During the two days long (November 19-20, 2011, Delhi ) national consultation on the state of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) of India, it was felt that there is an urgent and pressing need to establish an exclusive centre to deal with ever growing attack on HRDs across the country. Keeping the need and its urgency in mind, two organizations, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and World Sikh Organisation (WSO) with the support and collaboration of several other human rights organizations and activists, started the Khalra Centre for Human Rights Defenders in Delhi.
S. Jaswant Singh Khalra was a pioneering human rights activist, who played a very pivotal role in exposing the disappearance and illegal cremation of thousands of Sikhs by the Punjab Police during the period of 1984-85. He painstakingly documented all the facts and made his findings public in Canada in 1995, during a visit organized by WSO. Upon his return to India in September 1995, S. Khalra was abducted by the Punjab Police and illegally held him in custody for 40 days and then murdered. While this centre will be a great tribute to his work and legacy, the idea is also to try our best to stop, what has happened to Jaswant Singh Khalra and other HRDs.
The centre is working as the focal point in the protection of Human Rights Defenders in India. In terms of proving support to HRDs, which includes to anybody and everybody involved in the work of Human Rights protection—directly or indirectly, the centre is trying to do different kind of activities ranging from emergency response, extending solidarity, issuing action alerts, contacting Human Rights Commissions, providing legal aid/guidance, medical help. The centre is doing all this with help of various Human Rights Groups, Activists, Journalists and Lawyers across the country.
The process of identification of HRDs under various categories has already begun. And we are in the process of creating a comprehensive database, which would include all the necessary details right from their name to current status. Meanwhile, we are also trying to build up a nationwide network of Human Rights Defenders working on different issues. In this regard, the centre with the help of various local and regional organizations is organizing consultation and preliminary meetings to discuss the modalities of defending the defenders at local and regional level.
The centre has started documenting the cases of attacks on HRDs and HRDs under threat, through various ways and will be publishing a report on the state of Human Rights Defenders in India. Apart from publication of the report, work on a manual for HRDs has begun. To highlight the issues of HRDs a campaign to defend the defenders will also be launched soon.