian Supreme Court that had ordered the CBI to carry out the inquiry following a petition to the court by a human rights group based in the capital, Delhi.

The petitioners alleged that Punjab police had illegally cremated thousands of people who they had shot dead.

The police, they said, justified the killings on the grounds that they took place in armed confrontations with Sikh separatists.

However, the petitioners described the deaths as extra-judicial killings.

Human rights activists have been long demanding prosecution of the guilty officials and suitable compensations for the victims' families.

They have hailed the NHRC's compensation order as a victory for their cause.

However, the NHRC has clarified that the grant of monetary relief should not be taken as expression of any opinion about culpability of any police officials.

The NHRC is a quasi-judicial body set up by the Indian government.

Its decisions are not legally binding but are usually accepted by the authorities.


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