By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – An Indian head of state is expected to visit Wisconsin next week, and a Sikh group accusing him of human-rights violations is offering $10,000 to anyone who serves him with a federal summons while he’s here.
The New York-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice has filed two federal lawsuits in Milwaukee against Parkash Singh Badal, chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab. The first lawsuit was thrown out in May over conflicting reports about whether the person served with court papers was actually Badal.
The group plans to be far more diligent this time. Badal is expected to be in the Milwaukee area July 5 for a wedding, and the group has hired three agencies of professional servers to deliver the papers.
The servers plan to stake out airports in Milwaukee and Chicago. They’ll try to track him down at the wedding venue, and they’ll look for him at all points in between. Their goal is to deliver a court summons, which can be handed to him or even dropped at his feet.
“We are not taking any chances this time,” said Gurpatwant Pannun, legal adviser for Sikhs for Justice. “We want to have a photograph and, if possible, video” of Badal being served.
Pannun said the chief minister commands a police force that has terrorized and tortured countless people, including the lawsuit’s three plaintiffs.
The lawsuit also names Badal’s son as a defendant. Sukhbir Singh Badal is Punjab’s deputy chief minister, in which capacity he also oversaw and condoned the detainment and torture of political prisoners, the suit contends.
Harcharan Bains, who is Parkash Singh Badal’s media adviser, would not confirm whether his client will be in the U.S. next week.
“We will give a legal response to the summons” if papers are served, Bains said. “The case against Mr. Badal is politically motivated but our response will be strictly in accordance with the law.”
Parkash Singh Badal was represented in the first lawsuit by former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic, who did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Even if papers are served, the Badals could return to India and refuse to attend any U.S. hearings. But Pannun said it wouldn’t bother him if the defendants were convicted in absentia.
“That’s fine,” Pannun said. “A chief minister of a state of India, if there is a judgment against him from a U.S. court, how would India react to this? This will expose them.”
Sikhs for Justice will pay separate $10,000 rewards for serving each of the defendants. Anyone – not only professional servers – can claim the bonus. The group planned to post a copy of the one-page summons online so anyone could download it and serve one or both defendants.
The bonus will go to whichever person’s service is considered valid by the federal court in Milwaukee.
The civil lawsuit lays out allegations by three Sikhs who say they were detained in Punjab for days without charges and subjected to beatings by a police force overseen by the Badals. All three plaintiffs now live in Fresno, Calif.
Jeet Singh said he was detained four times between 2001 and 2009 for a total of 48 days. He claimed he was waterboarded and beaten with leather belts and that wooden rollers were applied on his legs and thighs.
His wife, Gurdeep Kaur, said she was detained for 30 days in 2001, during which time male and female officers slapped her and banged her head against a wall.
And Jagtar Singh alleged he was given electric shocks on his ears, laid on an ice slab and doused in cold water. He also said he was beaten with wooden sticks and leather belts and tied in a wooden trap for extended periods.
The lawsuit says the Badals not only condoned the acts but rewarded some of the officers involved.
“The defendants throughout their tenure have actively shielded, protected and promoted the police officers who were or have been involved in gross human rights violations, extra-judicial killings and torture,” the lawsuit said.
After Sikhs for Justice filed its first lawsuit last year, Punjab police began harassing the plaintiffs’ relatives and friends in India, Pannun said.
Sikhs for Justice initially tried to serve Parkash Singh Badal when he visited suburban Milwaukee last year. He was in town following a shooting rampage in which a white supremacist opened fire at a Sikh temple, killing six people.
But a man who said he was at the event as an interpreter testified that the papers were handed to him, not to Badal. A judge concluded that the process servers who believed they served Badal made an “honest mistake.”
Associated Press writer Nirmala George in New Delhi, India, also contributed to this report.