"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.
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A courageous Indian journalist who exposed a Residential School-like system in her country has been honoured by an alternative media outlet.

Neha Dixit did an investigative report on a pattern behind plucking indigenous girls from the North Eastern states of India, to be taken far away from their families to indoctrinate them into a right wing Hindu nationalist ideology.

Published by the Outlook magazine in 2016, the story enraged supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who not only lodged a police complaint against Dixit and others in the publication staff, but also attacked them on social media.

Her report revealed how different outfits affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which the BJP is a part, trafficked 31 tribal girls from Assam, including those as young as three, and sent them to distantly located states of Punjab and Gujarat, where special Hindu seminaries indoctrinated them into the ultra-nationalist Hindu ideology. 

RSS desires to transform India into a unified Hindu theocracy. Attacks on non-Hindus have intensified under the BJP government that came to power with a brute majority in 2014.   

Dixit found that these girls were taught the Hindi language and encouraged to become vegetarians in accordance with Hindu norms, giving up their tribal identity and customs. The idea is no different from the one adopted in Canada by the churches, to Christianize Indigenous children after taking them away from their families as part of their policy of assimilation. The RSS too has similar designs of assimilating various minority communities, including tribals, Buddhists and Sikhs.

But the matter did not end there. Dixit noted that these tribal girls in the RSS-run schools were also brainwashed to become fanatics who hate religious minorities, such as Muslims and Christians.      

Last month, the Punjab-based Suhi Saver which covers alternative politics, invited Dixit to Ludhiana where she was honoured with their annual award for courage in journalism.

Apart from covering the story of these tribal girls, Dixit has also covered the issue of extra judicial murders of Muslim men by the Indian police. Often the Muslims are branded as terrorists, and then killed by the police in staged encounters in the BJP-run state of Uttar Pradesh, in the name of peace and security.  

Suhi Saver is run by Shiv Inder Singh, who was removed by a Vancouver-based South Asian radio station as its news commentator from Punjab for his critical views of the BJP government. He has been running his outlet with the help of independent donors, and every year he invites active journalists to Ludhiana for guest lectures on pressing issues which are generally ignored by the mainstream media.  The focus of this year’s event was the oppression of women, and growing chauvinism and patriarchy under a right wing regime. Others honoured on the occasion were independent TV journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who is also a vocal critic of religious extremism, and two activists, Sudesh Kumari and Gurvinder Singh. While Kumari spearheaded a campaign for justice to the victims of sexual violence at a spiritual centre run by controversial godmam Gurmit Ram Rahim in Haryana, Singh was involved in a movement against barbaric rape and murder of a girl in Mehal Kalan in Punjab by some influential people. 

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Gurpreet Singh

Ever since more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14, the Indian mainstream has gone mad with more hawkish nationalists calling for revenge and war.

The incident took place in Indian-administered Kashmir, where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years. The Indian government generally blames neighbouring Pakistan for supporting the movement in Muslim dominated Kashmir, which they claim wants to annex the territory through an uprising.

The lone bomber involved was a Kashmiri Muslim, and the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Jaish-E-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the incident. Since then, supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party and others have started a nationwide campaign against Pakistan and Kashmiri people.   Calls are being made for “Blood for Blood”, while Kashmiris settled in other states of India have come under well-orchestrated attacks by angry mobs.

The anger also spilled over outside India in countries with sizable populations of the Indian Diaspora. Candle-light vigils and prayers were organized for the slain soldiers, and donations for the bereaved families started pouring in from celebrities.

Though it is sad that so many families lost their loved ones in a single stroke, the hysteria caused by this tragedy suppressed the wails of those Kashmiri women who lost their honour on a single night at the hands of Indian forces 28 years ago.

