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Remembering Jaswant Singh Khalra Featured

 

This month marks 24 years of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a towering human rights activist from Punjab.

Jaswant Singh Khalra was abducted by the Indian police from his home in Amritsar on September 6, 1995, and was never seen after that. While an eyewitness testified that he was murdered by the police in custody, his body wasn't recovered. 

Khalra was among thousands of Sikhs who were abducted and killed by Indian police and security forces in Punjab between the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these people remain untraced and presumed dead. There has been no accountability for senior police officers involved in illegal operations to deal with an armed insurgency by Sikh separatists who were seeking an independent homeland.

Sikh men were frequently kidnapped, tortured, and killed in faked encounters with impunity, as perpetrators in uniforms were rewarded with out-of-turn promotions and gallantry awards. In almost all cases, the victims' bodies were disposed of unceremoniously.

Khalra’s only fault was that he started an investigation into the enforced disappearances. At the time, he was collecting records of those who were cremated secretly in Amritsar.

Prior to being kidnapped and murdered, Khalra came to Canada in 1995 to raise international awareness about this issue. Even though he was offered a chance to apply for asylum, true to his convictions, he chose to return and continue his unfinished task in the face of threats coming from senior police officers. 

Interestingly, Khalra’s grandfather Harnam Singh was aboard the Komagata Maru, a Japanese vessel carrying more than 350 Indian passengers in 1914 who were forced to return from Vancouver under a racist immigration law. Singh later became involved in the struggle against British occupation of India.  

Khalra’s story remains relevant both in India and across the world as security forces continue to use enforced disappearances as a tool to create terror and suppress any voice of dissent with impunity. The federal NDP has already recognized Khalra as Human Rights Defender. It's time for Canada to recognize the day of his kidnapping as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.

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