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Ensaaf Dispatch

December 2009
Volume 6 Issue 3

Dispatch From the Field

Over the summer, more than 15 researchers and data entry staff participated in a major Ensaaf survey, interviewing hundreds of families of the disappeared ... Continue »

Rise to the Challenge! Eight Clicks, One Goal

A few clicks can gain $200,000 for the Sikh community, including $25,000 for Ensaaf. WE NEED YOUR HELP RIGHT NOW. We have a historic opportunity to invest in the future of the Sikh... Continue »

Thank You Video Tribute & Special Appeal from Ensaaf

We created a short video tribute to show our immense gratitude for the generosity and trust given to us by our donors....Continue »

Heritage Award: Ensaaf Recognized for Combating Impunity

 On November 13, 2009, Ensaaf was recognized for its achievements by the Sikh Art and Film festival, receiving the Heritage Award. Ensaaf Co-Director Sukhman Dhami participated in a panel and audience discussion on the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms, Operation Bluestar, and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of disappearances and unlawful killings in Punjab.

TIME Magazine Interviews Ensaaf

Last month, TIME Magazine interviewed Ensaaf for an expert opinion on the November 1984 pogroms. Thanks for making this article the most emailed article on Time.com for 2 days! The published article, "India's Anti-Sikh Riots: Waiting for Justice," thrice quoted Ensaaf, highlighting the BART ads as well as our recommendations for redressing the crimes. You can read the article and our press release online.

USCIRF Places India on Religious Minority Violations Watch List

On August 12, 2009, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its "Watch List," for "the government's largely inadequate ... Continue »

Ensaaf Commemorates 25th Anniversary of 1984 Pogroms with BART Ad Campaign & Mercury News Op-Ed

 On November 2, Ensaaf launched an ad campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area's metro system, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the November 1984 pogroms of Sikhs in India. On the same day, the Mercury News also published Ensaaf's op-ed discussing the anniversary of the pogroms and its continuing impact on India and even the Bay Area. Please click here to read the op-ed. Our press release can be viewed here.

Supporter Question: Could DNA Testing Assist Ensaaf's Investigations?

Ensaaf supporters often ask us interesting and intelligent questions. In this second installment of our new newsletter feature in which we answer a question from our readers, we respond to Sundeep of Mumbai ... Continue »

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Dispatch From the Field

Jasmine Marwaha

Over the summer, more than 15 researchers and data entry staff participated in a major Ensaaf survey, interviewing hundreds of families of the disappeared or unlawfully killed in Punjab. The survey staff included many recent college graduates and young professionals. Although many were too young to remember the conflict period directly, they were eager to participate in the survey to better understand the recent, violent chapter in Sikh history. Others had witnessed and survived police abuses themselves, and were personally motivated to fight for justice for human rights violations in Punjab.

Although many [of Ensaaf's India-based staff] were too young to remember the conflict period directly, they were eager to participate in the survey to better understand the recent, violent chapter in Sikh history.

It was particularly inspiring to witness the personal growth of the younger generation of researchers, many of whom were brought up in the city and did not regularly visit villages. Even the youngest and most shy members of the group developed into confident and mature researchers, reliably recording painful narratives of young Sikhs being abducted by the police, tortured, and then never seen again.

One such researcher, while looking across a seemingly endless field of wheat for the first time, remarked: "The police probably thought that nobody would notice what happened among these fields..." I recognized in his eyes a familiar sense of awakening. In being entrusted with a survivor's story, and bearing witness to their experiences in some small way, one can't help feeling a great sense of responsibility. Our researchers took on this responsibility with amazing diligence, operating under extreme summer conditions to expose the truth that Punjab security forces assumed was hidden among the fields.

The staff underwent two weeks of rigorous training, followed by six weeks of long hours implementing the survey, sometimes working seven days a week. Ensaaf is greatly encouraged and honored by the commitment displayed by the men and women who gave their time to reach the families of the disappeared and killed, and document their stories, many for the first time.

More information and results of the survey will be published in 2010.

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Rise to the Challenge! Eight Clicks, One Goal

A few clicks can gain $200,000 for the Sikh community, including $25,000 for Ensaaf. WE NEED YOUR HELP RIGHT NOW.

We have a historic opportunity to invest in the future of the Sikh community. Chase Community Giving is donating $25,000 to the top 100 nonprofit organizations earning the most votes on Facebook by December 10th.

In as little as eight clicks, you can support organizations that work to tackle the biggest challenges facing Sikhs.

In as little as eight clicks, you can support organizations that work to tackle the biggest challenges facing Sikhs - including human rights, youth empowerment, civil rights, education, humanitarian aid, and much more.

