Mukhtee De Parwaneyo Shamma Jaagdi Rakheyo

Mukhtee De Parwaneyo Shamma Jaagdi Rakheyo - Oh lovers of freedom, keep the candle burning.

Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra at the desk of the Khalistan Liberation Movement International, an organisation he founded to work for Sikh justice.

Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra at the desk of the Khalistan Liberation Movement International, an organisation he founded to work for Sikh justice.

The work of Satnam Singh, Jaswant Kaur and their team in documenting Human Rights abuses against Sikhs, during the years 1984-1995 of the Khalistan struggle is vital and deserving of all the praise it has rightly received. UK based barrister Satnam Singh left the comfort and affluence of life in London, switching his comfortable office for the villages of Panjab, on the search for the thousands of Sikhs that were disappeared by the Indian State.

Thousands of mothers await their children even though some may know that the oppressor has not spared their child’s life on this earth. A mother's heart is such that even if she sees her child’s dead body, she does not accept that her child has left her. And those mothers who have not even seen their children's dead bodies, they were asking us: at least find out, is our child alive or not? [1]

Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra

Satnam Singh and his team were inspired by the martyred Human Rights Activist, Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra, who dedicated his life to seeking closure for thousands of mothers in Panjab, who lost gem like children, never to be told what happened to them. Khalra prophetically accepted the inevitability of a brutal death, in order to bring to light the genocidal campaign launched by the Indian State against unarmed Sikh civilians, in the State’s bid to crush the grassroots support that was the backbone for the struggle to liberate Khalistan.

The NSYF commend Satnam Singh and his team for continuing extremely difficult ground work, in a hostile environment that is tied to intense Sikh trauma, whilst facing the ever present threat to activists, journalists, and Human Rights workers from the Government of India (GOI); which often and vocally equates work for accountability within its own constitutional framework with sedition[2].

While there is no expectation that the Indian state can deliver justice to the Sikh Quam, there is some hope that continued scrutiny of Indian oppression and mass Human Rights abuses, will undermine the culture of impunity that empowers Indian security forces in targeting Sikhs for voicing their support and desire, and for organising and building towards Khalistan. 

Jaswant Singh Khalra was a Human Rights activist during the 1990s and a direct witness to the State terrorism and collective punishment inflicted on the Sikh population in Panjab, inhuman brutality became policy in order to suppress the movement that was growing rapidly and engaging the Sikh masses of Punjab in the struggle for their liberation. Systematic Human Rights abuses were made legal through the connivance of both the judiciary and the executive. Laws were enacted which made the mass arrest, torture, and extra-judicial murder of Sikhs widespread across Indian occupied Punjab. The capitulation of the media and academia meant that outside of the voices of Sikhs only a rare few challenged how Human Rights workers, all Amritdhari Sikhs, Sikh leadership, and even the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat, were deemed potential “terrorists” and killed with impunity by state security forces.

Tens of thousands of Sikhs were made to disappear; abducted, tortured, murdered, and disposed of without trace. Khalra’s work involved investigating these deaths in order to try and bring closure to grief-stricken families, to confirm to them the fate of their loved ones. A gross violation of India’s international obligations during civil war and the constitutional rights of those it claimed citizens, Indian security forces stopped returning the mutilated bodies of both Jujharoo Sikhs (Sikh warriors) and Sikh civilians. The Indian state sought to hide the hideous evidence of torture, by denying the family the body of their deceased the state aimed to prevent the mass gatherings at Bhog ceremonies that had become galvanising moments for Sikh Sangat to come together.

Shaheed Bhai Avtar Singh Shatrana, a provincial political candidate, who’s brother was a Jujharoo, he was abducted, tortured for information on his brother’s whereabouts, and killed in police custody. The police claimed Avtar Singh had been shot whilst trying to escape and refused to hand over his body to his family. After mounting pressure from Avtar Singh’s entire village the police handed his body back, there where no bullet holes only burn marks from an iron and evidence of inhuman torture.

