A world-renowned Sikh philanthropist who has made headlines for organizing relief camps in various conflict zones—including Syria and at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border—is not interested in receiving an “Indian of the Year” award from a British Indian group.
Ravi Singh is founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid, which was created in 1999 to help people in humanitarian crises due to wars and calamities.
He told the Straight that he has politely refused to accept a nomination for the award because of the anti-Sikh massacre in November 1984.
“It is disturbing to see that today some people are upset over my position on 1984," Singh said. "I don’t understand what is wrong in standing up for our own people if we can stand up for others. Till the time we keep organizing relief camps for others we are fine. The moment we ask for justice for 1984, we become aliens.”
Thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed across India following the assassination of the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.
They were outraged by an Indian army attack on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of Sikhs, in June that year.
The army operation was launched to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled arms inside the place of worship.
The ill-conceived military operation left hundreds of innocent worshippers dead, and many important buildings were destroyed.
This enraged the Sikh community, who believed that the army attack could have been avoided by using other means to deal with the situation.
The November 1984 massacre was organized by the members of the slain leader’s Congress party with the help of police, but subsequent non-Congress governments also failed to punish the guilty, even as Sikhs continued to campaign for justice and closure all over the globe.
None of the senior Congress leaders who were seen instigating the mobs have been convicted.
The U.K.-based Ravi Singh, who is currently visiting Canada, said that he doesn't want to be identified as an Indian until justice is done for those who suffered through this “genocide”.
Singh has laid several conditions for accepting any kind of award that brackets him as an Indian.
He insisted that only if Indian authorities punish Congress party leaders involved in this crime and other atrocities against his community—and accept the independent identity of the Sikhs—would he happily receive such an honour.
Singh clarified that as a humanitarian, he holds no grudges against Indians or non-Sikhs.
“All I am asking for is justice,” he said.
He also asked why the community should not fight for those who lost their loved ones in state-sponsored violence and for Sikh women who were dishonoured during the carnage by the mobs.
He pointed out that such action was important as the ugly events of 1984 encouraged an era of impunity, which has led to other minorities in India continuing to face persecution.
Under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, attacks on all minority communities have grown, he noted.
Singh and his group have received a harsh backlash on social media from Hindu fanatics for standing up for Rohingya Muslims, who came under attack from Buddhist extremists and the army of Myanmar.
Nevertheless, he said that he also received positive response from a majority of people.
Ravi Singh has repeated what was once done by the late Puran Singh, a well-respected Sikh philanthropist who served lepers and physically and mentally challenged people in Punjab.
Puran Singh returned the Padma Shri—one of the highest civilian awards of the Indian government—in protest against the military attack on the Golden Temple complex.