Sikhs in Canada who have often faced racial stereotypes because of the Air India bombing and related incidents have proven that they care for humanity and cannot be painted with one brush.
Despite bad press and hostilities, it is estimated they have contributed to saving more than 140,000 human lives through their annual blood drive since 1999. This number is going to increase after this year’s campaign, as new donors joined over the past weekend. This campaign was started by the Sikh community in British Columbia, but has spread to other locations in Canada, the U.S. and worldwide.
Every year, organized by the international volunteer network Sikh Nation, donors line up outside blood donation sites all across B.C. This is done to mark the anniversary of the anti-Sikh massacre that followed the assassination of then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984.
The supporters of Indira Gandhi's ruling Congress party led mobs who murdered Sikhs across India. Close to 3,000 people were murdered in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Prominent Congress leaders, including Indira’s son and the succeeding prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, were involved in the mass murders. Many police officers either remained mute spectators or participated in the genocide.
The state-sponsored mobs chanted “Blood for blood,” a slogan to incite hatred against the Sikhs, but the Sikh Nation has tried to conquer hate with love by encouraging people to save lives through the annual blood donation. They have saved far more human lives than those lost during violence directed against their community.
In the aftermath of the massacre, Air India Flight 182 was bombed mid-air above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985. Over three hundred people on board died in the incident, which is widely blamed on Canada-based Sikh separatists seeking revenge for the repression of Sikhs in 1984. This was the worst incident in the history of aviation terror prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. The bomb used in the crime originated from Vancouver. Sikhs in Canada have been under the microscope since then, while their contributions to Canadian society have frequently been overlooked. Yet every day Sikh prayers end with a petition to the almighty for the welfare of the entire human race, and their temples are open to all communities irrespective of their religious beliefs.
This year’s blood drive coincides with growing attacks on religious minorities under a right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The BJP and its affiliates engineered similar violence against Muslims and Christians in 2002 and 2008, respectively. BJP supporters were also involved in the 1984 Sikh massacre as foot soldiers. Ever since the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, violence against minorities has increased significantly. Notably, the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre happened in Gujarat under Modi’s watch, who was the chief minister of the state.
The story of the Sikh blood drive needs to be amplified to not only break global silence about the wrongdoings of the Indian state, but also to highlight the fact that Sikhs continue to fight for justice for the victims of the 1984 massacre.
Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, will be doing a great disservice to those who have saved so many human lives by remaining indifferent to their efforts. In a positive move, Canada Blood Services has recognized Sikhs' efforts: on Nov. 9 it brought cake to the blood donation site in Surrey to celebrate 20 years of the campaign.