Monday, July 31, 2017

Simply put: 36 years on, a hijack lands back in dock

On September 29, 1981, five radical Sikhs hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore, and were jailed in Pakistan until 1994. Two of them returned to India, and all five were subsequently charged with sedition. A Delhi court will hear the investigating officer today, setting the stage for a likely trial. Navjeeval Gopal recounts a fascinating story of twists, turns and long legal delays.

What happened in September 1981, and why are those events back in the news after 36 long years?
On September 29, 1981, five activists of the radical Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa hijacked a New Delhi-Srinagar Indian Airlines flight to Lahore. The hijackers — Satnam Singh, Tajinderpal Singh, Jasbir Singh Cheema, Gajinder Singh and Karan Singh — demanded the release of Sikh preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had been arrested on September 19 that year for involvement in the September 9 murder of Lala Jagat Narain, editor of the Hind Samachar group of newspapers. The men also wanted the release of Sikh prisoners, and compensation for the deaths of Sikh protesters killed in police firing at Amritsar’s Mehta Chowk after the arrest of Bhindranwale.
The hijackers were arrested on September 30, 1981 after Pakistani commandos entered the plane. There were no deaths or injuries. The men spent three years in a military prison, and were put on trial for the hijack in 1984. They were sentenced to life imprisonment on January 20, 1986. In 1994, after they had spent 13 years and one month in prison, the men were released. Two of the hijackers who subsequently came back to India — Tajinderpal Singh and Satnam Singh — now face the prospect of being tried for sedition by a court in Delhi.

How did the situation of a new trial arise?
In September 2011, Delhi Police filed a supplementary chargesheet before a Delhi court, charging the men with sedition, waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India, and criminal conspiracy. The prosecution alleged the hijackers had raised slogans of “Khalistan Zindabad”, “Indira Gandhi Murdabad”, Sant Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale Zindabad, Bharat Sarkar Murdabad”, “Raj Karega Khalsa”, and other anti-India slogans during the hijacking. The Dal Khalsa, to which the men belonged, wanted an independent state for Sikhs, the prosecution said.
The court took cognizance of the charges in August 2012, and issued non-bailable warrants (NBWs) against all five hijackers. Tajinder and Satnam approached Delhi High Court in December that year, seeking the quashing of the supplementary chargesheet and cancellation of NBWs.
31/07/17 Navjeevan Gopal/Indian Express