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Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), in partnership with Radical Desi and People’s Voice, released a calendar dedicated to 100 years of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, on Sunday, December 16 in Delta, BC.

Scores of people were killed on April 13, 1919, when troops opened fire in British India on peaceful demonstrators who had assembled at Jallianwala Public Park in Amritsar to protest against repressive laws. The killings galvanized the freedom movement that culminated into official independence in 1947.

Despite heavy rain and rough weather, BC Minister for Labour Harry Bains, MLA Rachna, Singh and prominent story writer Harpreet Sekha were among those who attended the event.  

The 2019 calendar, unveiled by former BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger, People’s Voice Editor Kimball Cariou and IAPI members Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal and Rakesh Kumar, isn’t just a tribute to the victims of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, but an attempt to connect the past with the present. It marks many important days that witnessed brutal state repression in post- British India. The calendar takes into account the army invasion of the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in 1984. Incidentally, the place is located next to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Likewise, it also gives information about the repression of landless tillers in Naxalbari that sparked communist revolution all across India during the late 1960s, and ongoing state brutality on people of Kashmir and Manipur fighting for the right to self-determination.  

The calendar also bears important dates when marginalized sections, such as Adivasis (indigenous peoples) and Dalits or so-called Untouchables were subjected to state violence. Running into 12 pages, the calendar goes on to cover similar episodes happening in other parts of the world, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Palestine and even Canada where indigenous peoples continue to fight against neo-colonialism.

Earlier, Lanzinger was presented with Radical Desi's medal of courage for raising her voice for disabled Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba who is being incarcerated by the Indian state for standing up for the poor and marginalized. Apart from Saibaba, some other social justice activists who continue to fight against repression in different parts of the world or have laid down their lives have been recognized in the calendar.

Those who spoke on the occasion included Minister Bains, MLA Rachna Singh, Irene Lanzinger, Kimball Cariou, Sikh activist Barjinder Singh and Muslim activist Sayed Wajaht, and independent human rights activist Shabnam Joshi.  The IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh also spoke at the event.  The speakers unanimously condemned the repression that still goes on in India and anywhere in the world and emphasized continuing struggle for a just society.

 

Gurpreet Singh

Considering recent political developments in India, Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, should stand up for the Sikhs and recognize the 1984 Sikh massacre as genocide.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered across India during the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The innocent Sikhs were systematically targeted by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling Congress party in connivance with the police.

Years have passed, but there has been no justice to the victims’ families. Barring a few convictions of foot soldiers involved in the mayhem, no senior politician complicit in the crime has been brought to book. Successive non-Congress governments, including the current one led by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), also failed to bring closure. In fact, attacks on religious minorities have grown under the BJP rule. It is believed that BJP supporters also joined the murderous gangs that let loose a reign of terror on Sikhs in 1984, to help Congress win the election riding on a wave of sympathy by polarizing the Hindu majority in the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder. 

In the absence of justice and the Indian establishment's continued denial of any wrongdoing in the world’s so called largest democracy, Canada and other western democracies need to step in.

This becomes even more necessary after the recent appointment of Kamal Nath as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh (MP) state in India.

Nath was seen leading the mobs outside a historic gurdwara in New Delhi, the national capital of India. Though he was never charged, the witnesses believe he was responsible for the violence that led to at least two murders near the gurdwara. Nath denies this and claims having tried to distract the crowd. 

Under his leadership, the Congress won the assembly election in MP after defeating the BJP. The liberal democrats who see Congress as a secular alterative to the BJP continue to overlook its baggage of 1984 and have shown scant interest in the outrage over Nath’s appointment.

Despite worldwide protests by Sikhs against his appointment as Chief Minister, the Congress party went ahead with its controversial decision, which establishes that the party doesn’t care about the Sikhs who make up merely two per cent of the Indian population. Canadian Sikhs too have been petitioning against his impending appointment. Notably, when Nath was visiting Canada in 2010 as union minister he was greeted by angry Sikh protesters. The New Democrat Leader at the time, Jack Layton, had boycotted his events.      

Canada, which has a significant number of Sikh MPs and ministers in the federal government, should learn something from the legacy of a towering leader like Layton and seriously think of recognizing the 1984 violence as genocide.  

That’s the least the Canadian government can do to exert pressure on India for justice. After all, there has been a campaign going on for this in our country. Several MPs have unsuccessfully tried to achieve this target by presenting a genocide petition in the house, while Ontario legislature has already passed a motion calling 1984 massacre genocide.

Not surprisingly, these symbolic, but important actions drew angry response from the Indian government, which won’t ever acknowledge something that ruptures its reputation internationally. Recognizing it as such in future will elicit similar response. Even the BJP government isn’t going to accept this in spite of the fact that the crime was committed by the Congress. The reason is simple. The BJP too has many skeletons in its closet, as it had engineered a similar massacre against Muslims in Gujarat back in 2002. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the violence broke out against Muslims. While Modi was never charged, the survivors believe he was involved in the massacre. Once 1984 is recognized as genocide, the 2002 episode cannot be left out of the list of genocides all over the world, and the BJP will never want this to happen.   

Canada shouldn’t just worry about its trade relations with India. It must pay attention to its obligation to human rights or simply stop claiming to be a global champion of social justice.

Keeping in view that the Indian establishment refuses to serve justice to the victims of 1984 and has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to listen to any amount of criticism from both inside and outside the country, foreign intervention is the only hope. Often those seeking justice are branded as “anti-nationals” or Sikh separatists to silence the activists who have been raising this issue for years. The Congress conveniently labels them as supporters of BJP and its Sikh allies.  The critics of such efforts won’t acknowledge that all of them aren’t from the Sikh community alone. There are some humanists, including those who denounce Sikh separatists, but have been campaigning for justice for 1984.

