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Gurpreet Singh

 

Today marks 34 years of the Air India Flight 182 bombing that left 329 

people dead.

The suitcase bomb used in the crime that is widely blamed on Sikh 

separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government originated from 

Vancouver. The incident was the worst attack in the history of aviation 

terror before 9/11.

Investigators believe that the episode was in response to repression of 

Sikhs in India during 1984. The Indian army had invaded the Golden 

Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984, to deal 

with a handful of armed militants. The military operation left many 

worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

The same year, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her 

Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Delhi, following which innocent 

Sikhs were targeted all across India by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling 

Congress party with the help of police.

These bloody events alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream, and 

galvanized the movement for a separate Sikh homeland, both in India and 

Canada.

At the annual memorial event this year in Stanley Park, Vancouver , 

where a wall bears the names of the victims, the speakers paid tributes 

to the dead and emphasised remaining vigilant against terrorism anywhere 

in the world. Among them were Counsel General of India Abhilasha Joshi, 

and some pro-India moderate Sikhs who are known to be vocal critics of 

terrorism and violence.

They rightly condemned those who were involved in the Air India bombing 

conspiracy and expressed their frustration over just one conviction for 

329 murders, but none of them touched upon the terrorism of Hindu 

extremists which has spiked in India over the past several years under a 

right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Ever since the BJP came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 

2014, attacks on religious minorities by Hindu fundamentalists have 

grown. Emboldened by the electoral support Modi continues to receive in 

a Hindu dominated India, they are bent upon turning a secular democracy 

into an official Hindu state.

So much so, Modi endorsed newly elected BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh 

Thakur, who was responsible for a bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. 

The incident left eight people dead and 100 injured. Thakur got a bail 

on medical grounds and was allowed to run for the parliamentary 

election.  Modi justified the decision citing the anti-Sikh massacre of 

1984 engineered by the then ruling Congress party.

Notably, Modi repeated the 1984-like carnage in Gujarat in 2002 when he 

was Chief Minister of the state. Thousands of Muslims were killed by BJP 

supporters after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving 

more than 50 people dead. Modi blamed Muslim extremists for the incident.

It is important to mention here that the son of a Muslim couple that 

perished in the Air India tragedy had also suffered during the Gujarat 

violence. Irfan was only ten-years-old when his father Umar Jethva and 

mother Zebunisa died in the tragedy. They were both visiting Vancouver 

to see their relatives leaving behind their son when the bombing 

happened during their return journey.

Irfan was then brought up by the extended family in Gujarat. His 

computer business shop was destroyed during the anti-Muslim violence. 

  His cousin Renee Saklikar is a Vancouver-based poet who has authored a 

book, based on her poems dedicated to more than 80 children who died in 

the Air India bombing. Her husband Adrian Dix, the health minister in 

the BC Government, was Master of Ceremony at the memorial event. And yet 

there was a complete silence about terrorism being patronized by Modi 

administration.

Ironically, Joshi said in her speech that it was everyone’s duty to 

speak up against “dark forces” that try to disrupt peace. But no one at 

today’s event found it necessary to say anything against majoritarian 

terrorism in the name of Hindu theocracy that poses a greater threat to 

the peace in India because of state support.  The Air India tragedy was 

the culmination of sectarian politics of the Indian politicians, and if 

the Indian leadership continues to oppress minorities and patronise 

majoritarianism, this is going to cause more problems in the Indian 

Diaspora.

***

 

The Government of British Columbia has for the first time proclaimed June 23 as Air India Flight 182 Remembrance Day.

Following sustained efforts of Radical Desi publications, the proclamation was made close to the 34th anniversary of the tragedy.

The ill-fated flight was bombed mid-air above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985 killing all 329 people aboard.  

The suitcase bomb used in the crime that is widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government had originated from Vancouver. The incident was worst attack in the history of aviation terror before 9/11. The investigation of the incident has led to only one conviction.

