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Bleed India

pappu_raj.jpg

The last day of India’s 5 day, 6 week general election is tomorrow, May 13th. And only one political party has been speaking honestly about what they will do for the country post-election: Bleed India. Pappu Raj is the candidate. And select excerpts from his “moneyfesto” are as follows:

On Taxes: “Direct taxes will come Directly – to me.”

On Global Warming: “Buy A/C.”

On Heartfelt Public Health: “Run Round in Circle Act. : Run from one department to another one: Round and Round. Round and Round. This is the aerobic exercise. It gives the good muscles, improves heart and Cardio. Plus blood will flow. And we are liking your blood.”

On Jail Reform:

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Silencing truth through rape; an inquiry of the Sikh struggle survives

Cynthia Mahmood, author of the groundbreaking work, “Fighting for Faith and Nation,” just published an incredibly personal and powerful account of her rape and assault, possibly by Indian police, in an attempt to silence her mahmood.jpganthropological work on Sikhs in Punjab in the early 1990s. Luckily for all of us, the rape did not accomplish its goal and instead seems to have fueled Ms. Mahmood’s fire. She courageously continued her work and has again shown courage in speaking publicly about such a deeply personal, and deeply difficult incident. Ms. Mahmood’s work has been incredibly important to revealing the human side of the violent Sikh movement for independence and the brutal suffering of Sikh civilians in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s. Without her contribution, the movement for justice for 1984 and the following decade would not be where it is today. Through her rigorous scholarship and powerful writing, she exposed a side of the story of Punjab that otherwise perhaps would have been left uncovered. In addition to “Fighting for Faith and Nation,” she co-authored the also ground-breaking work, “Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab.” I can’t emphasize enough how important her scholarship has been to the Sikh community. She’s a frequent speaker, commentator, and expert on Sikh separatism and human rights in Punjab.

I’m astounded and inspired. You must read the entire account, though I’ve copied a few passages below. Ms. Mahmood reveals herself to be resilient, committed to truth, and irrepressible in spirit.

During 1984, Ms. Mahmood was in India studying ancient Buddhism for her dissertation, “Rebellion and Response in Ancient India: Political Dynamics of the Hindu-Buddhist Tradition” when the struggle between Sikhs and the central government was constantly in the news. She travelled to Bihar in 1992 to study a tribal group, and in a north central Indian state, was discouraged- severely- by (possible) Hindu nationalists from studying the Sikhs of Punjab. The discouragement came in the form of a severe assault and a brutal gang-rape.

Her account of the rape is visceral and will leave you haunted.

Slash, slash, blood. I see the blood dripping, even in the dark. I smell my own blood over the smell of the rotten tangerines.

I cannot fight back, not against this. I should survive, only survive.

Oh! I hadn’t noticed. Black-shoe man is raping me. [link]

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The Blunder That Is India(n Politicians)

sidhu.jpgPublished in 1954, AL Basham’s The Wonder That Was India is considered a classic in Indian historiography.

With a quick reworking of the title, it probably also reflects the Indian electorate’s choices. Here is one take coming from the prestigious Foreign Policy Passport Page.

Navjot Sidhu (in pink turban),Indian cricketer-turned-politician and member of Parliament for the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, flexes his muscles with bodybuilders during his campaign in the northern Indian city of Amritsar on April 26.

Sidhu is a colorful character on India’s political scene. The former cricketer won a seat in Parliament in 2004, resigned in 2006 after being convicted for manslaughter in connection with a 1988 parking dispute, and won back his seat in 2007 after the Supreme Court stayedthe conviction. Unfortunately, criminality among Indian politicians isn’t especially unique. Of the 543 politicians returned to the lower house of Parliament in the last election in 2004, 128 had charges against them, including 84 with murder charges.[emphasis added]

Happy voting!

