From 1984-1995, mass state crimes were committed in Punjab, India. Human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra uncovered thousands of disappearances, extrajudicial deaths, and secret cremations of Sikhs perpetrated by the Punjab police before he too met a similar fate. Five Police officers were convicted of his murder in 2007, but many thousands of other families have no knowledge of where their young men disappeared to.
Tall and slim, checked shirt tucked in,
pens in his breast pocket, hair top-knotted,
underneath a dastaar – Patiala shahi.
Bike rides perched on his handlebars, at whizzing in and out of traffic he was a superstar.
Not quite top-of-the-class in tests, but he was the one who was everyone’s friend, and he was the one who they all went to when they had a real problem, he’d know just what to do.
Older in wisdom than his looks had you believe. Swift in thought, his candour deceived.
But still just a boy-come-man of 17; the apple of his mother’s eye, shiny green; the eldest son of a working class dad; brother to three younger; a really good lad.
He did right by me, looked after me, did what a big brother does – he frightened me, he excited me, he played with me, he cradled me, he scolded me, he consoled me.
And despite this, what I don’t understand, is why I can’t see his face when I cover my eyes with my hands.
Read a newspaper? Daily.
Attended rallies? Maybe.
Stood by you to the end? Until the bitter, bitter end.
Never quite knew what happened. There was a blazing sun. He took me by the left hand; in my right was the pail from lunch.
We left school at 3. We walked past the tyre place. We turned left into a road of rich houses. Walked at a little faster pace.
He turned to look back and then forward again. I skipped along a little faster counting to ten, playing a game pretending in calm, that I had not felt the sweat come over his palm.
His walk became a jog and then with a burst of speed, he swung me over his shoulder and took the lead as if he was in a sprint race that would determine his life. I don’t know why but I started to cry. I pushed my face into his shirt. The pens pushed back but I winced through the hurt.
He must have dashed into someone’s yard because I felt a thud and didn’t dare look up. He had dropped me to the ground. I didn’t dare look up. I didn’t dare look up, not until a few minutes passed when an elderly man picked me up by the arm. He took me the next block to my home.
Gone was my brother. I shudder,
for I haven’t see his face, since that chase.
My brother disappeared. My brother disappeared.
-Naujawani Sardar (Harwinder Singh Mander)