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The 11-Year Debate

For a decade an Indian national has been held in California jails. He's accused of being a terrorist. Is he?

By Najeeb Hasan

DURING INTERROGATION, there are at least four or five different types of torture that the police employ in Punjab, a state in northwest India known mostly for its fertile soil, for its quenching rivers, for producing plenty of milk, for high literacy rates and for its concentration of some 14.5 million adherents of the Sikh religion.

In 1988, Kulvir Singh Barapind learned about the Punjab police's interrogation methods firsthand. At the time, Barapind was a 24-year-old political activist who had forsaken his final year of college to organize the Sikh population in rural Punjab. Barapind, as he tells it in court testimony, had taken the bus from his village to Rahimpur, a village in a neighboring district, to pull together a ceremony at his village to commemorate the Golden Temple massacre of 1984, when 70,000 Indian troops laid waste to much of Sikhism's holiest temple in an ill-fated and bloody military operation. Barapind intended to invite a notable Rahimpur religious leader for the ceremony in his village.

At the bus station, police officers spotted Barapind and a fellow activist who was traveling with him. The two were taken to the local police station for questioning, and the police soon learned that Barapind was his district's president of the All India Sikh Student Federation, a nonviolent organization dedicated to carving out Punjab from India as an independent homeland for the Sikhs. Being a member of the Sikh Federation was a dangerous act in post-1984 India.

Barapind was immediately stripped down. His arms were tied behind his back with a rag. He was lifted into the air, where his bound hands were tied to a thick rope that hung from the ceiling. As Barapind dangled, his shoulders curved backward, police officers whacked his midsection. He was lowered and asked for information about the Sikh Student Federation.

When he insisted he was only in Rahimpur to invite a religious leader to his ceremony, Barapind was made to sit on the floor and extend his legs, his hands still tied behind his back. An officer rode a 3-foot-long wooden roller, an oversized rolling pin, back and forth over Barapind's thighs a few dozen times. His shrieks of pain did nothing to stop the process. Next, officers grabbed each of Barapind's ankles and began pulling his legs in opposite directions until he felt as if the muscles in his groin would rip.

After these methods failed to coax information from Barapind, the process began again.

A day's torture completed, Barapind was locked in a crowded, brightly lit prison cell for the night. The following morning he was led into the interrogation room, and the torture began again. When Barapind fainted from pain, the police officers used hot water to revive him.

Barapind's interrogation lasted eight days more; then he was sent to jail.

Six months later, a judge permitted Barapind to post bail, but the charges against him were eventually dismissed. He returned to his village, but was arrested again the next summer while asleep on the roof of his house, accused of sheltering militants. Once again, the torture began.

This time, in addition to methods used during his previous arrest, the police introduced a machine designed to emit electric currents. Wires were attached to Barapind's toes, fingers and genitals.

Later, in U.S. court records, Barapind described the sensation as feeling as if the skin of his penis was peeling off.

Khalistan

Today, as he has for the last seven years, Barapind sits in a high-security cell in the old Fresno County Jail, one of the longest-held detainees in modern American history. He arrived in the United States in 1993, under the Muslim alias Mahim Mehra. Living underground in Punjab since 1989, the year he was electrocuted by the Punjab police, he fled to Katmandu, then to Bangkok, and on to the United States, where he was detained by immigration officials at LAX for displaying a false passport. Since his detention, Barapind has been in U.S. custody, first fighting for political asylum, then fighting an extradition request by the same Indian government he fled from, an Indian government that accuses him of murdering 26 people in Punjab; Barapind maintains that he has never engaged in violence.