On February 23, 1991 the Indian army cracked down on two Kashmiri villages, Konan and Poshpora, and allegedly tortured 200 men and gang raped 150 women. Because of shame and fear of reprisal many women did not come forward. Close to 40 women dared to step forward to fight for justice, and years have passed, but there is no justice and closure. This is partly because the Indian army continues to enjoy immunity under repressive laws that give protection to the Indian forces in conflict zones.

The anniversary of the incident came and passed without much coverage in the media.  

In an environment of hyper nationalism, any discussion that brings the role of Indian forces under critical questioning is more likely to be discouraged by the political leadership and media pundits. That seems to have happened in this case.

Undoubtedly, we should all deplore the killings of soldiers who mostly came from poor and less privileged families, but are we ready to question the repression of people by the custodians of peace and security?

Konan Poshpora is not the only instance of state barbarity or sexual violence by the Indian forces. There have been many other instances all over India, of how in the name of maintaining peace or protecting the so called national interest, political activists have been murdered through extra judicial means, and custodial rapes have been used as a weapon to punish communities fighting for their rights, including the right to self-determination as in the case of Kashmir.

Those who are spewing so much hatred and calling for revenge against Pakistan or Kashmiris because of the killings of more than 40 soldiers, need to take a moment to remember shameful episodes such as Konan Poshpora, and see how repression has caused more misery and violence rather than bringing permanent peace. If we cannot treat our own people with respect, we have no right to confront our enemies, both perceived and real, for merely taking advantage of a disorder created by us.

For the record, the lone attacker involved in Pulwama was also detained and humiliated by the Indian forces for no fault of his own, according to his family. He was returning home when he was picked up during a protest and forced to rub his nose on the ground.

Those talking of revenge are forgetting that such harsh punitive measures have turned many into separatists and extremists. In the end, ordinary soldiers coming from poor families suffer, not those who incite passions for their narrow political ends.

Konan Poshpora is a reminder, not only that everything served to the citizens as a recipe for peace by the ruling classes can be accepted at face value, but we cannot let them decide in our name what is good for the nation. Rather than mimicking them, we need to make them accountable for the crisis in Kashmir, and ask them to resolve the problem through dialogue and justice to the victims of the Konan Poshpora mass-rape and other excesses committed in the name of unity and integration.   

 

 

The federal New Democratic Party of Canada has expressed “serious concern” over the human rights situation in the world’s so called largest democracy.

In a statement issued in response to growing repression under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government, Cheryl Hardcastle, the NDP Human Rights Critic, has also urged the Canadian government to break its “deafening silence” and express its objections to human rights abuse perpetuated by the Indian authorities.

This is the first such statement coming from any major political party of Canada in relation to the present situation in India in the last many months.  

The statement says, “the attacks on prominent public intellectuals and political dissent in general, as well as attacks on non-Hindus, particularly Muslims, have grown ever since the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a majority in 2014”.

Hardcastle categorically stated that Canada “must use all available leverage to pressure the Government of Narendra Modi to comply with international human rights standards.”

The development comes after the recent illegal arrest and release of Dr. Anand Teltumbde, a prominent scholar and human rights activist who has been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which is being frequently used to suppress any voice of dissent.

Teltumbde was charged, while other intellectuals were arrested all over India for questioning the power and standing up for the rights of the poor and marginalized.

The NDP has particularly raised its concern over the witch hunt against intellectuals, including Teltumbde, under the UAPA, which according to Amnesty International, “has often been abused and used to detain people peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association”.

Former NDP MP Svend Robinson, a known advocate for human rights and social justice, is instrumental behind the statement. He was approached by members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India which had organized a rally in support of Teltumbde in Surrey and asked for his intervention.

Robinson, who is aware of the political environment of India, had explained to the office of Hardcastle the gravity of the situation. It is pertinent to mention that Robinson had raised many human rights issues in India and around the world in the past while serving as an MP.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The recent Hindi film Manikarnika is a must watch for those who need to understand the strength of the story behind the first uprising against the British occupation of India.

