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Synopsis: Punjab Disappeared is a 70 minute documentary which uncovers the decade of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and mass secret cremations that took place in Punjab.  Thousands of people, mainly young Sikh men and boys, disappeared after being abducted by the Punjab police, murdered in staged encounters and their bodies cremated as unclaimed and unidentified, that took place in the northern state of India, during the early 1980s to the mid 1990s.

The film traces the work of the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project furthering the pioneering work of murdered Punjab activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. The project  identifies over 8000 cases of enforced disappearances and secret cremations from new investigations, and gives fresh impetus to the survivors 25 year struggle for justice.

For years, the voices of the families of the disappeared remained silenced. The documentary explores the complexities of mass state violence in India which is interwoven with their determined voices and the unacknowledged collective trauma shared with other genocide survivors. 

The film narrates, primarily through moving contemporary accounts given by bereaved relatives, of how thousands of young Punjabi men and in some cases women, were abducted by police or security forces and never seen again. The stories of the disappeared, and their families’ subsequent struggle to find answers to the question ‘what happened to our loved ones?’

The documentary critiques the significance of the Punjab conflict and whether lessons from Punjab were learned in the context of contemporary mass state violence in India: Midnight knocks, people are taken, never to be heard from again and the multi layered actions taken to cover these mass crimes.

In the documentary, perhaps for the first time a divergent analysis of a former Supreme Court judge, prominent lawyers, activists, human rights defenders and victims is transposed against the chilling confessions of the killers and perpetrators involved in these mass crimes. The film draws parallels with Manipur, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh and describes how, even today, the security forces in India act with such a brazen sense of impunity and immunity.  

The documentary takes the debate and discourse from the shadows and questions how systematic and indiscriminate killings have been justified in the name of combating insurgency in which the State must acknowledge and disclose what happened to the victims disappeared kin.

Punjab Disappeared highlights the ten year work of the PDAP, which has uncovered 8,257 cases of extrajudicial executions, disappearances and mass secret cremations and its latest attempt to litigate these cases before the Supreme Court of India, in 2019.  But above all it relays the powerful resilience of these genocide survivors, formed against the odds, taking their epic battle for justice a step further in demanding justice, accountability, non-repetition and change.

The viewer is taken through an emotional journey of grief, fear and despair but ultimately the film carries a message of hope, and resistance.  Expressing solidarity, support and a shared desire for justice, survivors from Manipur, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh ask difficult and searching questions of how the security forces in India are still able to act with impunity, and the relevance of Punjab to the victim families of other conflicts in India. Punjab Disappeared is a clarion call for the State and civil society to take action now, for truth, justice, reparation, and importantly for non-repetition through the indomitable spirit, dignity and determination of its survivors


English, Hindi, Panjabi

Run Time

100 minutes

Directed by

Jaswant Kaur

Director's Bio

“Jaswant Kaur came to make her first film, Punjab Disappeared due to a growing need for a wider audience to connect, understand and reflect with the people she was regularly meeting and their tremendous experiences. Jaswant was born in the UK and has worked in the international human rights advocacy and documentation field for the last 18 years, since graduating (LLB). Her British/Punjabi identity led her to researching and documenting human rights atrocities in Punjab. That was ten years ago. Spending many emotional months and years in Punjab villages listening to heart wrenching accounts she realised that ten years worth of interviews, photos, video footage and newspaper cuttings could not end up as archives.Now living in India, the past six years have been split between legal research, raising two children and putting together material for the film. Her decade of being in India has given her insight into bridging the understanding of grass roots human rights conflicts to a larger international audience. This is her first documentary film. “

Country of Origin


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