Gatka by Rashpal Kaur

Many of you will fondly remember Rohanpreet’s performance on Zee TV last year. In similar news, here is Rashpal Kaur – a young girl from Chandigarh – who recently performed Gatka on Zee TVs Dance India Dance. The judges were not only taken aback by her performance, but also by the adversity she had experienced. Rashpal discovered that she had a life threatening brain tumor when she was pregnant. The treatment she receivedtook away her vision but shewas ableto deliver a healthy baby boy.

“I only wished that I could see my son once. I just ask God to lend me my eye sight back for just for three hours so that I can see my child just once,” Rashpal said. But this is one wish that has never got fulfilled for Rashpal. [link]

As an ancient martial art, Gatka is considered a spiritual as well as physical exercise. I was impressed with what Gatka meant to Rashpal,

I’m thankful to Dance India Dance for helping me to reach out to so many people. The citizens have shown so much concern and care for me. Before I die I want to do something for my guru Kuljeet-ji and his martial arts school where he teaches young girls about self defense. In today’s times when women are being molested and victimized every other day, I want all the women to learn this martial art form to defend themselves and their dignity.” [link]

It’s an inspiring example of how one can turn pain into something much more powerful. You can view Rashpal’s performance after the jump.

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Let The Truth Be Heard

AI_04260901_Apr._26_22.31.gifEarlier this month, worldwide Human Rights organization Amnesty International released a news article on the plight of Sikh Massacre victims of 1984, still awaiting justice after 25 years. This came shortly after the Delhi Court delayed ruling on Jagdish Tytler, due to the CBI’s inability to produce enough evidence against him. Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s South Asia Researcher stated:

“The fact that almost 3,000 people can be murdered without anyone being brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice and should be an embarrassment to the Indian government.”

”For the Indian government to dismiss these cases due to lack of evidence is farcical. The various agencies responsible for carrying out the investigations failed to carry out the most cursory of tasks including recording eyewitness and survivor statements.”

As troubling as it is to read this, I was pleased to find that Amnesty International had covered it at all. As many of know, AI, as well as other independent human rights groups and initiatives were either banned or prevented from conducting research in India in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It seems as though there is hope for an independent investigation on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and perhaps the subsequent disappearances during the counter-insurgency.

Not so fast…in an un-related story, the Tribune reported that Amnesty International has decided to shut down its India operations. The decision is said to have been triggered by continued denial to the Amnesty International Foundation of the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration by the Government of India.

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A Sikh Woman Warrior Tells Her Tale

Today, I want to share with you, Nirpreet Kaurs story. I highlight her story for 2 reasons. nirpreet_kaur.jpg

First, as weve discussed on this blog before, the majority of Sikh history as its been documented thus far really is his-tory. So this piece of her-story is a rare gem. And second, too often, we think of women in the Sikh community only in our roles as mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. These are all important roles but our identity isn’t entirely defined relative to others or based on our relationships with others. Yet we recognize the additional roles we play outside of these expected roles too rarely. And so Nirpreet Kaur.

Nirpreet was 16 years old on November 2, 1984 when the mob came for her father, Nirmal Singh…”[Khokhar- a Youth Congress leader] sweet-talked my father into coming with him for a compromise, says Nirpreet. But Khokhar went straight to the mob and handed Nirmal Singh over. The oldest of three siblings, Nirpreet, ran to the mob but could only watch helplessly as her father was tied up and set ablaze. [link]

To avenge the killing of her father, Nirpreet joined the Khalistani movement.

As a functionary of the then dreaded All India Sikh Students Federation, Nirpreet came in contact with those involved with the Khalistan movement, an armed insurgency fighting for an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab, and became part of the militancy that ravaged the state for over a decade in the 1980s.[link]

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The Great Sikh Hope

TLH_MMS1.jpgI remember that night…election night, watching on TV students rejoicing in the streets outside of Howard University (a local Historically Black University). I’m not sure how much of it was about Obama’s policy, or just the “historic” nature of the event, but it was all summed up to me as an African-American student holding back his tears said to a reporter, “I’m just so happy to have one of our guys in power.” It was a common sentiment, but this statement stuck in my head for several days. What did he mean by this? What was his expectation of President Obama over the next 4 years? Did he think just because a black man is in office, all of a sudden the American experience will now change for black people? That the wrongs of their history will now become right? That discriminatory laws and policies toward black people will all of a sudden be overturned? If that is what he meant, then I understand the celebration…but I would celebrate with caution.

