Kids Corner


A Beacon in a
Country of Darkness





She has raised more than 400 orphans, of whom around 25 per cent are university postgraduates now.

No wonder Kulbir Kaur is an inspiration to many. She runs an orphaned girls’ home, while her husband runs a separate shelter for boys, both in Mohali, Punjab. These are no ordinary orphanages, though, as they house children who lost their parents to police excesses in the 1980s and 90s through so-called ‘encounters; a method used by Indian authorities in carrying out extra-judicial murders.

The couple’s personal history is marked by incidents of state violence … they spent years in jail on false allegations, before they were acquitted.

On June 1, 1984, Kulbir Kaur was in Amritsar on a spiritual visit with her kin when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple. Even to the 21-year-old’s eyes, it was an act of unprecedented sacrilege, worsening the distress she had felt since the 1978 state sponsored Nirankari massacre of Sikhs.

She hid for 17 days in Amritsar. Her family told her not to return to her native village in Hoshiarpur because the police had detained her sister. They tried taking shelter in the border villages near Amritsar, but combing operations made them switch shelters many times until they eventually escaped over the Pakistani border to save their lives.

"Sikh resistance fighters were also being trained to counter government extremism that followed,” says a senior lawyer who later defended many of those falsely accused of terror.

Kulbir Kaur and her companions were held in a detention camp for illegal immigrants near Lahore. She recalls being the only woman there. She married her brother-in-law and gave birth to a son. Those in detention camps were able to return to Punjab only after diplomatic negotiations. It was six years before the family could return.

Kulbir Kaur started teaching at Baru Sahib, while her husband moved to Gujarat. “I was picked up in 1992, spent 11 months in illegal detention and spent a total of three-and-a-half years in jail,” she says. The whole family was charged, including the then six-year-old son, under TADA for subversive activities, and later exonerated of all charges. She narrated her experiences -- including the tortures and fake encounters she witnessed -- in a book.

A former intelligence officer says that many Sikhs were turned to an armed resistance to government-sponsored violence, left with no choice but to believe that only an independent state would bring them religious freedom, while sentiment burned over Indira Gandhi’s crimes vis-a-vis Operation Blue.

In 1996, Kulbir Kaur registered the trust for the orphanage and has been running it since with a mission to care for orphaned children of the police victims. She says they have had to look for funds locally despite offers of funds from across the globe. An application for an FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) licence was rejected with a remark that the foreign funds would be used to fund a separatist agenda -- even though the funds were meant for orphans’ welfare and the FCRA has a very critical audit process and the ability to weed out inappropriate usage.

[The FCRA systemically rejects all attempts by the diaspora to assist those direly needing assistance in Punjab, while denying them any assistance from within the country.]

“The children, when they grow up, marry into whichever community they want to. There is no religious or communal message in the orphanages,” says Kulbir Kaur, who also feels strongly about the “self-determination of Sikhs”.

“It is a matter of our rights,” she says.

“There is unresolved anger that has been brewing for decades. I have seen many of the children in my care suffer depression for years,” she says, when reminded that many in Punjab seek “self-determination of Sikhs”.

[Edited for]
February 4, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), February 20, 2018, 9:16 PM.

A touchingly sad story indeed. Sadly, there are many more similar stories. I am waiting to read the book that you mentioned that Kulbir Kaur wrote. Please give us the particulars of the book.

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