Based on the story of Laxmi Bai – the Queen of Jhansi, who was a leading figure of the rebellion of 1857 - Manikarnika tells us how the Hindus and Muslims, and those belonging to the upper and the so called low castes came together under her command to revolt against the powerful British Empire.

She not only broke the gender barrier by choosing to go to the battlefield and raising an army of women in a male dominated society, but also embraced a Dalit warrior woman like Jhalkari Bai, who also died fighting against the enemy.

Thus, Laxmi Bai didn’t just fight against the British rule, but also against patriarchy and the brutal caste system that discriminated against Dalits within her society.  

Such a film becomes even more relevant today in India, where the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is not only trying to rewrite the history from a narrow Hindu nationalist perspective, but portray Muslims as traitors and outsiders. Especially, when misogyny has exposed itself under the BJP government and caste-based violence against Dalits has grown, Manikarnika gives a message of hope.

Until now, most historians, including those in India, have seen the revolt of 1857 as a fight of the feudal kings and chieftains against the British Empire. Many continue to argue that it cannot be seen as part of the freedom struggle, while others have repeatedly tried to demonize the participants as violent and fanatics. Thanks to Karl Marx who had recognized it as the first war of independence,while others have overlooked it as insignificant. This can be partly attributed to the Eurocentric influence on the historical documents as British ruled India until 1947. The oral traditions about Laxmi Bai were mostly rejected as “primitive” or “unfounded” due to internalized racism. The making of Manikarnika therefore challenges those myths that were created by the British historians.

In an era of decolonization, such efforts are important to reclaim the history of the people. Particularly when the subjects of such film are people’s heroes, like Laxmi Bai who wanted to rid her subjects from the oppression of the British Empire that drained India out through plunder of its resources, making of such films becomes necessary.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

The quote applies appropriately to Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, considering its indifference toward some recent ugly events that unfolded in India.

Widely known as the world’s largest democracy, India is going through an era of intolerance and blatant repression of minorities and political dissidents under a right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Attacks on non-Hindus, particularly Muslims, have grown ever since Modi came to power with a brute majority in 2014. Apart from that there has also been an increase in the attempts to stifle any voice of dissent. Anyone who tries to stand up against injustice and challenges the power through democratic means is branded as seditious and thrown into jail by using draconian laws. The recent attempts to muzzle voices of resistance by the intelligentsia are particularly disturbing. And yet, Canada continues to overlook what is happening in that part of the world. This is in sharp contrast to its rather prompt response to a similar situation in the neighbouring Pakistan.

The latest casualty of this complacency is Anand Teltumbde, a well-respected columnist and social justice activist who is married to the granddaughter of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and a towering scholar.

Teltumbde was arrested on February 2 in complete violation of Supreme Court orders. He earlier faced arrest after being charged under a draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for raising his voice for the poor and marginalized.

He was charged last year, while five other activists like him were arrested and detained across India. Those arrested were a Telugu poet and a political activist, Varavara Rao, and human-rights lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj. Others taken into custody were two published authors, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira, and a former Mumbai college professor, Vernon Gonsalves.

Teltumbde escaped the police dragnet as he was away, while his house was raided in his absence.

They were all accused of being the sympathizers of the Maoist insurgents.

Teltumbde’s plea for quashing the police case was rejected by the Supreme Court on January 14. The court had given him four weeks to file for pre-arrest bail; however he was arrested much earlier in clear defiance of the court orders. There are apprehensions that he might face the same fate as Delhi University Professor, G.N. Saibaba, who continues to be imprisoned under UAPA despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist. His continued incarceration under inhuman conditions has already drawn criticism from United Nations human rights experts. A petition signed by hundreds of people in Metro Vancouver asking for Canadian intervention in that matter was also ignored.    

What binds all these individuals together is their deep involvement in advocacy for the underdog, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples). They continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state.

Maoist insurgents who've been active in tribal areas have a big following among Adivasis, who often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see Maoists as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state.

