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1984 Sikhs Continue To Demand Justice in India

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Jul 15, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Sikhs Continue To Demand Justice in India


    As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mingled with the leaders of G-20 countries in Toronto, Canada, recently, symbolising India's ascent as a power, a ghost from the past surfaced - the macabre 1984 pogroms of India.

    Out there in the streets of Toronto walked the expatriate Sikhs, demanding justice for the victims and punishment for those who perpetrated the riots. They questioned the democratic credentials of India and petitioned for recognition of the pogroms as "genocide".

    The protest was a rude shock to those who believed the emergence of Manmohan as Indian prime minister must have addressed, in some measure at least, the alienation of the Sikhs in Canada, which was labeled in the '80s a hotbed of Khalistan separatism.

    Quite palpably, the alienation of Sikhs persists - deeply, even bitterly. Ask the half a million Sikhs who have made Canada their home, and they will likely lament their inability to forget the pogroms, which, in their narration, is referred to - justly - as a "genocide" or a "massacre".

    And genocide and massacre, irrespective of the years between the time of their occurrence and the present, demand justice for the victims and punishment for those who masterminded it. "The anti-Sikh pogrom is not a closed chapter yet," says Jaspal Singh Bal, the Toronto-based spokesman of the World Sikh Organisation of Canada.

    In contrast to those who believe that a Sikh as prime minister is a salve soothing enough for troubled memories to be forgotten, many here say the six years of Manmohan's prime ministership have stoked expectations for justice. As Balraj Deol, editor of Khabarnama, a Punjabi weekly published from Toronto, says, "No one could have done more to enhance the image of Sikhs in the world than Manmohan Singh. But I think this is the best time for reconciliation."

    But these protests, these voices, are perceived by a section in the Indian establishment as a concerted attempt to revive the demand for Khalistan and, simultaneously, exploit the human rights issue to destabilise India. Sources in government say they have been taken aback at what they themselves propagandize as the gradual re-emergence of Sikh extremism and terrorist activities in Canada.

    This self-created 'fact' had worried Manmohan enough to raise it more than once with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. Indian government sources also claims that the purported Sikh 'militants' in Canada are trying to revive old links with the LTTE to channel funds for separatists in Punjab.

    Sikh activists here scoff at such charges, saying it's typical of the Indian state to dub as secessionist or terrorist any person who raises the issue of human rights violations.

    Gurpatwant Singh, legal advisor to Sikhs For Justice, a voluntary group, says, "A systematic campaign is on to tarnish the image of the Sikh community in Canada."

    Perhaps the Indian authorities are a trifle paranoid, forgetting that Indians here have played an important role in championing human rights in Canada, which has an enviable history on this count.

    As Gurwinder Singh, a Vancouver-based political commentator, says: "There were strong protests in Canada when Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi. There have been protests not only against the anti-Sikh pogroms but also against the violent attacks on Christians and Muslims in India."

    The Indian diaspora's experience of Canada has also influenced perceptions. Second-generation Sikhs can't fathom why a peaceful demand for a separate Sikh state is anathema to India, often citing in conversations the contrast of Canada where those wanting Quebec to secede are also MPs.

    Jatinder Singh, a young IT professional here, mentions it before saying: "All options for justice are on the table."

    But such responses are too pat for the Indian authorities, troubled by the tendency among some Sikhs to laud Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale besides Talwinder Singh Parmar, who purportedly masterminded the Kanishka plane explosion. Pictures and posters of these leaders are displayed during Vaisakhi celebrations in many Canadian cities, a fact even the IT professional admits. In the same breath, though, he explains, "Their photos in gurudwaras have a different meaning here than what they have in India."

    Like what? Perhaps as men who fought for the community, he suggests. Obviously, it's a polemic not at all convincing.

    The Indian establishment is mistaken in believing that all those who raise the demand for justice are militants. Jagdish Grewal, editor of the Canadian Punjabi Post, says, "The pro-Khalistan sections are still stuck in the past and can't move forward. But there is no denying that there is resentment among large sections of people, who feel that the powerful persons responsible for the anti-Sikh riots have not yet been charged."

    S.J. Singh, a former Indian Airlines commander who narrowly escaped being lynched in India during the 1984 pogroms and is now based in Toronto, says, "I am no secessionist, but I certainly want to see the perpetrators of the 1984 pogroms brought to justice."

    This line of thought is perhaps known to Manmohan, who made it a point to interact with the Sikh-Canadian members of parliament. Among them was Sukh Singh Dhaliwal, who had unsuccessfully moved a resolution in the Canadian parliament just a few days ago to get the 1984 pogroms recognised as "genocide".

    Believing it is better to engage rather than isolate men such as Dhaliwal, Manmohan tried to apply a poultice to their wounds. He said he had already apologised for the 1984 riots in Parliament, accepted the weakness in the Indian legal system, and pointed to his government's efforts to reopen all the massacre cases for providing compensation to those affected. Flanked by the deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, also a Sikh, Manmohan said, "We cannot get away from our past, but the challenge lies in looking ahead."

    But this "healing touch" had some Sikhs decry the subtext of Mamohan's plea. For instance, Gurpatwant Singh of Sikhs For Justice lashes out: "It's statements like this that promotes the culture of impunity, that encourages and ensures the criminals that if they attack the minority community they will not be punished."

    And Sukh says, "The prime minister needs to see that positions of emotional distress over such a terrible moment in history do not translate into extremism ..."

    Really, the opinion of Sikhs here - and everywhere else in the world! - can change only if the UPA government delivers justice - albeit 26 years late!

    [This is an edited version of the article which first appeared in Outlook]

    July 11, 2010

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  3. spnadmin

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    Jun 17, 2004
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    This is a question that needs to be asked. Now it was asked. And it needs to be answered with due respect for the right of people to petition the government and exercise freedom on expression without being considered "extremists." The word is what is known as a weasel word.
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