Condemned by Human Rights groups for “illegal” and “brutal” policing methods, accused of “kicking” someone to death, convicted of sexual harassment, banned from entering the UK… and hailed as a hero by Indian media. Here we share some of the mixed reactions to the death of KPS Gill.
Today Indian media announced the death of former Director General of Panjab Police, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill.
In passing, Indian state media has largely hailed KPS Gill as a “super cop”, claiming he “crushed militancy” in Punjab. However, reaction from the Sikh community, as well as many other conscientious objectors, speak of a very different legacy the “Butcher of Punjab” has left.
KPS Gill led what the Indian government called a crackdown on “Sikh militancy” in Punjab from 1984-1995, directly after the period of the state perpetrated Sikh genocide of 1984. Human Rights Watch groups labelled much of this campaign “illegal”, as it involved openly torturing and killing masses of mainly young Sikh men, with statistics showing genocidal type figures of deaths.
Many Indians called for state media to report the darker side of KPS Gill’s legacy in the light much of the Sikh community view it in.
One of the most notable tragedies of KPS Gill’s time as the head of Punjab’s police force was the murder, for which he was directly implicated, of Sikh activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. Khalra had investigated unclassified cremations to determine the unaccounted for disappearances of tens of thousands of Sikhs, an investigation he took all the way to Canadian parliament. During a visit to Punjab to further his investigations, Khalra was arrested and subsequently went “missing” himself. In 2007 four police officers were convicted of his murder. Despite being heavily linked with the process of the murder, KPS Gill avoided prosecution.
Nevertheless, KPS Gill is still a celebrated figure among many Indians. Yet, something telling about the legacy of Gill is the fact there are disputes about whether his methods – which were also used in Sri Lanka from 2000-2004 and Assam in the early 80s, with both reigns equally condemned for their savagery – would be allowed today, in an era where there can be more scrutiny on the actions of state figures such as Gill.
The reaction to such discussions can build a picture of a section of Indian patriots who do not revere KPS Gill despite his shockingly murderous rule as Police Chief, but actually because of it. Even with the clear bloody stains on his reputation, the dignitaries and celebrities of India largely still commended him in passing, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A campaign has even begun to have him awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Outside of his police actions which won him the title of “The Butcher of Punjab, Gill was also charged with “kicking” to death a man in the state of Assam (but was acquitted in court), convicted of sexual harassment in 1996, caused the suspension of the entire India Hockey Federation for his corruptness as president of the organisation (for which he was also sacked) and was even banned from entering the UK for the 2012 Olympics, despite being one of the countries most senior hockey reps, after pressure on the British government from Human Rights groups.
Very little of any of the aforementioned has been reported by mainstream Indian state media in his obituaries. Whilst perhaps some of what he is accused of could be argued against or even justified by some in India, the fact that the Hindustan Times, India’s most read newspaper, mentions his reign as president of the IHF without mention of how he lost the position, paints a clear picture of how they and most state media aim to portray KPS Gill.
Praise of KPS Gill largely revolves around his horrific reign in Punjab. For many Sikhs and human rights supporters in India though, the only praise around Gill refers to his death.