On 6th September 1995, the Punjab police abducted, tortured, and murdered human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra for his work in uncovering thousands of disappearances, extrajudicial deaths, and secret cremations of Sikhs perpetrated by the Punjab police
On the 20th death anniversary of Jaswant Singh Khalra , we all remember the martyr and the relentless work and of Ramnarayan Kumar Reduced To Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab , the report of the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP), authored by Ram Narayan Kumar, Amrik Singh, Ashok Agrwaal and Jaskaran Kaur. The report focuses on human rights violations committed by the Punjab Police during its operations to suppress the Punjab insurgency in India, from 1984 to 1994.
The issue of Khalistan was used by the State to divert attention from real issues of democracy, constitutional safeguard and citizens’ rights. Being part of CCDP the research under guidance of Ram Narayan Kumar was great learning experience on the state sponsored atrocities and human rights violations in Punjab.
Human rights activist became a victim of secret police death squads
I want to tell you about Jaswant Singh Khalra.
Jaswant Singh lived in northwestern India in a region called the Punjab. He was from Amritsar, the central hub of Sikh culture. He had a wife, Paramjit Kaur, a daughter, Navkiran Kaur, and a son, Janmeet Singh.
His grandfather, Harnam Singh, joined an independence movement formed out of California called the Ghadar Party and worked to overthrow colonial rule of India by the British Empire.
A bank director at first, Jaswant Singh became a human rights activist after a government-led genocide centered in New Delhi, India’s capital, killed thousands of Sikhs in the streets at broad daylight.
Jaswant was murdered by the State for uncovering and reporting that death squads of Indian police were secretly rounding up Sikh men in Amritsar and other areas of the Punjab, imprisoning them off the books, torturing them, killing them, and then quietly cremating their bodies at local cremation grounds.
In Amritsar alone, Jaswant identified the names of 2,097 Sikhs who were secretly cremated after being murdered by a police death squad.
Amritsar is just one of thirteen districts in the Punjab.
The Indian State admits it killed Jaswant Singh Khalra in the exact same manner as the sufferers of the genocide. Khalra was killed in 1995. It only took the State sixteen years before its Supreme Court finally upheld the convictions and sentences of six low-level police officers involved in Khalra’s abduction, torture, and murder.
But the statewide police director, KPS Gill, who is alleged to have personally ordered the killing, was never charged. Amnesty International recognizes the genocide revealed by Khalra. In an interview, Gill said: “I don’t care about the Sikhs who call me the Butcher of Punjab.” His police did care about intimidating Khalra’s family as they pursued justice in the courts. During a court hearing in 1998 — three years after Khalra’s murder — Amnesty International reported “the tyres of a vehicle belonging to members of the Khalra Action Committee were slashed outside the court building.”
The Sikh Genocide was sponsored by the Indian State.
The genocide is acknowledged by the State.
The killings have declined but the same police officers who fielded death squads remain in power in the Punjab.
The current state police director is Sumedh Saini. He has faced multiple charges for human rights violations but no convictions. Charges against Saini are diverse. They include murdering two Sikh government workers, who were the father and uncle of Davinderpal Singh Bhullar. Bhullar is a mechanical engineer now sitting on death row after allegedly confessing to a bombing; Bhullar says he was tortured to make a false confession. Charges against Saini also include murdering two Hindu businessmen and their driver over a personal dispute.
But all is fine in the Punjab. There is no reason for concern. Let us cry peace, peace, peace.
That is the tune those who don’t like to be made uncomfortable sing when they hear words like “state-sponsored.”
There is nothing more uncomfortable than admitting the State created genocide.
Admitting as much invokes a requirement for justice. Justice requires the guilty and the innocent be separated. The thirst of justice cannot be slaked while those accused of guilt still lead the land.
The work of Jaswant Singh Khalra is not finished.