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Remembering Ram Narayan Kumar

Sukhman Dhami & Jaskaran Kaur
July 5, 2009

Ram Narayan KumarWe deeply mourn the passing of our friend and mentor, human rights activist and scholar Ram Narayan Kumar (bio). On Sunday, June 28th, Ram died of a heart attack at his home in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he was leading the Understanding Impunity Project at the South Asia Forum for Human Rights. Ram was 53 years old. While we are devastated by the deep personal loss of a beloved friend, who renewed us repeatedly with his laughter, humility, and unwavering commitment to humanity, we resolve to continue his work for an end to impunity for mass state crimes in India.

While we are devastated by the deep personal loss of a beloved friend, who renewed us repeatedly with his laughter, humility, and unwavering commitment to humanity, we resolve to continue his work for an end to impunity for mass state crimes in India.

Ram inspired both of us to join the movement to end impunity for human rights abuses in India. From the moment we began working with him in 2000, he encouraged and challenged us to think critically about the rule of law in India and to draw upon the courage and honesty of survivors to drive our work. Ram helped us develop the idea for Ensaaf, and contributed to every major project Ensaaf initiated. He was always ready to help when we asked, despite other large projects on his plate.

Ram played a major role in all aspects of the movement for accountability in Punjab. For example, he worked with Jaswant Singh Khalra in exposing mass cremations of victims of disappearances and killings, he spearheaded the People's Commission on Human Rights Violations as well as the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab, and he contributed to all major litigation such as the petition to bring charges against KPS Gill for his role in Khalra's murder and the Punjab mass cremations case.

Ram played a major role in all aspects of the movement for accountability in Punjab.

Ram approached all of this work with humility and a total dedication to the issues of the rule of law and accountability. He demanded thoroughness and integrity, but demonstrated above all an unwavering commitment to uncover the truth, both its qualitative and empirical aspects. Ram demonstrated a prodigious intellect and stamina to work on human rights issues, but an even deeper level of outrage for the atrocities committed and compassion for victims and survivors of human rights abuse.

He always placed great faith in the survivors of Punjab and deeply admired and drew upon their courage and honesty. Ram believed the movement for justice in Punjab represented the best opportunity to challenge systematic impunity in India.

"A forthright critic of state repression in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast India, Nepal and other parts of the subcontinent, Kumar was a deeply committed fighter for human rights and accountability. Kumar’s work through SAFHR on impunity in the region was based not only on meticulous research and sharp insights, but also on profound empathy, compassion and an unwavering passion for social justice."
—Tapan Kumar Bose, South Asia Forum for Human Rights & Sushil Pyakurel, Accountability Watch Committee, Nepal

Ram was universally respected among the human rights community in India, and had contributed and led many movements in other parts of India. He was one of the few individuals who could lead the diverse and fragmented community to work together.

Ram Narayan Kumar is irreplaceable, but he has inspired so many individuals and will live on in the currents of justice he helped set in motion or create.

Ram's funeral was held on July 2, at Arya Ghat, Pashupatinath in Nepal, and attended by friends, family, and colleagues from Austria, France, India, Nepal, and the US.

Short Biography

Ram Narayan Kumar, former director of SAFHR's South Asian Orientation Course in Human Rights and Peace Studies, was the full time Director of the Understanding Impunity project. Kumar had been involved with human rights and democracy issues in the region since 1975 when he was imprisoned for 19 months for his vocal opposition to Indira Gandhi's Emergency regime that lasted till March 1977. Kumar's work for justice and accountability in Punjab is widely recognized. A founder member of the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab, which petitioned the Supreme Court in April 1995 for a comprehensive investigation on the matter of police abductions resulting in the secret cremations in Punjab, Kumar is the lead author of Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab, (SAFHR, 2003). Some of his other publications are: The Sikh Unrest and the Indian State: Politics, personalities and historical retrospective (Ajanta Publications, New Delhi, 1997); The Sikh Struggle: Origin, Evolution and Present Phase (Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1991); Confronting the Hindu Sphinx (Ajanta Publication, New Delhi, 1991); Four Years of the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim: Promises and Pitfalls (Other Media Communications, New Delhi, 2002); "India's Constitutional Discourse: Some Unanswered Question" and "Rights Guarantees and Judicial Wrongs: Arguments for an Appraisal" in Recasting Indian Politics, ed. Paul Flather (Palgrave, London Forthcoming; June 2007); Critical Readings in Human Rights and Peace (Shipra publications, New Delhi, 2006). Former Reuters Foundation Fellow at the University of Oxford, Kumar recently released his new book, Terror in Punjab: Narratives, Knowledge and Truth (Shipra Publications, Delhi, 2008).