If you have a Facebook account, that's all it takes. Anywhere in the world - UK, Canada, Punjab, India, Australia, etc. - make sure you vote! The votes from all recipients of this email could easily make all organizations among the top contenders for $25,000.

Eight US-based groups have come together and we hope every organization wins.

ENSAAF

JAKARA MOVEMENT

SALDEF

SIKHCESS

SURAT

UNITED SIKHS

THE SIKH COALITION
Please "attend" this facebook event to get updated when the Sikh Coalition receives a page!

SIKH RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Please "attend" this facebook event to get updated when the Sikh Research Institute receives a page!

Thank you for your support and please spread the word to all your friends/family!

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USCIRF Places India on Religious Minority Violations Watch List

by Hendrik Z. A. van der Loos, Ensaaf Intern

On August 12, 2009, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its "Watch List," for "the government's largely inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities." In a press release, the USCIRF specifically noted recent abuses against Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 as evidence of a "disturbing" increase in communal violence. The USCIRF report also referenced violations against Sikhs as an ongoing problem of impunity.

India joins Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela on USCIRF's Watch List.

The USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission whose members are appointed by the President and congressional leaders of both parties. As a commission, the USCIRF researches the facts and history of alleged religious violations and makes recommendations to the President about steps to take. The USCIRF releases its report on religious freedom each May. The report on India was delayed until August because the USCIRF attempted to visit India, but Indian officials ultimately declined entry visas to the Commission's members.

In its report, the USCIRF has recommended that the Obama administration urge the Indian government to take measures to promote cultural harmony and protect religious minorities by calling on all political parties to denounce the violence and take any necessary actions.

Leonard Leo, USCIRF's chair, stated, "India's democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law, most notably state and central judiciaries and police, have emerged as unwilling or unable to seek redress for victims of the violence. More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable."

Impunity in Punjab is an ongoing problem, stemming from the unlawful killings and disappearances of thousands of Sikhs. As the government continues to perpetuate a culture of impunity, Ensaaf pursues legal channels to bring the perpetrators to justice and hold them accountable for their crimes. In addition, Ensaaf's documentation program focuses on collecting information on violations to expose the truth and build qualitative and statistically significant evidence for accountability.

To view the full text of the USCIRF article, with a link to the full report, please click here.

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Supporter Question: Could DNA Testing Assist Ensaaf's Investigations?

by Christan Leonard, Ensaaf Intern

Ensaaf supporters often ask us interesting and intelligent questions. In this second installment of our new newsletter feature in which we answer a question from our readers, we respond to Sundeep of Mumbai. He asks:

Why don't you use forensic testing (biological remains of tissue or bone)? Isn't DNA mapping possible [to create a record of missing victims]?...What about using satellite sensors for mass grave detection?

In the vast majority of cases, Indian security forces did not bury their victims of disappearances or unlawful killings in mass graves, but instead cremated them or dumped them in canals and rivers, usually immediately after their deaths. The identities and bodies of these victims were deliberately suppressed and clandestinely destroyed, and family survivors were rarely given an opportunity to identify the remains of their loved ones.

The identities and bodies of these victims were deliberately suppressed and clandestinely destroyed, and family survivors were rarely given an opportunity to identify the remains of their loved ones.

After a body is cremated, the ashes do not contain any genetic indicators. DNA testing is therefore impossible. Since this method of identification is not available, Ensaaf is instead analyzing newspaper articles from 1984 to 1995 and previous human rights documentation, as well conducting interviews to attempt to quantify the magnitude of the abuses committed by the state and identify the individual victims. Many of the victims of faked encounters mentioned in newspaper articles are reported as unidentified, but in some cases we will be able to compare the newspaper accounts to other information we have gathered to make definitive identifications.

Forensic analysis of human remains uncovered from water bodies may be possible, however. According to our discussions with a forensic anthropologist who conducted investigations into mass crimes in Guatemala and Bosnia, human remains can be preserved for decades under layers of sediment in water, from which viable samples can be drawn.

Other nations that have been ravaged by mass state violence, such as Guatemala, have since been able to lay their dead at peace in proper burial ceremonies thanks to techniques that have made the identification of tissues and skeletal structures possible. Unfortunately, no such scientific methods have been developed for the identification of cremated remains. The families of those killed in Punjab will sadly never feel the closure that comes with performing the funeral rites of their deceased kin, but through our work they will hopefully obtain a measure of peace by having their loss acknowledged and by knowing that the perpetrators of these murders are held responsible.

Ensaaf is currently providing litigation support in the Punjab mass cremations case, which deals with this issue of police cremation.

If you have a question about human rights in India or our work, we would love to hear from you. Please send it to info@ensaaf.org.

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