The investigators believe that the episode was in response to repression of Sikhs in India during 1984. The Indian army had invaded the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984, to deal with a handful of armed militants. The military operation left many worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed. 

The same year, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Delhi, following which innocent Sikhs were targeted all across India by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling Congress party with the help of police.

These bloody events alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream, and galvanized the movement for a separate Sikh homeland, both in India and Canada.

The Proclamation made by the Attorney General and Lt. Governor mentions about 86 children who were heading to India for summer vacations when the bombing took place. It also urges residents of the province to reflect on the root causes of the incident and stand in support of the victims’ families.

 

 

Dozens of political activists came together to raise their voices for jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba at a rally held in Surrey on Sunday, June 16.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally was aimed at drawing international attention to the deteriorating health of physically challenged Prof. Saibaba who is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions by the Indian state.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba is ninety percent disabled below the waist, and is suffering with 19 ailments. Yet, the Indian judiciary has refused to set him free on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

So much so, the Indian government isn’t listening to the demand for clemency to Saibaba by international bodies, such as United Nations. 

IAPI believes that Saibaba is being persecuted for standing for the religious minorities and other oppressed groups. He was given a life sentence after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer although he functioned as a responsible social justice activist and Human Rights Defender while remaining within the framework of the Indian constitution.

The speakers at the rally unanimously condemned the high handedness of the Indian state and asked for his immediate release. They also pointed out that the Indian courts are being selective, as they have already given bails on medical grounds to much more dangerous right wing Hindu extremists affiliated with the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party involved in violent acts, while Saibaba continues to suffer.

Among those who spoke on the occasion was Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who expressed his unconditional solidarity with Saibaba. Nijjar had earlier made an appeal to the community on social media to participate in the rally.

Amal Vincent from Teaching Support Staff Union came out to read a statement issued in support of Saibaba on the occasion. The statement has asked the Canadian government to urgently intervene into the matter.

None of the elected officials invited showed up. However, the Conservative Party candidate Harpreet Singh joined the rally and expressed his support for Saibaba.

Others who spoke on the occasion were progressive Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, Barjinder Singh of Sikh Nation, Joseph Theriault from Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), Guru Nanak Sikh temple Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor, a visiting activist from India Rawait Singh from Saibaba’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and IAPI spokesman Gurpreet Singh.  

The participants also raised slogans against state violence and carried placards asking for the release of all political prisoners, including Saibaba.

The rally was started with a moment of silence in memory of towering Indian film star and activist Girish Karnad, who passed away recently. He was in the forefront of campaigns against repression and growing attacks on religious minorities.

 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

June 10 was a great day for those who have been fighting for justice to an eight-year-old victim of rape and murder.

This is especially true for the courageous Human Rights Lawyer, Deepika Singh Rajawat who stepped forward at personal risk to defend the family of Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018.

The horrific crime attracted international attention.  

Those involved in the conspiracy wanted to terrorize and humiliate Muslims in the area by using rape as a weapon. 

On Monday, the special court in India convicted six people involved in the incident. Three of them have been given life imprisonment, while three police officers have been sentenced for five years each for destroying the evidence.

Rajawat faced threats and intimidation in the deeply polarized society of India. After all, the accused enjoyed the patronage of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power. Thanks to her advocacy, the case was transferred outside Jammu and Kashmir to ensure a fair trial.

While the verdict has certainly brought some relief, if one looks at the broader picture Bano has actually been let down by the Indian nation.

In the general election that concluded on May 19, the BJP came back to power with a brute majority. This time, the party that openly and shamelessly supported those involved in the gruesome act bagged 300 seats in the house of 543, more than the 282 it captured in 2014.

If the Indian electorate was honest, the BJP should have been punished in these elections. Rather the party got rewarded by the Hindu majority. Apparently, voters obsessed with the BJP’s outright sectarian agenda to transform the country into Hindu theocracy completely ignored the cries of Bano.

