Gurpreet Singh: No poppies for the Sikh soldiers murdered by their own people

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      As the world prepares for annual Remembrance Day events to commemorate sacrifices of soldiers who died during the First World War, there is complete silence about brutal killings of Indian soldiers because of their religious identity.

      At least 50 Sikh soldiers were murdered by violent mobs in India—a Commonwealth nation—in the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

      The carnage happened close to Remembrance Day when the world was about to pay tribute to war heroes for laying down their lives for the safety and security of their people. But in the world’s so-called largest democracy, mobs instigated by the followers of Indira Gandhi unashamedly captured and killed Sikh soldiers in retaliation for the murder of their leader.

      Most of these soldiers were travelling to join active duty or were returning home when violence erupted against Sikhs after news of Gandhi’s killing.

      The mobs systematically killed thousands of innocent Sikhs as police either remained mute spectators or joined the gangs.

      Many of the slain soldiers were in uniform. It is a standard practice among Indian soldiers to travel in uniforms, especially on public transit.

      The mobs and their leaders—whom their political masters claimed were carried away by nationalism and the assassination of a popular leader—remained undeterred in their mission to punish every Sikh, including soldiers on the streets.

      It’s a shame that the Indian state not only let ordinary Sikh civilians die like dogs, but also let its goons go after the very people who had been serving in defence of their nation on the front lines. The dead included a few high-ranking officers, while others were mostly junior soldiers.  

      We may never be able to lay hands on the actual number of soldiers who were killed. The Sikh massacre memorial built at Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurdwara in New Delhi bears the names of 50 Sikh soldiers who were murdered during the mayhem.

      This is in sharp contrast to the respect and love that soldiers receive worldwide during Remembrance Day week.

      Will there ever be remembrance for those Sikh soldiers who were slaughtered by their own people? The Indian nation, which itself was complicit in these killings, won’t accept responsibility. This leaves aside the question of handing out poppies in their memory to the masses.

      Maybe Canada, a nation that claims to be a human rights leader, or other Commonwealth states that recognize the contribution of Sikh soldiers in two world wars will one day speak out for those men who died at the hands of bigots.

      For now, just keep those Sikh soldiers in your prayers when you pin a poppy on your chest and go to a Remembrance Day event this weekend.

      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

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