Civil liberties groups and opposition parties have protested angrily over the Delhi government's banning of a report that alleges police atrocities in the troubled state of Punjab.
The local Delhi administration seized nearly all the copies of the report this week. It was prepared by a team of five researchers working under a former Bombay high court justice and prominent civil rights leader, V.M. Tarkunde.
The 144-page report alleges torture, killings and corruption by the police and Army in Punjab in the campaign against terrorists backing Sikh demands for greater autonomy.
Delhi police arrested one of the report's authors and its printer, charging them with sedition and "inciting disaffection between religious communities." Tension is already high in Punjab, with Sikh terrorists having killed at least eight persons in recent weeks in an effort to stop this month's elections.
But civil rights groups have scheduled a protest meeting for Saturday, and the president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajni Kothari, said, "There has been a sustained attack on civil liberties in India, and this is part of it." Opposition parties also criticized the ruling Congress (I) Party for its recent admonishing of Citizens for Democracy and other groups that have alleged that Congress (I) officials helped incite killings of Sikhs during riots in Delhi last November.
In today's editions, the daily Indian Express called the banning and arrests "outrageous and a clear and present threat . . . to freedom of expression." The paper's editorial said it hoped the actions were "aberrant reactions of underlings in the administration and party."
Although the Delhi administration is under central government control, the government has kept its distance from the affair, with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's spokesman declining all comment.
The banned document, entitled "Report to the Nation -- Oppression in Punjab," was based on interviews with Punjab residents on the conduct of police and Army officers in the state during the past 15 months. It said the authorities' campaign against Sikh terrorists has included arbitrary arrests of Sikh youths, torture and police killings of Sikhs in staged shootouts.
Tarkunde, the former president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, said, "The report is damaging to the police, but it is not seditious." He acknowledged that the report did not include police explanations, saying, "We knew if we approached the police for their version, they would have seized the report before we had even written it."