"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Book on human rights defender is a must read to understand the duplicity of Indian democracy Featured


October 28 marks the 25th anniversary of the custodial murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra.  

The towering human rights defender laid down his life, fighting tirelessly for justice to those killed in an extra judicial manner in the name of the "war against terrorism."

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 fifty-two days after being kidnapped, 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 these 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, who were forced to return from Vancouver in 1914 under a racist immigration law. Singh later became involved in the struggle against British occupation of India.   

US-based teacher Gurmeet Kaur has published a book that makes many important revelations about his daring work.

The Valliant Jaswant Singh Khalracontains numerous documents and pictures that bring to life his activism. 

It helps in understanding how India’s claim of being the world’s largest democracy is flawed, since the minorities continue to live in fear in a Hindu-dominated nation. 

Despite being a practising Sikh, Khalra also stood for Hindus who were killed during the militancy in Punjab, and advocated against violence against them.  

He also denounced the demolition of an ancient mosque in 1992, and the subsequent violence against Muslims by the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Although he was the leader of the human rights wing of Akali Dal, an alliance partner of BJP, he pulled no punches while criticising them for remaining indifferent to an assault on the Muslim faith, and distanced himself from the party.  

Khalra was an exceptional hero who believed in the true values of Sikhism, which teaches its followers to stand up for others and rebel against any kind of oppression. He was a part of many pro-people movements before dedicating himself to the cause of Sikh rights. Among these was the revolutionary communist movement of the late 1960s.     

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. Especially when citizens in North America are getting organized against systemic racism and police violence against Indigenous people and Blacks, Khalra’s story needs to be shared widely, to challenge the myth about the tolerance and transparency of the Indian government, which has too many skeletons in its cupboard.  

Kaur’s book is available from Surrey-based Sikhi Awareness Foundation for $20. For more information call Shamandeep Singh at 604 825 8464.   

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Last modified on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 17:45
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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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