Shaheed Bhai Avtar Singh Shatrana, a provincial political candidate, who’s brother was a Jujharoo, he was abducted, tortured for information on his brother’s whereabouts, and killed in police custody. The police claimed Avtar Singh had been shot whilst trying to escape and refused to hand over his body to his family. After mounting pressure from Avtar Singh’s entire village the police handed his body back, there where no bullet holes only burn marks from an iron and evidence of inhuman torture.

Jabar Di Kahani (A story of oppression)

What distinguishes a Sikh Human Rights activist like Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra, from other Human Rights activists is that he had no faith in the Indian State to be able to provide justice, nor did he see the dispensation of justice as a prerogative the state held. He only had faith in the Guru, the sovereign of all sovereigns, the defender of our honour and dignity, the protector of those without protection. 

Khalra was not working within the remit of any judicial or legal body, and had no framework nor mandate from the State to carry out his work. His indictment of the Indian system and it’s inability to dispense justice was unambiguous; he referred to the security forces as butchers, the Director General of Police KPS Gill as the Chief of Oppression, the Indian courts as oppressors, and laid-bare the so-called democratic values of the Indian State mocking those that claimed to be the arbiters of governance and justice.

To the wider international community, Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra shed light on the validity of the struggle for Khalistan, highlighting to Sikhs and the world the true reality of the Indian State:

“Oh people of the world, you have labelled [Sikhs] as communalist and terrorist, and those you called the prophets of democracy, learn their reality, and now tell us who is the terrorist and who is the righteous.”

His efforts were mainly targeted towards Sikhs, with his most famous speech given in Punjabi from an openly pro-Khalistan Gurdwara stage [3].  His work inspired Sikhs to rise up and challenge the darkness imposed upon them by the facist Brahmanical Indian state, and commit themselves to the liberation of their spirit and bodies, through the struggle for Khalistan. He paid reverence to the heroes of the Sikh Quam, the Shaheeds, who had given their lives for the Sangarsh (Sikh revolutionary struggle). He built on the work of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa and gave clear examples to Sikhs of their oppression within India. Khalra’s words evoked our Sikhi spirit, that our perpetual sovereignty is the basis of our existence, he reminded the Quam that the Khalsa was created to ensure the Human Rights of everyone in the world, but if we failed to ensure our own Human Rights, we would not be able to fulfil our function.

In his famous speech in Canada, he told the story of his ‘Ankhila Panjab’ in poetic prose, describing the Sangarsh taking place in Panjab as a struggle between darkness and light, comparing the resistance of the Sikhs of Panjab to a small lamp keeping the flame of Sach burning, to challenge the darkness and also be an illuminating example to other lamps (other oppressed minorities in India) which had been extinguished, to light up once more, and together challenge the darkness imposed by the oppressor.

Shaheedi di Daat

In his last press statement to the world [4], he revealed that he knew that he would pay the ultimate price for opposing the Indian State. He had received reports that if he returned to India, he would join the thousands of Sikhs who had been brutally murdered by the State.

He had been offered political asylum in Canada, but as he had said in his speech in Canada, the greatest gift a Sikh can receive from the Guru is Shaheedi, he said instead of accepting asylum and saving his life, he preferred to return to Panjab, and “seek a place at the Guru’s charan”, and accept this highest of honours for a Sikh. 

On his return to Panjab, Khalra refused to relocate from his home address in defiance of the risk to his life and in solidarity with those that had lost loved ones at the hands of Indian security forces. He slept on the floor near the entrance to his family home, so that when the security forces came for him, they would not need to enter the bedrooms of the house. The impunity Indian security forces enjoyed was once again demonstrated when Khalra was abducted in broad daylight from his home on the 6 September 1995, under the direct orders of the ‘Chief of Oppression’ KPS Gill. Khalra was detained, tortured, and murdered by the police, his martyred body dumped in a river.