Not only that, the majority voters also overlooked the fact that Bano was confined in a temple that was used for such a sacrilegious act. It seems that they weren’t even outraged over BJP folks coming out in support of the accused with the national flag. 

The people who raped and murdered Bano, and those who came out on streets to support them were merely a few, but by re-electing a party that claims to be a custodian of Hindu religion and national interest, the entire nation has deceived the soul of the little child.

Whatever may be the explanation, the May election results were in sharp contrast to the mandate of 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ascended to power against the backdrop of infamous Nirbhaya case.

In December 2012, a woman was gang raped and physically assaulted on a public bus in Delhi, the national capital. The victim later succumbed to her injuries. The death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, was followed by angry protests in the capital.

The whole episode became a matter of shame for those in power. People thought that the government lacked will and strength to stop sexual violence on the streets of Delhi.

Among the demonstrators were the supporters of Modi and his party. Those opposed to then-Congress government did not let the issue die until the next election.

Modi openly appealed to the voters not to forget what happened to Nirbhaya when they went to vote. He categorically asked them to keep in mind the victim of the Delhi rape before voting for Lotus – the electoral symbol of BJP. Thus, the Delhi rape and murder became one of the many issues when Modi was elected to power in May 2014 with a hope for a strong government.

Come 2019, such drive was missing. Maybe Asifa wasn’t even on anyone’s mind.

It is pertinent to mention that the conspirators had also incited communal hatred against Muslim nomads, accusing them of killing cows. Asifa had clearly become another victim of cow politics which has gripped the general mood of the nation ever since Modi first became the Prime Minister. Since Hindus consider the cow as a sacred animal, the self-styled cow vigilantes have intensified their hateful and violent campaign against Muslims and Christians all over the country. They continue to target these communities on suspicion of consuming beef.   

Modi, who never missed an opportunity to rake up the issue of Nirbhaya before his 2014 election, remained silent on the sexual assault and murder of Asifa and did not find it necessary to reprimand his party men for supporting wrong people.  

Even otherwise, Modi was complicit in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom of Gujarat during which many young Muslim girls were raped by Hindu fundamentalists. The massacre followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident that was blamed on Islamic extremists by Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then. He wasn’t punished by the electorate at that time either, getting a heavy majority in the assembly election that followed the massacre.

It’s a shame to see that the entire nation was on its feet when a Hindu woman was raped in Delhi and kept the issue alive until Modi got elected to power in 2014, but the same nation looked the other way when Asifa was raped and murdered in 2018, and forgot her completely when they re-elected those who defended her killers.

This is despite the fact that many social justice activists continued to remind people of what happened to Asifa before the election started.

The election results, coming before the verdict that was the result of pure hard work of people like Rajawat and the prosecutors, have proved one thing - that India is a majoritarian democracy where winning elections by scapegoating non-Hindus has become a norm.

 

 

 

It was a day of victory for a human rights lawyer who fought for justice to the family of an eight-year-old victim of rape and murder.

Deepika Singh Rajawat stepped forward at personal risk to defend the family of Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018.

The horrific crime attracted international attention and there were angry demonstrations in Vancouver last year.

Those involved in the conspiracy wanted to terrorize and humiliate Muslims in the area by using rape as a weapon. 

On Monday, June 10 the special court in India convicted six people involved in the incident. Of them, three have been given life imprisonment, while three police officers have been sentenced for five years each for destroying the evidence.

The convicts include Sanji Ram, the mastermind of the conspiracy.  

Rajawat faced threats and intimidation in the deeply polarized society of India. The accused enjoyed the patronage of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power. Thanks to her advocacy, the case was transferred outside Jammu and Kashmir to ensure a fair trial.

Rajawat was honoured last month in Vancouver by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) with a medal of courage.