Among many Sikhs, especially those who come from rural origins, Barapind is considered something of a folk hero, a warrior-saint who struggles for justice. (Today 80 percent of the 14.5 million Sikhs in Punjab live in rural areas; by contrast, 55 percent of the Hindus in Punjab live in urban areas.) Among other Sikhs, especially those who have assimilated into urban life, he is considered a fundamentalist, a religious literalist. The Indian government—and much of the mainstream press—considers him a terrorist. Despite the label, those who have chanced to meet him—even for a very short time—are eagerly welcomed into the homes of his supporters. "How is Kulvir?" they are asked. "What was his state?" Since his arrival in the United States, Barapind's supporters—and there are many—have raised and spent more than $200,000 for his legal defense. His network of international support stretches from the United Kingdom to Canada, but is centered, remarkably enough, in San Jose, where a number of his closest friends reside.

Sikhism (a Sikh is a "student" or "disciple") grew during a period of Muslim Mogul and Afghan rule of the Indian subcontinent by way of a succession of 10 gurus who crystallized the religion in India from 1468 to 1699. Often recognized by others for their distinctive appearance—turbans, bracelets, beards for the men—the Sikh diaspora has also extended to the West (some 4 million Sikhs live in Europe, Canada and the United States). The Sikhs often found themselves at philosophical odds with the Hindu and Muslim majority on the subcontinent. While Sikhism is monotheistic in nature, theologically Hindus and Muslims alike would not accept Sikhism as a religion revealed from God to prophets. Indeed, under India's current constitution, Sikhs, unlike India's Muslims, are expected to abide by the personal and family law of the Hindus.

After the partition of India in 1947, the Sikhs, along with about a third of Punjab, were folded into the greater Indian state but agitated for more autonomy. In 1973, the Akali Dal, a Sikh political party, introduced the Anandpur Sahib resolution, which demanded a more decentralized India; Sikh grievances included discriminatory agricultural prices that the central government set for farmers, the diversion of Punjab's river waters and hydroelectric power to other Indian states, and linguistic issues.

Since these grievances were never addressed, the Sikhs engaged in mass nonviolent protests for the next decade. By the early 1980s, disillusioned by an unbending and sometimes brutal response to their protests, and galvanized by the zeal of faith, a segment of Sikhs emerged who believed only militancy would bring India to the bargaining table.

In 1984, about 200 armed Sikhs, led by the charismatic and controversial Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, took refuge in the Sikhs' holiest site, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. What happened next was what scholars—and even Indian commanders involved in the assault—call a drastic over-response: 70,000 Indian troops, using tanks and heavy arms, fought a three-day battle with the 200 militants for control of the temple. Bhindranwale was killed, the temple badly damaged and scores of pilgrims killed. Indian government estimates put the number at about 400 while independent estimates claim anywhere between 3,000 to 8,000 worshippers were caught in the crossfire. (The New York Times reported in 1984 that the Indian government waited eight full days after the army took control to allow reporters access to the temple; indeed, the initial battle stories were filed from New Delhi, not from Amritsar.) During the same week, government forces also attacked 37 other Sikh temples across Punjab.

Months later, Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister, was assassinated by two of her bodyguards, who were Sikhs. Her assassination sparked waves of anti-Sikh violence across India. In New Delhi alone, between 3,000 to 4,000 Sikhs were murdered. Roving mobs conducted the violence that benefited—much like the recent anti-Muslim violence in the Indian state of Gujarat—from the tacit approval and even aid from the Indian government. The sanctioned violence gave more popular support to Sikhs committed to militancy. In 1986, they formally announced a desire for an independent Sikh state to be called Khalistan.