Paramjit Kaur, wife of Jaswant Singh Khalra, filed a habeas corpus petition regarding the "disappearance" of Jaswant Singh Khalra in the Supreme Court within days of his abduction. With the international outcry that followed, International Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International exerted pressure on the Indian State, urging them to investigate the disappearance and present Jaswant Singh Khalra [5]. Under the full scrutiny of the global Sikh community and concerned Human Rights organisations, Indian police officials appeared before their Supreme Court and denied Jaswant Singh Khalra was in their custody. The Indian police enjoyed full impunity from the Indian State, which was evidenced by the shocking fact that they continued to illegally detain and torture Jaswant Singh for nearly two months after the Supreme Court, pursuant to the habeas corpus petition, ordered the Director General of the Punjab Police, KPS Gill, to disclose Jaswant Singh Khalra’s whereabouts.

Jaswant Singh Khalra’s Ardas to remain an Ankhila Sikh of the Guru was granted and even though tortured for almost two months he remained steadfast. According to the testimony of one of the police officers who confessed his involvement, Khalra had his Kesh from his beard and head forcibly ripped out, and had been beaten so brutally that he was unable to eat or walk without support [6].

Jaswant Singh Khalra was tortured at the hands of notorious butchers KPS Gill and SSP Ajit Sandhu, but would not accept their demands to stop his work. According to the eye witness he “refused to listen to the advice of KPS Gill which would have saved him”. This advice was usually to denounce the Khalistan Sangarsh. Hundreds, if not thousands, have faced the war criminal and mass murderer KPS Gill, and faced with his ultimatum, with the exception of a few, the overwhelming majority of Sikhs have stood resolute in the face of KPS Gill, in spite of the disappearance, brutal torture, and death that resulted in doing so. 

Denouncing falsehood, rejecting the path of compromise and comfort, Khalra walked on the most difficult path of the Guru with his last breath, and in doing so took his place among the gems he was looking for. Khalra walked in unison to Guru’s command:

ਪਹਿਲਾ ਮਰਣੁ ਕਬੂਲਿ ਜੀਵਣ ਕੀ ਛਡਿ ਆਸ ॥ ਹੋਹੁ ਸਭਨਾ ਕੀ ਰੇਣੁਕਾ ਤਉ ਆਉ ਹਮਾਰੈ ਪਾਸਿ ॥੧॥

Guru Arjan Dev ji Maharaj, Raag Maaroo, Ang 1102

Justice ?

Even though Jaswant Singh Khalra was one the most prominent critics of the Indian State and its genocidal campaign against Sikhs, and had alerted the global community about this, it did not stop him from being a target of State terrorism. In forecasting his death, he said he did not want support from Indian courts, but he asked the people of Punjab to hold Chief Minister Beant Singh and DGP of Panjab Police accountable for his impending death. While KPS Gill, living his entire life protected by the full might of the Indian State, was able to die from fear, Jujharoo Sikhs were able to hold Chief Minister Beant Singh accountable for his part in the vindictive genocide against the Sikh populace.

Human Rights Work and Sikhi Today

Following decades of surviving the black hole that is the Indian judicial system, today Sikh Human Rights activists like Satnam Singh continue to scrutinise the State, with evidence mounting, and even arrests of lower level police officers, and by honestly acknowledging that ‘justice’ from the very system of oppression is not an option, it is natural to continue questioning whether India even has the ability to grant the basic closure that is sought, like the issuing of death certificates to the families Indian forces targeted with impunity.

What must be remembered is that India today is not drastically different from the India of the 1980s, Sikh activists, and those across India fighting to liberate themselves from Brahmin fascism, continued to be subjected to systematic State orchestrated violence [7]. Even in the case of Jaswant Singh Khalra, it took the miraculous attack of conscience of a station officer who was present when Khalra was detained, who come forward and confessed his involvement for a case to be brought forward.