During her week-long tour, she visited Victoria, where she was introduced to the BC Legislature by Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh. Singh had raised the issue of Asifa Bano in the legislature last year. Rajawat was welcomed by the members with a huge round of applause. Later that day, she met BC Premier John Horgan and other elected officials in the legislature.

She was given certificates of appreciation by two elected officials – Ravi Kahlon and Randeep Singh Sarai - separately at their constituency offices. Kahlon is a Parliamentary Secretary of Sports and Multiculturalism and MLA from North Delta, while Sarai is a Member of Parliament from Surrey Centre.

Rajawat was also honoured at the Abbotsford Heritage Gurdwara that was established by the founders of the Ghadar Party which fought against the British occupation of India. Likewise, the Abbotsford-based Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society and Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta honoured her separately.

 

 

A visiting journalist who shot into prominence after throwing a shoe at India's Home Minister in protest against attempts to hush up investigations of the 1984 Sikh massacre was honoured by Radical Desi on Thursday, June 6.   

Jarnail Singh, who once worked with Dainik Jagran, a national Hindi daily, is here in connection with special events being organized in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Sikh repression.  

Singh had hurled a shoe at then-Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram in 2009 during a press conference. He became agitated when Chidambram refused to answer his repeated questions on attempts to shield those involved in the massacre.

Following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India by mobs instigated by activists of the slain leader’s ruling Congress party. The mass murders were carried out with the help of police.

Gandhi's bodyguards were seeking revenge for the army invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in June that year.  The ill-conceived military operation planned to deal with handful of armed militants inside the place of worship, but had left many worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

Chidambaram, a minister in the Congress-led government, had expressed his satisfaction over the clean chit given to the party leaders involved in the massacre. When Singh tried to grill him, he not only became evasive, but also tried to accuse Singh of using the forum of a press conference for his “agenda” because of his Sikh background. It was then that Singh flung a shoe at him. As a result, Singh was arrested but later released. He also lost his job for doing this.

In later years, Singh joined active politics with the Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to be a third alternative to the Congress and the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). He has also authored his memoir based on his first-hand experience as a survivor of the Sikh massacre.

Singh had witnessed the violence in New Delhi during 1984. As he grew older he curiously searched old newspaper files to find more about the massacre, but was completely disillusioned not to find much documented information on the genocide. That’s when he decided to become a journalist.

The members of Radical Desi team presented him with a medal of courage during an event organized in commemoration of the Sikh holocaust at Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib in New Westminster. 

Earlier, Singh addressed the gathering, to link the events of 1984 with the current situation in India. He said that the current BJP government is using similar methods as the then Congress government by scapegoating minorities to polarize the Hindu majority for political survival.

He pointed out that 35 years later, the BJP has been able to come back to power with a heavy majority by demonizing other minority communities, such as Muslims and Christians, by following in the footsteps of Congress that victimized the Sikh community to gain a majority in the general election following the ugly incidents of 1984. 

The BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected, with 300 seats in house of 543 in the May general election. This was despite the fact that Modi's previous five-year-term witnessed growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindu extremists.

Singh emphasised that India should remain diverse and never be allowed to become a Hindu theocracy. He warned that its secular fabric is in danger because the BJP is promoting religious animosity between different communities to stick to power.

The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the recent general election to embarrass Congress, but Singh noted that BJP supporters were also complicit in the state sponsored repression of Sikhs.  

Singh said that majoritarianism is the root of the problem, and considers that there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP, as both parties have used tactics to appease the Hindu majority. He thinks that under the current government India has become a land of Godse, and has lost touch with the spirit of Gandhi. 

Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the passive resistance movement against the British occupation of India, was shot to death in 1948 by a Hindu radical, Nathuram Godse. The assassin belonged to a group that wanted to establish a Hindu nation and saw the secularist Gandhi as a major roadblock. Many in BJP continue to glorify Godse as a patriot.

