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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.  

      

 

 

The Pakistani and Indian Diaspora came together in Surrey to celebrate the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, which will provide Sikhs access to their historical gurdwara across the international border.

The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, spent the final years of his life in Kartarpur, located close to the now fenced Indo-Pak border in Pakistan.

On the 550th birth anniversary of Nanak next year, the Pakistan government is going to allow Sikh pilgrims to travel without visa through the corridor to visit at the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara.

Following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, not only Kartarpur Sahib, but many other important gurdwaras, including the birthplace of Nanak, were separated from the Sikhs in India. For years they have been asking the almighty everyday as part of their daily ardas (prayer) for open access to the shrines separated from the community. Those who live close to the border mostly visit an Indian border security post to see distantly visible Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara through binoculars.

Recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government is willing to open the corridor. Though Pakistan had made such offers earlier too, the Indian government had remained reluctant and skeptical, citing security reasons. India continues to blame Pakistan for sponsoring subversive elements in India. Nevertheless, the Indian government has now accepted the offer and reciprocated it by deciding to construct their part of the corridor.

These developments have revived the hopes of permanent peace in the region that saw two major wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.

On Tuesday, December 18 the Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association (PCCA) organized an event in Surrey, where the Indian Punjabi Sikhs presented a letter of thanks to the Pakistani government through its Consul in Vancouver, Fahad Amjad. The letter was given to Amjad by the team of Punjabi Business Association of Canada led by Jaspinder Brar.

The occasion was the celebration of the birth anniversary of the father of the Pakistani nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Later, the organizers did a cake cutting to celebrate both the birthday of Jinnah and the opening of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. A video presentation on the corridor plan was also screened at the event attended by elected officials from Surrey.

Among those who spoke on the occasion was BC Minister for Labour Harry Bains, who was joined on the dais by his party colleagues and NDP MLAs Jagrup Brar and Rachna Singh. Others who spoke were Liberal MP Randeep Singh Sarai, BC Liberal MLA Marvin Hunt and Conservative Party candidate Shinder Purewal.

Former BC Minister and a leading Liberal, Dr. Gulzar Cheema, who hails from Gurdaspur which is close to Kartarpur Sahib, gave background information on the campaign by Sikhs for open access to the shrines separated due to partition.

Prominent progressive businessman Baldev Bath also spoke on the occasion. Others who addressed the gathering included PCCA officials Naveed Waraich, Farukh Sayed, Farooq Rai and a young Punjabi poet, Irvin Singh, who recited a poem dedicated to the opening of the corridor.       

 

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.

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