Shaheed Bhai Avtar Singh Shatrana


It was not only the militants who were being killed by the Punjab police in its custody but their sympathisers and relations were no exception. Bhai Avtar Singh Shatrana’s death in custody is a glaring example of this nature. Bhai Avtar Singh was born to the blessed womb of mother, Mata Labh Kaur and father Sardar Kehar Singh in the village of Shatrana, district Patiala. Bhai Avtar Singh was one of seven children and the second eldest of his siblings. He had four sisters and two brothers. Bhai Jarnail Singh (Shaheed), Bhai Gurbhajan Singh, Bibi Sukhwinder Kaur, Bibi Surjit Kaur, Bibi Jagdish Kaur and Bibi Paramjit Kaur. Bhai Avtar Singh studied up to sixth grade at his local village school. Later, Bhai Avtar Singh’s family arranged his marriage with Bibi Balwinder Kaur and were blessed with three sons, Pragat Singh, Palwinder Singh and Sukhjinder Singh.


Bhai Avtar Singh was not directly involved in the arms struggle for the fight for Khalistan, but he became a target for Punjab police because his elder brother, Lt General of the Khalistan Commando Force, Bhai Jarnail Singh, who was a renowned Jhujaru Singh and was very active in missions at the time. In 1991, Bhai Avtar Singh stood as candidate in the Punjab Assembly elections standing for Lehragaga, but Narasimha Rao cancelled the elections one day prior, to disband any chance of the Jhujaru faction to win.


On that very day, 25th July 1991, Bhai Avtar Singh was arrested by the Patran police party led by its SHO (Inspector) Sukhwinder Singh from the Patran Road at 10am as he was travelling towards Patran on his scooter. Bhai Avtar Singh was taken to Samana police station and there he was brutally tortured by the police officials. If that wasn’t enough, he was then taken to CIA Staff of Patiala where indescribable torture was inflicted on him. Bhai Avtar Singh was seen in custody among many by Gurnam Singh of Paind village and Ajit Singh, a PRTC Station Conductor, Patran.


The people from about a dozen villages around Shatrana gathered at Patran village and protested against the illegal arrest of Bhai Avtar Singh, demanding his immediate release. The headmen and mayors of the villages met state and police officials at Chandigarh and Patiala, urging their intervention. In the meantime, the Punjab police arrested Bhai Avtar Singh’s father, Sardar Kehar Singh from his village on 31st July 1991.


The Patiala SSP, Satish Kumar Sharma even refused to talk to the deputation regarding Bhai Avtar Singh. Later, the police came out with a story that Bhai Avtar Singh was killed in an encounter between the Indian security forces led by Patiala’s CIA Inspector Gurnam Singh and the Jhujaru Singhs close to Bhai Avtar Singh near Gurdial Pura on 6th August 1991.


According to the police FIR, CIA Inspector Gurnam Singh arrested Bhai Avtar Singh on the morning of 6th August 1991. Bhai Avtar Singh faced a brief interrogation and disclosed to the police the location of some top Jhujaru Singhs were hiding. Punjab police along with Bhai Avtar Singh proceeded to that location in a Gypsy jeep. An encounter took place there (near Gurdial Pura village) for three hours. Bhai Avtar Singh was killed in the cross firing.


However, IHRO investigations into the matter suggested otherwise:


Bhai Avtar Singh was killed in police custody. He was in police detention since 25th July 1991. At least three persons had seen him in the police custody. Moreover, on 6th August, the advisor to the Punjab Governor categorically told a five-member delegation of the Shatrana village council at Chandigarh that he had talked to the concerned police officials. Bhai Avtar Singh, he assured, would be released or produced in court, as the case may be, on 6th August. All these facts showed that he was killed in police custody.


The people in large numbers laid a siege to the Patran police station on 6th August at 2pm and pressurised the police to hand over the body of Bhai Avtar Singh to them. They also asked for the release of Bhai Avtar Singh’s father, Sardar Kehar Singh so that they could cremate the body in time.


The body of Bhai Avtar Singh bore torture and burn marks, there was no bullet injury on the body, his right fore-arm was cut open, hot pitchers were used on his wrists to poke burn his skin and all the major bones in both of his arms were broken. His abdomen was burnt by using a hot ironing-press, Hot Steel rods were used to burn the soles of his feet.


Information given by the family of Shaheed Bhai Avtar Singh Shatrana and Human Rights Organisation