 

A visiting journalist from India who shot into prominence after throwing a shoe at the Indian Home Minister in protest against the attempts to hush up the investigation of the 1984 Sikh massacre will be honoured at Abbotsford this Sunday, June 9.  

Jarnail Singh once worked with Dainik Jagran, a national Hindi daily. He is here on the invitation of Gurdwara Kalgidhar Darbar, which has organized special prayers in Abbotsford, in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Sikh genocide.

Singh hurled a shoe at then Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram in 2009, during a press conference. He became agitated when Chidambram refused to answer his repeated questions on attempts to shield those involved in the massacre.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, by mobs instigated by activists of the slain leader’s ruling Congress party. The mass murders were carried out with the help of police.

Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards, who were seeking revenge for the army invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in June that year.  The ill-conceived military operation, planned to deal with a handful of armed militants inside the place of worship, left many pilgrims dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

Chidambaram, who was a minister in the Congress-led government, had expressed his satisfaction over the clean chit given to the party leaders involved in the massacre. When Singh tried to grill him, he not only became evasive, but also tried to accuse Singh of using the forum of a press conference for his “agenda” because of his Sikh background. It was then that Singh flung the shoe. As a result, Singh was arrested but later released. He also lost his job for doing this.

In later years, Singh joined active politics with the Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to be a third alternative to the Congress and the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). He has also authored his memoir based on his first-hand experience as a survivor of the Sikh massacre.

During a press conference in Surrey on Tuesday, June 4 he revealed that he personally witnessed the violence in New Delhi during 1984. As he grew older he curiously searched old newspaper files to find more about the massacre, but was completely disillusioned not to find much documented information on the genocide. That’s when he decided to become a journalist.

Talking to the Radical Desi, he categorically blamed Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi for being complicit in the massacre. Rajiv Gandhi was appointed as the next Prime Minister following the assassination of his mother. In the aftermath of the holocaust, he won the parliamentary election with a brute majority. He was posthumously given Bharat Ratna – the highest civilian award. Singh believes that Gandhi should be stripped of that award, as he had set a precedent for majoritarian democracy by scapegoating the Sikhs.

He pointed out that three decades later, the BJP has been able to come back to power with a heavy majority by demonizing other minority communities, such as Muslims and Christians, following in the footsteps of Rajiv Gandhi. 

Notably, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi staged a comeback with 300 seats in a house of 543. This was despite growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindu extremists witnessed during Modi's previous five-year-term. Modi is also accused of being involved in the anti-Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. A 1984-like massacre was repeated to target Muslims, enabling Modi to come back to power with a huge majority in the subsequent assembly election.

Singh emphasised that India should remain diverse and never be allowed to become a Hindu theocracy. He warned that its secular fabric is in danger because the BJP is promoting religious animosity between different communities to stick to power.

While the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the recently concluded general election to embarrass Congress, Singh noted that the BJP supporters were also involved in the massacre as foot soldiers. He also questioned the BJP government for giving Bharat Ranta to Nanaji Deshmukh – a towering leader of the Hindu Right. Deshmukh had openly justified the Sikh massacre of 1984.

Singh said that majoritarianism is the root of the problem, and that there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP, as both parties have become used to appeasing the Hindu majority. He thinks that under the current government India has become a land of Godse and has lost touch with the spirit of Gandhi. 

Mahatma Gandhi – the leader of passive resistance movement against British occupation of India - was murdered by Hindu radical Nathuram Godse. The assassin belonged to a group that wanted to establish a Hindu nation and saw secularist Gandhi as a major roadblock. After all, Gandhi believed in Hindu Muslim unity. He was shot to death by Godse in 1948. Many in the BJP continue to glorify him. Singh pointed out that several BJP MPs have repeatedly described Godse as a patriot,  which shows which way India is heading.

 

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

The humiliating defeat of the opposition Congress party in the recent parliamentary election in India comes close to the 35th anniversary of state sponsored repression of minority Sikh community.

The party has bagged only 52 seats out of the total 543 in the parliament. 