The government's response was a brutal crackdown on the Khalistan movement. (India, along with its rich diversity, has a history of communal problems; its reasons—not its tactics—behind opposing a separate Khalistan during the insurgency are considered valid by mainstream political scientists. Among other effects, political observers say, a separate Punjab state would only disintegrate India's union by sparking other independence movements and would remove India's best farmland and river waters from the union.) Legislation was passed permitting extended detentions, secret evidence, hiding the identity of witnesses and the use of confessions obtained through interrogations. Meanwhile, the Punjab police were given the responsibility of directing the counterinsurgency in Punjab. Police resorted to civil rights abuses. They armed thousands of anti-Sikh villagers. They started a "Black Cats" program, which infiltrated the Sikh resistance groups. To the dismay of international human rights groups, they engaged in torture to extract confessions and information. And they carried out extrajudicial executions of suspected militants and their supporters, dumping bodies into irrigation canals or illegally cremating them; the extent of the extrajudicial executions is being discovered only today. In the ensuing years, especially during the early 1990s, there was widespread chaos. Civilians were being slaughtered indiscriminately—the militants blamed the authorities who had infiltrated their ranks; the authorities blamed the militants. Militants continued to target police, collaborators and political figures who supported the counterinsurgency tactics. Police targeted anyone remotely associated with the Khalistan movement, including farmers and peasants who fed and housed militants in the countryside, human rights advocates and nonviolent activists and supporters of Khalistan. Independent observers say 10,000 to 20,000 people, including countless innocent civilians, died each year at the height of the insurgency.

The brutal counterinsurgency succeeded in quieting the Khalistan movement, though, and, like Barapind, many of the movement's leaders and organizers fled India.

"There's a huge amount that's known and published about the counterinsurgency," acknowledges Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "I was just in Amritsar [in Punjab] a few months ago, pursuing these very same subjects up to the present. There are still people being attacked." But how does this happen under a democracy, the largest in the world? "The first thing I would say is that one should not confuse democracy with human rights," Adams continues. "Political pluralism, government succession without violence—India does have that. It has an independent election commission. [India] is a very contradicting place. In Punjab thousands were killed; in Kashmir; in northeast India, thousands of people are being killed. But then, you have a very sophisticated [electoral] process. When the BJP lost an election this year, they walked away immediately. There was not even a whiff, not even an idea of them clinging to power through extraconstitutional means. That makes India hard to understand. ... Let's talk about New Delhi after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her party was the Congress Party. Leading members of the party got together—and they are identifiable—and decided to avenge her death by sponsoring riots and pogroms against Sikhs. And this is the party that just won the most recent election, to the glee of most liberals of India, but has never reconciled its own past. I'm not sure what lessons to draw from that."

Encounters

Parminder Singh is perhaps the polar opposite of Jaskaran Kaur. Singh, at one time a national champion weightlifter in India, is tall and thick. Kaur is short and slight. Singh chooses not to don the customary Sikh turban. Kaur resolutely wraps one on her head. Singh sells orchids for a living. Kaur has a Harvard law degree and focuses on human rights issues. In his south San Jose home, Singh lives with his wife and three children, an older brother (who is disabled) and his mother. Kaur, though married, relishes her independence in Santa Clara, about a continent away from her extended family on the East Coast. Singh was born in Barapind's village in Punjab. Kaur was born and raised in New Jersey.

Still, when the new Sikh temple opened its doors last month in San Jose, near the Evergreen neighborhood, it was the unlikely partnership between Singh and Kaur that allowed Kaur to give a presentation on human rights research she's conducting in Punjab. (Kaur is one of a small group of activists focusing on documenting state human rights violations in Punjab during the counterinsurgency operations of the 1980s and 1990s.) At the temple, Kaur and her group not only wanted to distribute fliers for outreach but also wanted to deliver a presentation about their findings. "We had hoped to do this at the grand opening, and there were some people who objected to our participating in the grand opening because there was this tendency to see any discussion about human rights in Punjab as anti-religion or as anti-India," relates Kaur. "So they thought that we would alienate the outside community. We went to a couple of meetings and there were a lot of arguments, and it just came down to us being allowed to distribute material. Then the people who were sympathetic to our work put enough pressure on them that we ended up speaking on Saturday. We didn't speak on Sunday [the main night of the grand opening], but we did speak on Saturday."

That's when Singh stepped in. "I know a lot of people," says Singh, nonchalantly shrugging his shoulders. "I'm well-respected in the community, and I was able to talk to the right people."

