Gurpreet Singh: Human rights activist on Canadian tour to counter Manmohan Singh’s statement
Paramjit Kaur Khalra, a prominent human rights activist from Punjab, India, is currently touring Canada with a message that Sikhs are not terrorists.
"They are rather victims of the state repression," she said in an interview with the Georgia Straight.
Khalra lost her husband, Jaswant Singh Khalra, another towering human rights activist, who was killed at the hands of the Punjab police in 1995. This was her second visit to Canada since 2005.
Khalra has visited a number of Sikh temples in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, and spoke a week ago at a parade organized by the Gurdwara Kalgidhar Darbar in Abbotsford.
She also met some elected officials in these provinces. Her visit has been sponsored by the World Sikh Organization (WSO), a Sikh lobby group that claims to support a sovereign Sikh state through democratic and peaceful means.
She is upset with the statement of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his G-20 visit in Toronto in June this year. Singh, the first Sikh prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, had warned the Canadian government about the increasing threat of the Sikh separatists on its soil.
"The Canada government should be aware of the injustices meted out to the Sikhs," Khalra said. "The police had no moral right to liquidate the political activists who were seeking freedom."
Her husband was investigating some of these cases when he mysteriously disappeared. He was taken into police custody and later died.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have died in the violent struggle for Khalistan, a Sikh homeland in Punjab. The police have been accused of using extra-judicial measures to curb the movement.
Khalra has documented 2,097 cases in which the corpses of the suspects killed by the police were burned as "unclaimed".
These figures were collected from only three crematoriums in Amritsar," she said. "More people may have been killed throughout Punjab."Her husband was abducted by the Punjab police from Amritsar on September 6, 1995 after a visit to Canada. Following an inquiry by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), six police officials were convicted of kidnapping and murder, though his body was never found.
Khalra alleged that her husband was murdered at the insistence of the then-Punjab police Chief K.P.S. Gill. She has petitioned in the courts seeking action against Gill, who is now retired.
"I have learned that he has now engaged a lawyer to defend himself," she said.
On being asked what she thinks of the human rights violations committed by the pro-Khalistan militants, who have killed innocent civilians and their critics, she said, "We cannot defend such actions from our platform. We do strongly condemn innocent killings by the militants."
Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.