Close to the 25th martyrdom day of a prominent human rights activist of India, one of the municipalities in Greater Vancouver has made a proclamation to recognize the circumstances that led to his murder.
Jaswant Singh Khalra was investigating the extra judicial killings of Sikh political activists in Punjab, when he was kidnapped by the police on September 6, 1995, and murdered in cold blood. This reflects very poorly on the world’s so called largest democracy.
Khakra visited Canada during the same year to educate the Indian Diaspora and Canadian politicians about the human rights situation in Punjab, which was witnessing Sikh insurgency for the right to self determination. The Indian state had given sweeping powers to the police to suppress militancy, as a result of which thousands of Sikhs were abducted and killed.
Khalra had detected more than 2,500 such cases. He was continuing to work to find more, when he was picked up from outside his home in Amritsar following his return to India. Although he was warned against going back and advised to stay and seek asylum in Canada, his conviction did not allow him to do that. Interestingly, his grandfather Harman Singh was aboard the Komagata Maru.
The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forcibly returned by the Canadian government under a discriminatory and racist immigration law in 1914. Canada has already apologized for that incident. Khalra preferred to go back to his country and face death rather than making Canada home.
As a tribute to Khalra, the City of Burnaby proclaimed September 6, 2020 as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day. On Monday, August 24, the City unanimously passed the proclamation that recognized how Khalra lost his life fighting for the dignity and human rights of the Sikhs. Former school trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang was instrumental behind the proclamation. Narang is a progressive Sikh, who is very vocal on social justice. She has also stood for the rights of the LGBTQ.
Gurpreet Singh is a journalist