Rather than demonizing those fighting for justice and fairness, it’s the Indian state in general and Congress in particular that need to be exposed. For the record, an Indian court recently described the 1984 violence as genocide, while the Congress leaders have often compared BJP with Nazis. If that is all acceptable to the Indian mainstream then why Canada is scared of using the “G” word?

Whether the definition of genocide is applicable on the 1984 Sikh massacre remains debatable and not everyone is on the same page. But the fact remains that it was an act of state sponsored terrorism against a minority community and those who committed it must be held accountable.

Canada must rise to the occasion and tell Indian government in clear terms: either give justice to the Sikhs or recognize the massacre as genocide, to send a strong message to the establishment that allowed the killings of its citizens with impunity and refuses to give justice.  That’s the only language a repressive and unresponsive regime understands. By remaining neutral, Canada is clearly siding with the oppressors. The BJP today is just taking advantage of that by normalizing violence against minorities. Thanks to the deafening silence of countries like Canada, the Indian state goes on to persecute minorities and the oppressed communities unchallenged. Canada has to make a beginning somewhere to break this silence. If not now, then when? 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The recent defeat of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in three important assembly elections in India has refreshed hopes for the ouster of Hindu supremacists from power next year.

The ruling BJP suffered humiliating defeat in the provincial elections held in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The party was in power in these states, which are part of the Hindi heartland, and also performed  poorly in Telangana and Mizoram. But its stakes were high in those three states where the electorate clearly rejected their agenda to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Their anti-Muslim and anti-secular rhetoric had no takers in the states. This comes as a big jolt to the BJP, which has been pinning its hopes for a second term in the general election scheduled for next year.

The attacks on religious minorities have grown ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. In order to polarize the Hindu majority, the BJP had intensified its campaign on controversial issues, aimed at creating the fear of Muslims, and othering Christians, Adivasis or the indigenous peoples of India and Dalits or so-called Untouchables.

The opposition Congress party, which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP, won more seats in these three states and is going to form governments with or without allies. So much so, Modi had to accept the defeat. While it is encouraging to see Hindi heartland (which has a strong support base for the BJP) rejecting sectarian politics, the fight isn’t over yet. The BJP is down, but not out. The general election is still far as  the politics of hate continues to simmer. A minor spark can turn into a ball of fire if the civil society or liberal democrats do not pay attention.

Jubilation apart, it is time to take the Congress to account. The party has been trying to outscore the BJP by soft-peddling Hindu nationalism in these states to win the elections. Party leader Rahul Gandhi left no opportunity to project himself as a practicing Hindu. Though there is no harm visiting the Hindu temples or practicing Hinduism, the Congress failed to give any commitment to contain Hindu extremism if ever it came to power. They focussed purely on other issues, such as development and employment, which is absolutely fine, but the Congress party’s weakness to assure minorities that they will take to task the Hindu extremists involved in violence is certainly problematic.  

It is pertinent to mention here that the Congress patronized controversial leader Kamal Nath from Madhya Pradesh. The entire election campaign in the state was run by Nath, and he is being credited for the defeat of BJP.

Nath is a former Union Minister who was involved in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Thousands of Sikhs were killed across India following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Members of the slain leader’s Congress party were seen instigating the mobs that were involved in the massacre. Nath was one of them. He was witnessed instigating a violent crowd outside a gurdwara in New Delhi. Though he was never charged, he was greeted by angry Sikh protestors during his visit to Toronto in 2010. The New Democratic leader at that time, Jack Layton, boycotted his events.  

It is hypocritical on part of the Congress to denounce BJP as “divisive”, while at the same time it continues to shield political figures such as Nath.  One must not forget that the Congress party had introduced an era of impunity for mass murders in the Indian politics and the BJP only took advantage of that in the years to come.

In 2002, Gujarat witnessed one of the worst massacres directed against the Muslims. The testimonies of the survivours prove that the methods applied on the Muslims were similar to those used against Sikhs in 1984. Had justice been provided to the Sikhs, 2002 wouldn’t have been repeated. Modi, who was Chief Minister of the state back then, is widely seen as complicit in the anti-Muslim massacre. Much like Nath, he wasn’t charged, but that’s how the system works in India and unfortunately, Congress is not going to change it. The refusal on part of the Congress to accept its responsibility in the 1984 massacre and shamelessly projecting Nath as a leader in Madhya Pradesh only reflects that.

Those who are celebrating the defeat of BJP must also press upon the Congress to prove its secular credentials by removing Nath from the party,and  holding a fresh inquiry into his involvement in the 1984 carnage. Congress should also take stringent action against Hindu extremists active in these three states, and ban those outfits that promote hatred. A beginning has to be made if Congress really wants to provide a real alternative to the BJP before the 2019 election. Otherwise, these results will end up becoming another illusion.   

Gurpreet Singh

If the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival has achieved anything this year, it is the breaking of silence over state repression in the world’s so called largest democracy.

Half Widow, a film by Danish Renzu, is based on the plight of women whose husbands were abducted and killed by the Indian army in the disputed territory of Kashmir.  

An armed struggle has been going on for years in the Indian side of Kashmir, over the right to self-determination. In response, the Indian forces have been involved in enforced disappearances of political activists and civilians caught on mere suspicion. The women whose husbands were never found and are presumed to have been killed are referred to as half widows in Kashmir.

