Jaswant Singh Khalra’s Life and Legacy Continue To Inspire Ensaaf’s Work
Today, September 6, marks 19 years since the Punjab Police abducted a beacon of light for human rights in Punjab: Jaswant Singh Khalra.
When Ensaaf was launched 10 years ago, Ensaaf’s co-founders studied Jaswant Singh Khalra’s investigations into gross human rights violations and the legal cases he catalyzed, and in the process came to love a man they had never met.
Jaswant Singh Khalra articulated that only exact figures of victims of India’s security forces would sway public opinion and the courts in favor of truth and justice. His tireless investigations into enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab would lead to the explosive findings of municipal cremation ground records documenting over 2,000 secret cremations conducted at the behest of the Punjab Police in just 1 of 17 districts at the time. These records would impel India’s Supreme Court to find a “flagrant violation of human rights on a mass scale.”
The government of India mistakenly believed that by eliminating Khalra, the reality of disappearances ending in secret cremations would disappear along with him. Instead, Khalra’s abduction and murder propelled the Punjab mass cremations case forward and inspired a new generation of human rights defenders to continue the movement for accountability for India’s mass state crimes.
“What’s remarkable about Jaswant Singh Khalra is not the brutality of his murder, but the way he chose to live his life, remaining committed to the cause of human rights in the face of death,“ reflected Sukhman Dhami, Ensaaf’s Co-Founder.
Ensaaf also recognized the power of the precedent Jaswant Singh Khalra had set: an undeniable record of abuses can erode impunity in India and move the wheels of justice forward. Inspired by Khalra’s original investigations, Ensaaf set out to visit each of Punjab’s 12,000 villages and document every possible case of disappearance or unlawful killing, and is well on its way towards completing this objective.
Like Jaswant Singh Khalra, his surviving family, led by his wife Paramjit Kaur, continues to serve as a light of hope for the families of the disappeared and spearhead the movement for accountability. Their guidance and support have been instrumental to human rights work that has continued in Punjab.
In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the life sentences of five police officers for their role in the abduction and murder of Khalra. “Nineteen years after Jaswant Singh Khalra’s abduction and murder, however, ex Punjab Police chief KPS Gill, who bears superior responsibility for Khalra’s murder and the killings of countless others, remains free. India needs to decide if it’s a country based on the rule of law, or impunity, too afraid to bring a single individual to account,” said Jaskaran Kaur, Ensaaf’s Co-Founder.
Ensaaf renews its call on the government of India to end its policy of impunity and prosecute the chief architects of all disappearances and unlawful killings in Punjab, starting with KPS Gill.