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Our History

Jaskaran Kaur and Sukhman Dhami launched Ensaaf as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in April 2004. In 2006, Dhami and Kaur were awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship, competing with over 800 individuals for 12 fellowships. They were recognized as among “the world’s best emerging social entrepreneurs” for their innovative approach and potential to achieve social change. Also in 2006, Jasmine Marwaha was hired as Ensaaf’s Program Associate. Dhami and Kaur currently serve as Ensaaf’s Co-Directors. Ensaaf’s staff received its training from Harvard Law School and American University, Washington College of Law, and has significant fieldwork experience in Punjab, giving them the necessary skills and experiences to implement the organization’s mission. Ensaaf has continued to grow its staff in the US and retain consultants abroad.

“I want a government that is accountable to its citizens. I should receive justice. [My son] was tortured to death. The responsible officers should be punished.”
Mohinder Singh, father of Jugraj Singh

In over five years of operation, Ensaaf has established an international reputation for innovative and effective advocacy. Ensaaf has partnered with prominent international organizations in the majority of our initiatives, including:

  • Human Rights Watch,
  • International Center for Transitional Justice,
  • Physicians for Human Rights,
  • The Redress Trust,
  • Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program,
  • Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU Law School),
  • South Asia Forum for Human Rights, and
  • The Benetech Initiative’s Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

Ensaaf’s Indian partners include prominent High Court and Supreme Court attorneys. Further, US and Canadian government agencies regularly consult Ensaaf regarding human rights issues in Punjab.

Our significant outcomes include:

  • Documenting thousands of cases of disappearances and killings through fieldwork and research,
  • Publishing groundbreaking reports on gross human rights violations in Punjab, and
  • Providing litigation support in key human rights cases that will set national precedent in India.

Please read more about our successes.

In Their Own Words to Echoing Green in 2006:
Ensaaf’s Origins

Sukhman: The need for an organization dedicated to fighting impunity for mass state crimes in Punjab became apparent when I traveled there in February 2003 to investigate extrajudicial executions and disappearances.

She told me: “I simply want to know the truth, because right now, I am living in two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead.”

One case in particular demonstrated the uniquely heinous impact of the crime of disappearance: Papers reported that Mrs. Kaur’s husband had been killed in a gun-fight with security forces. Mrs. Kaur knew this story was a lie because she had just visited her husband in police custody a few days earlier. She went to the police station and begged to see her husband. Remarkably, the police allowed her to visit a man who was reportedly dead. The police assured Mrs. Kaur that they would release him in a few days. When she returned for her husband, the police denied ever having custody of him. It has been over ten years since she has seen her husband alive. During that time, she has been ostracized by her family, who fears retaliation from police for supporting her, and has raised a son who has not known his father. She told me: “I simply want to know the truth, because right now, I am living in two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead. The government has played a cruel trick on me. I am ready to press my case if you stand with me.”

Jaskaran: I devoted myself to fighting impunity in India for mass state crimes after the summer of 2001. During that summer, I traveled to Punjab, India on a Harvard human rights fellowship to study how the Indian judiciary handled cases filed on behalf of the “disappeared” in Punjab. As I met survivors of the disappeared, I was compelled by their experiences and pleas to continue the fight for justice and record the memory of their missing loved ones. I was also overwhelmed by the continuing physical, psychological, and economic impact of torture and murder. Ram Singh, for example, had a stroke a week before our interview. He was half-paralyzed and broke down in tears when he spoke of the stress of raising his kids, his brothers’ kids, and the regular harassment he experienced from the same police officer who killed his brother. But his father, over 80 years old, told me not to worry—that he would fight for justice until he died.

Sukhman and Jaskaran: These experiences, as well as an analysis of the current state of human rights work in Punjab, convinced us to create an organization dedicated to fighting impunity in India as current violations of the survivors’ rights to truth, justice, and reparations. Over the years, the survivors showed us that they have immense courage, and will come forward if there are others to support them.