She had just entered teenage, her first step into adolescence. A mere child, who took admission in class VII a month ago at a government school in Mogaâ€™s Lande Ke village. Lively, intelligent, considerate and everybodyâ€™s favourite, she dreamt of growing up into a police officer. But Arshdeepâ€™s life was brutally cut short. On April 29, as she climbed into the Orbit bus to travel to her relatives place, from Moga to Baghapurana, the bare 20 km ride was to be the last and most painful of her life
Arshdeepâ€™s molesters were twice her ageâ€”the busâ€™ cleaner, helper, conductor and the driver. The bus staff, ironically one expects, should ensure oneâ€™s safe ride. But as she sat in the bus she became a target of the busâ€™ helperâ€™s indecent behaviour. Arshdeep was accompanied by her mother and elder brother. When they objected, the conductor came. Instead of taking the cleaner to task, he joined him into molesting Arshdeep Kaur.
They grabbed her, touching her inappropriately even as her panicked mother rushed to the driver to slow down the bus. Arshdeep too had become extremely frightened and struggled frantically with her molesters. All this while, the 14-year-old brother begged to let his sister go. Instead of slowing down the bus, the driver assisted his co-workers by stepping onto the accelerator.
As Arshdeep fought to break free from the lustful grip of her molesters, she incurred their wrath. Angry, the men threw her off the bus as she rushed to the door to somehow get out of the fast paced bus. Her mother, 36-year-old Shinder Kaur, screamed in alarm as her daughter was thrown off. The molesters turned their attention to her and tried to molest her instead. As she screamed and yelled, she too was pushed off the bus on the road.
Passers-by raised an alarm and the teenager was rushed to the hospital only to be declared brought dead. Her mother, Shinder Kaur, sustained serious injuries and was in coma for several hours. The horror bus rode a few kilometers down and finally let off Akashdeep, the brother, near Baghapurana, warning him to keep his mouth shut.
But the brother immediately raised an alarm following which bystanders caught hold of the conductor and the helper, though the driver managed to flee. He then borrowed a mobile phone and called his father. But by the time the doting father reached the hospital, his daughter had breathed her last.
The shameful incident is strongly reminiscent of the infamous Nirbhaya rape case in New Delhi, which rocked not just the nation but the world. Just as in Nirbhaya case, the molesters were the bus staff, were as brutal and ruthless. The Orbit bus had broken every rule, supposedly made more stringent after Nirbhaya rape case, and had dark tinted glasses on its windows along with curtains.
The brazen molestation by the Orbit bus staff became more heinous and ominous as the bus belonged to none other than the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal. Ever since the news of the horrific incident spread in Punjab, the people have taken to streets in a justifiable anger against the incident.
In the meantime, the Shiromani Akali Dal government maintained an eerie silence. Angry relatives of Arshdeep refused to cremate her body for more than 72 hours till a criminal case was registered against owners of the bus company, which in this case, is the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is at the helm of the government in Punjab.
Sukhdev Singh, Arshdeepâ€™s father, is a picture of a broken man. A welder at a private workshop, the man could do nothing but weep sitting beside his unconscious wife in the civil hospital. He demanded immediate arrest of the four men who brutally assaulted his young daughter besides asking for removal of the Orbit buses off the roads.
Soon the gory incident turned into a political circus. Opposition Congress rushed to the aggrieved familiesâ€™ side as did the leaders of Aam Aadmi Party. Partap Singh Bajwa, president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, said: â€œIf the owner of the bus in infamous Delhi rape and murder case could be made accountable for the crime committed in the bus owned by him then why can the same rule be not applicable against Sukhbir Badal?â€
Sucha Singh Chottepur, convener, Aam Aadmi Party, Punjab, said that the staff of Badal-owned buses did not care for the rules and safety of the passengers, and drove at reckless speed. â€œHere the bus had black film and curtains in the bus in sheer violation of the Supreme Court guidelines. If the company owned by state home minister violates the rules such brazenly then what can we expect from other transporters?â€ he asked.
A joint action committee formed to seek justice for Arshdeep Kaur and her mother is demanding a ban on Orbit buses controlled by Punjabâ€™s ruling family. What added fuel to the fire was the fact that instead of banning the Orbit buses, the Badal government gave it a state police escort so that these are not targetted by protestors en route.
