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

India should stop shedding crocodile tears for Air India victims Featured


Gurpreet Singh 


Today marks 35 years of the Air India bombings that left 331 people dead on June, 23 1985. 

This was the worst incident in the history of aviation terror before 9/11. 

Widely blamed on Sikh separatists in Canada seeking revenge for repression of Sikhs in India during 1984, the investigation and trial of the case culminated into one lone conviction of alleged bomb maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, who pleaded guilty of manslaughter.

Two other suspects,  Greater Vancouver Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik, and Kamloops sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted in 2005 for lack of evidence.

Bagri was associated with the now-banned Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh extremist group whose leader, the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, was said to be the mastermind of the conspiracy. He died at the hands of Indian police in 1992 under mysterious circumstances. Other potential suspects were never charged.

Ajay Basaria, the current Indian High Commissioner, has made a brief statement on social media condemning the incident. Due to COVID 19, most commemorative events are planned online; otherwise, Indian officials do not miss an opportunity to personally attend memorial services across Canada.  

India has been consistently raising this issue with Canada for years. The present Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the memorial site in Ontario during his 2015 official tour of Canada. When Malik and Bagri were acquitted, the Indian government had expressed its outrage.  

However, recent developments suggest that India has lost any moral right to talk about Air India in particular and terrorism in general.

Firstly, the Indian government gave visa to Malik to visit his birthplace late last year. This is despite the fact that until then, India has been accusing him of being a financier of the conspirators. In fact, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson declared that Malik's acquittal “was not a declaration of innocence” while rejecting his claim for compensation for losses incurred by him on his legal defence.

Secondly, Indian agents continue to attack certain Sikh temples that glorify Parmar as a martyr of their cause. Canadian politicians who often visit these temples are frequently blasted by pro-India lobby groups. If Malik’s acquittal is a yardstick for getting Indian visa, there is no point going after the supporters of Parmar, as he never got a fair trial to prove his innocence. He was rather killed in an extra judicial manner.  

Considering what India is going through under a right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Modi, what right has India to talk tough on terrorism? 

Modi himself nominated a controversial female Hindu ascetic to run for the office in last year’s general election. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a Member of Parliament from Modi’s own Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), was involved in a bombing targeted at the Muslim community in 2008. Close to 10 people had died and many were injured. Thakur, who was cooling her heels in jail, was given bail to run for the parliament.

If this was not enough, the BJP government helped in the acquittal of Swami Aseemanand, another Hindu ascetic involved in the 2007 rail bombing that left close to 70 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims. His proximity with Modi is well documented.

Notably, these two individuals did not meet the same fate as Parmar. Apparently, India treats extremists belonging to the Hindu majority differently. 

Even otherwise, terror attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities have grown in India ever since Modi came to power in 2014. All this indicates that India is blatantly patronising terrorism, which takes away its legitimacy to question other countries on this issue.

To put things in perspective, Indian government’s decision to give visa to Malik might have to do something with the shrewd politics of Modi to create a wedge between Muslims and Sikhs in places like Canada, where the two communities have come together to challenge ultra-Hindu nationalism.

Modi’s calculation might be based on the fact that the Sikhs were subjected to state violence in India under a previous Congress government. In spite of its tall claims of being secular, Congress had engineered a Sikh massacre in 1984, following the murder of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Nevertheless, Modi repeated that against Muslims in 2002. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which witnessed a similar pogrom after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing more than 50 people. Modi had blamed that incident on Muslims, even though one commission of enquiry had established that it was a pure accident. 

Instead of shedding crocodile tears for the Air India victims and playing with their emotions, the Indian state needs to look hard at itself in the mirror. Blaming others all the time isn’t helpful. It’s time for India to change its ways and treat its minorities humanely. Either deal with terrorists of all shades alike or stop being selective. 

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