Police have not only branded those arrested as Maoist supporters, but some of them are being accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by their relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent and win sympathy for Modi, who might face a tough general election this year. 

Any genuine criticism of uneven development and growing impoverishment can invite the wrath of the Indian state. Those questioning the power are frequently branded as “anti-nationals” or “urban Naxals”.

Teltumbde has a big following in Canada, where many groups of social justice activists within the South Asian community had invited him in 2016.

On January 27, several South Asians came together to protest against his continued harassment and raise their voices against his possible arrest at Holland Park in Surrey under the banner of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, which was established in response to growing attacks on diversity in India under a right wing regime. A group of activists also wrote a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Christiya Freeland seeking her intervention. 

But Canadian government failed to stand up. So much so, the elected officials invited for the rally and urged to make a statement remained silent and never showed up. They included both federal and provincial politicians. This is despite the fact that most of them are of the Indian origin and completely understand the circumstances in the country of their birth. Nevertheless, some of them did show up a night before at a dinner hosted by Indian diplomats to celebrate India’s Republic Day. Unfortunately, some of these politicians had met Teltumbde when he was visiting Canada, but did not dare to say a word when they were approached to show solidarity. It’s a shame that some of these individuals happened to be part of the labour movement before jumping into electoral politics and often projected themselves as supporters of international brotherhood and champions of the underdog on global issues. In fact, they had wined and dined with Teltumbde when he was here, and displayed lot of respect for his good work. But in the end they understandably preferred to remain quiet, to not to annoy the government of India whose influence has been growing worldwide in a free trade environment. It is hard to say if their intervention could have prevented the arrest of Teltumbde, but their deafening silence during the situation leading to his arrest clearly reflects very poorly on them.    

In a McCarthy era-like witch hunt of political dissidents under a fascist regime, Teltumbde’s arrest is aimed at creating a fear among those fighting for social justice.

Canada’s lack of interest only proves one thing - that it has picked up a side and that is none other than the oppressors in New Delhi. If Canadian politicians have any shame, at least listen to the words of Tutu, whose ally Nelson Mandela was given honorary Canadian citizenship by this country, or stop pretending to be the flag bearers of human rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

This past January when India marked its 70th Republic Day, some Sikh and Kashmiri separatists burnt Indian flags in UK and US to protest against mistreatment of minorities in the world’s so called largest democracy.

Unable to tolerate this, the Indian government objected and raised the issue with foreign governments.

While the Sikh separatists have been campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan, an imaginary nation to be carved out of Punjab, Kashmiri separatists too have been fighting for independence.

Not only there was a knee jerk reaction of the Indian establishment to these flag burnings, several Kashmiri journalists were barred from attending the Republic Day parade in Srinagar.

Some time ago, the Indian government blacklisted revolutionary leftist activists who had protested outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver on an Independence Day.  They were merely protesting against the growing repression of minorities and those marginalised in India and for exercising their freedom of expression denied visas to travel back home.  

Barely four days after the Republic Day drama ended, Hindu fanatics in India belonging to Hindu Mahasabha publicly shot at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and garlanded the statue of his assassin Nathuram Godse.   

Gandhi, the leader of the passive resistance movement against British occupation of India and a strong advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity, was assassinated by Hindu Mahasabha activist Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948.

Godse is frequently glorified by the Hindu Right. Ever since the current Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power, those who consider Godse as a hero have become emboldened. After all, the Hindu Mahasabha founder Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who wanted to establish a Hindu nation, is revered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party colleagues. Savarkar was also arrested in the Gandhi murder case, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Not only was Gandhi’s brand of Hinduism more liberal, his philosophy of a secular India was in complete contradiction to the exclusionist Hindu state the BJP wants to create.  

The latest incident happened in Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is in power.

While the Indian establishment is too much concerned about the “anti-national” elements abroad and their attempts to insult national symbols, there is a complete silence over repeated attempts to demonize Gandhi, who is widely known as father of the Indian nation.

