September 20, 2013 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
September 6 marked the disappearance of the noted human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra who was picked up from outside his home in Amritsar, Punjab, in 1995, following his courageous activism around enforced disappearances in Punjab. The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) recognizes Mr. Khalra’s sacrifice for truth and the tireless efforts of his wife, Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra, and the Khalra Mission Organization for Justice.
Disappearances in Punjab, in northwestern India, remain an unresolved crime and the true scale of disappearances is thus far unknown. In the 1990s, Jaswant Singh Khalra uncovered secret mass cremations in Punjab, estimating over 25,000 such cremations across the state. Almost immediately after his international trip to bring awareness around these cremations, Khalra was himself disappeared and killed. Since then, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has validated 2,097 secret cremations at just three cremation grounds of Amritsar district alone.
Mr. Khalra’s sacrifice was not his alone. His wife, Paramjit Kaur Khalra, has led a life of struggle and tireless service to bring justice to those disappeared. Mrs. Khalra is the Patron of the Khalra Mission Organization, a civil society group comprising of valiant human rights defenders who have remained steadfast in their resolve to bring truth and lasting stability to Punjab.
Between the early 1980s and mid 1990s, Punjab saw active conflict and tens of thousands of Sikhs were killed, many of them disappeared by Indian state forces. Without justice, the human rights violations remain a daily memory for the families of those disappeared. Justice for the violations has yet to be served, with only a few rare exceptions where low-level individual officers have been convicted.
In 2011, sixteen years after tireless struggle by Mrs. Khalra, Khalra Mission Organization, and their lawyers, the Supreme Court of India finally confirmed the life imprisonment sentences of five Punjab Police officers for Khalra’s kidnapping, torture and murder. However, the superior of these five officers, K.P.S. Gill, also named by Mrs. Khalra, remains untouched. Mrs. Khalra views this conviction as very partial justice.
Mrs. Khalra says that: Jaswant Singh Khalra gave up his life knowing what he was risking. Khalra Mission Organization continues to strive for justice for those men, women and children whose families have suffered so much. AFAD calls for renewed attention to the issue of enforced disappearances in Punjab and for closure for the families of those disappeared. The government must inquire beyond the crematoria Khalra had discovered and beyond the timeframe of 1984-94.
The vast number of disappearances in Punjab remains shrouded by secrecy even today despite the tireless efforts of activists like Jaswant Singh Khalra and Paramjit Kaur Khalra. The Indian Government must make all efforts to address this issue and to become a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
In one of his final speeches Mr. Khalra spoke about the importance of challenging the darkness of injustice. AFAD salutes his courage and stands in solidarity with those continuing the work to forward his legacy.
Signed and authenticated by:
MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO
September 17, 2013.
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