September and October 2008 commemorate the 13th anniversary of the illegal detention, torture and murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra...Continue »
Ensaaf is pleased to announce the newest addition to its Board of Advisors, Sharanjeet Parmar. Parmar is a clinical instructor with the International Human Rights Clinic and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School... Continue »
On August 1, 2008, a new subcommittee in the Punjab mass cremations case met with attorneys from human rights organizations and police institutions to discuss a new identification process ordered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Ensaaf attended this hearing... Continue »
My journey began exactly one year ago, surrounded by twelve other Rice undergraduates in a seminar on human rights... Continue »
Educate. Inspire. Act. These three simple yet powerful words served as the basis for Lahir 2008... Continue »
Jaswant Singh Khalra: An Enduring Inspiration for Truth and Justice
September and October 2008 commemorate the 13th anniversary of the disappearance and illegal detention, torture, and murder of human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra. Khalra's family marked this anniversary with a prayer at the Akal Takht.
Punjab Police abducted Jaswant Singh Khalra on September 6, 1995, illegally detained and tortured him, and murdered him in late October 1995. Jaswant Singh Khalra and Jaspal Singh Dhillon's investigations into mass secret cremations provided official proof of thousands of disappearances ending in secret cremations from 1984 to 1994. Official municipal cremation ground records and firewood purchase registers disclosed information such as the date and place of cremation of the victims, the number of bodies cremated, the police stations and officials who deposited the bodies for cremations, and, in some cases, the identity of the secret cremation victims. In Khalra's last recorded speech given in Canada in April 1995, just months before his ultimate disappearance, he discussed over 6,000 cremations in Amritsar district alone.
Khalra's courageous work and sacrifice has inspired thousands of people around the world, and the reality of disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab has become impossible to deny.
Khalra's disappearance and investigations catalyzed the Supreme Court to order the prosecution of his abductors and investigations into the mass secret cremations--both cases which continue today. In November 2005, ten years after the Supreme Court ordered the prosecution of Khalra's killers, the Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Court in Patiala convicted six police officers for the abduction and murder of Khalra. Two years later, the High Court upheld and enhanced life sentences for five of the accused, and acquitted one official. Mrs. Khalra has appealed against the acquittal to the Supreme Court, and the five convicted officials have appealed against their convictions, as well. Ensaaf provided litigation support to lead attorney Rajvinder S. Bains.
Regrettably, the chief architect of Khalra's murder and the disappearances and cremations throughout Punjab, former police chief KPS Gill, has still not been held accountable for his crimes. Ensaaf worked closely with High Court attorney Rajvinder Bains to prepare the petition calling for the investigation and prosecution of Gill for his direct role in the abduction and murder of Khalra. Despite filing the case in September 2006, over two years ago, the High Court and government continue to delay arguments. Since February 2008 alone, the High Court has postponed the case over six times. The undue delay cannot cover up the fact that Gill personally interrogated Khalra days before his murder, and bears superior responsibility for his murder, where Gill knew of the crime and failed to prevent or punish his subordinates for their illegal acts.
Chief eyewitness to the crime, Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh, also reports that government agents continue to harass and pressure him. Despite the intimidation, Kuldip Singh is ready to testify against Gill, and his testimony against Gill has been found credible and upheld by both the Sessions Court and the High Court.
October 2008 also celebrates the continued efforts of Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra and other human rights defenders and organizations to investigate and expose the disappearances and extrajudicial executions, hold perpetrators accountable, and organize survivors to advocate for the rights to truth, justice, and reparations. Since Khalra's disappearance, thousands of cases of disappearances have been documented, hundreds of "unidentified" cremation victims have been identified, some officials have been accountable, and several ground-breaking reports have been released documenting these case--most recently, Protecting the Killers: a Policy of Impunity in, Punjab, India—and been distributed and covered around the world. Thirteen years later, Ensaaf continues to be inspired by Jaswant Singh Khalra's work and sacrifice and leads efforts to end impunity and achieve justice for gross human rights violations in Punjab.