It is pertinent to mention, that the BJP supporters had used the Indian flag in the past, during their controversial demonstrations in support of the Hindu extremists involved in heinous crimes, such as sexual violence and murders in the name of cow protection.

Taking all these episodes into account, will it be too much to ask the Indian government led by Modi - why has hyper nationalism of the extremists from the majority community never been questioned? Rather than making a big fuss about flag burnings all the time, why not first teach your own supporters to respect Gandhi and the national flag, and not let patriotism be used as a refuge by those involved in hate crimes? It is this selectivity and appropriation of nationalism and the process of othering the minorities who have some genuine grouses against the Indian establishment which is provoking people to burn the flags - which isn’t a big deal really as compared to the mass murders of the Sikhs and the Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere by supporters of Hindu nationalism. Instead of forcing patriotism on the minorities the Indian state needs to take them into its embrace with honesty.

 

 

 

 

Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a demonstration on Sunday, January 27 at Holland Park in Surrey to show solidarity with Anand Teltumbde, who is facing arrest by the Indian police.

 

Teltumbde is a published author and columnist who has been advocating for the rights of poor and marginalized people. He is known for being a vocal critic of state repression of minorities in the world’s so called largest democracy.

 

Married to the granddaughter of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - a towering scholar and the architect of the Indian constitution - Teltumbde was slapped with politically motivated charges for questioning the power. After his plea for quashing the criminal charges was recently rejected by the court, he faces possible arrest and incarceration under draconian laws that are frequently used to suppress voices of dissent.

 

The development coincides with the filing of sedition charges against student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others, for organizing a peaceful demonstration inside Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University against the repressive policies of the government in 2016.

 

Teltumbde was charged last year, while five other activists like him were arrested and detained across India under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They were all accused of being  sympathizers of the Maoist insurgents.

Teltumbde escaped the police dragnet as he was away, while his house was raided by the police in his absence. If arrested, Teltumbde might be incarcerated like Delhi University Professor, G.N. Saibaba, who continues to be imprisoned under UAPA despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.

 

Police have not only branded those arrested as Maoist supporters, but some are accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by their relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent and win sympathy for Modi, who might face a tough general election this year.

 

The participants at the Sunday rally raised slogans against the Indian state and demanded the release of all political prisoners and scrapping of repressive laws.

 

Those who spoke on the occasion included, Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization media coordinator Ratan Paul, Dave Diewert from Alliance Against Displacement, anti racism activist Avtar Singh Dhillon and IAPI cofounders Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh. Sarabjit Singh Baaz recited a revolutionary poem on the occasion.

 

None of the elected officials invited to the rally showed up. The organizers believe that Canada is siding with the repressive regime of India by remaining neutral.

 

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Human Rights! Respect! Inclusion!! Those three slogans were scribbled by Premier John Horgan on a white sheet before he left the Spice Radio studios in Burnaby, where he went on the morning of January 17 to flag off a campaign against racism.

 

Started by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King in 2015, #HandsAgainstRacism has entered its fifth year.

 

This was the first time that the Premier of British Columbia came out to kick start the annual campaign, which encourages people to dip their hands in colour and leave their hand prints on a white sheet with a statement against racism and discrimination. Horgan too coloured his palm before leaving his hand print alongside the above mentioned slogans on the sheet of white paper in the presence of the staff at Spice Radio. 

 

Earlier, he spoke with Datt, who is a seasoned broadcaster on air on a range of issues, including racism and his government’s initiative to tackle hate crimes. His government has already started the process to bring back the BC Human Rights Commission that was dismantled by the previous Liberal government, making BC the only province in Canada without such commission.

 

Notably, last year Horgan had sent his picture with his hand up in the air, making a vow to stop racism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Premier Christy Clark were also pictured with their hands up in the air as part of this campaign in the past.   

