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

Air India anniversary exposes the double speak of Indian state and its apologists on terrorism Featured

 

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.

***

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