Navneet Bhullar was married for just three months when, on December 12, 1991, her husband Devinder Pal Bhullar — now on death row for his role in the 1993 bomb attack on Maninderjit Singh Bitta, then Youth Congress president, and 11 others — fled the house. He escaped but the police picked up his father, uncle and cousins and Navneet’s father. The next time she saw her husband was in 2001 in jail, sentenced to death by the trial court. Since then, this nurse in a Vancouver hospital has been ceaselessly fighting a legal battle to get Bhullar off the noose. On Friday, when the Supreme Court dismissed his petition for commuting the death sentence on the grounds of delay on the part of the President in deciding his mercy plea, the reclusive Navneet broke her silence and spoke at length to The Hindu on what seems the end of the road for this former militant of the Khalistan Liberation Force.
Your first reaction to the SC verdict
This is a political decision. There is nothing judicial about this verdict, because the court has not examined it legally by looking at his mental or physical condition or the delay of so many years.
There is no rule of law in this country. How can the President sit on a mercy petition for 11 years? And even the SC had to be pushed into expediting this decision, as they kept it reserved for almost a year since April 2012. You cannot keep people on death row for so many years. Does no one realise that they die everyday? Is this humane?
You have been saying Mr. Bhullar has been given two punishments
Having spent 18 years in jail, he has virtually done life imprisonment and lost his mental faculties too in the process. He has also been sentenced to death and that sword hangs over him each day.
What is his physical condition like?
For the last two years he has been at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences in Delhi because his mental condition is unstable. He has to be hand-fed and does not bathe for days until someone makes him do it. When I meet him, he does not speak at all. Just keeps looking vacantly into space or becomes aggressive. He has lost a lot of weight, and at 48 years, he has a heart problem.
His petitions have been rejected several times by the SC as well as the President. Did you really have a hope this time?
Over the years, many people asked me not to fight the legal battle, saying Indian courts are biased. Look, how they have handled the cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims, who, even 30 years later have not got justice. Now, I have lost complete faith in India’s judiciary. It has been protecting someone like Jagdish Tytler for so many years. They do not see him as a terrorist despite all evidence against him. But find Bhullar to be a terrorist, even though there is no direct evidence against him.
But both trial court and higher courts have held him guilty?
When the case was in the trial court, we could not fight it properly because all of us family members were till then scared of coming back to India for fear of persecution by the Punjab police. His father and uncle had been killed by the police and I and my parents had fled to Canada to live with my sister. I started coming to India only since 2001. Many times he (Bhullar) told me that he has been tortured and made to sign on a plain paper, but was quite confident that he would be acquitted by the SC because there is no direct evidence against him. The ACP who took his confession also admitted before the court that Bhullar was forced to sign the confession. In 2003, Kapil Sibal was his lawyer when the matter came up before the SC in a review petition. Even he had told me that this is a fit case for acquittal as the evidence against him is flimsy.
What next now?
All legal channels are exhausted for us. I can only appeal to our supreme religious head, the Akal Takht jathedar, Sikh leaders and the Shiromani Akali Dal to talk to the government and undo this wrong. After this, I do not trust this government. Even though Bhullar is a sick man, one day they will hang him secretly.