 

The campaign goes on until the end of March every year, and culminates around the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The idea of asking people to colour their hands and simultaneously make a statement against racism came from the Hindu festival of Holi that falls during spring. Holi is a unique festival in India, where people throw colours at each other and become one by forgetting all their class and caste differences.

 

On the martyrdom day of Mewa Singh, the first Indian political activist to be hanged in Canada, his portrait was installed at the constituency office of Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh on the morning of January 11.  

Mewa Singh was one of the Indian revolutionaries who fought against the British occupation of India and racism abroad. He was among those Sikh immigrants who started coming to Canada to earn a better livelihood by the end of the nineteenth century. Mewa Singh faced the gallows with courage and conviction after being convicted for the assassination of controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson. He was executed on January 11, 1915.  

Hopkinson had precipitated a conflict within the South Asian immigrant community, and was responsible for the murders of two Sikh activists inside a gurdwara days after the Komagata Maru ship was forcibly returned.  

The Japanese vessel carried more than 300 South Asian immigrants, who were compelled to leave under discriminatory immigration laws aimed at keeping Canada a so-called "white man’s land". The current Canadian government has already apologized for the episode that had culminated into the violence leading to the murder of Hopkinson.

Mewa Singh was deeply enraged by the killings of his comrades inside a place of worship, and wanted to avenge this act of sacrilege. He was a religious man who went to the scaffold with prayers on his lips. In his testimony, he owned up the assassination and never appealed for mercy. His testimony also shows how much he was pained by blatant racism against his community. 

Drawn by Jarnail Singh, the portrait of Mewa Singh was unveiled by community activists, Parminder Swaich, Gian Singh Gill and Surinder Singh Jabbal. This was the first time Mewa Singh's portrait was installed inside the constituency office of any elected official, according to Jarnail Singh.  

Swaich is associated with Ghadar Centenary Committee which has launched a petition seeking recognition of Mewa Singh as a hero. It has received more than 10,000 signatures until now.

Among others present on the occasion were young dramatist Paneet Sigh, who had produced a play on Mewa Singh that was originally performed at the site of Hopkinson’s murder in Vancouver, and Raj Singh Toor, whose maternal grandfather was aboard the Komagata Maru. MLA Rachna Singh’s father, Dr. Raghbir Singh, who is an authority on Mewa Singh and the radical history was also in attendance. So was independent broadcaster Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, who has encouraged the community to hold a moment of silence on the morning of January 11 every year in commemoration of Mewa Singh’s hanging. Also in attendance were Taraksheel Society leader Avtar Gill, and Guru Nanak Free Kitchen organizer Avtar Singh, besides Human Rights lawyer and former NDP candidate Amandeep Singh. 

Rachna Singh acknowledged that whatever privileges and rights elected officials like her enjoy today in Canada are the result of the sacrifices made by Mewa Singh. She also reminded the gathering that the fight for a just society, for which Mewa Singh stood, isn’t over yet as racism continues to exist.

Gurpreet Singh 

On December 17, 2018 two very conflicting signals emanated from the world’s so called largest democracy.  

While the Delhi High Court pronounced one accused involved in the 1984 Sikh massacre guilty, the other was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi on October 31, 1984. 

The assassins were enraged at the army attack on the Golden Temple Complex, holiest shrine of the Sikhs, in June that year. The controversial military operation was ordered by Gandhi to flush out a handful of religious extremists who had stockpiled arms inside the place of worship. Following her murder, activists belonging to Gandhi’s Congress party organized anti-Sikh pogroms in different parts of the country. In New Delhi alone close to 3,000 people died. Congress leaders were seen instigating the mobs that were supplied with kerosene and tires to burn Sikh men alive. Sikh women were gang raped during the violence, while their homes, businesses and gurdwaras were burnt.  

While Sajjan Kumar was convicted and given a life sentence after 34 years for conspiracy behind murders and the sacrilege of a Sikh temple, Kamal Nath wasn’t even charged, in spite of the fact that both were seen at the trouble spots.