The full machinery of the State also worked against Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra to prevent her receiving closure through the Indian courts. Police undeterred by legal proceedings, and with the full support of the Central Government, retaliated by implicating five of the key witnesses against the police including Khalra’s wife herself, in false criminal cases, ranging from bribery, rape, and robbery, to establishing a terrorist organisation.

Even after 10 years the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) tasked by the Supreme Court had only interviewed 8 out of 60 potential witnesses. In spite of substantial evidence the CBI refused to even question let alone charge KPS Gill for the abduction, torture, and murder of Jaswant Singh Khalra. The CBI officials tasked with the investigation were reported to have apologised to KPS Gill under pressure from the Central Government [8].

It took a decade for 6 low level police officers to be convicted, during which time senior officers DSP Ashok Kumar and SSP Ajit Sandhu had died, and worse still KPS Gill had complete immunity and was not even questioned for his involvement. There is even evidence that the officers convicted in 2006 receive special treatment. The convicted police officers have been seen brazenly out during weekends at bars, clubs, and hotels, suggesting that they are periodically released from jail.

The damning verdict of this case study, as reported by Human Rights Watch is that:

“While the convictions of lower-level officers more than a decade after the murder represent an exception to the impunity otherwise enjoyed by the security forces for serious abuses committed, even in this case justice has not been done. The truth has not been established, the most responsible senior police officials have not been charged, and the proceedings that have taken place have been marred by inordinate delays and egregious intimidation and harassment of witnesses.” [9]

The life of Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra serves as a constant reminder and clear example of a Sikhs commitment to their Qaum and Guru. While in his life he documented Human Rights abuses the Indian State was carrying out against Sikhs, in his death he was resolute as to what faith we must place in the oppressor and their (in)ability to provide any notion of justice, for the avoidance of any doubt: none at all. Khalra sought no legal protection on his return to India, domestic or otherwise. He knew who would order his killing, and he also knew those ultimately responsible would not be punished by any court. 

As mentioned earlier, India is not drastically different from the 1980s and 90s when tens of thousands of Sikhs were brazenly extrajudicially killed with impunity. India continues to defend these practices and enforce these practices to repress the liberation struggles of sovereign indigenous populations. Until this day KPS Gill is hailed as a “super cop” by the Indian establishment, and heralded as role model example of a police officer by the media and influential personalities in India. Appointments of Director Generals of the Panjab Police since KPS Gill, such as genocide perpetrator Sumedh Saini, and mass murderer Izhar Alam [10], maintain a validation of the State’s actions, past and current, as lawful and necessary, and demonstrate its commitment to an oppressive future.

With such appointments India is stoking the trauma of decades of oppression using these appointments as potent reminders of the normalisation of anti-Sikh violence and the institutionalisation of the genocidal politics directed at Sikhs committed to the Sangharsh and all those ‘suspected’ of providing support.

The machinery of the Indian State, having used the full extent of its laws to justify the violent erasure of Sikh dissent, continues to make Sikh voices of resistance invisible. Those that engage with the judicial mechanisms of the State in order to seek closure for the Sikh civilians that were killed by Indian forces work in an environment where genocidal violence is deemed legitimate “counter-insurgency” and our heroes and martyrs that resisted are deemed “terrorists”. Within the Indian judicial arena there is no question around the prosecution of Indian security forces that tortured Sikh Jujaroos and staged “encounters” to kill captured Sikh fighters. In fact those police officers were given bounties and promotions.

We must continue to make visible the fact that thousands of Sikh youth were systematically killed with impunity by the government to silence the dissent of a generation, to collectivity punish the Sikhs of Punjab for the courage and daring of the few gems who gave battle and strived to build the Quami home on the foundations laid by the great martyrs of the Battle of Amritsar in June 1984. 