View Ensaaf's page on advocacy pursued regarding the murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra.This page includes links to judgments and legal papers, as well as information on joint initiatives by international human rights organizations, including Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.
International Human Rights Attorney Joins Ensaaf's Board of Advisors
Ensaaf is pleased to announce the newest addition to its Board of Advisors, Sharanjeet Parmar. Parmar is a clinical instructor with the International Human Rights Clinic and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School (HLS). Since 2006, she has advised Ensaaf on legal advocacy strategies, and supervised numerous clinical research projects relating to the Punjab mass cremations case.
Before joining Harvard Law School, Parmar served as a trial attorney to the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where her areas of focus included the use of child soldiers, gender crimes, and economic crimes investigations. In addition to appearing in trials prosecuting alleged perpetrators of war crimes, Parmar directed and supervised field investigations and facilitated the testimony of expert witnesses on crimes against children, gender-based violence, forensics, and military operations. Parmar has also served as a legal aid manager with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Sudan, initiating a community-based legal aid program in the south, and worked as a human rights lawyer in India with the HIV/AIDS unit of the Lawyers Collective in Delhi and Mumbai. Parmar is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and holds an LL.B. ('99) from Dalhousie Law School, Halifax and an LL.M. ('06) in International Legal Studies from New York University School of Law. Parmar was recently profiled here.
Ensaaf's Board of Advisors includes prominent human rights activists who provide significant time, resources, and work on joint projects.
New Subcommittee Presents Opportunity for Mobilization in Punjab
On August 1, 2008, a new subcommittee in the Punjab mass cremations case met with attorneys from human rights organizations and police institutions to discuss a new identification process ordered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Ensaaf attended this hearing, and continues to provide litigation support to the petitioner Committee on Information and Initiative on Punjab.
The new subcommittee must identify the remaining 657 victims of "illegal cremations" in Amritsar district between 1984 and 1995. The families of these victims will receive 175,000 rupees (currently about $3700) in compensation, but without acknowledgment of government responsibility or any explanation regarding the circumstances of these deaths. The NHRC continues to refuse to look beyond Amritsar district, despite the fact that the abusive policies and practices of security forces remained consistent throughout Punjab.
Although the new subcommission represents a continuation of an arbitrary judicial process started by the NHRC, it marks a significant departure from the most recent efforts of the Bhalla subcommission. Most notably, any survivor throughout Punjab may submit a claim form to their District Commissioner, if they believe their family member was killed and wrongfully cremated by security forces in Amritsar. At least ten percent of the victims identified by the NHRC as having been secretly cremated in Amritsar lived outside of Amritsar district.
After the newspapers publish an initial notice inviting families to fill out claim forms, they will have six weeks to respond. However, the subcommission mentioned that the deadline would not be fixed if it seems that more information could be gathered with more time.
Sukhdeep Kaur is a senior at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She interned with Ensaaf in the summer of 2008.
My journey began exactly one year ago, surrounded by twelve other Rice undergraduates in a seminar on human rights. The professor mentioned that each student needed to choose a topic on human rights to research throughout the semester for a final paper. I decided that I wanted to research something that was personally as well as academically fulfilling. Like many young Sikhs in North America, I had grown up hearing about Operation Bluestar (the June 1984 Army attack on the Harmandir Sahib complex) and the November 1984 pogroms. These were major human rights violations that occurred just 24 years ago, to my own community, yet most of the world remains unaware of the extent of the atrocities.
As I began my research, I soon realized this would not only be an academic journey but an emotional one as well. Reading first-hand accounts of the brutalities that occurred was almost unbearable. The most difficult part for me is that justice still has not been served. Police officials and politicians who coordinated these attacks roam the streets of India safely due to impunity. Something had to be done and I wanted to help!
