Gurpreet Singh: The world's silence over the 1984 Sikh massacre needs to be broken

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      This past summer, while I was reading a magazine on Nelson Mandela, something caught my attention.

      It was the mention of how some anti-apartheid activists killed collaborators by using tires filled with petrol as necklaces. They were then set on fire, causing worldwide outrage.

      I immediately started doing Google searches to find more about this practice of killing people in South Africa.

      My interest in the subject, despite its goriness, was triggered by the fact that this technique was once applied on my own community in India back in 1984. That prompted me to research the term "necklacing" which is often used to describe this brutal method of killing people. 

      As I hit Wikipedia, I was disappointed to find that its use in India was simply overlooked. The Wikipedia explanation did touch upon necklacing having been used in Sri Lanka in 1960 by Sinhala chauvinists against Tamils, but then straight away it ran over to South Africa.

      Quoting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the entry claimed that the first victim of necklacing in South Africa was killed in 1985. It noted that it was used by the “black community to punish its members who were perceived as collaborators with the apartheid government”.

      The Wikipedia information glossed over the necklacing of scores of Sikhs following the assassination of India's prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

      The slain leader’s Congress party instigated mobs to target innocent Sikhs across the country with the help of police. It's well documented that the tires and kerosene were supplied to mobs by Congress party leaders to punish the entire Sikh community.

      It is also important to mention that many world leaders attended the cremation of Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, while the bloodshed was continuing for several days. It therefore is difficult to believe that Wikipedia could miss such an important chapter in world history.

      This forced me to sign up with Wikipedia and add this information. Though I achieved what I wanted through this simple action, this left me with a much broader question: how much does the world really know or care about the anti-Sikh massacre?

      Most people think of India as the world’s largest secular democracy, but many need to be told about the sinister side of this giant nation as well. It's become essential because the victims of 1984 continue to await justice.

      Just because Sikhs form merely two percent of the Indian population does not mean that their stories should be ignored. There needs to be an acceptance of the Sikh massacre as a state-sponsored act of terrorism.

      If the Indian legal justice system has failed the victims, it becomes necessary for the global community to intervene.

      Also, the way necklacing is being squarely blamed on the black community is itself problematic and racist. This kind of framing puts the anti-apartheid struggle in bad light and provides an inaccurate portrayal of the black people.

      One can agree that there were some anarchists within the anti-apartheid movement who not only indulged in these violent acts, but also condoned it.

      However, one cannot make a sweeping statement against the whole black community. It’s a shame that a genuine struggle against apartheid has been allowed to be demonized with such framing because of the acts of few individuals, whereas similar acts of violence against innocent Sikh civilians by the custodians of the Indian state were completely ignored.

      This hypocrisy is also troublesome because the Indian state, in spite of its internal contradictions and barbaric character, tried to project itself as an ally of the South African people fighting against apartheid rule.

      The Sikh diaspora has had limited success in raising cross-sectional awareness on this issue. It has roped in the support of individual politicians through such initiatives such as an annual blood drive in Canada, which has saved 130,000 lives, and petitions asking to recognize the massacre as a Sikh genocide.

      Yet world leaders and international bodies have yet to acknowledge it officially.

      This is not to suggest that Sikhs alone are being persecuted in India. Under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, all minorities are being targeted systematically. And yet, there is a deafening silence about it in the West, which is too enamoured by Indian democracy and trade interests with the Indian government.

      After all, the present Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been accused of complicity in a similar pogrom directed against Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. It came after more than 50 people died when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in the state.

      The incident was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by Modi's BJP state government; innocent Muslims were murdered en masse by the Hindu extremists.

      The horrors of 1984 were repeated in Gujarat while Modi was the state's chief minister.

      It is believed by some that had justice been served to the Sikhs, the Gujarat pogrom wouldn’t have happened.

      The Sikh massacre set a precedent of impunity for those indulging in subsequent  mass murders to scapegoat minority communities and to retain power in the name of faith and identity.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a founder of Radical Desi. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings