To mark the UN International Day of the Disappeared, humanitarian NGO Khalsa Aid International has partnered with distinguished multimedia journalist Abhishek Madhukar to showcase Lapata. And the Left Behind. The exhibition showcases portraits and interviews that expose the lingering weight of forced disappearances in India’s north-western state of Panjab.

THE BACKDROP

Panjab, the land of five rivers, best known for being the home of the minority Sikh population with its gleaming history, culture and lifestyle. This exhibition charts the murky truths about those affected by state sponsored disappearances of thousands of young males during a time of direct rule by the central government (1984-1995) which saw an erosion of democratic norms and a struggle for independence.

Young men were arrested indefinitely, and human rights abuses dramatically increased; police and security forces abducted those suspected to be involved in a movement for liberation, often in the presence of witnesses – yet later denied having them in custody. Most are understood to have been killed, but their bodies remain missing with only a small number receiving the ashes of their loved ones.

In 1995, human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra went missing himself after exposing municipal records detailing how as many as 25,000 Sikh youths were secretly cremated after being killed in police custody. As recently as 2017, human rights group, Panjab Advocacy and Documentation Project (PADP) meticulously recorded the names of 8,257 young male Sikhs who had disappeared.

Tragically, in the absence of a formal investigation, the true number of disappeared – the lapata – may never be known.

the KAURS & SINGHS

Sikhism is a philosophy that was founded by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century. It would come to be the most widely practised faith in Panjab.

The tenth guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh introduced Kaur and Singh to both female and male Sikhs. All female Sikhs were asked to use the name Kaur after their forename and male Sikhs were to use the name Singh. Since ‘Kaur’ means ‘Crown Prince/ss’ , it continues to stand as a revolutionary symbol of equality among men and women.

THE Trailer

THE Timeline

The left behind

“They cremated him before we could get him back. We knew it was him because we saw a name engraved on the kara that remained. It was his.”

Name: Sawarn Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Mohinder Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 15th August 1991, aged 22
Last Seen:  Leaving home distressed after being beaten five times by local police

“It was in the newspaper – that’s how I found out he was dead.”

Name: Jagir Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Jagbir Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 16 December, 1992, “he was 18 or 19”
Last Seen:  Leaving home for work at a shop in another village

“Our relative was a policeman too, he helped us search for justice, but nothing happened. Even he couldn’t help”

Name: Dalbir Kaur (b. Pakistan, 1944)
Lapata: Son, Joga Singh, kidnapped by police with mistaken identity and later identified as dead
Date of disappearance: 1992, “he was 18 and it was the 28th day… I don’t know which month”
Last Seen:  Visiting home from work

“One day, at five ‘o’ clock, police told me he was killed. It was in the press as well. Things were very bad at that time, we don’t want to see this sort of time ever again.”

Name: Kashmir Kaur (b. 1948)
Lapata: Son, Singh, disappeared and assumed dead
Date of disappearance:  October 1987
Last Seen:  Fleeing home for safety after police tortured family members

“On the day of Diwali we heard from others in our village that he he was killed by police and that his body was taken for cremation”

Name: Darshan Kaur (b. Guraya, date unknown)
Lapata: Son, Bajinder Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 6 October “He was 18 and it was Diwali. The year I don’t know”
Last Seen:  Having breakfast

The atmosphere was filled with fear at the time. Young men were caught by police and taken away for no reason. Sometimes their bodies were found in public places.”

Name: Dalip Kaur (b. Patti, year unknown)
Lapata: Son, Dharam Singh, disappeared and later found dead
Date of disappearance:  Unknown “He was about 22 when he died… His friends got the education certificates to confirm his age.”
Last Seen:  With friends in the neighbouring village

“As he walked away he said, ‘I would love to have rice pudding today’. We never saw him again… I’m tired of crying now.”

Name: Gindo Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Sukhwinder Singh, disappeared and presumed dead
Date of disappearance: At the age of 18-20… “his beard hadn’t even grown yet”.
Last Seen:  Going to bathe after a day labouring in the fields

“Since he went missing, my husband fell so ill that he couldn’t work…. sometimes it means we have no food.”

Name: Jasbir Kaur (b. Amristar, year unknown)
Lapata: Son, Baljit Singh, disappeared and presumed dead
Date of disappearance:  1991, aged 21
Last Seen:  Leaving home to serve food at the local Gurdwara

“They cremated him before we could get him back. We knew it was him because we saw a name engraved on the kara that remained. It was his.”

Name: Sawarn Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Mohinder Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 15th August 1991, aged 22
Last Seen:  Leaving home distressed after being beaten five times by local police

“It was in the newspaper – that’s how I found out he was dead.”