Renzu, who is a Kashmiri himself, estimates that there are 2,500 half widows in the region, who have been fighting for justice and closure for the past three decades.

The movie was screened at Simon Fraser University campus in Surrey on Saturday, November 24. Incidentally, Surrey has a sizable Sikh population that also witnessed an era of enforced disappearances in Punjab during the period of militancy for a separate Sikh homeland.

Although the Indian state has always been complicit in suppression of dissent through violence, under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the tyranny has actually grown more aggressive in Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Those who try to defend the democratic and human rights of the people of Kashmir are frequently branded as “anti-national” and ostracized by supporters of the ruling BJP. So much so, ordinary Kashmiris are harassed by the police and vigilante groups in other parts of India. 

It is rather interesting that Half Widow passed the censor cuts in India. This may have to do with the fact that Renzu never wanted to point fingers at anyone and focused more on the healing and closure. The protagonist of the story whose husband is missing decides to give up participating in rallies and learn to write to tell her own story. 

Renzu told Radical Desi that more protests lead to more killings, and it is time for people of Kashmir to live in peace. 

While Half Widow does not take a definite position against the Indian state, and tries to look at the issue from a purely human perspective, it helped in educating the Canadian audience about the ongoing repression on the people of Kashmir.  

 

Gurpreet Singh


In one of the worst massacres in the history of India, the world’s so called largest secular democracy, thousands of innocent Sikhs were lynched and burnt alive, while their women were raped during the first week of November, 1984.

The Sikh community, which makes up just two percent of the Indian population, was targeted by mobs all across the country following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi. 
The two assassins wanted to avenge the military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June that year. The army attack was ordered to flush out a handful of religious extremists who had fortified the place of worship and were involved in violence directed against political rivals, Hindus and moderate Sikh civilians.

The ill-conceived military operation left many worshippers dead and destroyed the building of Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh faith. The whole preventable episode enraged the Sikh community all over the world, and in a fit of rage the two Sikh bodyguards of Gandhi killed her at close range on the morning of October 31,1984. 
Despite many testimonies available to suggest that activists belonging to the slain leader’s Congress party were complicit in the carnage that was carried out with the connivance of the police; no senior political leader has been convicted, even as the victims’ families continue to await justice and closure. The rape victims continue to live silently with shame and humiliation. Barring a few convictions of foot soldiers of the violence, no one from the top echelons of bureaucracy and politics has been brought to justice. 
Years have passed, but the issue has not been resolved with honesty. The victims’ families have only received meagre monetary compensation, while those in the pursuit of truth have been repeatedly told to forgive and forget and move on. In order to cover up this whole act of state sponsored violence, misinformation is being spread both inside and outside India. Those seeking justice are frequently branded as Sikh separatists to weaken the cause and public support. 

Even many liberal democrats who oppose the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government, under which the attacks on religious minorities have grown, conveniently ignore the crimes of the Congress party, which they see as a secular alternative to the BJP. They don’t realize that the BJP is not a cause, but only a symptom of the disease which is called majoritarianism, of which the Congress took advantage in 1984 and started an era of impunity.

Here are some simple facts that need public attention to challenge this misinformation campaign and calculated attempt to silence any conversation on 1984. Although the list of questions that are repeatedly asked either out of ignorance or to silence the activists seeking justice is long, here are a few which can be and should be countered with following arguments: 

 

Q: Why do we keep talking about 1984? It happened long time back. Isn’t it time to move on? 

 

Answer: In that case, shouldn’t we also stop commemorating the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi? Why do our leaders keep paying tributes to her every year on October 31? Why was her official residence turned into a museum? What is the point of bringing busloads of tourists to her house-turned-museum? Why is the exact spot where she was assassinated still maintained as a memorial site? If a nation cannot get over the murder of just one leader, how can it expect people to forgive and forget the murders of so many of their loved ones?

 

Q: Wasn’t it a natural reaction to the killing of a Prime Minister? People were genuinely angry against the Sikhs for the assassination of a towering leader. So how can you claim that it was a well-organized massacre? 

 

Answer: Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, was also murdered in 1948 by a Maharashtrian Hindu. Why didn't such brutal violence happen then against Maharashtrian Hindus? Mahatma Gandhi was far more popular than Indira, so why was the intensity of violence that followed her murder missing in 1948? Notably, Indira’s son Rajeev Gandhi who succeeded her as the next Prime Minister, justified the violence against the Sikhs by saying that when a big tree falls the earth around it shakes a little. That didn’t happen when he himself was murdered by Tamil separatists in 1991. There was no such violence against the Tamil community. Why then was the entire Sikh community punished? It is hard to believe anything else except a well thought-out conspiracy.

 
Q: But Rajeev Gandhi said that out of emotion. He didn’t mean that. No? 

Answer: His statement was nothing but an attempt to cover up. He tried to suggest that it was a reaction to shield those involved and also to polarize the Hindu majority in the impending general election. The metaphor of the falling tree was cunningly used to indicate that the Sikhs have been taught a lesson. The video footage of his speech clearly shows that his statement was received with big applause. That the carnage paid him dividends in the election is well documented. 

 

Q: How can you really say that this was well planned? India has a history of communal riots. This might have been the handiwork of anti-social elements who took advantage of the situation. Whatever happened in 1984 wasn’t something unusual. 

