Just as Outlook magazine’s cover story, Confessions of a Killer Cop, hit the stands, the journalist behind it, Kanwar Sandhu, released a string of videos on YouTube. The videos titled “Confessions of a Punjab Police Cop” were essentially one-on-one interviews that Sandhu had done with Gurmeet Singh Pinky, the militant-turned-cop whose testimony the Outlook cover story was based on.
In one of the interviews, Pinky claimed that Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for assassinating former Punjab Chief Minister, had helped foil a jailbreak attempt by other convicts in the jail.
A few days after the video was posted online, Sandhu claims he received a call from one Kamaldeep Kaur, who identified herself as the sister of Rajoana. Rajoana, who’s currently in Patiala jail on the death row, wasn’t impressed by the story, she said. Rajoana’s gripe: the accusation by Pinky was carried without crosschecking with him. “I told her that I couldn’t take a reaction from Rajoana as he is in jail – and that I’d gladly carry a response,” Sandhu says. He claims Kaur offered to arrange a meeting the very next day in jail. “I told her the next day wasn’t possible and we decided on a meeting on Saturday [19 December].”
On Saturday, Sandhu, as decided, drove down from Chandigarh to Patiala. According to Sandhu, Kaur informed him on Saturday that she wouldn’t be present and her husband, Baljit Singh, would be there instead. Following that, Sandhu says he established contact with Pinky to accompany him. “Pinky had some prior engagements but he cancelled them to come along,” says Sandhu.
Sandhu reached the Patiala jail at around noon and waited for Pinky at the entrance. “As soon as I reached I called Singh [Baljit], who said he knew I had arrived.” Sandhu says he then called Baljit again after about five minutes of having entered the premises of the jail, but received no response. “I thought he had already gone inside to meet Rajoana, so I asked the jail officials who confirmed the same to me.” Sandhu then told the jail official that he was accompanying Baljit. “After filling some forms, I was let inside the meeting room,” he claims.
In the meeting room, he spotted Rajoana and Baljit already chatting. According to Sandhu, there were no security guards and Rajoana wasn’t handcuffed. “As soon as I entered, Singh [Baljit] and the jail official had an argument of sorts, after which the jail official asked me why I was there since Rajoana didn’t want me to be there,” he says. Sandhu contends he tried explaining that he was there because he was told Rajoana wanted to meet him but the jail official proceeded to usher him out to be room, holding him by his hands. “At that point, Rajoana intervened and said that since I was already there he might as well speak me,” claims Sandhu.
The speaking bit though turned out to be short-lived, and Rajoana, according to Sandhu, heckled him and punched him, enraged that he had carried a story about him without seeking his version. “My coat got removed in the process, but I managed to get away.” CCTV footage, aired by local channels, shows Sandhu running out of the room with his turban displaced.
Pinky was outside the entire time. Curiously, Pinky even denies having gone with the intention of meeting Rajoana – something he says he made categorically clear to Sandhu before agreeing to go along. “I had gone to visit a different under trial. Rajoana carries a kirpan [a short sword that many Sikhs carry for religious reasons] and what if he had stabbed anyone of us? Who would have taken responsibility then?”
Baljit, when contacted by Newslaundry, said that Sandhu was misrepresenting facts. He, however, refused to comment on what exactly transpired in the meeting room on Saturday. His wife, Kaur, though, in an interview with PTC News, has asserted in no uncertain terms that Rajoana did hit Sandhu as that was the only way to answer Sandhu.
While two senior Patiala jail officials have been suspended in the wake of the episode, the fact that Sandhu was allowed to meet a prisoner on a death row without any prior permission is curious. While journalists have in the past interviewed prison inmates, it is usually a long-drawn process. In fact, with the Ministry of Home Affairs recently issuing a new set of particularly stringent guidelines to regulate the entry and conduct of those seeking to interview inmates, it has become next to impossible to do so now. By his own admission, Sandhu didn’t seek any prior permission in this case.
The political grapevine in Punjab is that Rajoana was highly upset by the interview as it portrayed him as a traitor ratting on his accomplices. Were rules then bent to let Rajoana exact revenge on Sandhu? A fact-finding probe has been ordered. With the kind of characters involved in the story – a militant-turned-cop and a cop-turned-murderer — the facts, if ever they come out, could shed much-needed light on the opaque world of prison rules and police conduct.