Kaur's research stems directly from the findings of the abducted (and allegedly murdered) Sikh activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. Khalra, a leader in the human rights wing of the Akali Dal, the Sikh political party, investigated what were euphemistically known as "encounters" in Punjab after a friend disappeared at the hands of the Punjab police. Through some clever detective work, Khalra discovered that hundreds of bodies labeled as "unidentified and unclaimed" were being cremated by police at local crematoriums. By accessing crematorium and firewood purchase records, Khalra estimated some 2,000 illegal cremations were conducted in just three crematoriums in the only district of the 13 Punjab districts that he studied. Eight months after he publicized his findings in January of 1995, police commandos kidnapped Khalra while he was washing his car outside his house. He was never "officially" seen again. Meanwhile, India's Supreme Court has ordered that 2,097 of the illegal cremations discovered by Khalra be investigated.

In 2003, Kaur helped three human rights activists publish a report documenting the names and lives of many of the victims of the "encounters" Khalra discovered. The report prompted Khushwant Singh, a widely read Indian novelist and social critic to write: "I supported ...extrajudicial methods to stamp out terrorism. ...When stories came out about abductions and cold-blooded killings of over 2,000 young Sikhs in Amritsar and Tarn Taran, I refused to accept them simply on records of purchases of wood made by police to cremate them. [The report] is spine-chilling. I often wonder why so many senior police officers drink so hard. Now I have a clue."

The critic's admission, though, doesn't impress Kaur. "Everyone in Punjab knows about [the killings]," she says. "Why don't more people know about it? How many people have died in Iraq? Do you have any way of knowing? Who controls the information? The government, or people who want to appease the government? People in the cities do not venture out into the villages. They were so fed on state propaganda that they saw them all as terrorists. Human rights organizations were threatened and accused of being front groups for terrorist organizations. So when Khushwant Singh says, I used to support extrajudicial executions, and now I know why I'm wrong"—her eyes flash darkly—"just the fact that he supported them, that didn't raise an outcry?"

Innocent Civilian

In 11 separate charges, the government of India has accused Barapind of committing 26 murders, all during a three-year span during the early 1990s, when the violence of the insurgency and the counterinsurgency in Punjab was at its height. When he arrived in the United States as Mahim Mehra in 1993—which is still the name the U.S. Marshal Service and Citizenship and Immigration Service have on record—and was subsequently caught at the airport, Barapind promptly applied for political asylum. However, during the asylum proceedings, Indian authorities requested he be extradited to India to face 26 counts of murder. The two separate issues only complicated his legal situation in the United States, and the most tangible result has been that Barapind has been detained, but not arrested, for the last 11 years. "In India, it was physical torture; here, the torture is mental," Barapind sighs.

Satish Kumar Sharma, the lead Indian police officer who is requesting Barapind's extradition, has a rich history during the counterinsurgency operations in Punjab. Kaur's human rights organization, ENSAAF, has submitted a supporting brief for Barapind's case that alleges Sharma is directly "responsible for numerous cases of arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial execution or disappearance." One Sacramento man whom Kaur herself interviewed claimed Sharma interrogated him and directed others to torture him.

Meanwhile, contends the Indian government, on June 29, 1991, Rajinder Kaur and her husband, Kulwinder Singh, were preparing for bed. At 11pm, the bedroom door burst open, and Barapind and a comrade entered the room. He pulled Kulwinder Singh out into the veranda and, despite his pleas for mercy, shot him with an assault rifle. The charge is based on an unsigned affidavit submitted by the Indian government that is said to be Rajinder Kaur's account of the night.

On Oct. 5, 1991, 60-year-old Rattan Singh was traveling to a religious ceremony along with Thekedar Ram Tirath, Tarlochan Singh and Jaspal Singh. At 10:30am, Barapind allegedly emerged from the bushes near a bridge and, armed with an assault rifle, began firing at the jeep. Ram Tirath, Tarlochan Singh and Jaspal Singh were all killed. Rattan Singh survived the attack, and the Indian government submitted his unsigned affidavit to charge Barapind.

