| Punjab, India | 8 Sept 2016 | Asia Samachar |
This is a must-watch documentary of one man’s pursuit to expose the secret and illegal cremation of thousands of Sikhs in Punjab post 1984 by the Indian security agencies.
After the exposure, human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra paid with his own life when he was abducted and killed by the Punjab police in 1995.
Exactly 21 years after his abduction, Jaswant is remembered in a 30-minute film A Light of Justice: Commemorating Jaswant Singh Khalra which includes poignant interviews with his widow Paramjit Kaur Khalra and daughter Navkiran Kaur Khalsa.
The documentary was released by Ensaaf, a US-based nonprofit organisation working to end impunity and achieve justice for mass state crimes in India, with a focus on Punjab, by documenting abuses, bringing perpetrators to justice, and organising survivors.
It brings to life archival footage of Khalra when he was investigating secret cremations and disappearances in Punjab, India.
“I believe that a person can only focus on one thing in life. Jaswant Singh will always be remembered for his work on the disappearance cases,” says Paramjit in an interview in the documentary.
“This is an issue of humanity. This is our duty as Sikhs. Even if we have to give our lives, we will stand for the truth. I think Jaswant Singh performed this work on the very basic principles of Sikhi.”
Her daughter Navkiran, too, captures the spirit of her dad, with her eyes glistening with held back tears.
Khalra challenged impunity with his pursuit of truth and justice for those disappeared and unlawfully killed in Punjab by Indian security forces. His sacrifice led to new human rights defenders taking up the struggle of the survivors of the Decade of Disappearances in Punjab, Ensaaf said in a statement.
He was abducted by the Punjab Police form his house in September 1995 and tortured in captivity. In October 1995, Punjab Police then shot and killed him and dumped his body in Harike canal, according to the same statement.
The Ensaaf statement added:
In January 1995, the statement said, Khalra released official cremation records that showed Indian security agencies had secretly and illegally cremated close to 6,000 bodies they labeled “unidentified.” As part of his report, Khalra alleged the secret cremations were of people illegally picked up by Punjab Police during the state’s crackdown on dissenters, separatists, militants, and others from the years 1984 and 1994.
On September 6, 1995, at about 9:20 a.m., armed police commandos kidnapped Khalra as he was washing his car outside his home in Amritsar, Punjab. According to court records and witnesses, they illegally detained and tortured Khalra for almost two months. During his interrogation, police demanded that he cease his human rights work, but Khalra refused.
Punjab Police chief KPS Gill participated in Khalra’s interrogation and ordered his murder. In late October 1995, Punjab Police shot and killed him and dumped his body in Harike canal.
As part of his report, Khalra alleged the secret cremations were of people illegally picked up by Punjab Police during the state’s crackdown on dissenters, separatists, militants, and others from the years 1984 and 1994.
On September 11, 1995, days after Punjab Police had abducted Khalra, his wife Paramjit Kaur Khalra filed a habeas corpus petition with the Supreme Court of India. Justice Kuldip Singh admitted her petition and issued notice to the officials of the Punjab Government, instructing them to either release Khalra or reveal where they were detaining him. But this did not deter Punjab Police from continuing to torture him at secret locations and taking his life weeks later.
More recently, in November 2011, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the convictions and life imprisonment of five Punjab Police officials for abducting and murdering Jaswant Singh Khalra. Ensaaf provided critical legal support in the case. However, despite powerful evidence and a strong basis in law, the Indian Government has, thus far, refused to investigate or charge Director General of Police KPS Gill for his role in murdering Khalra.
Twenty-one years after Khalra’s death, the Indian Government is no closer to bringing Gill to justice for organizing Khalra’s – and thousands of other people’s – killings.
Ensaaf has expanded upon Jaswant Singh Khalra’s investigations and his reports and recognizes his deep, abiding, and impactful contribution to Punjab’s victims and survivors. Jaswant Singh Khalra continues to inspire Ensaaf and others to push the movement for truth and justice forward.
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