A visiting journalist from India once chose an unusual way to show his disgust for the Indian government hushing up the investigation of 1984 Sikh massacre
During a 2009 news conference, Jarnail Singh threw a shoe at India's then home minister, P. Chidambaram.
At the time, Singh worked for Dainik Jagran, a national Hindi daily
This Sunday (June 9), Singh will be honoured in Abbotsford. He is in B.C. on the invitation of Gurdwara Kalgidhar Darbar, which has organized special prayers in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Sikh genocide.
Singh threw his shoe at Chidambaram, then one of India's most powerful politicians, after he refused to answer repeated questions about attempts to shield those involved in the massacre.
Thousands of Sikhs were murdered by mobs all over India following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Crowds were instigated by activists with the slain leader’s ruling Congress party.
The mass murders were carried out with the help of police.
Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards, who were seeking revenge for the army invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in June of that year.
The ill-conceived military operation was ordered to deal with a handful of armed militants inside the place of worship. The invasion left many pilgrims dead and important historical buildings heavily damaged.
Chidambaram, who was a minister in the Congress led government, expressed his satisfaction over the "clean chit" given to party leaders involved in the massacre.
When Singh tried to grill him, the politician not only became evasive, but also tried to accuse Singh of using the forum of press conference for his “agenda” because of his Sikh background.
It was then that Singh flung a shoe at him. As a result, Singh was arrested but later released. He also lost his job for doing this.
In later years, Singh entered politics with Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to be a third alternative to the Congress and the currently ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). He has also authored his memoir based on his first-hand experience as a survivor of the Sikh massacre.
During a news conference in Surrey on June 4, he revealed that he personally witnessed the violence in New Delhi during 1984. As he grew older he curiously searched old newspaper files to learn more about the massacre, but was completely disillusioned not to find much documented information on the genocide.
That’s when he decided to become a journalist.
Talking to the Straight, he categorically blamed Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, for being complicit in the massacre. Rajiv Gandhi was appointed as the next prime minister of the country following the assassination of his mother.
In the aftermath of the massacres, he won the parliamentary election with a majority. He was posthumously given the Bharat Ratna—the highest civilian award.
Singh believes that Gandhi should be stripped of that award as it was he who had set a precedent for majoritarian democracy by scapegoating the Sikhs.
He pointed out that three decades later, the BJP has been able to come back to power with a heavy majority by demonizing other minority communities, such as Muslims and Christians, by following into the footsteps of Rajiv Gandhi.
Notably, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi staged a comeback with 300 seats in a house of 543. This was despite the previous five-year-term of Modi, which witnessed growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindu extremists.
Even otherwise, Modi is accused of being involved in an anti-Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat back then.
A 1984-like massacre was repeated, this time targeting Muslims, enabling Modi to come back to power with a huge majority in the subsequent assembly election.
Singh emphasised that India should remain diverse and never be allowed to become a Hindu theocracy. He warned that its secular fabric is in danger because of the BJP government, which is promoting religious animosity between different communities to stick to power.
While Modi repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the recently concluded general election campaign to embarrass Congress, Singh noted that the BJP supporters were also involved in the massacre as foot soldiers.
He questioned why the BJP government gave the Bharat Ranta to Nanaji Deshmukh, a major leader of the Hindu right. Deshmukh has openly justified the Sikh massacre of 1984.
Singh said that the majoritarianism is the root of the problem, concluding that there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP. That's because both parties have become used to appeasing the Hindu majority.
He thinks that under the current government, India has become a land of Nathuram Godse and has lost touch with the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the passive resistance movement against the British occupation of India, was murdered by Godse, a Hindu radical, in 1948. The assassin belonged to a group that wanted to establish a Hindu nation and saw Gandhi, a secularist, as a major roadblock.
After all, Gandhi believed in Hindu-Muslim unity.
Many in the BJP continue to glorify Godse.
Singh pointed out that several BJP MPs have repeatedly described Godse as patriot, showing which way India is headed.