ਇਲਤਿ ਕਾ ਨਾਉ ਚਉਧਰੀ ਕੂੜੀ ਪੂਰੇ ਥਾਉ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਣੀਐ ਕਲਿ ਕਾ ਏਹੁ ਨਿਆਉ ॥੧॥

Guru Angad Dev ji Maharaj, Raag Malaar, Ang 1288

Each State killing of a civilian or Jujharoo was bourn out of a rich struggle to reassert Sikh sovereignty, a struggle that grew out of decades of State encroachment of Sikh civil rights following the partition of the Panjab. This struggle is traced back to the anti-colonial struggle of Bhai Maharaj Singh post annexation of the Panjab.

The State attempted to cut down each sapling of revolution, saplings grown from seeds planted by the Guru, which had been nourished in the land of the Panjab, forever enriched by the spilt blood of countless Shaheeds. Even though thousands of saplings were cut down, but as Mir Mannu learnt to his misfortune, this doesn't stop these saplings growing, rather they multiply. If we, as Sikhs, erase the revolutionary context in which the Sikh struggle and Sikh resistance arose as "police excesses" in response to a “law and order situation” seeking justice from the oppressor it would bury those seeds forever.

True justice for the Shaheeds will be when their mission is complete. We cannot take one murder out of tens of thousands, and seek justice for that as an isolated act of murder, when the actual attack was against the spirit and organising capacity of the entire Sikh Quam. We must continue to hold the conversation accountable to the context of the Sikh struggle for Khalistan.

Who can the State prosecute when all its functions, intelligentsia, and machinery are complicit and remain blood-drenched, how could the state possibly dispense justice when justice is to end its occupation of Khalistan so the Sikh people can determine their own reality and future living free in the glow of GurSikhi.

How can the machinery of the Indian State speak for us when it as spent over 3 decades attempting to silence millions of voices, when it has permanently silenced thousands of Sikhs voices. The state and its machinery can never, and must never speak for us. Our voice is contained in the struggle for Khalistan, the dream of freedom that of our heroes and martyrs lived and died for. Our voice is contained in the pyaar they had for Sikhi and the absolute faith they had in Guru, and in the strength of the collective resistance of the Khalsa Panth.

Khalistan Zindabad.

Baljit Singh


[1]  Ensaaf, "Sardar Jaswant Singh Khalra," video report, 2006, http://www.ensaaf.org/docs/khalravideo.php  (accessed April 13, 2007). This video is an edited recording, with subtitles, of a speech Khalra gave in April 1995 in Toronto, Canada.

[2]  https://www.nsyf.org.uk/criminalising-dissent-report; “Sikhs, as a sovereign people, continue to resist and build institutions of sovereign self-governance and will continue to do so in multiple arenas outside the terms conditions that the state tries to impose. As long as the Indian state continues to repress the right to self-determination and restricts the political space necessary to advocate for Khalistan, the Sikh panth will resolutely continue its movement towards sovereignty by any means necessary.”
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLztbn7OAHw 

[4] https://www.sikh24.com/2012/09/07/the-prophetic-words-of-jaswant-singh-khalra/#.XRYdKvZFzD4

[5] 20 September 1995, Index number: ASA 20/027/1995

[6] https://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/india1007/5.htm#_ftnref222

[7] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/india-ordered-probe-3800-mass-graves-kashmir-171103114819966.html

[8] Statement of Kuldip Singh s/o Harbans Singh, Prosecution Witness 16, State v. Ajit Singh Sandhu & Others, February 16, 2005

[9] https://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/india1007/5.htm#_ftnref222

[10] Muhammed Izhar Alam, who was also awarded the Padma Shri, the 4th highest civilian honour by the Government of India, created a ‘Black Cat’ paramilitary force called Alam Sena which was responsible for thousands of extra judicial murders of Sikhs; https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/05NEWDELHI9513_a.html

[11] https://www.nsyf.org.uk/criminalising-dissent-report outlines the methods used by the Indian state to respond to Sikh dissent.