PUNJAB DISAPPEARANCES


Damini.Goel@timesgroup.com

Chandigarh:

Families of victims of mass disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Punjab during the period of militancy, between 1984 and 1995, are still struggling to get justice.

The Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project’s Satnam Singh Bains, a human rights activist, and Jaswant Kaur unveiled their 70-minute documentary, Punjab Disappeared, on the disappearance of thousands of people in Punjab here on Saturday.

“We are pushing for a Supreme Court-appointed Missing Persons Commission in Punjab to identify the unidentified and for the victims to be given rehabilitation,” said Bains, who plans to file 8,257 cases in the Supreme Court in a couple of weeks.

This will be the biggest litigation on disappearances in the Indian history. “We want to bring out the truth and we are pushing for a Truth Commission to set up in Punjab. The whole of Punjab was wounded by a decade of this violence, we wanted to bring out a mature debate without political parties hijacking it. So that’s what we are trying to achieve through this documentary,” said Bains, who is a barrister in the UK.

Rights activist and Akali leader Jaswant Singh Khalra had done groundbreaking work on people who had disappeared during the crackdown on militancy in Punjab after Operation Bluestar. Khalra, secretarygeneral of the SAD human rights wing, “disappeared” in September 1995 and his body was never found. Interestingly, his widow Paramjeet Kaur Khalra contested the Lok Sabha poll this time from Khadoor Sahib. She was supported by all Panthic parties but was defeated.

Sharing details on the idea behind the documentary, Bains said, “We conceived the idea of the documentary when we went to several villages in Punjab, especially the most affected districts. As part of the PDAP that started in 2008, we started documenting victims in the border areas of Gurdaspur, Ferozepur, Faridkot and found that there were many villages where people were picked up by the police and the victims and their families never got a chance to really tell their stories to the courts or they never knew what happened to the bodies and that stories needed to be preserved.”

In 1995, Khalra had got records of 2,267 cremations from three Amritsar cremation grounds — Patti, Tarn Taran, and Durgiana Mandir — that revealed the Punjab police had been killing people, executing them and secretly cremating their bodies.

“He went public and challenged the Punjab police. He filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana high court and the court dismissed it by saying that it’s vague and there’s no evidence, even though he had records of three cremation grounds in Amritsar. Following that, Khalra was picked up by the police and he disappeared. The tragedy of the whole Punjab story is that the first person who raised his voice for human rights was the last person to disappear,” said Bains.

“The PDAP has now undertaken a forensic audit of 2,267 applications submitted to the NHRC, which shows that the vast majority of applicants were arbitrarily rejected only because the cremations took place outside of Amritsar,” he added.

The documentary was screened at IMA Complex, Sector 35B, Chandigarh