Defend the Defenders: Human Rights Law Network

Jaswant Singh Khalra

During the militancy in Punjab, Jaswant Singh Khalra was a bank director in the city of Amritsar in Punjab. After the Operation Blue Star in 1984, the assassination of India’s then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre, police had given power to detain suspects. There were killings in which the police were accused of killing unarmed men in staged shootouts and then burning thousands of dead bodies to cover up the murders.

There were many colleagues of Mr. Khalra who went missing during that time. He went on searching for their whereabouts and he found some files from the Municipal Corporation of Amritsar which contained the names, age, and address of those who had been killed and later burned by the Police. His further research put light on cases in three other districts of Punjab and the list surged to thousands.  In January 1995, he had filed a petition asking the courts to investigate the mass cremations.

In his last speech, in April 1995, made to a Canadian audience, Jaswant Singh Khalra discussed his investigations into the thousands of illegal killings and secret cremations by the Punjab police and his zeal to expose the truth about these crimes. Jaswant Singh Khalra began his speech with a moving fable about the struggle of truth and light against expanding darkness. He recounted how he traced the fate of many disappeared Sikhs to Amritsar’s municipal cremation grounds. Through government records obtained from these municipalities, Mr. Khalra exposed a detailed history of systematic human rights violations in which the police forces abducted, murdered, and secretly cremated an estimated 6,017 Sikhs in Amritsar district alone–then one of 13 districts in Punjab–from 1984 to 1995.

In September 1995, while washing his car in front of his house, Mr. Khalra was abducted by under-cover commandos of Punjab Police at the behest of Senior Superintendent of Police Ajit Singh Sandhu and taken to Jhabal police station. Although witnesses gave statements implicating the police and have named former police chief KPS Gill as a conspirator, police denied having ever arrested or detained him, and claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts.

In 1996, the Central Bureau of Investigation found evidence that he was held at a police station in Tarn Taran and recommended the prosecution of nine Punjab police officials for murder and kidnapping. Those accused of his murder were not charged for ten years, though one of the suspects committed suicide in 1997.

On November 18, 2005, six Punjab police officials were convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for Mr. Khalra’s abduction and murder. On October 16, 2007 a division bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court, chaired by Justices Mehtab Singh Gill and A N Jindal, extended the sentence to Life imprisonment for four accused Satnam Singh, Surinder Pal Singh, Jasbir Singh (all former Sub Inspectors) and Prithipal Singh (former Head Constable).

On November 4, 2011, the Supreme Court of India dismissed the appeal filed against the sentence to Life imprisonment for four accused scathingly criticizing the atrocities committed by Punjab Police during the disturbance period thereby serving justice to the family members of Jaswant Singh Khalra.