This was despite the fact that Congress claims to be a secular alternative to the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) under which attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians have grown sharply. So much so, the anti–incumbency factor didn’t work either, and as a result, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi got re-elected with a brute majority, taking 303 seats, more than the 282 it won in the 2014 election.

Even though this election was seen as a referendum on the future of secular India, with the BJP bent upon turning the country into a Hindu theocracy, the Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi failed to sell its image as a credible secular alternative.

Modi described the tag of secularism carried by Congress party as fake. 

Though I strongly dislike Modi for his sectarian politics, I agree with him 100 percent when he called the secularism of Congress party a sham.

It was exactly 35 years ago in 1984, when the Congress as the governing party targeted the Sikh community to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. 

The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – the grandmother of Rahul Gandhi - was locked in a conflict with the moderate Sikh leadership of Punjab that was seeking extra rights for the community and their home state. However, Indira Gandhi remained adamant and never tried to resolve these issues with honesty. This resulted in the emergence of a parallel Sikh extremist movement that believed in an armed resistance. The situation was allowed to go out of hand, following which Indira Gandhi ordered the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in Amritsar in June, 1984. 

The ill-conceived army operation was avoidable, and aimed at dealing with handful of militants. Instead, it left many innocent worshipers dead and highest temporal seat of the Sikh faith – the Akal Takhat Sahib - heavily destroyed. This had alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream.

On October 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi. Following the high profile murder, innocent Sikhs were killed all across India by the mobs led by Congress party activists. Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi, who was later appointed as the Prime Minister, was complicit in the pogroms. He had gone to the extent of justifying the anti-Sikh massacre as a natural reaction to the death of a popular leader, whereas it was a state sponsored genocide. 

The Congress won 404 seats out of 514 in the election that followed the Sikh massacre. Notably, the BJP won only two seats in the house, since the Congress was able to attract the Hindu vote bank of BJP. This had vindicated the Sikh leadership, which complained that the army invasion was planned to win the election and nothing else by scapegoating the community. 

This whole episode set a precedent for majoritarian democracy, under which minorities are targeted with impunity to win elections by polarizing the dominant group. 

Modi used a similar strategy in Gujarat in 2002. Before becoming the Prime Minister, he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which saw the worst anti—Muslim pogrom. The massacre followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident that was blamed by Modi on Islamic extremists. Shortly after that, the BJP supporters organized mass murders of Muslims all over the state. Subsequently, Modi won the assembly election with a huge mandate. 

Modi’s ascendance to power cannot be delinked from the ugly events of 1984. Ironically, Modi had repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the election to embarrass Congress, whereas the BJP workers were also involved in the anti-Sikh massacre.

Today what is happening to all other minority communities under Modi is the culmination of the Sikh genocide of 1984, which marked the beginning of an era of impunity and the death of the idea of India that is based on diversity and pluralism. 

It is pertinent to mention that Modi and his party openly played the religious card during the election campaign and also fielded candidates involved in hate crimes and hate speeches against Muslims and Christians. It is a separate matter that they had the moderate Sikh leadership of Punjab on their side. This particular group cannot go along with Congress because of its baggage of 1984. Even otherwise, Hindu nationalists consider Sikhs as part of Hindu fold, a theory that is strongly contested by many Sikh activists. 

Unfortunately, the Congress lacks genuine remorse for what it did in 1984. Except making some symbolic moves such as appointing the first Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Congress party never came out clean on this issue. Interestingly, Singh had made a vague apology for 1984, but never acknowledged the involvement of Congress party or his colleagues in the massacre. That itself was a mockery of repentance. Several months before the recent general election, the Congress appointed Kamal Nath, a senior leader involved in the 1984 massacre as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. During the general election, one of the senior leaders, Sam Pitroda said what happened happened in reference to 1984. It is high time that Rahul Gandhi own up moral responsibility for the massacre and apologise for the actions of his beloved dad and grandma.

