New Delhi (November 21, 2011): The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) announced the inauguration of the Khalra Centre for Human Rights Defenders in New Delhi during a conference held in collaboration with other human rights groups from across India on November 19th and 20th.
The National Consultation on Human Rights Defenders which was organized by HRLN and WSO in collaboration with several other Indian human rights groups was held in memory of human rights activst S. Jaswant Singh Khalra. S. Khalra exposed the disappearance and illegal cremations of thousands of Sikhs by the Punjab Police and made his findings public in Canada in 1995 during a visit organized by WSO. Upon his return to India in September 1995, S. Khalra was himself abducted by the Punjab Police, held in custody for 40 days and then murdered.
The conference focused on current challenges faced by human rights activists in India in states such as Assam, Kashmir, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and was attended by Dr. Binayak Sen, Kavita Srivastav, Himanshu Kumar, Henry Tiphagne, Iftikhar Gilani, Prashant Bhushan, Teesta Setalvad, Mallika Sarabai, Sanjiv Bhatt, Advocate H.S. Phoolka, RS Bains, Navkiran Singh and many other human rights defenders.
The inaugural address of the conference was delivered by Paramjeet Kaur Khalra, widow of S. Khalra. Mrs. Khalra spoke about her husband's work and the way in which the human rights abuses that took place in Punjab have not been addressed by successive state and federal governments. WSO's legal counsel Balpreet Singh addressed the gathering and expressed solidarity with Indian human rights defenders. He said that because the abuses which took place in Punjab such as torture and disappearances were not addressed, the same pattern has perpetuated itself in other areas such as Kashmir and Nagaland and impunity has become systemic there.
During the conference, various speakers highlighted the similarities between the different conflicts in India and the need to learn from their shared experiences.
At the conclusion of the conference, HRLN founder Colin Gonsalves and Mrs. Khalra announced the foundation of the Khalra Centre for Human Rights Defenders which will be based out of New Delhi. The Centre has been established to serve as a legal resource for human rights defenders who find themselves in danger or who are attacked and also to undertake research into human rights issues. The foundation of the Centre was welcomed by the human rights defenders present and all attendees rose to pay their respects to the memory of S. Khalra.
WSO President Prem Singh Vinning said, "Jaswant Singh Khalra gave up his life in order to draw attention to the abuses being committed in Punjab and his example continues to inspire us and countless others. The Khalra Centre for Human Rights defenders is the most appropriate memorial to the memory of Jaswant Singh Khalra and is a reflection of our support of the important work being done by human rights defenders across India."
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status.