Nath has now taken charge of the Chief Minister’s office in Madhya Pradesh. Notably, the police that shamelessly connived with the mobs tried to shield all the Congress leaders involved. They either refused to file criminal cases against senior politicians or tampered with the evidence and testimonies. That is the reason why it took so long for the courts to finally convict Kumar, whereas Nath remains unpunished.

But someone much taller in stature and position than these two individuals remains unindicted. 

There is enough evidence available in the public domain against the late Rajiv Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi, who succeeded her as the next Prime Minister. His complicity made it even more difficult to bring people like Kumar and Nath to justice.    

That explains why his son, the current Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, continues to be on the defensive whenever his party is grilled on the inconvenient issue of 1984. That he refuses to acknowledge the party’s involvement in the massacre has to do with the fact that his own father was responsible for one of the worst massacres in post-British India. Admitting that would not only rupture the reputation of his father, but also the image of his party, which claims to be secular, unlike the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).   

The recent developments have only made matters worse for Rahul. Though Kumar has resigned from the party after his conviction, in an attempt to save it from embarrassment, Nath’s appointment as Chief Minister has eclipsed the “secular” image of the Congress. While it is obvious that Rahul would never admit that his father was involved in crimes against humanity, the facts speak for themselves.

Firstly, when Rajiv Gandhi went to see his mother at the hospital where she was admitted after being shot, low intensity attacks on the Sikhs had already begun. So much so, the car of the then turbaned Sikh President Zail Singh was vandalized. He did not show any leadership by standing up for the innocent Sikhs who were being punished by the angry mobs.

The most glaring instance of Gandhi’s approval of violence was the chanting of the slogan “blood for blood” in his presence by people who had come to pay last respects to Indira Gandhi as her body lay in state.

This was relayed live on the public broadcast, witnessed on TV by many people, including this writer. There is no evidence that Gandhi did anything to stop such provocative sloganeering.

While he was being sworn in as Prime Minister, the Sikhs were being targeted by the goons of his party. He did not find time to press the paramilitary forces into service to stop the bloodshed. He never used the power of the Prime Minister’s Office to save a minority community that needed protection of the state. He never found time to go out and rescue the citizens of his country from the mobs.

It is well documented how his office remained unresponsive to the calls made for assistance by the President and the Home Minister, who was in charge of law and order. 

Zail Singh revealed in his autobiography that the PMO did not show any interest in stopping the violence when he tried approaching it on behalf of Sikh citizens who had called him for help.

Similarly, the then home minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao, failed to get any favourable response when he called the PMO after being approached by several activists for immediate intervention. The most powerful PMO thus completely failed to act and save the country from disgrace. Rajiv Gandhi, head of the nation throughout the first week of November, was clearly responsible for what happened in New Delhi and elsewhere. 

A few days later, while addressing a big public meeting, Rajiv Gandhi openly justified the anti-Sikh violence by saying that when a big tree falls, the earth around it shakes a bit. Although he acknowledged that the assassination of his mother was followed by mayhem, he never condemned the killings of ordinary Sikhs. Notably, when he himself was assassinated by Tamil separatists in 1991, there was no such violence directed against Tamils in India. His statement wasn’t just an emotional outburst. It was aimed at covering up the fact that it wasn’t a natural reaction to his mother’s death, but a well calculated mob attack against a particular community.

In the general election that took place in December 1984, his party won a huge majority in the parliament on the plank of national unity. Those involved in the Sikh massacre got massive support from the electorate. Rajiv Gandhi succeeded in polarizing the Hindu majority. It is well known that the BJP vote bank also shifted to the Congress. We don’t need rocket science to understand why the BJP only got two seats in the parliament. After all, several BJP supporters also participated in the massacre.   

Those who played a significant role in the violence were rewarded with ministerial positions, even aside the question of punishing them and the police officers complicit in the carnage.

