Twenty three years have passed since the teenage daughter of Darshan Singh, a retired Hindi teacher from Mehal Kalan in Barnala district, went missing. On July 29, 1997, the books, bicycle and clothes of Kiranjeet Kaur were found scattered in the farms of the culprits. She was abducted, gangraped and murdered. Her body was recovered from the same fields on August 11, 1997. The next day, thousands bid farewell to Kiranjeet, raising furious slogans. Mehal Kalan area witnessed a 50-day mass agitation.
Since 1997, Kiranjeet remembered every year through a convention organised by the ‘Kiranjeet Action Committee’ formed by activists of the area 23 years ago. Here, people gather to discuss women’s issues, rights, farmers’ issues as well as current matters and the functioning of the government. “Every year, we used to organise a day-long convention in Mehal Kalan for which around 20,000 people used to gather. This year we could not hold a gathering, hence our programme was spread from August 1 to August 15 with hour-long Facebook live sessions where speakers are sharing their opinions. This year, we have reached out to more than a lakh people till now and though we had to wind up the programme on August 12, more speakers are keen to speak so we will continue for more days,” said Narian Dutt, a member of the committee.
Darshan Singh told The Indian Express, “Twenty-three years ago when my daughter never came back home from school and I had a suspicion on some persons of our village, many villagers, relatives had told me to stay quiet as it was a matter of a daughter. But I continued with the struggle. The culprits were not only punished but an exemplary message has been sent to many parents to raise their voices against injustice. Even now, murder and rape incidents are happening, but we are organising programmes in my daughter’s memory year after year so as to send a message across masses that accused need to be ashamed, not the sufferer.”
On August 12, an offline programme was also organised in Mehal Kalan in which around 50 persons took part including Kiranjeet’s family. On the occasion, apart from the speakers, a Kiranjeet’s nine-year-old niece Ishmeet Kaur recited a poem in memory of her ‘bhua’ with the title ‘Assi jiyange jiyange anakh de naal.marange marange shaan de naal’. Darshan said, “Ishmeet knows that her Bhua is no more and she was killed. But she doesn’t know all the details. However, to fight against injustice is our simple message which my granddaughter is also learning from her childhood.”
Dutt said, “We have created a Facebook page called ‘Story of Kiranjeet Kaur martyr Mehal Kalan struggle’. Through this page, every evening from 8 pm to 9 pm, two speakers speak on issues of women rights, injustice in society, government’s priorities etc. Here, we had Kavita Krishnan, Amarjeet Kaur from Delhi, Jasbir Mangoowalia, Paramjeet Sawaich from Canada, Jagmohan Singh, Buta Singh Burjill from Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda), and BKU (Ekta) and many other speakers. We also had mini meetings in 45 villages of Barnala, many villages of Mansa, Bathinda, Ludhiana. Our student leader Hardeep Kotla was heard by over 20,000 people on Facebook. We reached out to a wider audience — urban as well as rural in India and even abroad.”
“This agitation has made its unique new mark among all mass agitations due to its multi-dimensional aspects of getting rapists and murders convicted, getting the corrupt officials suspended/dismissed, unmasking the nefarious alliance of goons, police, political leadership and judiciary and exposing the cooperative attitude of politicians towards this alliance,” said Buta Singh Burjgill, from BKU (Dakaunda).
The continuous follow up of Kiranjeet’s case by the action committee on public and legal platforms has had a huge impact on the people of Mahal Kalan,” said Jagmohan Singh, BKU farmer union leader. Three action committee members — Manjeet Dhaner, Narain Dutt and Prem Kumar — who were key witnesses in a case had also been booked in a murder case of the grandfather of one of accused. While Dutt and Kumar were acquitted, Dhaner was sentenced to life imprisonment by high court in 2008. This decision was upheld by Supreme Court on September 3, 2019. Once again, another agitation had started to get this life sentence pardoned and on November 14 last year, he had walked out free after the Governor pardoned his life sentence.
“It is not just an annual ritual for organisations to observe the death anniversary of Kiranjeet Kaur but is a symbol of mobilising and inspiring the force of people’s anger against the oppression of women in our country and world over,” said speaker Amarjeet Kaur, national secretary, AITUC.
Randeep Singh Sangatpura, a youth leader attached with the action committee, said, “Earlier only one program in Mehal Kalan used to be organised but this year it has become global. In addition to this many village-level small meetings have been held in memory of Kiranjeet across the state.”
Three accused in this case got life imprisonment and all have been released. Darshan Singh said, “We live in the same village and we never feared anyone. We would not have raised our issue if we hadn’t felt fear. One can’t be suppressed every time.”
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