Air India bombing drives Ross Street Sikh temple candidate's activism
A man who lost family members in the 1985 bombing of an Air India plane is running for the board of the Ross Street Sikh temple. Major Singh Sidhu told the Straight that the explosion, which killed all 329 people onboard, is the driving force behind his decision to run for the moderate Sikh slate seeking reelection on November 26.
Sidhu’s sister Sukhwinder Uppal, his 11-year-old niece Parminder, and his 10-year-old nephew Kuldeep were among those who perished in the terrorist attack, which was blamed on the Sikh extremists seeking revenge for bloody political events in India during 1984. This included an army assault on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, which was turned into a fortress by the religious fundamentalists. There were also widespread attacks on Sikhs following the assassination of then–Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
The Air India tragedy transformed Sidhu into a political activist, who has continued to oppose religious fanaticism in the Sikh community. “I was never interested in a public life,” he admitted. “However, after the tragedy I decided not to sit in the background while the militants were calling shots in the community.’’
He campaigned resolutely against the fundamentalists in the 1988 temple election, and has never looked back. It wasn’t until 1997 that the extremists lost control of the Ross Street temple. Later, Sidhu served as the temple recording secretary and is now running for vice president.
His slate of moderates, led by Sohan Singh Deo, is locked in tussle with two orthodox slates headed by Joga Singh Sangha and Kuldip Singh.
Sidhu said that his fight against extremists will continue. “The political establishment of Canada has always been soft on them and trained its guns against them only after 9/11,” he claimed.
He added that because the Air India victims were predominantly Indo-Canadians, authorities remained indifferent toward the plight of their families. “This would not have been the case if the victims were Anglo-Saxon,” he claimed.
Sidhu was very attached to Uppal, a widowed sister who helped him settle in Canada after he migrated from India at the age of 19. He arrived for the funeral of his sister’s husband, who died in an accident. “She worked as a dry cleaner and looked after me and her own children,” he recalled.
While the bodies of his sister and his niece were recovered after the bombing, his nephew’s corpse was never found. Sidhu remembered that he always wanted to be a police officer. He said that likewise, Parminder had many ambitions.
“Their beautiful dreams died with them,” he stated.
According to Sidhu, his father Mehgna Singh never recovered from the loss of a daughter and two grandchildren in the bombing before he passed away in 2008.