Pro-India lobby group should be made accountable for denying Sikh genocide

Canadian politicians need to find the courage to defend human rights
Photo: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, UofT / flickr
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Canada, which claims to be human rights leader, needs to stand up against the concerted efforts of India and its apologists to deny crimes committed against Sikhs and other minorities in India.

The most recent example of blatant attempts to cover up the complicity of the Indian state in violence against minorities is an email sent to Ontario MPPs by Canada India Foundation, a pro-India lobby group.

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered in India in early November 1984 following the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

The email expresses its opposition to a bill introduced by New Democrat MPP Gurratan Singh in the Ontario legislature. The private member’s bill asks the province to observe the first week of November as Sikh Genocide Week.

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered in India in early November 1984 following the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The violence was well organized and encouraged by the slain leader’s Congress party with the help of police. Gandhi was killed to avenge the storming of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, by Indian forces in June that year. The ill-conceived military operation left many pilgrims dead and historical buildings heavily damaged. Gandhi had ordered the invasion to deal with a handful of militants who were accused of stockpiling weapons inside. However, Sikhs strongly believe that both the military attack and the killings of Sikhs in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination were part of a plan to scapegoat them and polarize Hindu majority in the forthcoming general election.

Sajjan Kumar is the only senior Congress leader involved in the massacre who has been convicted, and that came 34 years after the bloodshed. Others have remained unpunished, including Gandhi’s son Rajeev Gandhi (now dead), who was never charged despite his direct involvement.

Rajeev Gandhi had succeeded his mother as prime minister and used anti-Sikh violence as a tool to garner Hindu votes in the election that was held in December 1984. For decades, Sikhs have been campaigning globally for justice and closure. Gurratan Singh, who has been a social justice activist like his brother and federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, has been consistently raising this issue in Canada.

If anyone was or is involved in hate politics, it’s the Indian state.

Canada India Foundation on its part is trying to whitewash everything that happened with the Sikhs. They have claimed in their email that they are raising concerns on behalf of 1.6 million in the Indo-Canadian community. Are Sikhs, who in 1999 started an annual blood drive in memory of those who died that has saved more than 1,40,000 lives, not part of the Indo-Canadian community?

Then they go on to brand such efforts as “politics of hate” and “inimical to inclusive economic growth.” How can asking for justice and closure for those who were at the receiving end of state-sponsored violence be seen as hate politics? If anyone was or is involved in hate politics, it’s the Indian state.

Their argument that such attempts are detrimental to Ontario and Canada’s economic prosperity is not only laughable but ridiculous. Raising such issue causes no harm to progress.

The email also lists several names of successful Sikhs, such as the first Sikh prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh president Giani Zail Singh, the chief justice of India, J.S. Kehar, and several generals of the Indian forces to dilute the grievances Sikhs have with the government of India. This is like suggesting there is no racism against Black people in the U.S. because the country has already elected its first Black president and many Black people hold powerful positions south of the border.

Rubbing salt on the Sikh wounds, the email also claims that no Indian government has denied such violence and all attempts at providing succour to the Sikh families affected by the “riots” are well documented.

This whole statement is problematic and offensive. First of all, it wasn’t a riot or a conflict between Hindus and Sikhs, but a well-planned genocide of Sikhs. Secondly, no Indian government ever did justice to the community. These include the current right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose members were also involved in the anti-Sikh massacre and voted for the Congress in its aftermath. If the successive governments were really sincere, why did it take the courts three decades to punish only one senior Congress leader? On the contrary, the Indian state kept on shielding and patronizing all those involved for all these years.

It is important to mention that the BJP also encouraged a similar pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time. Although he was never charged, his alleged culpability in the massacre meant he was denied a visa by many countries, including the U.S., until he became prime minister in 2014.

Interestingly, the BJP had used the tragedy of 1984 to defeat Congress in the 2019 general election and cover up its own poor human rights record. The attacks on religious minorities have grown in India ever since Modi came to power with a brute majority. Recently more than 50 people died in New Delhi because of the violence precipitated by the BJP supporters against peaceful demonstrators who have been opposing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which excludes Muslims refugees from neighbouring countries. The issue has already been raised by Jagmeet Singh, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, a few Liberal MPs, and New Westminster city councillor Chuck Puchmayr.

Canada India Foundation, which calls itself a “non-partisan public policy” organization, also blames Canadian politicians for deliberately ignoring “India’s syncretic and secular traditions, which are constitutionally enshrined, and are a way of life for Indians.” This overstatement is aimed at defending the Indian establishment, when Indian secularism is under attack and the BJP is aggressively pursuing its agenda of turning the country into a Hindu theocracy.

It’s time that Canada India Foundation stop making such claims, admit they are partisan, and declare their intentions to side with the oppressors. As far as Canada is concerned, it needs to tell India and its well-wishers that denying Sikh genocide and other forms of violence against minorities in India is no less than a crime than denying the Jewish holocaust.

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