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Freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s kin have been fighting a 21-year legal battle to get justice for one of their relatives, who is believed to have been killed by the Punjab Police when terrorism in the state was at its peak. He has been missing since 1989.

The family of Surjit Kaur, Bhagat Singh’s niece, is hopeful that they will get justice for Kuljit Singh Dhatt, 45, of Ambala Jattan village who mysteriously disappeared in 1989.

Surjit Kaur, who is Bhagat Singh’s younger sister Parkash Kaur’s daughter, says that her brother-in-law Dhatt was picked up by Punjab Police from Garhi village in Hoshiarpur in 1989, when the Sikh terrorism in Punjab (1981-95) was at its peak.

The hope follows this week’s Supreme Court directive to the Punjab and Haryana High Court to dispose of the case and to the sessions court at Hoshiarpur to finish the trial in this case by March this year.

Though the family way back in 1989 tried desperately to seek his release, it said the police later ‘cooked’ up a story that Dhatt escaped from their custody while being taken for recovery of weapons near the Beas river.

Parkash Kaur filed a writ in the Supreme Court in September 1989 following which the apex court set up a judicial commission to inquire into the case. The inquiry report, which indicted Punjab Police officials and stated that the police story about Dhatt’s escape was fabricated, was submitted to the court in October 1993.

‘Despite the inquiry report, nothing happened till October 1996 when the Supreme Court ordered that a case of kidnapping against five Punjab Police officials be registered in this case. After scores of hearings and fighting this case for 21 years, including 13 years in the high court, we are still hopeful of justice,’ Surjit Kaur said.

The five Punjab Police officers named in the case included Ajit Singh Sandhu, who retired as district police chief in Tarn Taran but later committed suicide May 1997 following cases of killings and human rights violations against him. The others are S.P.S. Basra, now a deputy inspector general, and three station house officers – Sardul Singh, Jaspal Singh and Sita Ram – who were posted in Hoshiarpur district at that time.

All these officers were arrested in December 1996 but were released on bail later. In April 1997, charges were framed against them at the sessions court here.

Jaspal Singh and Sita Ram were convicted in two other murder cases of the militancy days in Punjab and are at present in prison. Jaspal Singh had filed a case before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, claiming that the government had no powers to pursue cases against police officials who were engaged in fighting terrorism.

Surjit Kaur, who is married to Harbhajan Singh, Dhatt’s younger brother, said: ‘It has been 21 years since my brother-in-law went missing. The judicial delay has ruined us. But we are still hopeful of justice. My mother (Parkash Kaur), who is bed-ridden in Canada, has been enquiring about the case on telephone from there.’

Hoping that the case would be settled now, she pointed out that some of the witnesses had died during these 21 years.

Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal said: ‘The Supreme Court has directed that the trial in this case should be over by March.’

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