She has raised more than 400 orphans, of whom around 25 per cent are postgraduates now. No wonder Kulbir Kaur Dhami is an inspiration to many. She runs a girls’ home, while her husband K.S. Dhami runs a separate shelter for boys, both in Mohali. These are no ordinary orphanages, though, as they house children who lost their parents in police encounters, most of which, Kulbir Kaur alleges, are fake. The couple’s personal history is marked by the violence of the times they lived through—they spent years in jail before they were acquitted.
On June 1, 1984, Kulbir Kaur claims she was in Amritsar on a pilgrimage with her kin when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple. To the 21-year-old’s eyes, it was an act of unprecedented sacrilege, worsening the distress she had felt since the 1978 Nirankari massacre.
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 crossed over to Pakistan.
“Many had crossed the border hoping tanks from Pakistan would invade Punjab. Khalistani militants were also being trained for the armed struggle that followed,” says a senior lawyer who defended many accused in terror cases.
Kulbir Kaur claims she and her companions were held in a detention camp for illegal immigrants near Lahore. It could well have been a training camp. She recalls being the only woman there. She married her brother-in-law (K.S. Dhami) and gave birth to a son. It is unusual to get married and have a child without the help of the authorities. Those in detention camps were able to return to Punjab only after diplomatic negotiations. It...