On Sept. 6, 1992, Sohan Singh was sleeping on the roof of his house along with his sons Paramjit Singh and Kashmir Singh. A third son, Karamjit Singh, slept with his wife, Kulwant Kaur, inside the house. All three of Sohan Singh's sons were considered "pro-police" and were given arms by the police. At 2am, four individuals, including Barapind, climbed to the roof of the house. Kashmir Singh frantically attempted to load ammunition into his rifle, but, before he could do so, Barapind shot and killed him with an AK-47. Barapind then shot Paramjit Singh and asked for the whereabouts of Sohan's third son. When told he was downstairs, Barapind remained to guard the parents and the other three assailants shot and killed Karamjit Singh and Kulwant Kaur.

An unsigned affidavit of Sohan Singh is submitted for evidence.

In court, Barapind faced a tricky task in defending himself. American extradition law allows for political exceptions; meaning that if the violence in question is determined to be part of an ongoing political movement or rebellion, the United States can opt not to extradite. How to distinguish between political violence and terrorism? Generally, the rule is that a distinction must be made between domestic revolutionary violence and international terrorism. However, Barapind does not admit to any of the 26 killings (and, thus, explain the specifics of any political context) because not only does he insist he never engaged in violence, but because any admission could allow the Indian government to use it against him if the extradition is granted. As a result, Barapind had to employ a general political exception defense, based on the totality of the circumstances in Punjab during the early 1990s, and also attempt to pick apart the support for the specific charges leveled against him.

When his attorneys researched the case, the task of picking apart the support for the specific charges didn't seem as difficult as anticipated. (At the extradition hearing, the judge described the Indian government's hands as "not entirely clean.") There were several problems with the affidavits the Indian government submitted to the United States. For starters, they were unsigned. However, since many of the witnesses were illiterate, Indian authorities explained that the affidavits were transcripts of oral statements read back to the witnesses and signed by a thumbprint on the back of Barapind's picture. The photocopies of the pictures submitted, though, showed no such thumbprints. Also, the affidavits were in English. The original Punjabi versions were never offered. Further, many of the affidavits, said to be the witnesses' words, curiously began and ended with the same sentence, giving credence to the assumption that the allegedly incriminating affidavits were, in fact, "stock" affidavits of the Punjab police.

Noticing the irregularities in the evidence given by India, Jagdip Singh Sekhon, one of Barapind's attorneys, decided to travel to India himself to investigate further. Sekhon, also a lecturer at the University of California at Davis, informed the court and the representatives of the Indian government of his intentions, and, while preparing to leave, had his visa denied by the Indian government. Finally, Sekhon resorted to seeking help from attorneys already practicing in India. The Indian attorneys, in turn, tracked down many of the same witnesses whose statements India had submitted for evidence and took their own affidavits. "Those affidavits were given to us right before the trial [by Barapind's attorneys]," complains U.S. Attorney Stanley Boone, who is representing India during the extradition proceedings. "We don't know the nature of the witnesses; we don't know how the witnesses were confronted."

The findings, nonetheless, were remarkable.

For instance, Sekhon's Indian attorneys found Rattan Singh, who was said to have survived an assault by Barapind that killed three of his fellow travelers and whose affidavit that identified Barapind as the gunman was submitted by the Indian government as evidence. In a conflicting affidavit—this one properly signed and appearing with the original Punjabi—Rattan Singh maintained that he never gave the police the name of his assailants because he was unable to identify them. Further, Rattan Singh swears, he was forcibly taken to the police station and asked to give an affidavit that identified Barapind. When he refused, the police pressed his thumbprints onto several sheets of blank paper. These thumbprints, says Rattan Singh, were then used to "identify" Barapind as the killer.