After the completion of my paper, I went in search of an organization that was actively and effectively working to defend Sikhs in India and I landed in the arms of Ensaaf. Ensaaf created a research plan for me comprising of two parts. The first part would take place in Chandigarh and involve documentation research. The second half of my internship would take place at the "Widow Colony" in Tilak Vihar, New Delhi.
During my time in Chandigarh, I worked on documentation relevant for the Punjab mass cremations case—the case of illegal cremations of victims of police killings in Amritsar, Punjab, started by Jaswant Singh Khalra's work. Today, this case is being fought for some justice for the families of these Sikhs. Statistics and research into the widespread nature of the human rights violations can strengthen the case in court and therefore comprise one of the fundamentals of human rights advocacy. However, it is meticulous and arduous, and it was admittedly a challenge to stay focused and motivated. I came to understand that a puzzle is not complete without each and every piece, so regardless of size or place, each piece is important. While I was just able to begin a small portion of the immense amount of research that needs to be done, it was extremely rewarding to know that I had become a piece in this puzzle. This work will go towards exposing the police abuses and building evidence so that the perpetrators can eventually be held accountable.
Upon the termination of my three weeks in Chandigarh, I shifted to Delhi to work with Aman Biradari. Aman Biradari is an organization that is fighting cases for the survivors of the Gujarat massacres of Muslims. They also started a legal cell in the "Widow Colony" of Tilak Vihar, after observing the situation of the survivors of the Delhi pogroms, to help widows get compensation and justice. The living conditions of these families are poor and the psychosocial effects from the pogroms are still visible. Yet somehow, these women are still fighting for the life that was suddenly and wrongfully taken from them. As a Punjabi-speaking intern, I was treated as a member of the legal team and thus I learned a great deal from the lawyers about the legal work involved in the cases. I also learned about the dedication required to do human rights legal work, because earning the trust of the widows and understanding what they most need requires an enormous amount of time and patience. Only after that process can the "legal" work begin.
Youth Workshop Finds Inspiration from Jaswant Singh Khalra
Harman Sidhu is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in anthropology. She was a participant of Lahir 2008, as well as a presenter for the education segment of the workshop.
Educate. Inspire. Act. These three simple yet powerful words served as the basis for Lahir 2008, a workshop on human rights in Punjab held on August 23, 2008 at the University of Maryland campus.
The workshop was a collaborative effort by the DC metropolitan area Sikh youth to not only create awareness about human rights violations in Punjab but also to initiate a dialogue about our own apathy when it comes to human rights issues, exploring why this apathy occurs and what can be done to awaken ourselves and our community. If there is one key point that I took away from this workshop, it was the realization that no one organization or select few individuals can bring about this change, no matter how powerful. This movement needs and deserves the input of every single individual in our community and it begins with ourselves.
The first segment of this workshop focused on educating the participants about the human rights violations that had occurred from 1984 until 1995. With the help of the numerous documents we found on the Ensaaf website, we focused on telling the story of Jaswant Singh Khalra, with whom we felt this lahir, or movement, began and to whose sacrifice we owe it to continue striving forward until justice becomes a concrete reality. The education segment was interspersed with videos of interviews of family members whose loved ones had disappeared. These videos helped reveal how, for these families, injustice is not an abstract idea but a daily reality that they are forced to endure. The participants also sang and performed a number of creative art pieces, such as spoken word and poetry. Through these creative art pieces we hoped to make the audience see through the eyes of someone who was affected, whether it was the artist themselves, or a mother whose son had disappeared.
The last portion of the workshop was an outlet for the participants to reflect upon and discuss what they had seen, heard, and felt. We were able to brainstorm a number of ways in which we could begin to take part in the global human rights movement. The importance of linking up with other communities is one way to find strength in numbers and give the movement the momentum that it needs to carry on. Lahir 2008 was not just a workshop; rather it was a creative outlet for the expression of a movement that needs our support and voice.