It is important to mention here that a Sikh separatist leader Simranjeet Singh Mann – who had resigned as a police officer in protest against the army invasion of the Golden Temple - has set a great example by apologizing for the action of his grandfather, who was the custodian of Akal Takhat during British rule.

Aroor Singh had presented a robe of honour to a general responsible for Jallianwala Bagh massacre. On April 13, 1919 British troops fired on a peaceful gathering of demonstrators who had gathered in protest against the arrests of the leaders of freedom struggle, at Jallianwala Bagh public park located near the Golden Temple. Close to 1,000 people died in the incident.

I still remember having confronted Mann as a journalist during a press conference in Punjab almost two decades ago, asking what he thinks of the action of his grandfather, to which he categorically said that it was a wrong thing to do and later apologized for it.

If Mann can do so despite his grandfather not being directly responsible for the massacre, why can’t Rahul Gandhi do the same? He should learn something from a person like Mann, who despite being a separatist had courtesy to make an apology for someone who betrayed the national movement. 

More than an apology, the Congress needs to do soul searching on its commitment towards secularism. Merely criticising Modi and BJP for being outright sectarian is not going to work. You have to really prove that your words match with your deeds. 

 

***

 

 

Burnaby-based Spice Radio’s campaign against racism got a major boost from the visit by a human rights lawyer from India.  

Deepika Singh Rajawat, who fought for justice to the family of an eight-year-old victim of rape and murder, received massive support from elected officials, activists, media and ordinary people within the Indian Diaspora in Canada during her week-long tour.

She had stepped forward at personal risk to defend the family of Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018.

Those involved in the conspiracy wanted to terrorize and humiliate Muslims in the area by using rape as a weapon.  

Rajawat faced threats and intimidation in the deeply polarized society of India, where the accused continue to enjoy the patronage of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, under which attacks on religious minorities have grown.

She was at Spice Radio on Tuesday, May 21, where she left her coloured hand-print on a white sheet with a message against bigotry. 

“Colours bring happiness. Let’s be together to bring colours,”, she wrote. Below her signatures, she also wrote, “Secular India”.

The campaign was started by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt in 2015 on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. 

The annual campaign coincides with Holi – a Hindu festival of colours and is aimed to encourage people to come and dip their hands in colour and leave their hand-prints on a white sheet.

Datt, who is also a strong advocate for women empowerment, had supported Rajawat’s struggle for justice and went on social media to condemn the rape and murder of Bano and challenge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his silence.

Datt also interviewed Rajawat on the occasion. 

Notably, both Rajawat and Datt are devout Hindus, and yet they came out in support of the campaign for justice to a Muslim child.  

During her visit, Rajawat was given certificates of appreciation by three elected officials – Randeep Singh Sarai, Ravi Kahlon and Rachna Singh - on separate occasions for standing up for human rights and social justice. Sarai is a Member of Parliament from Surrey Centre, while Kahlon is a Parliamentary Secretary of Sports and Multiculturalism and MLA from North Delta. 

Singh is an MLA from Surrey Green-Timbers. She had earlier introduced Rajawat to the BC Legislature, and had also raised the issue of Bano in the assembly last year.

Rajawat’s video of participating in #HandsAgainstRacism continues to trend on Twitter.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

It was a rainy Monday morning.

Our guest from India, Deepika Singh Rajawat, wanted to go to a temple for prayers. I picked her up from a friend’s house where she was staying and drove her to Burnaby Hindu temple, one of the largest in North America.

Once we reached the temple, she greeted the priest respectfully, removed her shoes and went straight inside the prayer room. She then took several minutes to perform the holy ritual of bathing the idol of Lord Shiva with milk and water. With eyes closed in devotion and prayers on her lips she was completely immersed in paying obeisance to God.  After the prayers were over, she seemed completely relaxed with tears flowing from her eyes.