Answer: Why then did such incidents not happen in states that were governed by non-Congress governments? A case in point is West Bengal, ruled by the Marxists who ensured safety and security of the Sikhs. They promptly controlled the spontaneous violence started by Congress supporters in Calcutta, a big city with no dearth of anti-social elements, while the Sikhs got killed in large numbers in the states ruled by the Congress. 
Apart from that, this can never be termed as a riot which always involve two parties. Here, the Sikhs were at the receiving end and the violence was totally one-sided, directed at one minority group by the mobs. Those involved used electoral rolls to find Sikh homes and killed most Sikh men in Delhi by necklacing, using burning tyres that were systematically tied around their necks. The police either remained mute spectators or were seen helping the mobs. This suggests a thorough planning at the highest level of the government. 

 

Q: This may actually be the handiwork of the BJP that took advantage of the anti-Sikh wave because of the killings of Hindus in Punjab by the militants who had taken shelter inside the Golden Temple complex. The violence was the result of an anger that had been accumulating for months. 

 

Answer: That is what the Congress party has always claimed to defend itself. The BJP people might have been involved as foot soldiers, but the Congress was in power. It was the duty of the Congress to protect the people. If the Congress is really innocent, why weren't the BJP leaders arrested? Following the massacre, the Congress won the general election with a brute majority on the plank of “national unity” with the help of the BJP supporters.

 

Q: Weren’t Sikh extremists responsible for creating animosity against their brethren outside Punjab? 

 

Answer: The Sikh extremists were dealt with heavily by the Indian army. Those involved in the killings of Hindus were often arrested and killed through extra judicial means by the police and security forces. But why weren't those involved in the massacre of Sikhs dealt with in the same manner? Why wasn't the Indian army pressed into service to stop mob violence against the Sikhs? The army that was used to liquidate militants holed up inside the Golden Temple Complex could also have been used to prevent Sikh carnage, but it appears that there are two set of rules for two different communities in India.

 

Q; How about those Sikhs who rejoiced at the murder of Indira Gandhi and distributed sweets? Instead of condemning the assassination they celebrated it. Don’t you think they got what they deserved?

 

Answer: First of all, the Sikh clergy and the Sikh activists based in New Delhi did condemn the murder of Indira Gandhi. If the media did not give enough space to their statements, it wasn’t their fault. Secondly, how can one assume that the massacre happened because the Sikhs either remained silent or they celebrated it? The Hindus in Punjab also celebrated when the Golden Temple Complex was attacked. But there was no such violence against them in Punjab. Are we trying to say that it is justified to kill people because of expression of joy or anger by a small fraction of any community?

 
Q: But isn't the Congress known for its secular principles. It appointed the country’s first Sikh Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. How can the party therefore be held responsible for the massacre of the Sikh community? 

Answer: The massacre happened right under the nose of the first Sikh President, Zail Singh, who too was appointed by the Congress. He simply failed to protect his people and remained helpless. So much so, his official car was attacked by the mobs. These are just tokenistic appointments. For the record, the BJP government appointed a Muslim President after the massacre of Muslims in the BJP ruled Gujarat in 2002. Does that vindicate the BJP from its complicity in the anti-Muslim massacre? 


Q: But didn’t Manmohan Singh apologize to the nation for 1984? 

 

Answer: That was hardly an apology. It was another gimmick. He did apologize for the incidents of 1984, but gave a clean chit to his party and some of his colleagues known to be complicit in the massacre in his statement. So what was the point making an apology? What matters is an honest acknowledgment that never came from the Congress. Even Rajeev Gandhi’s son and the current Congress leader Rahul has continuously denied the involvement of his party.

 

Q: Aren’t we benefiting the BJP by repeatedly raising the issue of 1984 to embarrass Congress, when we need to rid the country of an outright right-wing government by taking together all secular forces? 

 

Answer: You cannot understand what is happening today unless you analyze what happened in 1984. A single minority community was picked as a target to whip up majoritarian emotions. Today, almost all the minority communities are being targeted. The state sponsored violence of 1984 began an era of impunity which benefited the BJP in coming years. We reap what we sow. The BJP’s ascendance to power was made easier by the Congress through its sectarian politics. The Sikhs were frequently demonized in the media by the Indian leaders during the period preceding the 1984 massacre. Some right wing Hindu groups often branded them as traitors for the actions of a small militant group in Punjab, and every now and then rumours were spread about the Sikhs to incite mob attacks. Isn’t that what is happening now against Muslims, Christians and Dalits under the BJP government? Rumour is frequently used as a weapon to demonize them. They are repeatedly accused of slaughtering cows, consuming beef or indulging in religious conversions. One must also keep in mind that Rajeev Gandhi also openly pandered to the BJP lobby during that time period. To outdo the BJP, he also played the religious card to favour the Hindu majority, which ultimately helped BJP more than the Congress.

 

Q: Don’t you see that the Congress has already paid the price? 

 

Answer: It never did actually. On the contrary, those who were involved in the massacre were rewarded with ministerial posts. The Congress won the election with a brute majority. 


Q: But aren’t those who are raking up this issue again and again Sikh separatists, mostly settled outside India? 

 

Answer: Those who have been fighting for justice for 1984 also include leftists and secular grassroots level activists. In fact, they started working on this issue shortly after the ugly events of 1984. So, one cannot paint everyone with the same brush. Asking for justice for 1984 isn’t like asking for a separate Sikh state. Even if for the sake of argument we believe that those who are canvassing for the issue are Sikh separatists, who have an agenda, who is responsible for this? The Indian state has failed to protect the Sikhs and deliver justice. The blame must lie at their doorstep. The Sikh separatists are only trying to take advantage of the situation created by the Indian establishment. By refusing to give justice, the Indian government itself is strengthening the hands of the separatist forces and giving legitimacy to their cause.

 

Q: Why is it being called genocide when it wasn’t? 