In another case, Sekhon's Indian attorneys tracked down Rajinder Kaur's testimony during the murder trial of the two assailants said to be with Barapind that night. In her testimony, Rajinder Kaur testified under oath that she couldn't identify any of the shooters that night. Further, the attorneys tracked down Jaswinder Singh, the son of Sarwan Singh, who was murdered the same night along with Rajinder Kaur's husband. In his affidavit, again properly signed, Jaswinder Singh supports Rajinder Kaur's trial testimony, insisting he was with her during the shootings and that the police themselves identified Barapind as the shooter. Due to Jaswinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur's testimony, the other two accused murderers were acquitted in a trial in India. Finally, in the case of Kulwant Kaur and the three collaborators, affidavits were taken of several townspeople, including village elders and mayors, which confirmed the three sons "terrorized" the village and were supported by the police. When one village complained to police about the three brothers, the police ignored the complaint and "allowed the three brothers to sit alongside them as equals."

Similar conflicting information was introduced by Sekhon's attorneys on all 11 of the charges filed by the Indian government against Barapind. When the federal judge eventually ruled on the extradition request on Aug. 27, 2001, he threw out eight of the charges against Barapind. There was probable cause that he didn't commit three of the murders, the judge ruled. In the other five, the judge gave Barapind the political exception. On the remaining three charges, however, the judge found him extraditable. One of those was the murder of Kulwant Kaur, who the police say was killed not by Barapind, but by his associates. In his opinion, the judge, while accepting the possibility that the three murdered sons could have, indeed, been collaborators and terrorizers of a village, could not accept the death of Kulwant Kaur (the wife of one of the sons), who he described as an "innocent civilian." The judge's opinion, however, is based on law that is meant only for those who specifically target civilians in their attacks, argue Barapind's attorneys.

"There's one [previous] case in U.S. courts that rules the deaths of civilians in political contexts is 'incidental'; there's another that rules anyone who targets civilians can never qualify for a political exception," explains Sekhon, one of Barapind's attorneys. "So let's say there was an insurgency in China, and somebody sets up a bomb in the marketplace. Under the first case you can still qualify for the political exception, under the second, you can't. They are trying to say that the law of the second case prevents Kulvir from getting an exception because of what happened to Kulwant Kaur [the wife of the targeted collaborator]. But the whole debate between the two cases is a smokescreen; they're trying to suck us into an argument that's not relevant. Ours is a situation where the death of the civilian was not a targeted death. It's more similar to U.S. soldiers being engaged in violence with combatants and a civilian death occurs."

"They are not soldiers," retorts Boone, referring to the Sikh separatists. "They are not in uniform. Also, he [Barapind] has never admitted that he committed the crimes. That's like having your cake and eating it too. In criminal law, the fact that somebody kills somebody and somebody else is also shot, that's called transferred intent. That's what murder is about. What happens if Timothy McVeigh comes along? When does that turn into an uprising? That [Barapind's argument] under the law is not sufficient. Otherwise everybody would go I don't like those people." Boone, tellingly, makes no distinction between McVeigh's popular support and tactics and those of pro-Khalistan Sikhs in Punjab.

Based on the three remaining charges, Barapind was ordered to be extradited to India to face justice in the hands of the same authorities who allegedly fabricated affidavits against him, tortured him and fought against his movement during the insurgency after the Blue Star Massacre—this was allowable under the rule of "specialty," meaning that India could try him only for the offenses specified by the American judge.

"Our concern is that even if Kulvir surives the torture and the extrajudicial treatment, that the Indian government would not honor the rule of specialty because they haven't in the past," Sekhon warns. "They would detain Kulvir as a political prisoner."

Jokester

Kulvir Singh Barapind, who has never been interviewed in person during his 11 years of detention in the United States, was never politically active as a youth. He was born into a family of farmers in the village of Barapind (literally meaning "Big Village"), and it's the esteem that he's acquired now from the Sikh community that allows him to be identified by the name of his village. Politically active Sikhs held rallies in his village during the time Barapind was growing up, but his parents always advised him to stay away from politics and activism. There was too much trouble associated with it, they told him. After the Golden Temple Massacre, however, Barapind dropped out of the university. He could no longer fight the urge to do something for his community. Joining the All India Sikh Student Federation, an activist group that advocated for Khalistan, he quickly proved an adept activist and soon rose to giving speeches in front of audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. Meanwhile, he became a baptized Sikh and attempted to mold his character according to his religion.

