"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Journalist who hurled shoe at Indian Home Minister to be honoured in BC Featured

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.




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