 

Answer: Genocide is a political term. You may accept it or reject it. But the fact remains it was a state sponsored violence directed against one particular community whose leaders have every right to use whatever opportunity comes their way to get justice when the Indian government has failed them. Rather than questioning the intent of those who are fighting for justice, why not make the Indian state accountable? If the Congress can use the analogy of what happened to Jews under Nazis to attack the BJP for its mistreatment of Muslims, why can’t Sikh activists call 1984 violence genocide? 

Q: Why blame the Indian state for what happened in 1984? Why not just blame the Congress? 

Answer: When the police refuse to do its job or the judiciary fails to deliver justice, who should take the blame? The police should have acted independently, while the Judiciary could have intervened to stop injustice. That never happened. This only shows that the tools of a secular and democratic state failed to do the right thing under political pressure. Even the subsequent non-Congress governments, including the current BJP led government, which is supported by Akali Dal (the party that claims to be the only custodian of Sikh interests and have always tried to embarrass Congress on 1984) failed to settle this issue. The Indian state therefore, irrespective of who is in power, must take the blame. 

 

Q: But what can be done by the Congress party to bring closure? Whatever happened cannot be changed. We have to move on to rid the country of the BJP that is bent upon turning India into Hindu theocracy. 

 

Answer: It is certainly important to save India from becoming a Hindu state, but the Congress has to prove itself as a true secular alternative. Without addressing the truth of 1984, it cannot move forward. First of all, it will have to acknowledge that it was involved in the massacre and make an appearance before the community leaders, especially those representing the victims’ families to seek pardon. Secondly, the leaders who were directly involved must be expelled from the party permanently. The Congress leaders who know the truth need to testify against their own colleagues so that justice could be served. It must admit that the history of religious violence in India remains incomplete without taking into consideration the 1984 Sikh carnage. If Congress wants the people of India to remember the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, or the crimes against humanity committed by the BJP, it must make sure that the party also remembers the crimes committed by them in the past so that the history is not repeated. The Congress never forgets to commemorate the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi; it must also observe memorial services for the Sikhs killed by its goons following her assassination. A memorial dedicated to the anti-Sikh massacre should be constructed inside the former official residence of Indira Gandhi or the Congress party headquarters to assuage the feelings of the Sikhs and send a strong message against communalism. Blaming the BJP alone for vitiating the political and social environment of the country won’t do, the Congress has to come clean on this issue. The Sikhs too are concerned over attempts to transform India into Hindu theocracy. They won’t appreciate India becoming a Hindu nation, where the Sikhs would also become second class citizens and culturally assimilated, since the BJP doesn’t see them as a separate religious identity and often try to bring them into the Hindu fold. Sikhs are a progressive community which has a history of forgiving the past, provided those seeking forgiveness are honest. By vilifying those seeking justice and refusing to admit the wrong doings, the Indian state in general and the Congress party in particular cannot expect them to move on. 

 

***

 

An event organized at Langara College on November 21 broke academic silence in North America over the worst massacre of the Sikhs in the world’s so-called largest democracy.

Thousands of Sikhs were lynched and burnt alive across India during the first week of November, 1984, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Led by Gandhi’s self-proclaimed secularist Congress party activists, the mobs targeted Sikh men and raped their women to avenge the murder of the slain Prime Minister. The police remained mute spectators or became complicit in the violence.

Titled as “Commemoration of and Resistance to Historic Atrocity: Sikhs and 1984”, the event was held in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology to commemorate the “Sikh Genocide of 1984”.

This is not the first time that an event concerning repression of Sikhs was organized at Langara. Back in 2006, the college hosted the official opening of Amu - a film based on the 1984 massacre by Shonali Bose, who spoke about censorship and other challenges she faced during the making and release of the film. It was noted that most students and teachers weren’t aware of this bloody episode.

Three scholars - Indira Prahst from Langara College, Prabhsharanbir Singh from University of British Columbia and Amanpreet Kaur from University of Exeter, UK - presented their papers at the event to educate the academia of the massacre that marked the beginning of an era of impunity in India. While the Congress leaders involved in the mayhem remain unpunished, a similar massacre was organized by the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP against Muslims in 2002. The pogrom rocked the state of Gujarat where the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister. The denial of justice to the Sikhs gave legitimacy to political parties in coming years to perpetuate bigotry and hate and indulge in majoritarianism.

Indira Prahst shared her work on commemoration and the survivor narratives of the 1984 Sikh Genocide from the Widow Colony in Delhi. She presented harrowing accounts of violence, and explained how in current geopolitical climates, the Indian state continues to employ subtle mechanisms to silence, eclipse and distort this violent history as it builds its nation. She cautioned how power is maintained through state discourses of 1984 and how they have become normalized, altering subjectivities with domesticating effects. Urging far more critical approaches to understanding 1984, she also cautioned against aestheticizing of suffering, arguing that it generalizes suffering.

Prabhsharanbir Singh said that India as a modern nation-state has combined two forms of violence: the very public spectacle of brutal mob violence in which police and other state apparatuses also participate, and the disciplinary violent modern institutions. “For this reason, India has ruthlessly suppressed mass movements”. He also talked about the psychic aspects of violence. The violence targeted at Sikhs can be better understood through the idea of soul-murder. “In desecrating the Gurdwaras and Guru Granth Sahib, the Indian state has tried to rob something that is essential for the Sikh community: their respect for their Gurus and the sacred spaces. The trauma of such psychic violence is playing a decisive role in giving direction to Sikh politics. It also shapes the Sikh subjectivity”. 

