Jaswant Singh Khalra (1952–1995) was a notable Sikh human rights activist who worked on the abduction, extermination and cremation of unclaimed human bodies during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Punjab. In 1995, he was kidnapped and murdered by a Punjab Police personnel.
Jaswant Singh Khalra was born in 1952 (age 43 years; at the time of death) in a remote area of Punjab near the India-Pakistan border. He hails from Khalra in Tarn Taran district of Punjab., He studied law. In college, he was the spokesperson of the Punjab Students’ Union. He organized various protests against anti-police corruption and abuse of authority by the government. He also formed small unions within his village and college to encourage students to participate actively in the politics of the country. Khalra was inspired by the Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh. After graduation, Khalra started working for the local village-governing body i.e. Panchayat. In 1985, he moved to Amritsar with his wife. In 1990, Khalra returned to India from England. In the early 90s, he started working in a bank in Amritsar.
parents and siblings
His grandfather, Harnam Singh, was a freedom fighter during the rebellion against the British. Not much is known about his parents. He had a brother.
wife and children
In 1981, he married Paramjit Kaur, who worked as a librarian in the library of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Later, she became a human rights defender.
Together, they have two children, a daughter, Navkiran Kaur Khalra and a son, Jap Singh. His daughter Navkiran was 10 years old when he was abducted.
Jaswant Singh Khalra was working as a director of a bank in Amritsar, Punjab during the period of terrorism in Punjab. In addition, Khalra served as the general secretary of the human rights wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Activism during the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots
After Operation Blue Star Indira Gandhi Assassinated by his Sikh bodyguards, the Punjab Police was empowered to detain anyone they suspected as a terrorist, which led to the 1984 Sikh massacre. Although the militancy of the riots troubled Khalra from the start, it was the kidnapping and murder of his close friend Piara Singh, director of the cooperative bank where Khalra worked, that led Khalra to launch a detailed investigation into the murders. Khalra had gone to the Durgiana temple crematorium in Amritsar to collect the remains of his friend, who was illegally cremated. There, he found that his friend was not the only one who was illegally cremated. He discovered a major error while checking the register of cremation land, which included the names of victims of extrajudicial executions along with his father’s name and villages whose bodies were labeled as “unknown”. Khalra used this error in cremation records to uncover more than 6000 secret cremations by the police in just one of the 13 districts of Punjab and produced it before the court. He was probing four major cases at the same time, including the custodial murder of Behala, the human-shield case related to the death of seven civilians, the cremation of 25,000 unidentified bodies in Punjab and the killing of nearly 2,000 policemen who did not cooperate. was involved. in anti-terrorist operations.
On 6 September 1995, the Punjab Police kidnapped Jaswant Singh Khalra from his residence in Amritsar while he was washing his car. Police officials, however, denied that Khalra was arrested or taken into custody. On 7 September 1995, he was imprisoned at the Chabal Police Station in Tarn Taran. On 12 September 1995, his wife Paramjit Kaur filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court of India, meanwhile, the police continued to deny Khalra’s arrest. In November 1995, the SC ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate Khalra’s disappearance. The CBI found evidence that Khalra was apprehended by the police at Kang police station in Tarn Taran district. However, later the CBI learned that he was transferred from Kang police station on 25 October 1995, after which his whereabouts were unknown. A witness named Kuldeep Singh (former special police officer) claimed that it was SHO Satnam Singh who was confining Khalra in illegal confinement at Jhabal police station, Tarn Taran. During the illegal detention, Kuldeep Singh served food to Khalra. Kuldeep Singh was recruited into the police by former Tarn Tarn Senior Superintendent of Police Ajit Singh Sandhu. Sandhu was the prime accused in the case who committed suicide in May 1997 by jumping in front of a moving train. Another name that cropped up during Kuldeep’s testimony was that of KPS Gill. Kuldeep alleged that one day the police officers started beating Khalra, meanwhile Kuldeep was asked to bring a glass of hot water. While Kuldeep was heating the water, he heard two gunshots after which he ran towards the room, where Satnam Singh instructed him to go to the car parking. The police officers then dumped Khalra’s body in a Maruti van and dumped his body near Harike Bridge on the Sutlej river.
On 9 September 1995, Paramjit Kaur filed a public interest litigation seeking justice for her husband’s death. It took ten years to bring Khalra’s custodial death to trial, but in 2005 the non-profit organization Ensaf worked with private lawyers to bring the perpetrators to justice. In collaboration, the NGO Ensaaf, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reddress, and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice issued a call to the CBI in May 2006 to investigate and prosecute former police chief KPS Gill in the murder. Six police officers were convicted for Khalra’s murder, five of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 and the sixth officer was acquitted. sc held,
The police were eliminating the youths on the pretext of being militants and were disposing of their bodies without making any records and performing their last rites.
According to eyewitnesses of SPO Kuldeep Singh, former Punjab police chief KPS Gill had questioned Khalra a few days before his murder. Gill interrogated Khalra for half an hour. After Gill left, Kuldeep Singh overheard SHO Satnam Singh telling Khalra that he could have saved himself if he had listened to Gill and agreed. Though the court considered Kuldeep Singh credible and accepted his testimony, the prosecutor continued to investigate Gill for his alleged role in the murder. KPS Gill died in 2017 without trial. In 2007, the Punjab and Haryana High Court extended the jail term of four policemen, Sub Inspector Satnam Singh, Surinder Pal Singh, Jasbir Singh and Head Constable Prithvipal Singh, to seven years. Later, the court increased his sentence to life imprisonment. Although an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of India against the life sentence for the four accused, it was dismissed and the SC upheld the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision.
- In 2017, the City Council of Fresno, California approved a proposal to rename Victoria Park after Sikh human rights advocate Jaswant Singh Khalra.
- In 2022, it was announced that Punjabi singer and actor Diljit Dosanjh would play the role of Jaswant Singh Khalra in his biopic. Following this, several people protested on the film sets of the Jaswant Singh Khalra biopic, objecting to the portrayal of Diljit Dosanjh’s character, calling him a foreigner and saying that he had been westernised.
Facts / Trivia
- Three months before his disappearance, Khalra went to Canada at the invitation of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, where he highlighted his research on atrocities in Punjab at the WSO’s parliamentary dinner.
- While he was in Canada, his fellow Canadian Sikhs suggested that he should apply for refugee status in Canada as returning to India could be fatal for him. Khalra, however, said that he knew he could be killed, but he had to do one thing and did not think he could do it sitting outside Punjab.
- On the 25th death anniversary of Jaswant Singh Khalra in 2020, the city of Barnaby declared Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.