Name: Jagir Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Jagbir Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 16 December, 1992, “he was 18 or 19”
Last Seen:  Leaving home for work at a shop in another village

“Our relative was a policeman too, he helped us search for justice, but nothing happened. Even he couldn’t help”

Name: Dalbir Kaur (b. Pakistan, 1944)
Lapata: Son, Joga Singh, kidnapped by police with mistaken identity and later identified as dead
Date of disappearance: 1992, “he was 18 and it was the 28th day… I don’t know which month”
Last Seen:  Visiting home from work

“Since my son went missing, my husband fell so ill that he couldn’t work… sometimes it means we have no food.”

Name: Jasbir Kaur (b. Amristar, year unknown)
Lapata: Son, Baljit Singh, disappeared and presumed dead
Date of disappearance:  1991, aged 21
Last Seen:  Leaving home to serve food at the local Gurdwara

“The police captured him, they took him away… On the day of Diwali we heard from others in our village that he was killed and that his body was taken for cremation.”

Name: Darshan Kaur (b. Guraya, date unknown)
Lapata: Son, Bajinder Singh, disappeared and later reported dead
Date of disappearance: 6 October “He was 18 and it was Diwali. The year I don’t know”
Last Seen:  Having breakfast

“The atmosphere was filled with fear at the time. Young men were caught by police and taken away for no reason. Sometimes their bodies were found in public places.”

Name: Dalip Kaur (b. Patti, year unknown)
Lapata: Son, Dharam Singh, disappeared and later found dead
Date of disappearance:  Unknown “He was about 22 when he died. He had a BA. After his death his friends got the education certificates to confirm his age.”
Last Seen:  With friends in the neighbouring village to his

“As he walked away he said, “I would love to have rice pudding today”. We never saw him again. He disappeared… I’m tired of crying.”

Name: Gindo Kaur (b. unknown)
Lapata: Son, Sukhwinder Singh, disappeared and presumed dead
Date of disappearance: At the age of 18-20… “his beard hadn’t even grown yet”.
Last Seen:  Going to bathe after a day labouring in the fields

“One day, at five ‘o’ clock, police told me he was killed. It was in the press as well. But the they said they didn’t know where his body was… we don’t want to see this sort of time ever again.”

Name: Kashmir Kaur (b. 1948)
Lapata: Son, Singh, disappeared and assumed dead
Date of disappearance:  October 1987
Last Seen:  Fleeing home for safety after police tortured family members

Abhishek Madhukar

Abhishek Madhukar is a Reuter’s corrspondent based in Dharamsala, India. He is best known for covering Tibet and the Dalai Lama, with a focus on human rights. Over the past ten years he has worked on several breaking news stories, including the first camera interview of the family of Nirbhaya, victim of the notorious Delhi bus gang rape. He also shot the Maha Kumbh Mela for the New York Times, and the Uttarakhand floods for the Global Post. He also produced a documentary presenting testimonies of Tibetan torture survivors and ex-political prisoners.

This is not his first collaboration with Khalsa Aid International: in 2015 he followed Khalsa Aid volunteers aiding communities devastated by the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, going on to photograph the organisation’s #iampanjab series for International Women’s Week in 2016.

In shooting Lapata. And the Disappeared, Madhukar used both a Canon 5d Mark III with a 2.8 24-70 lens, and a Sony Alpha 7.

Khalsa Aid iNTERNATIONAL

Khalsa Aid International is an NGO that provides humanitarian aid in disaster areas and civil conflict zones around the world. The organisation is based upon the Sikh principle to “recognise the whole human race as one”. The Sikh community has always been generous in acting to provide assistance to those in need, regardless of race, religion or caste. This includes to Khalsa Aid International response projects after significant disasters in Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since 2010, direct assistance was set up to aid families living in poverty in Panjab, India, many still affected by losses of breadwinners’ in the violence of 1984 and subsequent forced disappearances. Some of the work includes monthly welfare assistance, upkeep of children’s school fees and food ration programs.

You can find out more, or donate to support those affected by forced disappearances, at khalsaaid.org

Our work has been inspired by Jaswant Singh Khalra who worked tirelessly to expose the scale of state sponsored disappearances. Sadly he himself was a direct victim of these acts, but his spirit and passion for justice lives on amongst all of us.

Ravi Singh

CEO, Khalsa Aid International

GET INVOLVED

GIVE

You can support Khalsa Aid’s work with those affected by giving a donation of any size. Simply click here to find out how.

 

SHARE

Spread the word about Lapata. And the Left Behind through social media. Simply share the icons below with the hashtag: #lapata

PARTNER

If you’re a corporate or individual who can help to back a physical exhibition tour, including unseen images, please email info@khalsaaid.org today.

 

An exhibition sponsored by Khalsa Aid International.

All rights reserved.

Press Enquiries

Members of the media are invited to contact info@khalsaaid.org for requests. We endeavour to respond as quickly as possible.