Amanpreet Kaur shared memories from her trip to Punjab and how the violence of this history and its impact, inspired her to learn more. She spoke about how Sikh identities have become diluted because of the challenges Sikh youth face with modernity and connecting to Sikhi as they try to find themselves in the chaos of the modern world. She highlighted the role of Spirituality and Gurbani in understanding the resilience of people who endured unspeakable atrocities. She ended with a reminder that most critical signifiers of what a Sikh is connects to their history of oppression and resistance. “The resistance to not forget and to remember to maintain who we are,” she said.

Mehsampur (2018)

Director:     Kabir Singh Chowdhry

Writer:        Akshay Singh

With:            Devrath Joshi, Navjot Randhawa, Lal Chand, Surinder Sonia, Jagjeet Sandhu

 

Fortune doesn’t always favour the brave.

-Balkaran S

Most who listen to Punjabi music, whether folk or pop, know of Chamkila and have heard his songs, remixed or not (and some even swear by the artist and his art). Crude as his lyrics might’ve been considered by general sensibilities, he simply wrote about what he saw among those he grew up, and in the language most of those around him spoke. Art, and I’m paraphrasing Ice Cube, comes from the truth you see and hear around you. As much people’s hypocrisy and personal taste might disagree, there’s nothing obscene about life as it exists in its nakedness. Chamkila, though, as astute as he was in his arts, paid with his life for flexing his creativity in the face of a predominantly conservative 1980’s Punjabi culture – he, and his consort, on their way to a rural concert, were shot dead by two gunmen belonging to, allegedly, the then widespread Sikh separatist movement. In Mehsampur.

This is where eponymous the movie comes in, with its perceived premise about events surrounding the killing of Amar Singh Chamkila and days leading up to that fateful day in March 1988 – I say ‘perceived premise’ because the movie spends most its length by camouflaging itself as a documentary about those events, however, in actuality, it is a movie about making the movie about Chamkila’s last days and death. Layered, right? Wait till you watch it. Documentation or ‘the making of’, one might think, tends to be arid and parched for all its lack of creative juices, this – though – isn’t dry. But rather a directed experimental dramatization of the emotional toll incurred by the director Kabir Singh Chowdhry during his research for his actual (and somewhat fictional) movie about Chamkila’s impact and death, which is apparently in production.

Mehsampur is definitely a unique film experience, the likes and art of which have not existed in Punjabi/ Hindi cinema, and, I assert with relative certainty, will not exist anytime soon. Chowdhry switches between dual perspectives in his narrative – one of the chief storyteller, and other of the storyteller in the story. And so the scenes fluctuate from the beautiful to the outrageous, and back to the beautiful – a viewer might experience immense pictorial satisfaction at one sequence, and shortly after, feel her/ his sensibilities graphically (and porno-graphically) challenged.

 As the curator-in-chief, the director does an exceptional job challenging cultural cinematic norms with his “artistic garde” direction as he tackles the tight rope of meshing reality with parallel fiction. And as successful Chowdhry is, most times, with his expression, sometimes the dialogue and script appears to be trying a bit too hard to remain visceral and real – in his defence, three of the main characters in the film are not played by actors but instead by actual people who were involved in some capacity with Chamkila. As for the protagonist, Devrath (Devrath Joshi), playing the researcher and director, is fairly convincing and does bring the viewer along on his self-centered quest of researching Chamkila. He meets an aspiring actress, Manpreet (Navjot Randhawa), who, given the context of the audience, is enormously bold and tackles the demanded surrealism and drama with reasonable nous.

There is another character. And that is the non-speaking but loud role played by the varied geography of Punjab, which the director captures with his staccato visuals chasing Chamkila’s ghost thirty years on. And it takes a brave maestro to reveal the human condition of the state in all its rawness and gunk as he does, especially in a country where societal narrative is predominantly steered by conventional and hypocritical forces.

The short verdict then:

If for nothing else, Mehsampur is recommended for blatant confrontation of preconceived cinematic ideas, and for those who would be open to having their comfort and sensibilities challenged. It is not for the masses or for those looking for conventional gratification, and the director, having worked on “mainstream” projects before, doesn’t appear to have any issue with that. Art and film festivals is where Mehsampur can find a home, and I can safely wager, that it is where it will be found. The film meanders languidly throughout, but is able to maintain the initial curiosity, and keep one relatively interested, but then I am a student of film and like sitting through an audiovisual philosophical lesson. Chowdhry is definitely brave, and so was Chamkila, but fortune and audiences don’t always favour the brave.

Gurpreet Singh

The recent incident involving Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a BJP Sikh MLA from Delhi, who slapped two convicts in the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre, is nothing but a drama.

The two men were found guilty by the court for being involved in the state sponsored violence directed at the Sikh community following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

The slain leader’s ruling Congress party had organized pogroms against the Sikhs across India. Thousands of Sikh men were brutally killed. Many were burnt alive by mobs instigated by the Congress party activists in connivance with the police. The victims’ families continue to await justice as the top Congress leaders involved have remained unpunished.

Sirsa and his supporters are trying to defend his action by citing emotions that are running high within the Sikh community. Had this action been done by anyone from the victims’ families it would be understandable, but since Sirsa represents a party that currently rules the country, it raises too many questions.

First of all, the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP is itself a sectarian party that was involved in similar violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Will Sirsa dare to go and slap people involved in that massacre, considering the fact that the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was complicit in the episode?

Also, it has been well documented that despite the Congress government being directly responsible for the Sikh massacre, BJP supporters participated in the carnage as foot soldiers. Indira Gandhi’s son Rajeev Gandhi won the general election that followed the massacre, with a huge mandate riding on an anti-Sikh wave that was a result of the high profile murder and Sikh militancy for a separate homeland in Punjab. The BJP during that election was decimated, as the right wing Hindu vote shifted in favour of Rajeev Gandhi, who had publicly justified the violence against Sikhs.