Five years ago, many Sikhs were celebrating in the streets as well. Finally, one of “our guys” had become Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh was elected selected as the 17th Prime Minister of India, by Sonia Gandhi herself. Sikhs all over the world rejoiced. Even many of the Sikh political prisoners in jail were celebrating with this victory, believing their release was now imminent.

Even some of my more progressive and panthic-minded friends got caught up in Manmohan Singh Fever and encouraged me to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, how could we judge him? Who knows what he may do for us?

I, however, remained skeptical.

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A Tale of a Sikhs Shoe: From Rebels to Revolutionaries

sikhshoe.jpgI know many will object to this post and ask how does a shoe bring justice to the thousands that lost their lives in 1984? My reply it doesnt.

But what it does do is highlight the farce that calls itself Indian justice.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Sikh outrage against the Congress Partys continuance of giving electoral posts to genocidal murders. While I still hold my claim of an independent position against Parkash Badal, the Akali Dal, and the BJPs opportunism and the Congress Party’s celebration of impunity, the action of journalist Jarnail Singh warrants commentary and analysis.

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Airline for Sikh pilgrims, Akal Air, launches

An airline with potentially the best airplane food (for those with Punjabi palates) has just launched. Akal Air has just started bi-weekly flights (Wednesdays and Saturdays)from Birmingham, UK to Amritsar, a gateway for Sikhs to akalairlogo.jpgPunjab.

Daljit Singh Birring, managing director of Akal Air, suggested that Birmingham International Airport is the “perfect base” for the airline. He said: “Access to Amritsar is of huge importance to the large Punjabi and Sikh population of the Midlands taking the pilgrimage to the Golden Temple and visiting family and friends.” [cheapflights uk]

The new flights are good news for the large Asian community in the Midlands. Birmingham is the perfect base for Akal Air. Access to Amritsar is of huge importance to the large Punjabi and Sikh population of the Midlands taking the pilgrimage to the Golden Temple and visiting family and friends, as well as for business people trading with Indias emerging and developing economy, says Akal Air managing director, Daljit Singh Birring. [link]

It seemsthathospitality will be a major feature of the airline.

Akal Air customers will always be treated with respect, due care and consideration and be offered a pleasant flight experience by all Akal Air staff from Check-in, boarding, in-flight through to baggage claim. [Akal Air]

Happy travels to all in Birmingham! I hope to see Akal Air expand in the near future.

A State of Denial

stateofdenial02-apr-07-2254.gifI recently stumbled on a report from the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHC), titled Torture in India 2008: A State of Denial. This document claims to be “the first nationwide assessment of the use of torture in India.”

ACHC is a Delhi-based organization focused on protecting human rights throughout Asia, with what appears to be a specific focus on South Asia. I’m not familiar with this organization, so I’d be curious to hear if others can support or disprove their work.

The report focuses on the use of torture by police and security forces from routine arrests to counter-insurgency operations. Although it is clearly a preliminary analysis, it’s findings are quite alarming. The report notes:

The statistics of NHRC imply that in the last five years 7,468 persons at an average of 1,494 persons per year or four persons in a day died in police and prison custody in India. However, these figures represent only a fraction of the actual cases of torture. Cases of torture not resulting in death are not recorded.

Particularly troublesome was the section on custodial torture of women and children.

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Between Badal and Tytler – Sikhs and 1984

Jagdish_Tytler.jpgAs previously discussed, 1984 continues to haunt the psyche of a new generation of Sikhs. As justice continues to be denied to those that faced the Sikhs Kristallnacht in Delhi, the perpetrators of the heinous pogroms continue to roam the streets with impunity and some even continue to be awarded ministerial and cabinet positions by the government.

