Editorial: Jaswant Singh Khalra Was Martyred for Exposing State-Sponsored Genocide in India

Human rights activist became a victim of secret police death squads

I want to tell you about Jaswant Singh Khalra.

Jaswant Singh lived in northwestern India in a region called the Punjab. He was from Amritsar, the central hub of Sikh culture. He had a wife, Paramjit Kaur, a daughter, Navkiran Kaur, and a son, Janmeet Singh.

His grandfather, Harnam Singh, joined an independence movement formed out of California called the Ghadar Party and worked to overthrow colonial rule of India by the British Empire.

Jaswant Singh Khalra, c. 1995.
Jaswant Singh Khalra, c. 1995.

A bank director at first, Jaswant Singh became a human rights activist after a government-led genocide centered in New Delhi, India’s capital, killed thousands of Sikhs in the streets at broad daylight.

Jaswant was murdered by the State for uncovering and reporting that death squads of Indian police were secretly rounding up Sikh men in Amritsar and other areas of the Punjab, imprisoning them off the books, torturing them, killing them, and then quietly cremating their bodies at local cremation grounds.

In Amritsar alone, Jaswant identified the names of 2,097 Sikhs who were secretly cremated after being murdered by a police death squad.

Amritsar is just one of thirteen districts in the Punjab.

The Indian State admits it killed Jaswant Singh Khalra in the exact same manner as the sufferers of the genocide. Khalra was abducted on September 6, 1995 and killed soon after. It only took the State sixteen years before its Supreme Court finally upheld the convictions and sentences of six low-level police officers involved in Khalra’s abduction, torture, and murder.

But the statewide police director, KPS Gill, who is alleged to have personally ordered the killing, was never charged. Amnesty International recognizes the genocide revealed by Khalra. In an interview, Gill said: “I don’t care about the Sikhs who call me the Butcher of Punjab.” His police did care about intimidating Khalra’s family as they pursued justice in the courts. During a court hearing in 1998 — three years after Khalra’s murder — Amnesty International reported “the tyres of a vehicle belonging to members of the Khalra Action Committee were slashed outside the court building.”

The Sikh Genocide was sponsored by the Indian State.

The genocide is acknowledged by the State.

The killings have declined but the same police officers who fielded death squads remain in power in the Punjab.

Twenty years after Khalra’s murder, the government of Punjab appointed Sumedh Saini as the state’s Director General of Police. He has faced multiple charges for human rights violations but no convictions. Charges against Saini are diverse. They include murdering two Sikh government workers, who were the father and uncle of Davinderpal Singh Bhullar. Bhullar is a mechanical engineer who was sent to death row (with his sentence commutted to life in 2014) after allegedly confessing to a bombing; Bhullar says he was tortured to make a false confession. Charges against Saini also include murdering two Hindu businessmen and their driver over a personal dispute.

But all is fine in the Punjab. There is no reason for concern. Let us cry peace, peace, peace.

That is the tune those who don’t like to be made uncomfortable sing when they hear words like “state-sponsored.”

There is nothing more uncomfortable than admitting the State created genocide.

Admitting as much invokes a requirement for justice. Justice requires the guilty and the innocent be separated. The thirst of justice cannot be slaked while those accused of guilt still lead the land.

The work of Jaswant Singh Khalra is not finished.

Khalra's daughter Navkiran Kaur, on right, with Ensaaf Cofounder Jaskaran Kaur, and family friend.
Khalra’s daughter Navkiran Kaur, on right, with Ensaaf Cofounder Jaskaran Kaur, and family friend.

About Pieter Friedrich: Pieter is a writer, activist, and South Asian affairs analyst living in northern California.

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