She had a hectic week as she was here to speak about her fight for justice on the invitation of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), a group I belong to. It was established in response to growing attacks on religious minorities under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

A human rights defender who I would prefer to call Deepika on purpose in the rest of the text, is a devout Hindu. She is a practising lawyer based in the Jammu region of India. She came into the limelight after she stepped forward to defend the family of an eight-year-old Muslin nomad girl Asifa Bano who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists. The perpetrators of the heinous crime wanted to terrorise and humiliate Muslims and used little child’s body as a battlefield.  

IAPI had decided to invite her and honour her for standing up for a minority community and share her story with the people in Canada. Talking about such an intensive subject again and again also becomes emotionally draining, and I could feel that pain in her.

After the prayers she reminded me what true Hindu values stand for, and how those using Hinduism as a political tool know nothing about their faith. She has repeatedly said that her brand of Hinduism is based on the philosophy of love and not bigotry.

Yet, her faith in Hinduism did not stop her from taking up the cause of Bano, even when Indian society is completely polarized under the BJP government that won another term in the recently concluded election. This is despite the fact that she is a Kashmiri Pundit, an ethnic group which has been persecuted by the Islamic fundamentalists for years.

Being a staunch believer of the law and the Indian constitution that is based on principles of secularism and inclusion, she did what she thought right. Notably, she has emphasised many times that she is a proud Indian and a proud Hindu. On the contrary, those in power stood in support of those involved in the conspiracy to rape and murder Bano.  So much so, the BJP men marched with the national flag to show solidarity with the suspects, and kept attacking Deepika on social media.

An undeterred Deepika continued to fight until the case was transferred outside Jammu to the neighbouring state of Punjab to ensure a fair trial. However, this fight has never been easy for Deepika. She had to face challenges even from within her own family and the fraternity of lawyers. The majoritarian sentiment had almost alienated her completely. Not only was she branded as anti-national, but anti-Hindu. The Indian establishment should have given her the highest civilian award she deserved for standing up for the values enshrined in the constitution, but instead she was labelled as unpatriotic.

Interestingly, the BJP supporters who want Bhagwad Geeta, a sacred Hindu text, to be declared as a national book, deviated from its teachings when they tried to malign Deepika who is a far better Hindu. Geeta teaches everyone to perform their assigned duty with dedication and without any prejudice. Well, she was exactly doing that as a lawyer, but the self-styled custodians of Hinduism threatened to rape and murder her for coming to the defence of a Muslim family.  

During her stay in Vancouver, one evening she cooked a dinner for everyone that included goat meat. This was despite the fact that she herself is vegetarian. This gesture, how small it may seem alone, shows her openness, something the BJP lacks. This is in sharp contrast to what self-styled cow vigilantes are doing in India. Since Hindus consider cow as a sacred animal, they have started going after Muslims and Christians suspected of carrying beef in their tiffin boxes.

Another instance of her faith in inclusion is her visit to the Abbotsford Heritage Gurdwara where she prayed before Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.  That the members of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, another gurdwara in Abbotsford, came to see her at a specially arranged meeting in Surrey to give her a small token of appreciation, shows the kind of respect she received from the Sikh community which has faced the worst forms of state sponsored violence in the past.   

Ironically, the day Deepika returned to India, the electorate of that country re-elected the BJP government with a brute majority, in spite of the fact that past five years saw repression of minorities. The verdict of the Indian voters was clearly in favour of hate and terror. While a person like myself hoped that what they did to Bano will bring a new awakening and the BJP will either be ousted or lose seats, it has actually increased its strength in the parliament. The voters who completely ignored the cries of Bano have let us down.

Deepika, which means lantern, continues to give us hope in these depressing times and we believe it will continue to flicker and remove this darkness one day. We need more true Indians and good Hindus like her to rescue that nation from the religious extremists who are bent upon ripping the secular fabric and turning that land of diversity into a Hindu theocracy.

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