South Asian activists came together to mark the 100th birthday of a towering human rights defender of Punjab, at Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey on Sunday, May 22.
The late Ajit Singh Bains passed away on February 11, leaving a rich legacy of tireless work for social justice.
He would have turned 100 on May 14.
Bains, a retired judge, had stood for the people of Punjab who witnessed gross human rights abuse by the police and paramilitary forces during a decade-long insurgency by Sikh militants seeking a separate homeland between 1980s-1990s.
He had advocated for the release of innocent civilians detained in the name of the so-called war on terror, and investigated and documented cases of extra-judicial killings and other forms of state sponsored violence. For doing so, he was also detained by the authorities, to instil fear in the minds of human rights activists.
On Sunday, an impressive event was held in Surrey where the speakers gave tributes to Bains. They emphasised how his legacy has become even more relevant today, due to growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents under a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.
Organized by South Asian Review in partnership with other local organizations, the event was attended by Paramjit Kaur Khalra, the wife of another renowned human rights activist, Jaswant Singh Khalra, who was kidnapped and murdered by the Punjab Police in 1995.
Paramjit Kaur Khalra continues to fight for justice to the victims of enforced disappearances. She was the keynote speaker at the program, where flyers carrying information about Bains were distributed. She told the gathering how her husband and Bains worked together during those difficult times.
She also released the mounted copy of the Radical Desi cover declaring Bains as Person of the Year 2022 on the occasion. Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics.
Others who spoke at the event included Bhupinder Singh Malih of South Asian Review, renowned broadcaster and columnist Dr. Gurvinder Sigh Dhaliwal, the editor of Chardikala newspaper Gurpreet Singh Sahota, Donna Anderson from the Hardial Singh Bains Resource Center named after the brother of Ajit Singh Bains and a Vancouver-based communist activist, well-known human rights activist Sunil Kumar and Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh, besides Dr. Harinder Singh from US.
Dr. Singh had lost his brother in police violence in 1986. He recalled how Bains tried to get justice to his family and others who lost their loved ones during state repression of Sikhs.