With the upcoming elections in India, Jagdish Tytler has been nominated by the Congress Party to run for the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) in northeast Delhi.

The Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Gurbachan Singh, and SGPC officials have called for a protest outside the residence of Congress Party president, Sonia Gandhi.

No Sikh should think that the call could have been given by the Jathedar without the expressed permission of Parkash Badal and that too for electoral gain. Kaka Badal, Sukhbir Badal, has already used the issue to call for Congress Party head, Captain Amrinder Singh (scion of the house of Patiala) to resign from his position.

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A Known Story

Sikhs.jpgThe story is hardly new. Every few weeks, we see reports by journalists that reinforce a well-known reality – many Sikh men in Punjab are cutting their hair and removing their turbans. I am hardly an alarmist. I do believe that despite the overwhelming trend, there are countercurrents as well. In an earlier post, I described what I have termed a ‘Sikh turn’.

Although many Sikh youths have for the time being removed their turbans, their sense of a religio-ethnic identity still remains strong. Maybe the temptations of modernity and especially the desires of the opposite sex are strong and many feel that at this point in their life they would rather pursue women and cannot live up to the great ideals of their Gurus. This should not be read as a rejection of those ideals but a realization of where they are and their priorities at this time. (Though this may be the case of those that remove their pagri on their own account and not in those families and children where they never had it as many in the diaspora)

As discussed previously, the Sikh turn is occurring. The psychological tragedy of the post-1993 Sikh community is beginning to wane and we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era. It may not be in the Khalsa symbolic form that many hope, but a religio-ethnic movement is occurring. The youth are not disinterested and disconnected; they are engaged and can be mobilized. The pull of the pagri is not dead in Punjab either as we see many Bihari migrants joining the Qaums ranks. This is a good sign. A new generation will soon have its own version of pagri sambhal jatta.[link]

A recent article in the Washington Post revisits the issue, highlighting a looming impending court case.

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SGPC President: “Sikh religion doesn’t permit…jeans”

SGPC Chief Avtar Singh Makkar recently put forth the stunning idea that the Sikh religion doesn’t permit women to wear jeans. Apparently jeans, along with sleeveless shirts, “attract undue attention and distract others.” [link]

Avtar_singh_makkar.jpgThe background story:

…authorities in educational institutions run by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee are … advising girl students wearing jeans or sleeveless shirts to “go home and change”.

Though the gurdwara body does not have any written rule on the matter, its employees in schools and colleges across Punjab insist hip-hugging denims and bare female arms are too provocative and liable to distract male teachers and students. There have been many recent instances at Ludhiana’s highly-sought-after Guru Nanak Engineering College, where women students were turned out of classrooms and told to stay away unless they went home and changed into “more respectable attire”.

SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar actually acknowledges the unwritten rule. “We discourage girls from wearing anything other than the usual salwar kameez because Sikh religion doesn’t permit dresses like jeans, pants or other similar wear.” [link]

What’s wrong with his statement? So many things…only one of which isMakkar’s use of the Sikh religionto promote his personal viewpoint and ultimately, the failure in leadership it illustrates.

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Happy Hola Mohalla and almost Sikh New Year!

I don’t know if it’s actually appropriate to say “Happy Hola Mohalla” or “Happy Sikh New Year”(doubt it) but these arethe awkward felicitations we’re going to have since we blog in English…

According to the Nanakshahi calendar (a solar calendar which begins on what’s understood to be the day of Guru Nanak’s birth in 1469), the new year is approaching. New Year’s Day falls on March 13th of the Gregorian (Western) calendar. And Hola Mohalla, which is celebrated according tothe Indian (lunar I think)calendar wascelebrated today (March 11) in Anandpur Sahib. Too many calendars.SV201100_2.JPG

I had the immense pleasure of going to a Hola Mohalla a fewyears ago and have to admit that it was thrilling. The roads leading to Anandpur Sahib were teeming with Sikhs from all over Punjab, and some from further parts of the country. Buses came fully loaded, as did tractors andtrucks with their backs open and passengers sitting inside, outside, and on top. Many people walked, some barefoot,from incredible distances. The roads were lined with sevadars serving langar to all the weary travellers- cha, samosay, cholay, pakoray! My mouth is watering at the memory… It was an amazing celebration and feeling of community. Gatka was fought, poetry was recited, and Holi revelers threw colors at anyonewithin range (such is the blend of celebrations in India… maybe everywhere for that matter).

