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Twenty six years after the rape and murder of Kiranjit Kaur, a look back at the Punjab case

The rape and murder of Kiranjit Kaur rocked the village of Mehal Kalan. Today, as a convention is organised in her memory, we recall her story.

Kiranjit KaurParents of Kiranjit Kaur holding their daughter's picture in their hands. (Express Photo)
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Twenty six years after the rape and murder of Kiranjit Kaur, a look back at the Punjab case
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Twenty-six years have passed since teenager Kiranjit Kaur was sexually assaulted and murdered in a Punjab village. Her death, at the time, sparked public outrage in Punjab and a movement for the arrest and conviction of the culprits.

Since then, her family and the Kiranjit Kaur Yadgar Committee have organised an annual convention in her memory on August 12 – the day her body was cremated. We look back at the incident and what followed afterwards.

A teenager goes missing Mehal Kalan

Kiranjit Kaur was a teenage girl hailing from the Mehal Kalan village in Barnala district. In 1997, she was studying in Class 12 when she went missing on July 29.

Her father, Darshan Singh, who was then a Hindi teacher in a government school, started looking for her. But after she remained untraceable for five days, on August 2, an action committee (later renamed the Kiranjit Kaur Yadgar committee) was formed.

Her books, bicycle, and clothes were eventually found scattered in the agricultural lands of men who would go on to be identified as the culprits. Finally, her naked body was dug up from one of these farms on August 11. Kaur’s body would be cremated a day later amidst building public outrage and sloganeering, and on August 20, thousands gathered at the grain market of Mehal Kalan for a prayer meeting.

A fight against Kiranjit’s killers 

The culprits in whose lands Kiranjit’s body and belongings were found were from the same village as her, with some having a criminal past. It was alleged that they had kidnapped, gang raped and murdered her when she was on her way home from school.

Darshan Singh had initially been advised by relatives and villagers to stay quiet, to avoid the social stigma that came with speaking of such a crime against his daughter. However, he chose to demand justice against the culprits.


After a public movement headed by the Kiranjit Kaur Yadgar Committee, police booked seven accused men from the village. These included two migrant workers, a Punjabi farm labourer and four farmers. In 2001, three of the accused were acquitted while two migrant workers and two brothers were sent to 14 years of life imprisonment. All of them have completed their jail term.

“The migrant workers never came back to the village after being released, but the brothers are living today live in the same Mehal Kalan village. The three acquitted persons also left the village,” Narain Dutt, member of the Yadgar committee, told The Indian Express.

Rage boils over

An altercation took place between the action committee members and the grandfather of one of the accused persons within the court premises during the trial. The old man died at the hospital due to the injuries sustained. After the four accused were given life sentences, three action committee members were implicated in the man’s murder. 


“In March 2005, a sessions court in Barnala convicted three of our action committee members – Manjit Dhaner, Narain Dutt and Prem Kumar – and handed them life sentences,” Gurbinder Singh, convenor of the committee, told The Indian Express

“While Dutt and Kumar were acquitted by the High Court in 2008, Dhaner’s sentence was not struck down. The Supreme Court upheld this decision on September 3, 2019. An agitation ensued due to which, on November 14, 2019, Dhaner walked out of prison after the Punjab Governor pardoned his life sentence,” he said.

The enduring legacy of the incident

The Kiranjit Kaur Yadgar Committee gave her the epithet of “martyr”. Today, the village school is named after her and her memory is preserved in the annual convention organised by the committee. Darshan Singh, now 72 years old, is physically incapable of being very active in the committee’s work. But his son, Harpreet, has taken over.

“It was not just that the culprits were punished… An exemplary message was sent to many parents to raise their voices against injustice. The programmes in my sister’s memory, year after year, are to tell the masses that it is the accused who need to be ashamed, not their victims,” Harpreet Singh told The Indian Express.

Speaking about the annual convention, activist Randeep Singh Sangatpura said that the continuous follow-up on this case by the Yadgar Committee members at public and legal platforms has had an enduring impression on the minds of the people of Mehal Kalan. “It is not just an annual ritual for organisations to observe the death anniversary of Kiranjit Kaur but is a symbol of mobilising and inspiring the force of people’s anger against the oppression of women in our country and world over,” he said.

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This year, the convention featured prominent activists Dr Navsharan, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita. “In recent times, as we see struggle by women wrestlers, and the repression of women in Kashmir and Manipur, such seminars are a must,” Manjit Dhaner, now out of prison, told The Indian Express.

First published on: 12-08-2023 at 15:54 IST
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