Seminar Honors Disappeared Peace Advocate Whom Daughter Recalls Worked to “End Oppression”

“Genocide has not stopped,” say organizers of weekend seminar in Southern California

RIVERSIDE, September 7, 2013 – South Asians will gather in the Los Angeles area over this weekend at a seminar to converse with the daughter of disappeared peace advocate Jaswant Singh Khalra about the best way to honor her father’s legacy.

Every year since 2009, Navkiran Kaur Khalra has spoken at “Remembrance of the Disappeared,” a seminar to oppose state-sponsored disappearances. The annual event was created to commemorate her father, Jaswant Singh Khalra, who was disappeared by Indian police 18 years ago to silence his human rights work. Hosted by Gurdwara Sahib Riverside, this year’s seminar occurs September 7 and 8.

Speaking of her father, Ms. Khalra says, “His legacy continues not just in Punjab, but in all corners of the world where people are standing firm to end oppression and tyranny. At the end, I would request everyone to keep the lamp of justice lit so the future generations can breathe justice and peace.” Seminar organizers say they want to honor Mr. Khalra’s legacy by “challenging the darkness,” a reference to a story he told in his last public appeal for someone to stop the Indian state’s genocide against Sikhs.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Khalra had heard reports the government was fighting a separatist movement, but he was politically uninvolved. His interest was in raising his family in peace and he enjoyed his quiet job as a bank director in Amritsar, Punjab. But he could not help noticing the mass disappearances over ten years of young Sikhs. He began to wonder where all these Sikhs had disappeared. Friends wondered too and asked him to s secretary of a human rights group, he was able to research to find out.

 

Mr. Khalra discovered that thousands of Sikhs had been secretly cremated by Indian police from 1984 to 1994. Firewood-use records spilled the beans. Combing the records, Mr. Khalra learned at least 25,000 were disappeared, tortured, and then killed in police custody before being cremated. He began telling the world about this horrible discovery.

His refusal to keep quiet soon led to his own disappearance. The morning of September 6, 1995, he was washing his car when police sped up, seized him, and drove away. He was never seen by his family again. Indian officials initially refused to acknowledge Khalra was in their custody, but an official later leaked that Khalra had been brutally tortured in custody before being shot dead and left in a canal. After that, India’s government admitted to his arrest.

“The courage of men like Khalra, who resisted evil, is in short supply today,” said Pieter Singh, executive director of Sikh Information Centre, a group sponsoring the seminar. “Genocide has not stopped, the architects of genocide have been promoted to the highest halls of state, where they remain, and disappearances continue. The Indian state has bred a culture that rewards those whose hands drip with innocent blood. We must follow Khalra’s golden teachings and learn to be light to challenge the darkness.”

Saturday seeks to involve young people through a “Dialogue on Challenging the Darkness: Spreading Youth Awareness of Genocide.” The event is from 6pm to 8pm. Sunday is planned as a reflective time and begins at 10:30am with Bhog, Ardas, and Diwan. Saturday’s speakers include Navkiran Kaur Khalra, daughter of the disappeared, M. R. Paul of Organization for Minorities of India, Jaskaran Kaur of Ensaaf, and Pieter Singh of Sikh Information Centre.

Navkiran says she finds inspiration to continue her father’s legacy in the words of her grandfather, who said about Jaswant Singh Khalra: “I know that if there is to be any hope for Punjab and all of South Asia, there has to be a resurgence of that spirit for freedom and the courage of conviction embodied by my late son.”

About SIC: Sikh Information Centre is a think tank founded in 1988 to educate humanity about the rights of the individual so as to pursue liberty, peace, and prosperity.