Nihangs gathered to show off their weapons, athletic prowess and fighting techniques. Men of all ages- young and old-rode two horses at a time at full speed, standing up,(a few who had had too much bhang fell) down a long grassy field with the foothills that once gave their ancestorsrefuge frombattlein the backdrop. It was easy to imagine that it was 300 years agoand these Nihangs (except the ones who fell from too much bhang) were preparing for a real battle.

[some morepictures below the fold]

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Fighting Back Against Abuse

If Baldev Mutta’s cellphone rings in the middle of a meeting, he picks it up. If it beeps over dinnertime or at midnight, he answers it. And if he has to go out to pick up a woman and find her a spot at a shelter at 3 a.m., he will do it. “It can mean the difference between life and death for a woman,” said Mutta, executive director of Punjabi Community Health Services in Brampton. “They are abused and don’t have anywhere else to go. This agency is their lifeline.” [link]

The Punjabi Community Health Services is an organization based in Brampton, Canada which provides variousservices to Punjabi women who have been abused. Instead of waiting for women to turn up at their doorstep, thisorganizationtakes a proactive approachby sendingworkers into the communityto speak with abused women. They visit Gurdwaras and community centers to find women in distress. At times they must speak with the women secretly at doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, even parking lots, so their families don’t find out.

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gulabi_gang.jpgIn related news, I recently read an articleabout the “Gulabi Gang” in an issue of Marie Claire which appeared on New America Mediayesterday aswell. The Gulabi Gangare a group of women in Indiawho have come together to fight against abuse. When local officials refused to take action against an alleged rapist, scores of pink-sari-clad women stormed the police station, demanding action – and thus, became know as the Gulabi Gang. For example, when Sampat Pal Devi learned that a friend had been beaten by her alcoholic husband and that the local police, chronically indifferent to violence against women, had looked the other way, something inside her snapped. In an effort to fight back, she gathered dozens of her female neighbors, armed them with sticks, and taught them how to fight back. Together, the self-declared Gulabi Gang have beaten up accused rapists, profligate officials, and husbands who’ve abandoned their wives.

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India’s Role in Darfur: Not just China and al-Bashir in Sudan

india_darfur.jpgLast week, the International Criminal Court (ICC), issued an arrest warrant for current President of Sudan, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir. Al-Bashir has been charged with five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape. He also faces two counts of war crimes. The ICC may be growing its first tooth.

Behind the warrant were the many groups that have tirelessly worked to bring global attention to the matter. The Save Darfur campaign has been extremely successful example in rallying public support, beginning in churches and university campuses, to influence the public dialogue and bring pressure upon public officials. Through organizing local events, but aiming to influence public opinion on a global level, the campaign is a model in their use of new media, internet, and public rallies and theatre to bring attention to the genocide and plight of a people. While I am in admiration of the campaigns strategies and efforts, it is still worthwhile to ponder on global culpability in allowing such genocides to continue to occur.

As part of these efforts, the campaign has been successful in bringing pressure upon China for its continued support of the genocidal regime and its willingness to condone the Sudanese governments behavior in its bid to keep receiving returns on its billions of dollars investment into the countrys oil industry. Although on some level I understand realpolitik and Chinas strategy of attempting to find oil supplies in those states that are considered pariahs by the US in order for China to satiate its growing oil needs. Still I cannot condone such actions and cannot trade human life for oil.

