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Air India Milestone Has Canada’s Sikhs Praying For Answers

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Archived_Member16, Jun 5, 2010.

  1. Archived_Member16

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    SPNer Thinker

    Jan 7, 2005
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    Air India milestone has Canada’s
    Sikhs praying for answers

    Robert Matas

    Vancouver — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Jun. 04, 2010 8:22PM EDT Last updated on Friday, Jun. 04, 2010 9:56PM EDT

    <!-- /#credit -->Perpinder Singh, a fourth-generation Canadian Sikh, is a lawyer of about 30 years old who wears a turban and a pinstriped suit, white shirt and tie. He discovered the religion that his parents abandoned when he was a teenager, searching for who he was. He was drawn deeper into its rituals as a university student as he sought meaning in prayers and philosophy, and learned about the history of Sikhism.

    Mr. Singh says he was confused when he found out about the Indian army’s raid of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, in the first week of June, 1984. The Indian government and human-rights groups had conflicting accounts of the events. The government talked of flushing out armed separatists who were part of a campaign of murderous rampages; human-rights advocates spoke of government forces killing thousands of innocent pilgrims who were at the temple to commemorate the death of the religion’s fifth guru.

    Mr. Singh, an organizer of a candlelight vigil on Saturday evening to mark the raid on the Golden Temple, said he was taken aback initially by the allegations of government brutality.

    “Can a government really do this to its people? That does not make sense,” he recently recalled wondering. “Growing up in Canada, I believed my government protects me, my cops protect me, my elected representatives are here to … well, in an ideal world to look after me.”

    Differing accounts of several historical events that occurred in India in the mid-1980s will reverberate across Canada this month. Groups within the Sikh community and others are commemorating the death of the innocent bystanders in the Golden Temple raid, promoting a petition to Parliament to designate as genocide the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. They are also organizing memorials to honour 331 people who were killed 25 years ago in the Air India disaster, the deadliest terrorist attack in Canadian history.

    The final report of the federal commission of inquiry into the Air India investigation is expected to be released later this month. But it is not clear yet how commissioner John Major will handle history.

    Mr. Singh said he is concerned about human-rights abuses. He became convinced that the people responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in the Golden Temple raid have never been held accountable. He finds similarities between human rights abuses against the Sikh community and the treatment of other groups within India. Those who act with impunity believe they have a licence to keep doing these kinds of activities, he said.

    A few years ago, Mr. Singh began taking part in a modest annual memorial to commemorate the raid of the Golden Temple. This year’s vigil is expected to attract thousands of people on Saturday evening to the plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

    The vigil – which comes after a week of lectures, special prayer services and the showing of a new documentary on the raid – is billed as a rally in support of a campaign for human rights. Mr. Singh said the organizers hope to raise awareness of what happened in India according to their view of history.

    “There is a feeling among youth – not so much among the elders now, but you have the youth asking questions – asking what can we do, how can we get involved, how do we document human-rights abuses,” Mr. Singh said in an interview this week.

    History will also be under a microscope in Ottawa next week as a group called Sikhs for Justice has a petition presented to Parliament calling on Canada to recognize as genocide the killing of 3,000 Sikhs during riots after former prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in November, 1984.

    Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Canadian lawyer who lives in Oakville, Ont., and practices mostly in the United States, said the group collected signatures on the petition at Sikh temples across the country. He believes the Indian government should be held responsible for the killings.

    About 10 government appointed commissions and inquiries in India over the past 25 years have looked into aspect of the riots, but no one has been held accountable, he said.

    “We are concerned about all violence, whether by Sikhs, or the government or government agents,” Mr. Pannun said, referring to the turbulent times in India throughout the mid-1980s. “We just want the truth to come out.”

    In a pre-emptive move, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has already made it clear that he does not consider the riots an organized campaign of genocide. The term genocide is used to provoke a charged visceral response, Mr. Ignatieff said in a prepared statement released earlier this week. He said the terminology could aggravate tensions or polarize communities.

    The Air India tragedy has also splintered the Sikh community for years. Two bombs were placed on planes leaving Vancouver on June 22, 1985. Hours later, one exploded on an Air India flight from Toronto to London, killing all crew and passengers. A second bomb killed two baggage handlers in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

    The role of Sikh radicals in the bombings was laid out years ago in court proceedings that led to the conviction of B.C. mechanic Inderjit Singh Reyat, who collected components for the explosives.

    But no one else has been held accountable for the deaths, leaving the door open for endless speculation. Many Sikhs reject the conventional wisdom, saying they suspect that the Indian government, or rogue agents of the government, were among the cast of characters that had a role in the disaster.

    A former CSIS Asia-Pacific bureau chief, Michel Juneau-Katsuya, recently added his voice to those who suspect the Indian government. In a book called Nest of Spies co-authored with journalist Fabrice de Pierrebourg, Mr. Juneau-Katsuya speculated on whether the Indian government had agents provocateur in Canada’s Sikh communities that may have been involved in the bombings.

    The authors conclude that India likely knew more than it has let on about the bombings but allowed the plot to go forward “because it was in its interests to do so, or at worst, the business got out of control.”

    Despite their different perspectives, several Sikhs said in interviews that they hope the conflicting views of history will be put aside on the 25th anniversary of the bombings to commemorate the victims of the disaster in every gurdwara in Canada.

    An active member of the Sikh community – who asked to remain anonymous fearing retribution from those who disagreed with him – said he believed radical Sikhs use human-rights campaigns to promote a separatist agenda. They turn memorials into tributes to terrorists who were killed during their bloody campaign for an independent country that would be called Khalistan, he said.

    However, Mr. Singh dismissed the suggestion that Khalistan activists were behind the human-rights campaign, at least in Vancouver. Insisting that he has no interest in the Khalistan movement, Mr. Singh said he was not familiar with a lot of the Sikh interest groups. “[The vigil] is something I do know,” he said. “It has one focus and it has one agenda. It is purely human rights and documenting evidence to what happened to the Sikhs, and basically ensuring that these kind of basic human-rights violations do not happen again.”


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  3. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Mentor Writer SPNer

    Oct 6, 2006
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    SIKHS DID NOT BOMB THAT PLANE!!!! :angrykudi:

    I do not apologise for the caps. I am screaming, as I will scream every time this is brought up. Also I am not angry at this article which is pretty well balanced for a change.
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