What is MASR?

The Movement Against State Repression is a non-profit organization started in 1987 with the objective of documenting human rights abuses in Punjab.

At the time MASR was founded, Punjab was going through a period of civil unrest. The state was bent on elimination of Khalistan supporters who advocated secession from the Indian Union. Among the unfortunate consequences of the process of “eliminating terrorists” was that the rule of law was eliminated too as well as more than 2,000,000 people, most of whom were apolitical.

The initial core group consisted of Justice Ajit Singh Bains, (Late) Col Pratap Singh Gill, Baljeet Kaur, social worker, and Inderjit Singh Jaijee, MLA and chairman of the Indian Minorities and Dalit Front.

In 1988, Inderjit Singh Jaijee was asked to assume charge of the work. As the work of MASR and the Indian Minorities and Dalit Front was overlapping, Jaijee relinquished chairmanship of the IMDF and devoted himself full time to MASR.

Between 1987 and 1997 MASR maintained files on hundreds of cases of human rights violations, sought redressal for victims of illegal acts and spoke out through all available media to raise awareness of the provisions of the law and instances of the laws abrogation.

MASR workers were arrested and jailed on several occasions. More menacingly, they were warned to keep silent or face extra-judicial consequences.

In 1995 the first edition of Politics of Genocide (Punjab 1984-94), by Inderjit Singh Jaijee was published. This book assembled hundreds of cases and made an in-depth analysis of political events in Punjab during the 84-94 decade. An updated second edition was published in 1999.

As normalcy slowly returned to Punjab, MASR noticed a new and equally disturbing phenomenon: rural suicides.

Low crop prices, high input costs and shrinking land holdings were putting all farmers in the state in an economic stranglehold. In the poorly irrigated and long neglected cotton-growing area of South Punjab; extreme agrarian distress and indebtedness was driving an increasing number of farmers to commit suicide.

Centering its efforts of Moonak Subdivision of Sangrur district – the area with the highest number per capita of suicides in the entire state – MASR began to assemble suicide figures. Taking the cooperation of village panchayats to record and verify the cases, MASR soon covered every single village in the subdivision and had data going back to 1988. Side by side with documentation work, MASR made strenuous efforts to bring the rising suicide graph to the attention of the state government, the national government, state and central ministers, the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the President of India. Both print and broadcast media were enlisted to raise awareness of Punjab’s rural suicides.

When it became apparent that many families were stricken by multiple suicides and for the widows and orphans left behind there were few options besides suicide, crime, beggary and starvation, MASR also began to intervene to save families. This was done through the Rescue and Revival Mission of the Baba Nanak Educational Trust. Donors are sought to provide minimum subsistence to destitute families. So far about 100 of the most needy families in Moonak Subdivision have been helped. Baba Nanak Educational Trust also runs an undergraduate college and vocational centre where village girls are trained in computer data entry.

In 2005 MASR approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court praying for the court’s intervention to secure the human right to livelihood and survival for the farmers of Moonak Subdivision. The Court called the Government of Punjab to state what it had done in response to the high suicide rate. Up until that time the state had instituted no measures for debt relief or mitigation of agrarian distress. The state government satisfied the court by setting up a State Farmers Commission to investigate the situation of farmers throughout the state and recommend ways to revive Punjab agriculture and the villages.