By Ram Narayan Kumar And
Tanu Thomas K
Times Of India
29 June, 2003
The Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP) released
a report, titled Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in
Punjab. The report analyses alleged cases of torture and extra-judicial
killings in Punjab in the 1980s and early 1990s. Authored by Ram Narayan
Kumar with Amrik Singh, Ashok Agrwaal and Jaskaran Kaur, it contains
more than 500 testimonies by the families of the victims, describing
672 cases of alleged extra-judicial executions by the police in the
district of Amritsar alone. A former Reuters Foundation fellow at Oxford
and the convenor of CCDP, Ram Narayan Kumar, spoke to Tanu Thomas K:
Critics argue that human
rights activists are essentially anti-national in that they don't highlight
abuses committed by militants...
The basis of Indian nationalism
lies in a Constitution that upholds fundamental human rights to be sacrosanct
and non- derogable even in situations of internal conflict. That has
been the core principle of Indian nationalism ever since Gandhi launched
his first satyagraha. Those who term human right struggles anti- national
are completely divorced from this nationalist tradition.
Also, the accusation that
we do not highlight crimes committed by militants appears to be deliberately
misleading. The state and its agencies cannot use the argument of militant
violence to themselves become lawless. Also, the state institutions,
which permitted or tolerated abuse of power by its functionaries, can
regain legitimacy in the eyes of the people only through acknowledgement
of truth, contrition and restitution of wrongs. That is necessary also
to safeguard our future against cycles of violence.
But after K P S Gill's
time, there has been peace in Punjab.
I disagree. According to
the CBI's report to the Supreme Court, 2,097 persons were illegally
cremated in three cremation grounds of Amritsar district alone and there
are 17 districts in Punjab. There is no peace for victims of atrocities
and their families, only anguish and pain. There can be no peace unless
we can convince these people about the possibility of justice through
How are you confident
that there will be justice for hundreds of ordinary people when high-profile
cases have failed?
The manner in which the CBI
has been handling the prosecution of those responsible for Jaswant Singh
Khalra's abduction and disappearance is unfortunate. It reflects very
badly on the possibilities of justice and the rule of law in our country.
What about the NHRC?
The hope is that we can put
behind the legal wranglings of the past and that the NHRC will recognise
the importance of the work we have been trying to do and use the information
we are offering to bring justice to those families in Punjab who are
beginning to lose all hope.
What mechanism do you
have in mind for reconciliation?
There can be no reconciliation
without a common commitment to truth. First, we have to help those who
have suffered wrongly, overcome their victimhood. We have also to make
it clear that those who destroyed human rights outside the framework
of law have not advanced the national interest. Let our institutions
take these preliminary steps. We can then discuss the ways and mechanisms
Some Khalistanis have
recently returned to Punjab and entered the mainstream. Would you support
them at this juncture?
Khalistanis were never popular
with the people of Punjab. They were used by the state at various points
to divert attention from the real issues facing the people: Democracy,
constitutional safeguard for minorities, people's rights over their
resources. We are critical of the Indian state because it has failed
the ideals on which our nationalism was supposed to have been founded
and we oppose Khalistan because it failed to provide a vision that is
more genuinely democratic than what the Indian state offers.
How did you take up the
My involvement with the issue
started in 1988 when I began to travel in the state to understand the
reasons behind the unrest. From the very beginning, I could not avoid
confronting examples of state atrocities, including enforced dis- appearances
and summary executions explained away as "encounters".
The Supreme Court instructed
the CBI to examine the allegations after Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human
rights worker from Amritsar who first produced evidence of secret cremations,
was allegedly abducted by Punjab police officials in September 1995.
The lists submitted by the CBI to the court in December 1996 disclosed
2,097 illegal cremations. After receiving the report, the court referred
the matter to the NHRC for investigation because it concluded that flagrant
and large-scale human rights violations had indeed taken place.
The apex court asked the
CBI to continue its investigations into the matter of culpa-bility and
to submit quarterly progress reports. Six-and-a-half years on, no meaningful
progress has been made. The governments, both at the Centre and in the
state, have done little beyond obstructing the process. The NHRC can
neither adjudicate the issues nor determine the liability of the state
in the absence of necessary factual information.