Six years ago, the Indian Supreme Court directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate 2,097 cases of illegal cremation in Punjab's Amritsar district. The NHRC has yet to hear testimony in a single case.
Human Rights Watch commended the Committee for Coordination of Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP), a Punjab-based human rights organization, for its 634-page report documenting 672 of the "disappearance" cases currently pending before the NHRC. The first volume of the report, titled Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab, is based on six years of research and was released in the United States on Wednesday.
"Ending state impunity for abuses in Punjab must become a priority," said Smita Narula, senior researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch. "The National Human Rights Commission has shown great courage and leadership with its work on the 2002 massacres in Gujarat. We hope it will do the same in Punjab."
The CCDP's report builds on the work of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a lawyer and human rights activist who was abducted and "disappeared" in September 1995. Mr. Khalra filed the initial public interest petition that eventually led the Indian Supreme Court to order an NHRC investigation of the 2,097 illegal cremations.
"Thousands of family members still await justice," said Narula. "The CCDP report demonstrates that investigations into the abuses is possible, if the political will exists to hold the perpetrators responsible."
Between 1984 and 1994, thousands of persons "disappeared" and were believed illegally cremated in Punjab as part of a brutal police crackdown to quash insurgency in the state. Police counter-insurgency efforts included torture, forced disappearances, and a bounty system of cash rewards for the summary execution of suspected Sikh militants. The campaign succeeded in eliminating most of the major militant groups, and by early 1993, the government claimed that normalcy had returned to the state. Police abuses continued, however, and there was no effort to account for hundreds of forced disappearances and summary killings. Even though the identity of the perpetrators is well documented, no one has been successfully prosecuted by the state.
The CCDP report can be found at www.punjabjustice.org