The long story of one night

BPn Gonda DSP KP Singh and his wife Vibha had been married for just over two years when he was killed; Bahraich DM Kinjal Singh broke down after a CBI court on April 5 sentenced three of her father’s killers to death
Why did a group of policemen shoot down their own officer, DSP K P Singh, and 12 villagers in Gonda in the intervening hours of March 12-13, 1982? Manish Sahu tells the story of a scheming policeman, a vengeful pradhan and a wife who battled it out to bring her husband's killers to justice.

4 am. DSP K P Singh and his team of policemen reached Madhavpur village in Gonda district and surrounded the house of Ram Baran Shukla. They had been tipped off about the presence of a few criminals in the house. Singh knocked on the door, identified himself, asked the inmates to surrender. When he got no reply, he kicked open the door. A few gunshots rang through the night. Singh was dead. A gunbattle followed in which the police claimed to have killed 12 dacoits.

Thirty-one years later, on April 5 this year, a CBI court in Lucknow handed out death sentences to three policemen and life terms to five others for killing DSP K P Singh and 12 villagers in a fake encounter. The truth was finally out—Singh had been shot dead by his own colleagues that night on March 12-13, 1982.

Amidst the crowd of advocates and mediapersons in the CBI court on the day of the judgment was Singh's daughter Kinjal Singh, now District Magistrate of Bahraich. She had known this truth all along. Growing up in Varanasi with her younger sister Pranjal, the girls would ask their mother Vibha Singh about their father and she would tell them that he had gone abroad on work. "But it soon became obvious... Mother meeting CBI officials, making inquiries about the progress of the case," says Kinjal.

Kinjal was five months old when her father was killed. Her parents had been married for just over two years. Vibha was pregnant with her second daughter, Pranjal, who was born seven months after K P Singh's death.

The 'encounter'

In March 1982, an informer told Katra Bazaar police station officer Tirath Raj Pal that the criminal gang of Ram Bhulawan and Arjun Pasi was going to assemble at the house of one Ram Baran Shukla in Madhavpur village on the night of March 12. The informer said the gang was there on the pretext of taking part in the terhvi (an occasion marked by prayers for the dead) of Ram Baran's father Mata Prasad Shukla, who had died a year ago. The police were also told that Ram Baran and his two younger brothers, Sadhuram and Paikarmadeen, were active members of this criminal gang.

The station officer passed on this information to sub-inspector R B Saroj, who was then in-charge of Kauriya police station. They then informed Gonda SP Yash Pal Singh (who later went on to become UP DGP and has since retired) and DSP K P Singh. The FIR said that the information was shared with K P Singh (though the village did not fall in his jurisdiction) because he was "reliable and trustworthy".

SP Yash Pal Singh constituted a police party under the leadership of DSP

K P Singh, who then planned the operation. Singh divided the police party into three groups, led one of them and surrounded the village on the night of March 12, 1982.

It was then that the 'encounter' took place in which 12 'dacoits', besides DSP K P Singh, were killed. Inspector A B Singh, who then headed the Balrampur police station in Gonda, investigated the case and on May 8, 1983, filed the final report in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate. The court accepted the final report on February 24, 1984, and closed the case.

By sheer coincidence, on the same day, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by K P Singh's wife Vibha Singh, ordered a CBI inquiry. On August 17, 1984, two years after K P Singh's killing, the CBI began its investigation.

Soon, the police story began to unravel. It turned out that Madhavpur pradhan Nankau Shukla, who was the 'police informer', had an old dispute over land with Mata Prasad Shukla. In 1981, Mata Prasad was murdered for which Nankau, his son Ram Dulare, and two villagers Paras Ram and Gorakh Nath were arrested and sent to jail. But they soon got out on bail.

Almost after a year, Mata Prasad's sons Sadhuram and Parikarmadeen decided to organise his terhvi ceremony. Mata Prasad's eldest son Ram Baran was then in jail in a criminal case—villagers allege he had been framed by the police at Nankau's instance. The terhvi ceremony was attended by villagers of Madhavpur, besides Mata Prasad's relatives and friends from nearby villages. The ceremony included a 'bhoj', which went on till 10 pm. Most of the guests returned, but some stayed back in the houses of Mata Prasad and that of a few neighbours.

Villagers told the CBI that around 4 am, they were woken up by the barking of dogs. From their windows, they saw policemen moving around. No one dared to go out and find out why they had come. Later, they heard gun shots. Around two hours later, the police broke into several houses and took away the men to a jamun tree. There, sarpanch Nankau pointed out 12 men, including Sadhuram, Parikarmadeen and their relatives and friends who had come for the terhvi. All of them were beaten up and shot dead. (Three years later, the relatives of one of them would kill Nankau in revenge.)

A bigger conspiracy?

