PATIALA: Following twenty-three years of incarceration, Bhai Dilbagh Singh Bagga was released from Nabha’s Maximum Security Jail on Thursday following efforts by rights group ‘Sikh Relief’

Bhai Dilbagh Singh was one of many Sikh political prisoners convicted under the notoriously draconian TADA Laws. The TADA Act was introduced in 1985 and was used to suppress anyone who raised a voice against the Indian State’s actions specifically in Punjab. The Act gave wide powers to law enforcement agencies for dealing with alleged terrorists and ‘socially disruptive’ activities in the following ways;

  1. An accused person could be detained up to 1 year
  2. Confessions made to police officers were admissible as evidence in the court of law, with the burden of proof being on the accused to prove his/her innocence.
  3. Secret Courts were set up exclusively, to hear the cases and deliver judgments pertaining to the persons accused under this Act.
  4. A person could be detained under this act on the mere suspicion (no evidence was required) that an individual may perform an act not in the national interest.

Human rights agencies critical of the Act state that TADA effectively gave the Police powers to accuse anyone without evidence, of being an enemy of the state. The impunity afforded to the police under the Act resulted in evidence repeatedly demonstrating that officers within the Punjab police were falsely arresting, torturing and imprisoning predominantly young Sikh males as well as using blackmail to illicit money from victims and their families. Although the Act was scrapped in 1995, many Sikhs charged or convicted under it remain in prison.

In a press release, Sikh Relief state that efforts to ensure the freedom of Bhai Dilbagh Singh began almost a decade ago and at the beginning of 2018 the group filed relevant paperwork with the Punjab and Haryana high court seeking his release.

The group claimed that the governments, both at the state and the Union level ensured the release of Dilbagh Singh and that this could positively impact the cases of remaining TADA prisoners lodged at various jails across the country.

The group claimed that 223 prisoners were still lodged in various jails across the country for whose release efforts were being made.