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Banning of Sikhs For Justice show true colours of the Indian state Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

The banning of New York-based advocacy group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) by the Indian state has once again revealed the discriminatory and anti-minority mindset of the government of the world’s so called largest democracy.

On July 10, the Indian Home Ministry declared SFJ as an unlawful organization and banned it for five years.

SFJ is being accused of spreading terrorism not only by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Delhi, but also by the Congress government in Punjab, where Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has welcomed the move. Thus, the two parties that are ideologically opposed to each other have come under one tent to isolate SFJ, which has been campaigning for a referendum on a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan in 2020.

Many of their activists have been arrested in the past by the Punjab police for merely propagating in support of the referendum that Captain Amarinder Singh and the BJP claim to be secessionist in nature. 

A violent insurgency for Khalistan in Punjab left thousands of people dead between the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, but that movement is long dead, partly because of police repression and partly because it lost popular support from the Sikh community due to excesses committed by the militants. Only some fringe groups, such as SFJ, are asking for Khalistan through democratic means and yet the Indian government chose to ban them. 

The SFJ was founded in 2007. Initially, the group was campaigning for justice to the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide.

In the first week of November 1984, Sikhs were slaughtered by the mobs all over India, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards in retaliation for the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June that year. The ill-conceived army operation, planned and executed to deal with a handful of militants inside the temple, left many pilgrims dead and important buildings heavily destroyed. The attack that was preventable had alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream and galvanized the movement for Khalistan.

Activists of the slain leader’s self-proclaimed secularist Congress party were seen instigating the murderous mobs that targeted innocent Sikhs. SFJ has been trying to embarrass all those political figures involved by trying to block their visits to North America. Some of these individuals were served with summons by the courts following sustained efforts of SFJ. 

Notably, the SFJ did not just confine itself to Sikh issues; it also opposed the visits of the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US and Canada for his complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre.

Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were murdered in the state following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Modi had blamed the Muslim extremists for the incident that claimed more than 50 lives.

However, SFJ went a step further when a far right Hindu nationalist group,  Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), announced in 2015 that India will become a Hindu state by 2020. The statement came from the VHP leader Ashok Singhal, after Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. VHP was involved in the Gujarat massacre and is known to be closely associated with the BJP. The two groups are determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. This gave SFJ an excuse to raise the issue of 2020 referendum.

Under Modi, the government of India, despite the secular constitution, remained a mute spectator to the vicious statement of Singhal. The SFJ continues to receive backlash and bad press since then. Nobody talks about Singhal being a troublemaker.  

Leave aside the question of banning VHP for spreading hate and violence, when Singhal died the same year, he was given last respects by the ministers in the BJP government. Modi also paid tributes to this leader, who was known for spewing venom against Muslims.

Since 2014, the minorities continue to be attacked with impunity by Hindu extremist groups, including VHP. In the recently concluded general election, BJP fielded Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur – a controversial female ascetic involved in a bombing incident that left six people dead and 100 injured in a predominantly Muslim locality in 2008 - as its candidate. Now an elected MP, she was openly supported by Modi, despite the fact that she is still facing trial and hasn’t been acquitted.

This clearly shows that the Indian state under Modi is shamelessly patronizing those involved in majoritarian terrorism and has given them enough legitimacy. To punish Hindu fanatical groups is one thing, the Indian state lacks will to ban them. So the question is why and on what basis SFJ has been banned.

These simple facts are sufficient to understand that the Indian state is being selective. Its definition of terrorism remains flawed, as it arbitrarily decides who is a terrorist and who isn’t. Not a single Hindu extremist organization has been added to its growing list of banned terror groups.

People in North America need to raise their voice in defence of SFJ and press upon the Indian government to lift the ban which is aimed at polarizing Hindu majority and scapegoat minority Sikh community to gain political mileage. Both the BJP and the Congress are aiming to pocket the constituency of Hindu majority by othering non-Hindus, be they Muslims or the Sikhs. If a democracy like India has an appetite to accept the rhetoric of Hindu Right then it must also show respect to the demand for a referendum on Khalistan, or else India should honestly admit that it was always a Hindu nation where minorities hold second class citizenship.

 

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