“Should I shoot myself?” These were the last words students heard before DSP Baljinder Singh Sandhu shot himself in the head. Sandhu was in the middle of a student protest Monday inside Patiala University’s Jaitu regional centre. A day later, blood still stains the university entrance and a heavy silence weighs everything down inside campus.
The university has declared a holiday and students, particularly union leaders, are keeping a low profile. Police have so far detained four students. When he shot himself in the temple, the bullet went through and injured a constable standing nearby, who succumbed to his injuries Tuesday.
A student who witnessed the shooting recalled that a student leader, Gurjinder Vidhyarthi from Inquilab Vidhyarti Naujawan Manch, was giving a speech when another student group walked into the arena.
“Someone from another group called out to Gurjinder and said ‘we will shoot you’. Gurjinder said ‘how can you shoot me?’ Then another student said those policemen who fail to serve justice should be shot. Seeing chaos prevailing, DSP sir got frustrated and asked, ‘should I shoot myself?’ A voice from behind yelled ‘yes shoot yourself’ and in no time we heard a gunshot,” said the student.
Another said complete silence followed the gunshot and students, including the union leaders, left the protest area. Sumanpreet Kaur from Barnala said, “The students who were actually arguing with DSP fled and police failed to arrest them. We had just come to join the agitation against moral policing and were manhandled by protesters who turned violent. I also got injured and was taken into custody. We just heard a gunshot amid the slogans.”
Sandhu’s last rites will be held on Wednesday in Patiala, where he is from. His father Dev Singh said, “We are still in a state of shock. We have no idea why he took this extreme step.” Relatives said his son was on his way back from Canada.
But it was a protest against moral policing – allegedly involving the Jaitu SHO Gurmeet Singh – that forced Sandhu to the Jaitu regional center. It began on January 12, when three students of this college – two boys and a girl – were allegedly “picked up” from a bus stand by Gurmeet for “creating nuisance on the road” and taken to the police station. The students’ parents allege they were kept in police custody for at least five hours and thrashed.
The students had complained against “moral policing” to the university and student unions had begun protests demanding action against Gurmeet.
On Tuesday, the three students in question were unavailable at their homes in Kotkapura and Faridkot. “Police has been raiding their homes since yesterday. They are scared,” said a close friend who did not want to be identified.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the father of one of the boys, who is from Kotkapura, said, “My son and his two friends were waiting for the bus at the Jaitu bus stand. Since they had student bus passes, they were waiting for a Punjab Roadways bus. Seeing two boys and a girl standing together, the SHO came there and started moral policing. He asked humiliating questions.”
The boy’s father said the girl pleaded that she would not sit in the police vehicle, but was dragged by her hair and pushed inside. “The three of them kept flashing their ID cards, but no one listened. They were taken to police station and boys were asked to take off their shoes. The SHO and other policemen hit them on the soles of their feet with sticks. The SHO even said that ‘kudi nu vi lama paayo’ (Let us teach the girl a lesson too),” the father said. He added that they were released after hours of humiliation and torture.”
SHO Gurmeet Singh refuted all allegations and claimed: “City residents complained to me that girls and boys from villages come to Jaitu, but instead of studying they create nuisance on roads. So, we just started a drive to prevent all this. I never brought any girl or boy to police station, they are lying. I just scolded them at bus stand to not stand there unnecessarily,” he said.
According to Gurmeet, the protesters instigated the DSP Sandhu to commit suicide. “DSP sir never told me to apologise to students and why should I apologise when I did nothing wrong,” he said.
College principal Inderjit Kaur said that students had complained to her in writing against the SHO and the girl even wanted to leave the college following the alleged humiliation. Quoting a written complaint, Kaur said, “The girl in her complaint has said that she was taken to police station without any lady constable. The SHO used derogatory words against her and the boys were thrashed. It is only after this misbehaviour that my students had resorted to protest.”
According to Kaur, Sandhu’s death could have been avoided had the SHO apologised. “The DSP was trying to sort out the matter and asked the SHO to apologise to the students. He was even ready to apologise on the SHO’s behalf, but students demanded an apology from SHO Gurmeet,” Kaur said.
The father of the second boy, who is from Faridkot, said his son has been missing since Monday and entire incident has left him shattered. “How can we face anyone till police assures us that students won’t be troubled further? How can they be blamed for what the DSP did? I fear for the life of my son now,” he said.
The father of the girl who was allegedly harassed was detained by police Monday over “apprehension of breach of peace”. He was finally let out on bail on Tuesday.
Faridkot SSP Nanak Singh, meanwhile, said that no student had been booked for abetment to suicide and the FIR in the DSP’s death case was against unidentified protesters only. He added: “Inquiry has been marked against the SHO on the complaint of the three students and if found guilty, action will be taken.”