"When people speak about Kulvir now, they have tears in their eyes," says Parminder Singh, who was also raised in Barapind's village. Parminder Singh, younger than Barapind by a few years, remembers looking up to Barapind. "He would always advise me not to get politically involved. He was concerned about my safety. He's always looking out for people. Even now, from jail, he's always concerned about people and trying to help people."

Barapind has long, stringy black hair that he ties up in a bun perched neatly on top of his head. At the Fresno County Jail, he's not permitted to wear his religiously obligated turban, and his hair, which shines from the intensity of its blackness, is displayed for all to see. He has a long, smooth forehead, free from any of the stress or age-related creases one would expect. His beard extends down to his navel, and only his eyes betray any sense of a man who has suffered. His movements are quick; he snaps his fingers when he talks, and he's a bit of a jokester. His ankles are chained together. One hand is allowed to remain free, while the other is chained to his waist. He resides in solitary confinement and says that sometimes the officers will show him off to visitors dressed in suits; they brag that they're holding a "terrorist."

At the jail, he's dressed in a yellow jumpsuit and bright orange shoes without laces. When he speaks, it's difficult for him to talk about himself. Mostly, he will lapse into analyzing the political situation of the Sikhs in Punjab. "When I was in school," he says, "we used to read in the papers about [the] Sikh leaders making demands for religious rights for Sikhs, making demands for Punjab. I didn't comprehend at a deep level how Hindustan was a separate nation, not for Sikhs, but after 1984 [after Blue Star], I realized that the Hindustan government's policy was to finish off the Sikhs."

When he's asked about the torture he's endured, he again manages only a half-hearted attempt to explain his emotions, but speaks easily about the general reasons why torture is implemented. "You're filled up with pain and anguish," he says. "You don't want to get into the hands of the police again. The police's purpose is always to cause pain and humiliate you, to stop you from thinking the way you do. But, if you're religiously inclined and step back from the situation, it's shows their weakness. The government can't stop you. They might be able to silence you for a short time, but they can't stop you. If you're weak in thinking, they can stop you. If you have strength in your thoughts, you can continue to raise your voice."

His opinions about the use of violence to achieve political ends? Again, Barapind distances himself from the answer (and the militancy): "People need to carefully understand each country's unique situation before judging whether those who chose to engage in an armed struggle are justified," he explains. "There are four parts to a democracy: the legislature, the police, the judiciary, and the press. What do you do if your justice system doesn't dispense justice under the government? And the police act extrajudicially under that same government's orders? People need to delicately understand why these things happen when judging whether armed revolt is justified. Militant Sikhs believe they have no other option. They can't even go to court—look at the case of Jaswant Singh Khalra. They believe they have no way out of these oppressions. Even the press is reporting for the government, so the truth of the people is left behind. You can't look at the situation in Punjab through American lenses. Human rights groups are not even allowed into Punjab to inquire about abuses."

Later in the conversation, Barapind makes a distinction between militancy and terrorism. "First you should understand the difference between the two terms," he instructs. "There is a difference between terrorists who target civilians and people fighting for religious freedoms, for human rights and for free countries. [The Sikhs], both the militants and the peaceful political activists, are like freedom fighters. Those who call the Khalistanis terrorists are politically ignorant people or those who want to destroy them."

Should militants be fueled by anger? "The movement's purpose is to get the government to a point of dialogue," says Barapind. "When the government doesn't address the issues and tries to discredit them, only then can an armed struggle in resistance to state oppression be justified. Nothing will be solved by anger. The point of resistance is to get the government into an honest dialogue."

Barapinds ends by acknowledging the esteem he's held in by many parts of the Sikh community. "I'm very grateful that God has given me this gift of honor," he says. "The Sikhs have given me a lot of honor, respect and company. I feel proud of how I have been received by the community. This shows that the Sikh community has accepted our struggle."


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From the October 13-19, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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