Remembering Chaman Lal: A 90 Years Old Activist Who Died Awaiting Justice

Chaman Lal was a victim of human rights violations in Punjab.

His story goes back to 1993 when his elder son Gulshan (20) was arrested and killed in a false encounter by Punjab police on July 22 of the same year.   At that time, Chaman Lal was 70 and lived as a vegetable seller in Tarn Taran area.  Gulshan’s murder was one of the thousands extrajudicial murders carried out by the Punjab police under former Director General of Police (DGP) KP Gill during the 1990s.

Due to his efforts, an investigation of the case was carried out by the CBI.  Four years later after the murder of Gulshan, on February 28, 1997, the investigations resulted in indictments on murder charges for former DSP Dilbagh Singh, SHO Gurbachan Singh, ASI Davinder Singh, Balbir Singh and Arjan Singh. In the trial, the accused were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment. However, they succeeded in receiving bail after 2 years and are free now. Chaman Lal fought a long legal battle to bring the murderers of his son to justice but he could not succeed in his efforts despite struggling for over two decades.

Despite living in extremely poor conditions, Chaman Lal did not give up his stance.  Along with fighting a lengthy and costly legal battle, Chaman Lal remained an active human rights activist.  After his son’s death in 1993, Chaman Lal started attending seminars and protests for human rights.  He advocated equal rights for all beings in Punjab.  His last wish was to depose before the Court about enforced disappearance of his son but the Indian Court never recorded his testimony. 

The case pertaining to enforced disappearance of Gulshan Kumar was probed by CBI and chargesheets against accused cops were filed in the trial.  The trial of the case couldn’t begin for more than a decade. Recently, the stay order in this case was lifted in April 2016 by the Supreme Court and hearing on the case was scheduled to July 2.  Unfortunately, Chaman Lal passed away a day before the hearing.

Chaman Lal was a living testament to the crimes committed by the Punjab police in the 1990s.

Chaman Lal with his younger son Parveen Kumar.
Chaman Lal with his younger son Parveen Kumar

Chaman Lal’s last wish was for justiceto see his son’s murderers in prison.  During the course of the past two decades, the Punjab police tried every possible way to halt Chaman Lal’s quest for justice.  Along with giving threats to Chaman Lal and his family members, the police at one time also tried to negotiate with him by offering a bribe of Rs. 7.5 million.  This offer was rejected by Chaman Lal.  Despite being poor, he refused to sell his conscience.

“My last wish is to see the murderers of my son behind bars,” he told Sikh24 in an interview on March 17, 2016.

Chaman Lal told Sikh24 in a low voice that if he passes away during the trial of this case, his younger son Parveen Kumar, Senior Advocate Rajwinder Singh Bains, Advocate Jagdeep Singh Randhawa, and Harmandeep Singh Sarhali would look after the case.

Chaman Lal reiterated how the Punjab police abducted his son Gulshan on June 22, 1993.  Late at night, DSP Dilbagh Singh and SHO Gurbachan Singh entered his home forcefully.  All males were beaten mercilessly by the police as they asked them to confess a theft.  Later, hearing screams from the house, other villagers rushed to provide assistance.  At this point, the police took away Chaman Lal and his sons to the police station.

“They tried to take my daughter along to the police station as well, but the villagers intervened.  We faced much torture at the police station which I cannot even describe,” he said.

The torture left Gulshan unable to walk.  After three days, while others were released, the police kept Gulshan in custody.  Police later asked for a bribe of Rs. 200,000 in return of his son, however, being a poor vegetable seller, Chaman Lal could not afford to pay this sum.  Just within days, Gulshan’s physical condition deteriorated and he could not sit or even swallow food.  He was later declared a militant and executed on July 22, 1993 in a fake encounter.

The case of Gulshan’s death was not an isolated incident.  Thousands of such murders were carried out in cold blood by the Punjab police to invoke animosity between Sikh and Hindu communities.  While Sikh youth were eliminated in large numbers, a large number of Hindu families were also affected as their family members were killed to put blame on Sikh organizations.  Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights advocate, had document 25,000 such extra-judicial murders in Punjab.  He was also abducted and later killed in a false police encounter in 1995.


  1. To those who think the price of collective punishment and police state extrajudicial kidnappings, torture and murder are acceptable just to keep the Sikh kaum under heel see what such dehumanising brutality does to everyone. Yes I am looking at you RSS Harinder (not your real name). This poor Punjabi Hindu has suffered the same anguish and injustice as his Sikh brothers so if your conscience will not be pricked by Sikhs summarily being disappeared and murdered by police and then even their bodies desecrated in mass cremations think then of this poor man’s suffering who is in your estimation presumably worthy of being considered your kinsmen as a Hindu even if we the Sikhs are not. We all lose if you are not prepared to stand up for your fellow man and the human right to dignity and humanity all deserve. May Waheguru bless my dear Punjabi brother Chaman Lal who lived for a hundred years and was still denied justice by Indian judiciary and polity who should hang their heads in shame if only they knew the meaning of the word.

    • It is not about Sikh/Hindu/Punjabi it is about humanity and justice for all. A lot of people forget that before religions there is humanity. As a human who happens to be Punjabi I want justice in the name of HUMANITY.


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