Jaswant Singh Khalra’s work to expose genocide commemorated on 18th anniversary of his disappearance
(RIVERSIDE, September 9, 2013) Over the weekend, students and families gathered at Gurdwara Sahib Riverside to hear Navkiran Kaur Khalra commemorate her father’s legacy alongside three more speakers at “Remembrance of the Disappeared” seminar. An emerging theme was genocide against minorities by the Indian state continues and the way to honor murdered human rights activist Jaswant Singh is to speak the truth louder.
The program began Saturday evening. About 75 percent of the audience were youth who listened intently as Navkiran Kaur detailed her father’s work. They were horrified as she told how Jaswant Singh Khalra was disappeared and killed by Indian police in September 1995 after he exposed India’s secret genocide of Sikh youth in Punjab. She challenged young women in particular to speak out by documenting and reporting human rights abuses.
Jaskaran Kaur, co-founder of Ensaaf, began with a short video of the group’s work in Punjab to fully document the Sikh genocide by going village-to-village to create an accurate count of the dead and disappeared. She emphasized to the generations of the future that proper education is key to effecting change in international forums and media.
Pieter Singh transfixed the young Sikhs present in a talk about two martyrs — Jalil Andrabi of Kashmir and Jaswant Singh Khalra of Punjab. He pled with his audience to understand that Khalra and Andrabi both died for reporting the truth, saying: “Genocide in India has not stopped — the architects of genocide have been promoted to the highest halls of state, where they remain, and disappearances continue.” The best way to honor the legacies of Andrabi and Khalra is, he concluded, to: “Do what they did. Speak the truth.”
After three speakers, the students broke into separate groups to rotate through three separate classrooms for an interactive workshop about human rights and how Sikh youth should be involved. Students were especially encouraged to remember Khalra’s words: “The Khalsa was inaugurated to protect human rights — the human rights of the world.”
M. R. Paul of Organization for Minorities of India wrapped up the evening by stressing the importance of minorities uniting to face their common oppressor — the Indian state.
On Sunday, Devinder Singh of Ujjal Didar Singh Memorial Foundation commenced proceedings with an eloquent presentation of a poem dedicated to Khalra’s sacrifice. The Sangat then watched, with rapt attention, a recording of Khalra’s last public speech, in which he said: “And that special gift, which the Guru possesses, is the gift of martyrdom.”
Next, Navkiran Kaur spoke about her father’s legacy and the history of the Khalra family, from her great-grandfather Harnam Singh’s involvement in the Ghadar Movement all the way to her father Jaswant Singh’s last speech, given in Canada in an attempt to interest an international audience in the genocide happening in Punjab. She spoke powerfully about his subsequent kidnapping and murder by police in Punjab.
M. R. Paul spoke next, explaining the importance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji to the whole sub-continent of India. He detailed incidents throughout Sikh history where Sikhs stood up against oppression of themselves and others, emphasizing that Sikhi is founded on bringing freedom to the “lowest of low born.” He reminded the Sangat that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, champion of the lowest of India, desired to become a Sikh and built Guru Nanak Khalsa College (Mumai) to instill Sikh principles in young people.
Jeewan Kaur, a fiery orator of just seven years, gave a rousing recital of “Kavita,” a poem about the importance of Kesh and Dastaar. The Sangat responded with jakaras of bole so nihaal. After that, Jaskaran Kaur showed a short video about Ensaaf’s work in Punjab to document the victims of genocide. She then spoke about how the work is presently going full swing.
Finally, Pieter Singh spoke briefly about what Sikhs in the USA can do to take action to stop human rights abuses. He stressed the importance of visiting congressional offices to tell them the truth about oppression in India, which he said includes not just Punjab, but also Kashmir, Odisha, Gujarat, Manipur, and other regions where state terrorism flourishes. He said Sikhs should tell their representative in Congress two things: “First, genocide is happening in India. Second, because of it, the USA should end foreign aid to India.”
The Riverside Sikh Sangat and Gurdwara Sahib Riverside Committee all participated enthusiastically, giving generously of their time and resources. Bhajan Singh Bhinder of SIC smoothly coordinated the event. Jatinder Singh and the Riverside Khalsa Academy were instrumental to making the seminar a success. Sponsoring groups included Ensaaf, Jakara Movement, Sikh Information Centre, and Organization for Minorities of India, who all expressed gratitude to Gurdwara Sahib Riverside for its hospitality.