Lok Sangram Manch, Punjab Student Union (PSU), Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Kirti Kisan Union, Bharti Kisan Union (Krantikari), and Democratic Teachers Front formed a committee demanding justice for the aggrieved family. â€œWe have asked for Rs 20 lakh compensation for the family and a fresh first-information report based on the identification parade of the arrested people before Shinder Kaur and her son, Akashdeep Singh,â€ said PSU senior leader Karamjit Singh Kotkapura.
The government on a back foot, with Sukhbir Badalâ€™s name directly involved in the incident, attempted to salvage the situation. However, the family was in no mood for a â€˜compromiseâ€™. As political temperatures rose, with the incident coming into full limelight of the media, Sukhdev Singh alleged that pressure was being put on him, and that he had been taken away by police and made to sign a blank paper. â€œI gave my thumb impression. Police want me to enter a compromise but we want justice and the body of my daughter will not be cremated till then,â€ he said.
As Arshdeepâ€™s body lay in the civil hospital, Moga, with angry relatives not even allowing her post mortem, the state government exhibited its yet another indifferent and atrociously arrogant attitude. Punjab cabinet minister, Surjit Singh Rakhra dismissed the horrific molestation and assault as â€œGodâ€™s willâ€ while the Moga MLA, Joginderpal Jain, also from Akali Dal, said that it was â€œ an accident that could happen on any busâ€.
â€œSafety depends on Godâ€™s will. This is all in Godâ€™s hand. We also face accidents while travelling. Accidents take place in our homes too. We donâ€™t know where we may face an accident. Nobody can go against nature,â€ Rakhra said, his comments infuriating the aggrieved family and the deceased teenagerâ€™s relatives further.
Jain went a step further saying, â€œThe issue has been unnecessarily politicised because the bus belongs to the ruling family.â€ In retaliation, the victimâ€™s grandmother said, â€œLet the daughter or granddaughter of an Akali leader die like this. Then I will see how they react. Would they have dared to react like this if we were rich?â€
With the state on a boil over the issue, the government went into a huddle and the senior Badal, Chief Minister Parkash Singh, took charge. The four men were arrested and the victimâ€™s family offered a compensation of Rs 30 lakh, including Rs 20 lakh contributed by the Orbit company.
However such was the fury of the family over the incident that they outright rejected the compensation, government job, fast track trial demanding a criminal case against owner of the private bus company, Sukhbir Badal, and a ban on plying of the buses. The Chief Minister travelled to Moga to meet the victimâ€™s family despite being advised not to do so by the intelligence wing as peopleâ€™s sentiments were riding high against the Badals. However, the CM met the father, brother of the victim at the
circuit house and consoled their loss taking full responsibility for safety of women in Punjab and promising a fair investigation in the matter. He also offered a government job to a member of the victimâ€™s family.
It was only after this meeting, four days after the gruesome incident that the family gave permission to conduct post mortem of the body. Following pressure from the government, the victimâ€™s body was cremated hurriedly on May 3 even as the Opposition parties cried foul. Across Punjab candle light marches are being held in memory of the victim. The unrest that the incident has caused has been unparallel in recent times and is a clear indicator of the rising unpopularity of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal government.
Punjabâ€™s Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Badal first a business magnet
The gruesome incident of molestation of a teenager on bus of Orbit Transport, owned by Sukhbir Badal, has shifted limelight on his business interests. Records indicate that even as Punjab has been steadily slipping in growth in past years, the assets of Badals have only grown. Sukhbir Badal himself is a billionaire owning not just seven star hotel in Haryana but also a fleet of luxury buses and modern aircraft. This is apart from the assets of a vast real estate that he owns across Punjab and overseas.
The affidavit that Sukhbir Badal filed with the Election Commission shows him as a farmer with no vehicle in his name except an old tractor. However, this is far from the truth. Since the last election in 2012, records show that Sukhbir Badal displaced his brother-in-law Gurmeher Singh Majithia, who is MP Harsimrat Kaur Badalâ€™s brother, and mother-in-law Sukhmanjus Majithia, who were the original shareholders of the firm, Orbit Aviation. Documents of the Registrar of Companies show Sukhbir Badal holding 5000 direct shares in Orbit Aviation, about 2 crore shares through his hospitality firm Orbit Resorts and 41 lakh shares through his media firm called G Next Media Private Limited.
By Priya Yadav from Chandigarh