If Sirsa is genuinely angry, he should at least force the present BJP government to strip Rajeev Gandhi of Bharat Ratna – a highest civilian award given to him.

So much so, he needs to ask his party leaders what have they done until now to deliver justice for 1984?  This isn’t the first time that the BJP has come to power. There has been a BJP government in the past too, so why do the victims’ families continue to suffer?

Sirsa isn’t the only Sikh face. Tejinder Bagga, another Sikh BJP supporter, has been openly defending a right-wing media commentator whose twitter handle was withdrawn for making provocative posts, including the one that justified the 1984 Sikh massacre. She had described it as a reaction to the killings of innocent Hindus in Punjab by the Sikh militants. Will Sirsa dare to slap Bagga?

An Indian diplomat posted in New York also recently linked the anti-Sikh massacre with the violence perpetuated by Sikh separatists. If Sirsa is so concerned, he should first ask his political masters in power to stop this vilification campaign against those seeking justice, rather than trying to get media attention by slapping some mobsters and playing with the sentiments of the Sikh community.

Sirsa is in the habit of making a big fuss about religious sentiments being hurt by the Bollywood stars, but all the time has himself tried to exploit the sentiments of the Sikhs by indulging in gimmickry.

His silence on the ongoing attacks on religious minorities in India ever since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 is equally problematic. If he claims to be a real Sikh, then he must follow what Sikhism teaches us, which is to stand up for the rights of others as well.

Turning to the so-called secularist Congress party, they too have lost moral grounds to condemn the BJP on the question of communalism. It’s a shame that the Congress has not sincerely acknowledged its involvement in the massacre. The Congress leader, Rajeev Gandhi’s son Rahul Gandhi, has repeatedly denied his party’s involvement in the bloodshed. Although former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an apology for 1984 to the nation, he never admitted the complicity of the party or the state. Until the Congress makes an honest acknowledgement and tries to amend its mistakes, the BJP will keep taking advantage of the issue of 1984 to hide its own crimes.

Gurpreet Singh

November 27 marks the tenth anniversary of the passing away of Vishwanath Pratap Singh aka V.P. Singh - the former Prime Minister of India.

Singh died following a battle with cancer. He had served the world’s so-called largest democracy as Prime Minister from 1989-1990 and left behind a rich legacy of secularism, but the news of his death was eclipsed by the Mumbai terror attack a day before on November 26, 2008. While the incident that left 166 people dead rightfully captured media headlines, there was certainly more to the virtual silence over the news of his death.

Though Singh came from a royal family, history will always see him as a leader with poor man’s lens.

He had started his political career with the Congress party from Uttar Pradesh. However, he later parted ways with the party under the leadership of the late Rajeev Gandhi. The turning point came when he was forced to resign as Defence Minister in Gandhi’s government after he came to learn about high level corruption in the country’s defence deals.

He later cofounded Janata Dal, which came to power with the help of the left parties and the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). This was a new political experiment that brought the left and the right together to form a non-Congress coalition government.

Singh took over as Prime Minister under very challenging circumstances. There was an insurgency going on in Punjab for a separate Sikh homeland, while Kashmiri militants were also calling shots for independence. Gandhi had left behind not only the legacy of corruption, but also communal politics. He rode to power riding an anti-Sikh tide in December 1984, in the aftermath of the Sikh massacre organized by the Congress party following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister and Rajeev’s mother, by her Sikh bodyguards. The slain leader had ordered a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June 1984 to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation left many devotees dead and several important buildings inside the complex heavily damaged. This had enraged the Sikhs worldwide and led to the murder of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

As if this wasn’t enough, the BJP had intensified its campaign for building a Ram temple at a disputed site of Ayodhya. The BJP claims that Mughal emperor Babar had destroyed an original temple that stood at the birthplace of Lord Ram – a revered Hindu god in Ayodhya - and had built a mosque to humiliate the Hindus. They wanted the mosque to be replaced with a temple. Their vicious campaign culminated in the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by Hindu mobs. To outdo the BJP, Rajeev Gandhi also allowed the Hindus to perform prayers at the disputed site, and further precipitated the crisis by letting public broadcast relay a TV serial based on Ramayan.

Singh therefore had a tough road ahead. In spite of these challenges, he never wavered from his stand on secularism and proved himself as a diehard defender of diversity.

In order to assuage the feelings of the Sikhs, he travelled to the Golden Temple Complex in an open jeep to start a dialogue with the Sikh leadership. Years later, while he was visiting US for cancer treatment,  he told me during a phone interview for Radio India in Surrey that he had especially asked a Sikh soldier with an unsheathed sword to be deployed behind him when he addressed the nation on Independence Day, to let the world know that his government trusted the Sikh community and wanted to restore their confidence in the Indian mainstream.

A Sikh friend of mine was the son of Harinder Singh Khalsa, a former Indian diplomat and currently an Aam Aadmi MP, who had resigned in protest against the army attack on the Golden Temple Complex. He told me that Singh’s government gave his father a safe passage to return to India. Khalsa, who was posted in Norway, was framed by the Indian authorities and couldn’t come back home until V.P. Singh came to power.

