The suicide of a Dalit youth, who was recently summoned by the NIA for questioning in a sedition case, has sparked a controversy with the family linking his death to questioning by the probe agency.
Lovepreet Singh (23) was summoned by the NIA on July 13 in relation to an investigation into a 21-month-old Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case initially registered by the Amritsar Police for writing pro-Khalistan slogans on walls. He died by suicide on the same evening inside a room at Gurdwara Amb Sahib in Mohali.
His father, Kewal Singh, who works as a farm labourer, said: “He was summoned by the NIA on July 13. He took a bus from Village Sahejra in Barnala to Chandigarh. He also sent some videos of his journey to his wife. He was in touch over phone with me and his wife till reaching the NIA office. However, he didn’t call back after reaching the NIA office.
He called back in the evening but his voice was shivering. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t call back his wife. Later, we came to know that he had committed suicide at Gurudwara Amb Sahib.”
He added: “Lovepreet’s death is linked with NIA summoning. I don’t know what happened with him inside the NIA office. There should be an investigation and those responsible for suicide of my son should be booked.”
Former Leader of Opposition and Bholath MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira too demanded a high-level probe into Lovepreet’s suicide.
Khaira visited the youth’s family in Ratta Khera village in Sangrur accompanied by rebel AAP MLAs’ Jagdev Singh Kamalu and Pirmal Singh Khalsa.
“The villagers said Lovepreet was a very hardworking and religious boy who never indulged in any anti-social or criminal activities. They said he was serving as ‘Granthi’ at village Sehjra gurdwara near Barnala. They also said that their family is landless, very poor and earned their livelihood through daily wages,” said Khaira.
Khaira and the other MLAs took the family of Lovepreet Singh to meet SSP Sangrur with an application demanding an independent probe into the death.
“Many youths have been recently arrested under the UAPA law and it is very likely that Lovepreet may have been tortured both physically and mentally during the interrogation,” said Khaira. He added that an uncle of the deceased has disclosed to villagers that there were torture marks on the private parts of Lovepreet’s body.
The suicide note left by Lovepreet said: “I apologise to my wife. I am leaving you in middle. I can never pay for what you have done for me. I will miss you. I had many plans with you in life but fate was not with us.”
Punjab Police, while investigating case till April 2020, had not even visited the house of Lovepreet Singh on single occasion after filing the FIR in October 2018. The NIA took it over on April 5, 2020.
Lovepreet belonged to Sangrur district. However, police challan said that he was a resident of Muktsar district.
There were total 30 accused in case and police arrested and chargesheeted only 11 of them. The NIA arrested the twelth accused, Pargat Singh, last month after taking the over case in April this year.
“There is no criminal record of Lovepreet at our police station,” said Assistant Sub Inspector Surjit Singh at Lehra police station under which Lovepreet’s village Ratta Khera falls.
Lovepreet had trained as a Sikh priest at Ajnala Dera, which is run by Bhai Amrik Singh Ajnala, who was appointed Takht Kesgarh Sahib Anandpur Sahib Jathedar during the 2015 Sarbat Khalsa at Amritsar. Amrik Singh was also recently questioned by the NIA.
“NIA asked me to provide the address of some of my old students. We don’t keep record of student details. We admit students only on basis of some good references. Many students come and go. I don’t exactly remember Lovepreet Singh. May be, I can identify him from his picture. I have come to know only from you that he has committed suicide,” said Amrik Singh Ajnala, while talking to The Indian Express.
Lovepreet’s father said: “He was around 10-year-old when I sent him to Ajnala Dera. He spent two or three years there. Since then, he was working as a priest. Recently, he had got a permanent job as a priest at a local gurdwara. I didn’t know that he was accused in some case. I don’t think that even Lovepreet knew it too. No police official ever come to our place to ask for Lovepreet.”