Grassroots efforts and political efforts are starting to show that the pressure upon China for its support of Sudan is beginning to have effect. Steven Spielbergs boycott of the Beijing Olympics was one example. Protecting Sudan through its veto ability in the Security Council of the United Nations (UN), it is understandable why world pressure focuses on China. It is heartening that the pressure may even be beginning to have some effect.

However, left out of the equation is India.

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When is an Encounter just an Encounter

pepper.jpgNot in India! In India, the state only engages in what is euphemistically called fake encounters. While many in the Sikh community remember the tragic events of 1984, in many ways the events did not just transform the Sikh nation, but has had a lasting effect on the Indian state.

Rarely do I see this line of questioning amongst Indian academics, elite, or the media. Violence does not only affect the victim, but the perpetrator is also transformed. Last week, I commented on one such transformation in the Indian State when a mainstream journalist can openly call for state terror(ism) as a tactic to perpetrate against its own citizenry.

This week, in a related story, but still somewhat different, I highlight the euphemism fake encounter. Although this term had traction before 1984 and was one of the spearheads against which Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale fought against, it was in the post-1984 Punjab that supposed encounter deaths became so widespread and with a complacent Indian press parroting the States reports soon found them relegated to back pages. If there truly is a Punjab lesson, it was that other Indian State agencies could engage in these fake encounters with complete impunity. The latest case comes from the state of Chhatisgarh and the rural areas near Singaram.

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Slumdog Millionaire: What To Do Once the Glitz And Glamour Is Gone?

slumdog_millionaire19.jpgAmidst all the Slumdog Millionaire Oscar hysteria, some have been asking how are we ACTUALLY going to combat the issues of poverty in Indian slums? I heard on Entertainment Tonight, or some show like that, the movies directors/producers have set up a trust-fund for the child-stars (who currently live in slums), are paying for their families to move into decent apartments, and will be paying for the childrens education.

But how about the rest of the families who were cheering away in Mumbai slums as Slumdog Millionaire won its eight Oscars? I came across this great blog post by Minal Hajratwala, Slumdog: Dont Just Watch, Do Something, which took scenes from the movie and talked about how we can address those poverty issues in reality. I am going to copy a few of those segments here, but please do visit Minal’s blog for the full-effect.

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[The Times of India] needs a [NEW Columnist]

saiyar.jpgI have blogged about this issue before and since I find it so irritating, expect me to highlight them over and over. The most recent re-incarnation of the abuse of the Punjab Lesson comes from the always problematic Times of India. Swaminathan Aiyar, a libertarian columnist, in his Swaminomics has just written Pakistan needs a Beant Singh.

Decrying the truce reached by the Pakistani government and tribal forces in the Swat Valley, Aiyar sees parallels with India in the 1980s and specifically Punjab:

The Taliban’s rise in Pakistan has something in common with Bhindranwale’s rise in Punjab. A religious preacher, he sought to purge Sikhism of modern evils and return to pristine Sikhism. He was outraged by reformist Sikhs like the Nirankaris, and his followers killed many Nirankaris including the Nirankari Baba. [Emphasis added][link]

Nirkankaris were reformists? Claiming a living Guru that was greater than the Guru Granth Sahib and opening fire on protesting Sikhs in 1978 is reform? But I digress.

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India’s Shoot-Out Cops

indian_police_0130.jpg

We recently posted on Ensaaf’s new report that studies the all too common practice of extra-judicial killings (usually referred to as ‘encounters’) and the mass cremations that followed by the Punjab police forces during the 1980s and 1990s. Well it looks like these practices were not limited to Punjab and these serious human rights violations are finally hitting the mainstream media.

This week, Time magazine writes about “Rights Groups Probe India’s Shoot-Out Cops“:

Scarcely a day passes in India by without news of an encounter between the police and criminals elements “encounter” being the local jargon for shootouts involving the police, who are allowed to fire only in self-defense. On Wednesday, it was a “dreaded mafia don” who was gunned down by the Uttar Pradesh police shot dead, and therefore unable to challenge the police account of the circumstances of the shooting. But some in India have begun to question the frequency of such “encounters”.

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