Singh had also taken a very strong stand in support of affirmative action for Dalits or so-called untouchables and backward groups, by increasing their reservation quota in public sector jobs. This enraged the BJP and the upper caste elite. There were angry protests everywhere in the country. I still remember that in Chandigarh, where we lived at that time, the upper caste elite spearheaded agitations against Singh and he was publicly abused by the protesters. One night they asked the people who lived in our locality to switch off the lights in the entire block to protest against reservation. My father, who supported Singh and disliked Rajeev Gandhi, was firm and decided to defy these dictates. He honestly believed that Singh was doing the right thing by trying to help uplift the communities that were oppressed for years by the upper caste elite.

The BJP was openly inciting the protesters. After all, it believes in the caste system that is still practiced by orthodox Hindus, and desires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Even as the BJP was supporting Singh’s coalition government from outside, it was constantly flexing its muscles on the question of caste and religious identity to consolidate majority Hindu votes for a future election.

Singh’s government finally fell when the BJP was adamant to carry on its controversial chariot march to Ayodhya. It happened in November, 1990, when a chariot march led by BJP leader L.K. Advani was stopped in Bihar under the orders of Singh’s trusted ally, the staunch secularist Chief Minister Lalu Yadav. Both Singh and Yadav did not want the BJP to vitiate communal harmony in the country. Singh obviously knew the risk involved, but instead of going with the flow for political survival, let Yadav go ahead and arrest Advani. This led to a vote of no confidence against Singh in the parliament. While Singh did receive support from the left parties, his government was defeated in the no confidence motion and soon became history.

Singh’s exit from power gave right wing politics room to grow in the coming years. Not only was the mosque in Ayodhya razed to the ground under the command of the BJP, it led to more violence and bloodshed. There were anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai followed by serial bombings blamed on Islamic extremists.

In 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya, where a makeshift temple still stands, caught fire leaving more than 50 people dead. The BJP government in Gujarat, led by the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, blamed Muslim extremists for the incident. The whole episode was followed by anti-Muslim massacres engineered by the BJP supporters.

The Mumbai attack that happened exactly ten years ago cannot be seen in isolation from those past incidents of communal violence and serial blasts, which have their roots in the sectarian politics of 1980s. Ironically, Singh, who stood for secularism and humanism, passed away when Mumbai was under siege.

I still remember him warning me during the interview that the BJP poses a great danger to secular fabric of Indian society. Incidentally, this interview took place after the 2002 violence in Gujarat.

Today under Modi, Muslims, Christians and Dalits are being targeted all across India by Hindu extremists with impunity. Had Singh been allowed to run his government, or had he ever been given a brute majority by the Indian electorate, the history of India would have been different. It would have been very easy and comfortable for Singh to align himself with the Hindu majority and enjoy the fruits of power, instead of standing up for minorities and the oppressed communities. Instead, he chose the most difficult path to become a champion of the underdog. His legacy has become even more relevant when we look around to see how leaders like Modi or Trump are openly indulging in divisive politics and promoting majoritarianism, while minorities continue to live in fear.  The silence over his death and its tenth anniversary only shows how majoritarianism has penetrated into the media industry. This is not to suggest that Singh was a perfect politician. He may have had many limitations and contradictions, like other political figures, but we must give credit where it belongs and keep alive the memories of his contribution to social justice.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

 

It is time for Canada to stand up and break its silence over what is going on in the world’s so called largest democracy.

One way of doing this would be to give India-based world renowned author Arundhati Roy Honorary Canadian Citizenship, an honour earlier given to political figures such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi for standing up for human rights and democracy in other parts of the world. Though Suu Kyi was stripped of the Honorary Citizenship recently for remaining indifferent to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhist extremists and army officials, the fact remains that Canada had earlier recognized her resistance against military dictatorship.

Roy, whose birthday falls on November 24, has been to Canada at least twice, including her last visit in connection with the launch of her latest novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Her previous novel, The God of Small Things got her the Booker Prize Award. Both novels give voice to the poor and marginalized in India. While her first novel takes a critical look at the Indian left for its hypocrisy on the question of caste-based oppression, the second one is more critical of the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime under which the minorities continue to be tormented.

Roy is a no nonsense writer who has established herself as a powerful essayist. She has traveled extensively, displaying her ability to question the power anywhere in the world. She has faced threats and intimidation for writing in defence of the people of Kashmir fighting against state violence for their right to self-determination. She is one of the rare authors who have taken pains to travel to tribal areas to understand the root cause of the Maoist insurgency which the Indian state has frequently branded as the single largest internal security threat.

An exceptional writer with a poor person’s lens, she was in the forefront of the struggle against a controversial dam in Gujarat that displaced many indigenous peoples. She has also challenged the conventional history by questioning Mahatma Gandhi on his position on the caste system and race. Recently she has come out in public to openly criticise Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents the Hindu supremacist group RSS that aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

An online petition https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-1896 launched by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) on October 19, is gaining momentum and has already gathered more than 100 signatures. Sponsored by Member of Parliament from Surrey, Randeep Singh Sarai, the petition needs 500 signatures by February 2019. Sarai had earlier written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of IAPI and others asking to strip Suu Kyi of her Honorary Citizenship.  

On her birthday, we appeal all Canadian citizens and residents to sign the petition and help us in breaking the silence over growing fascism in India under Modi government. Notably, Canada has also given Honorary Citizenship to Malala Yusufzai – a young Pakistani woman who survived a violent attack by Taliban for defending the right to education for girls in her country. If Canada can be considerate for what is happening in Pakistan in the name of faith, it must not overlook what is happening next door in India under the garb of secularism and democracy. The Hindu extremists have assassinated several progressive writers and scholars, while Muslims and Dalits or so-called untouchables are being targeted with impunity, and yet Canada remains indifferent. Together we need to change this.

 

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