Gurpreet Singh: Former Punjab police chief who once fought against Sikh separatists takes stand against Hindutva terror

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      In a rare show of courage, a former police officer previously at the forefront of the fight against Sikh separatists has come out openly against growing Hindutva terrorism in India.

      Sarbdeep Singh Virk, who generally goes by the name SS Virk, says that if Sikh extremism was wrong, then so is the extremism in the name of majoritarian Hindu state.

      This comes at a time when the Indian mainstream is blinded by majoritarianism.

      Virk joined the Maharashtra cadre of the Indian Police Service in 1970 after passing civil-service examinations. He was dispatched to Punjab during the 1980s when this state in northwest India was facing a growing security threat from Sikh separatists.

      Though a Sikh himself, Virk was determined to take on the challenge and was even injured during a fight with the militants in 1988. He eventually rose to become director general of police.

      This was a time when Sikh militants ran a parallel administration in Punjab and were fighting an armed struggle for a separate homeland of Khalistan. The movement was ultimately brought to an end by the mid 1990s by police who relied on repressive measures and who eliminated many extremist leaders in faked encounters.

      Due to internal departmental rivalries and political interference, Virk was charged with corruption and suspended. This was overturned by the Central Administrative Tribunal, then he was rescued by the Maharashtra government.  

      He was not only repatriated to Maharashtra, but ended up becoming the police chief of the state until his retirement in 2009.

      He was back in the news late last month after he wrote a column critical of Hindutva terror in Indian Express.

      This was in reaction to the recent nomination of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as a candidate for the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) from Bhopal. 

      Thakur, a highly controversial ascetic, has been charged for her involvement in a bomb blast in 2008 that claimed six lives and injured 100 people. The target of the attack was a Muslim-dominated area.

      Extremist Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a BJP candidate despite beingcharged in connection with terrorist bombings.

      She is associated with a group that believes in political Hinduism—also known as Hindutva—and wants to turn India into Hindu theocracy through violent means. She's currently out on bail.  

      Thakur’s arrest was followed by an investigation by a police officer, the late Hemant Karkare, who served as the chief of the Maharashtra police antiterrorism squad.

      Karkare came under attack for smashing cell of a Hindu terrorist network.

      Even the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat back then, publicly insulted Karkare. The police officer was called antinational and anti-Hindu by BJP supporters.

      This was despite the fact that Karkare was a practising Hindu and had never compromised himself in dealing firmly with Muslim extremists. 

      In November 2008, he died fighting with Muslim extremists who launched coordinated attacks in Mumbai. Ironically, Karkare was turned into a martyr overnight, even by Hindutva groups.

      An impromptu memorial was created in 2008 at the Mumbai location where Hemant Karkare was gunned down by Muslim extremists.
      Nicholas (Nichalp)

      Modi later offered a huge monetary award to his widow, Kavita Karkare, who refused to accept it. Kavita Karkare later died later of a brain hemorrhage.

      Many believe it was linked to the emotional stress she had been dealing with ever since right-wing extremists began hounding her husband.  

      Modi has not only been instrumental in ensuring that Thakur has been nominated to run for the Indian parliament, he has shamelessly defended her.

      In face, the prime minister has claimed that the previous centrist Congress government brought the case against Thakur to give Hindus a bad name.

      Emboldened by these gestures by the Modi government, Thakur went to the extent of saying that she had cursed Karkare, which led to his death.

      These developments disturbed Virk, the retired police officer. He had heard firsthand from Karkare about his dispassionate and honest investigation into the growing threat of Hindutva terrorism.  

      Virk then decided to write a column to defend his colleague whose professional integrity has come under question. He pulled no punches in criticizing those who were patronizing Thakur and majoritarian terrorism.

      He told the Straight that it is the duty of every secular Indian to stand up for an upright police officer who was just doing his job and who cannot defend himself.

      On being asked what he thinks of the Indian state that gave extra-judicial powers to the police to decimate Khalistani extremists while openly patronizing Hindutva terrorists, Virk clearly said that if what Sikh extremists were doing in Punjab was wrong, then what Hindutva radicals are doing is also unacceptable.

      He added that just because they belong to the majority community does not give them a right to spread hatred—and the law should be same for everyone. 

      Expressing his frustration at the political patronage people like Thakur are enjoying under the current regime, he only said that if those who are supposed to protect the law decide to violate and break it, what can one really say?

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.