During its investigation, the CBI found that K P Singh had been a straightforward, strict officer who had written several notes to his superiors against Sub-Inspector R B Saroj, even recommending Saroj's removal as station officer of Wazeerganj. So while Saroj held a grudge against the DSP, sarpanch Nankau wanted Ram Baran's family wiped out. So they allegedly conspired and spun a story about a dacoits' meeting and killed K P Singh and Nankau's opponents.

The CBI found that though the so-called encounter lasted several hours, there were no bullet marks on any of the houses and no villager had been injured. Also, the weapons the police claimed to have recovered from the 'dacoits' were not in working condition. Besides, there were statements of witnesses, including doctors and the villagers, which showed that the DSP and the 12 men had been killed in cold blood.

On November 30, 1989, seven years after the killings, the CBI filed a chargesheet against 19 policemen.

In its judgment on April 5, the CBI court in Lucknow said, "The manner of killing of the CO and 12 persons and thereafter creating false encounter memo, fake recovery memos, make it a 'rarest of rare' case." Special Judge Rajendra Singh awarded the death penalty to Sub-Inspector R B Saroj, Head Constable Ram Nayak Pandey and Constable Ram Karan Singh. Sub-Inspectors Mangla Singh, Naseem Ahmed, Parvez Hussain and Rajendra Prasad Singh, and PAC subedar Rama Kant Dixi, have been sentenced to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy, manufacturing evidence and creating fake documents. Head Constable Prem Singh was acquitted for want of evidence. The 10 other policemen named in the chargesheet have died over the years.

"The motive...was to commit the murder of CO and 12 persons. The Forensic Science Laboratory report shows that the ammunitions recovered were not of corresponding arms and the post-mortem report of 12 persons showed that they were shot dead while in standing position," the court said.

The court also observed that the conspiracy to kill the DSP was made at a higher level and expressed dissatisfaction with the CBI for not including these names in its chargesheet. "All the evidence showed that it was R B Saroj who killed the CO first, no doubt he had the support of those persons whom the CBI did not chargesheet for reasons known to them. The evidence on record always indicated conspiracy at a high level and the CBI kept its eyes closed. But one thing was clear, that after the shooting of their officer, at least a gang of police personnel helped the village pradhan and with his help killed 12 persons".

The judgment reproduces part of Vibha Singh's statement to the CBI, where she spoke about strained relations between SP Yash Pal (K P Singh's superior who got him to lead the operations that night) and his wife. Vibha said that Yash Pal's wife Geeta Singh had made "amorous advances" towards her husband at least twice while they were travelling in a jeep from Gonda to Basti. Vibha said she thought Yash Pal was suspicious about his wife getting drawn to K P Singh.

The judgment also makes adverse remarks against Yash Pal for failing to ensure timely medical help for the injured DSP. "There is no doubt that the then SP of Gonda comes under suspicion," the judge said.

The matter ends there since the CBI had not named Yash Pal in its chargesheet.

The father they missed

Krishna Pratap Singh, a post-graduate in English literature from Allahabad University, had married Vibha Singh of Ghazipur district on January 15, 1980, while still a trainee at the Police Training College in Moradabad. Vibha, who had passed the PCS examination, was then training in Nainital.

On November 26, 1980, Singh was posted in Gonda as Circle Officer of Tarabganj. Vibha also got a posting in Gonda as a treasury officer.

After her husband's death, Vibha was transferred to Gorakhpur and later to Varanasi. As the girls grew up, Vibha told them about the father they missed all along and how he had been killed.

"I often travelled with my mother to the Supreme Court. There were occasions when we went to Delhi without train reservation because we had to reach there at short notice," says Kinjal.

"After my father's death, the family was always under pressure. Some people even approached my mother to withdraw her petition in the Supreme Court, but she never backed out."

The battle was a strain on their finances too because a large part of Vibha's salary would be spent pursuing the case. "But my mother always ensured that our studies did not suffer," says Kinjal.

"Mother was a brave lady who single-handedly fought the case and ensured that the culprits were brought to justice. It was her wish that we take up the civil services," says Kinjal's younger sister Pranjal, now an Assistant Commissioner of Customs at Ambala.

In fact, both Vibha and her husband wanted to get into the IAS. Singh took the Indian Civil Service exam while in Gonda. The result came three days after his death and he had cleared it.

Vibha pursued the case till 1998 when the CBI completed their investigation. Later, she was detected with ovarian cancer and passed away in 2004. Four years later, Kinjal fulfilled her mother's dream—and her own—and was selected for the IAS. The same year, in 2008, Pranjal got into the Indian Revenue Service.

Kinjal says she went to court on April 5 because "I wanted to see the men who had killed my father. We sat in the same room. I watched them, they sat without remorse."

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