Let’s Not Forget the Injustice in Punjab

January 18, 2012

disappeared punjab india
Family member holding photo of disappeared in the Punjab in the 1980s. (Photos by Ensaaf)

On January 16, 1995 Jaswant Singh Khalra and Jaspal Singh Dhillon revealed thousands of secret cremation records of “unidentified” bodies.  It quickly became clear that Indian security forces were killing people without regard for rule of law or basic legal processes.  On September 6th, 1995, Jaswant Singh Khalra was abducted by Punjab police – soon after he too was killed.

From 1984 to 1995 Indian security forces and pro-independence militias fought a brutal war in Punjab that left tens of thousands dead.  Tens of thousands were disappeared and tortured. Tragically, the perpetrators of these gross human rights violations continue to walk free and some were even rewarded for their actions.

Despite denials by the Indian government of widespread state-sponsored killings and disappearances in Punjab, human rights workers proved otherwise. Since it’s been over 20 years since most of the human rights violations occurred, it’s easy for us to forget.

So, why even bother with Punjab?  Forcing the Indian government to redress and acknowledge their sordid human rights record will have positive ramifications for Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, & North East – other regions awash with large scale human rights violations. 

For the victims and their families, seeking justice is paramount. That’s why it’s so amazing to see organizations like Ensaaf, a US based non-profit, leading the charge.  By documenting victim stories, providing litigation support and organizing survivors, Ensaaf challenges the Indian government’s denial and downplaying of Punjab’s decade of darkness.

Thanks to Ensaaf, the Indian Supreme Court upheld life imprisonment for five police officers convicted of the abduction and murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra.

India has a long way to go to repent for the decade of human rights violations in Punjab and I’m always impressed to see organizations such as Ensaaf ensuring that justice will be done.

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