It is pertinent to mention that Gautam Kaul, one of the senior police officers who remained indifferent toward the mobs who had gathered outside a historic Gurdwara to target the Sikh worshippers, was Rajiv Gandhi’s cousin. It was the same location where Nath was seen hanging out with a mob that had killed two Sikhs. 

Another cousin of Rajiv Gandhi was instrumental in getting access to the voters’ list of Sikhs, which was allegedly used by mobs to identify their homes during the violence.

Initially, Rajiv Gandhi remained adamant over the demands for ordering an inquiry into the massacre. He declined to order one, claiming that this would disturb peace. Nevertheless, his government was forced to constitute a first commission of inquiry into the anti-Sikh violence, under former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra, as part of a political understanding with the moderate Sikh leadership of Punjab to end Sikh militancy. Misra, who gave a clean chit to the government, was later rewarded with a seat in the upper house of the parliament.      

A retired police officer from Punjab, Julio Ribeiro, writes in his book that as a security adviser, he suggested to Rajiv Gandhi that to win over the confidence of the Sikh community and defeat militancy, he must take action against some key Congress leaders involved in the massacre. Ribeiro claims that when he did this, he was scolded by an infuriated prime minister.  

In one media interview, Rajiv Gandhi also tried to blame Sikhs for the violence, saying that most killings took place in areas where the Sikhs celebrated the murder of Indira Gandhi. Such rumours were commonly spread by Congress supporters to create an environment of hatred against the Sikhs.

It is high time that the Congress come out of denial, and honestly admit that Rajiv Gandhi was culpable in the anti-Sikh violence, if it wants to go to the election this year with one point mandate of secular India free from the clutches of right wing forces. His indictment is important to settle everything. Let him be charged and tried posthumously, and go down in the history as a villain like Hitler. If Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be described as a merchant of death by the Congress for his involvement in a 1984-like pogrom against Muslims in 2002, despite also not being charged, Rajiv Gandhi does not deserve to be seen as a stainless Prime Minister.

It is a fact that attacks on religious minorities have grown under the Modi government ever since it came to power with a brute majority in 2014, but the process of picking a minority group and scapegoating it to promote majoritarianism started with men like Rajiv Gandhi much earlier. Had 1984 not happened, Modi wouldn’t have dared to repeat the 2002 Muslim massacre in Gujarat with impunity. Modi was the Chief Minister of the state when the anti-Muslim massacre broke out following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Over 50 people died in the incident that was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by the Modi government in Gujarat. The methodology that was used against the Sikhs in 1984 was reapplied on Muslims in Gujarat by the BJP leaders with the help of the police.

The BJP wouldn't have ascended to power by creating the "us versus them" divide and othering minority communities if the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi had not started an era of impunity for mass murderers. It was mainly the Sikh community that was subjected to state violence in 1984, while today all minorities have become vulnerable under an outright communal government.

Rumours to create fear of Muslims, Christians, Dalits and tribal people are more frequently used today by the supporters of BJP to stir mob lynching. Similarly, rape as a weapon is also used against the women of these communities to humiliate them. Their prayers and rituals are constantly disrupted on one pretext or the other. To understand our present, we need to analyze our past with honesty, and that requires indicting Rajiv Gandhi for his original sin which laid the ground for violence against minorities in India.

It’s a shame that he was given Bharat Ratna, a highest civilian award, which needs to be revoked. A failed attempt was made in the Delhi Legislature to bring a motion asking to strip Gandhi of the award. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which claims to be an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP, failed to make a case due to the reverence of some of its members for Rajiv Gandhi. Harvinder Singh Phoolka – a human rights lawyer who has been fighting for justice to the victims of 1984 - was prompted to resign from the AAP for this reason.

By making Gandhi accountable, we can certainly defeat majoritarianism, which is the root of the problem. By simply seeking a replacement for Modi and his BJP we can only get temporary peace under a party that has lost every moral right to question the BJP's sectarian politics.  

      

 

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