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Ram Narayan Kumar:
Relentless Crusader




by Jagmohan Singh

It was striking that a frail man, a one-time monk living in the backwaters of Delhi, well-informed about world developments, should take so keen an interest in Sikh affairs and particularly the human rights violations against the Sikhs in the last few decades.

Such was Ram Narayan Kumar.

He is no more. He passed away on Sunday, June 28, 2009 at his home in Kathmandu, Nepal.

When the powers that be in Punjab and India were ruling Punjab under their jackboots, this slightly-built activist was running helter-skelter, mustering support for the Sikhs. He was seen interacting with lawyers, families of militants and the militants themselves, whenever he had an opportunity to do so.

I had a brief association with him. Whenever I met him, he used to say, "your party (Shiromani Akali Dal, Amritsar) has a lot of potential, but somehow is not able to catch the bull by its horns".

He wanted me to "come on his side". He wanted me to quit politics and take up serious human rights activism. It is sad, that now that I am keen to do so, he is no more.

Not many people would know that despite having a house in Delhi, Ram Narayan Kumar would live for months in a hotel room so that he could complete his book on the Sikhs without disturbance. I am sure there are a few handful who know what risks he undertook to familiarize himself with all aspects of the Sikh struggle.

Notwithstanding some people's doubts and cynicism, the Sikhs will certainly remember you for the monumental work that you have done in spearheading the Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab.

Last year, around this time, Ram Narayan Kumar and Ashok Aggarwal of CIIP came to Chandigarh and declared that they would now "focus on legal research, besides building of clarity and solidarity on the issues like the principles of liability, in understanding aggregated violations, which the matter of cremations encompasses, and in developing standards to legally capture and quantify suffering, damages and losses for the purpose of evolving standards of reparation".

The contemporary history of the Sikhs will not be complete without reference to your work in action and your academic input in the writing of Reduced To Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab, co authored by Amrik Singh, Ashok Agrwaal and Jaskaran Kaur. This compilation, at a time when the whole country was not willing to touch the issue with a barge pole and the international community was found wanting in supporting or even taking up the case of the Sikhs, speaks volumes for your commitment to the cause of fighting state impunity.

There will be some who will contest your contention that the issue of Sikh sovereignty was used by the State to divert attention from real issues of democracy, constitutional safeguard and citizens' rights, but there will be none to doubt your steadfastness in upholding human rights and the search for truth and nothing but the truth.

Rest in Peace, friend!



by Anjuman Ara Begum

Ram Narayan Kumar was 56 when he passed away due to sudden illness. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Though based in Austria, he frequented India for researching, investigating and documenting cases of human rights violations. He was working as full-time director of the project Understanding Impunity: Rights to Truth,Justice and Reparation.

Kumar was a born human rights activist. He had engaged himself with human rights activism since 1975, when he was jailed for 19 months for protesting against the imposition of emergency.

Though he belonged to Andhra Pradesh, his conscience dragged him to protest against the widespread human rights violations in Punjab. There he co-founded The Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP) and co-authored a voluminous edition called Reduced To Ashes, a compilation of about 600 cases of human rights violations in the state. This report prompted the National Human Rights Commission to take cognizance of the large scale custodial disappearances and deaths in Punjab during that decade. The case is still pending.

He was an eminent writer and an excellent researcher. Several of his publications are well received and reflect his boldness, clarity of views and his non-partisan approach. Some of his other publications are:

The Sikh Unrest and the Indian State: Politics, Personalities and Historical Retrospective (Ajanta Publications, New Delhi, 1997);

The Sikh Struggle: Origin, Evolution and Present Phase (Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1991);

Confronting the Hindu Sphinx (Ajanta Publication, New Delhi, 1991);

Four Years of the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim: Promises and Pitfalls (Other Media Communications, New Delhi, 2002);

"India's Constitutional Discourse: Some Unanswered Questions" and "Rights, Guarantees and Judicial Wrongs: Arguments for an Appraisal" in Recasting Indian Politics, ed. Paul Flather (Palgrave, London);

Critical Readings in Human Rights and Peace (Shipra Publications, New Delhi, 2006).

A former Reuters Foundation Fellow at Oxford University, Ram Narayan had recently released his new book, Terror in Punjab: Narratives, Knowledge and Truth (Shipra Publications, Delhi, 2008).

Ram Narayan Kumar was a man of strong conviction, bold and gentle. As a person, he was always helpful and had a big heart to reach out to the victims. He would travel to the remotest places to talk to victims to understand people's sufferings. He was energetic and very studious. He believed "homework" is important before one starts his or her work. He believed any study would remain incomplete without talking to the persons who have experienced violence.

It has been about half a year Kumar started visiting northeastern states frequently for documenting human rights violations. He visited extensively in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. His mission in bringing out the rights to truth and justice for the people of northeastern states and others remains unfinished.

He is survived by his wife Gertie, daughter Cristina, sister Sita and brother Gopal, all living in Austria. He will be cremated in Kathmandu, as per the wishes of his family.


[Courtesy: Sikh Sangat and TwoCircles]

July 2, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Kanwarjeet Singh (U.S.A.), July 03, 2009, 12:02 AM.

Thank you for bringing this hero in the spotlight. Without your efforts, we would have never known what he has done for our community - rest in peace, Mr. Kumar - hope our own Sikh brothers (some highly shameless ones as in Prabhandhak committees) come to their senses reading about you.

2: Amardeep (U.S.), July 05, 2009, 9:57 AM.

How about ardaas and saropa for him?

3: Meena (Delhi, India), August 23, 2009, 9:20 PM.

Great man! True hero! The Sikhs need to develop the equivalent of Jewish "Righteous of Nations" awards and recognition for those non-Sikhs who have stood up and fought gallantly for the human rights of Sikhs in India over the last three decades. Sir, we are in your debt, and your loss is felt deeply.

4: Simarjit Kaur (London, U.K.), August 25, 2009, 6:46 AM.

What a brave, brave hero. So many Sikhs must be inspired by him and the crusaders fighting for justice, based in Punjab, with no help, with no fame. We must acknowledge the wonderful human rights defenders in the region: a very worthy group of the likes of Justice A.S. Bains, Gurtej Singh and R.N. Kumar, who all belonged to the CCDP. Every Sikh must do their bit to get justice for the victims of the police state in Punjab. Keeping your eyes open in the wake of adversity is to be a real Sikh, not just leading a comfortable existence where the police state and military occupation are not imposed. R.N Kumar wrote of the post 1947 morchas and civil disobedience movement across Punjab into the 1980's and wrote that it was the proven "largest civil disobedience movement" across India and that part of Asia.

5: Rajwinder (The Bay, California, U.S.A.), October 04, 2009, 4:09 AM.

I want to buy several copies of his book "Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab: Final report" and distribute them to libraries in the State of California. Who should I request to update their website because it doesnt show any email address/contact info/anyway to donate/anyway to buy this book. I will appreciate someone's help, please ...

6: Harpreet Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), September 04, 2011, 12:32 AM.

I found this YouTube video with Ram Narayan Kumar. I google'd his name and this link from came up. He was a great man and should not be forgotten.

7: Riaz Walji (United Kingdom), February 24, 2014, 11:57 AM.

We are looking to hold a workshop on 'Religion and Human Rights'. We were hoping to invite Dr Ram Narayan Kumar for a presentation on 'Sikhism and Human Rights'. We would be grateful if anyone could direct us to an expert in the field.

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Relentless Crusader"

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