Gurpreet Singh: Rhetoric against Kashmiris after Pulwama attack offers reminder of 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in India

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      There appears to be another example of bloody déja vu in India.

      Recent incidents of harassment and intimidation of Kashmiris all over India are bringing back ugly memories of anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984.

      The violence comes in the wake of Pulwama extremist attack in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

      More than 40 soldiers of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)—a paramilitary force deployed in Kashmir where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years—were killed in the suicide attack on February 14.

      A Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, has claimed responsibility for the incident. The bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, was a Kashmiri.

      In a knee-jerk reaction, the Indian government withdrew security cover provided to moderate Kashmiri leaders who have been advocating for sovereignty of the region through dialogue and peaceful negotiations.

      Watch this BBC report immediately following the Pulwama attack on Valentine's Day.

      This was obviously done to send a message to all Kashmiris. They are seen as potential separatists and terrorists by India's ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), whose leaders and supporters are talking of revenge.

      An environment has already been created where Kashmiris living across India have come under attack. Dozens of Kashmiris living in other states have been threatened or assaulted by angry mobs, while several educational institutions have been forced to announce that they won’t admit Kashmiri students.

      Rumours against Kashmiris are being spread through fake news on social media to instigate more people against them.

      The situation in the BJP-ruled states appears to be the worst.

      Provocative slogans such as Khoon Ka Badlaa Khoon (Blood for Blood) are being raised not only in India but also among the Indian diaspora in Canada. Pakistan is being portrayed as the conspirator and Kashmiris as traitors.

      The BJP government has openly warned of action against Pakistan. The underlying message is to create religious divisions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority.   

      All this is happening as India is heading for a general election in May this year. The BJP is facing a tough campaign and is desperate to hold to the power.

      Today, the BBC reported that Pakistan has recalled its ambassador from India in the face of rising tensions between the two countries.

      A similar situation was witnessed against Sikhs all over India back in November 1984 following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

      Sikhs outside Punjab were disarmed through the impoundment of their licenced guns on the pretext of maintaining peace. Then mobs were organized to punish innocent Sikhs as a general election loomed over the country. 

      Rumours were spread against the Sikh community through public address system, with warnings that they poisoned the drinking water supplied to the residents of Delhi, or that they were distributing sweets over the killing of Indira Gandhi. She had ordered the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in June that year.  

      The Khoon Ka Badlaa Khoon slogan was raised then as well and the election that followed the violence paid rich dividends to the slain leader’s Congress party.  

      In 2002, similar state-sponsored violence against Muslims took hold in the western state of Gujarat under a BJP government led by none other than the current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.

      The massacre was organized to punish the entire Muslim community after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 passengers dead.

      The BJP government blamed Pakistan and the Islamic fundamentalists for the incident. The whole episode helped Modi in the state assembly election that followed the bloodshed.

      In all these situations, the patriotism of minority communities came into question and they were "othered" to polarize Hindu voters in the name of national security. That process is now being repeated to make electoral gains through divisive politics.

      It’s a shame that only minority communities have to pay the price whenever someone from among them indulges in any act of violence, whereas Hindu extremists continue to spread hatred and terrorise minorities with impunity.

      It is rather painful to see many Sikhs, especially those who owe allegiance to the BJP, remaining silent or supporting this rhetoric against Kashmiris. Considering how they suffered at the hands of majoritarianism in the past, they should be standing up for Kashmiris at this crucial juncture. 

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a founder of Radical Desi.

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