As Sikhs organized to commemorate the victims of 1984 anti Sikh massacre across Canada this week, some of the recent developments reveal the duplicity of the Indian establishment when it comes to facing the truth of violence organized by the state against its own people.
Thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered in different parts of India by the mobs following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
Gandhi was murdered in a fit of rage for ordering a military invasion that year on the Golden Temple complex, Sikhism's holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, to flush out a handful of armed militants. The infamous army operation destroyed many buildings inside the complex and killed a number of devotees, sparking angry protests by Sikhs all over the world.
In the days following the prime minister's assassination, Sikh men were systematically burned alive and Sikh women were raped by well-organized gangs led and incited by members of Gandhi’s so-called secular Congress party. Police too were complicit in the crime. And 32 years have passed with no hope of justice or any conviction of high-profile Congress leaders involved.
The denial of justice has prompted some North America-based Sikh organizations to try to hold Indian government accountable through courts and legislatures. Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is one such group, which has been regularly petitioning for getting the 1984 pogrom recognized as genocide both in Canada and the U.S. It has also been instrumental in organizing protests against visiting Congress leaders and getting summons served on them through courts in the U.S.
Not very long ago, supporters of SFJ succeeded in getting the massacre recognized as a "Sikh Genocide" in Fresno, California. But the Indian consulate in that part of U.S. did not let it go.
There was an attempt to stall the move. Likewise in Canada, elected officials of the Sikh faith who tried to get a similar recognition either in the Ontario legislature or the Canadian House of Commons had to face challenges from Indian agents, who denied them visas to go for India. Also, those seeking recognition of the massacre as genocide have been time and again dubbed as “separatists” and “anti nationals” by the Indian officials.
If that is not enough, Sikh Nation has been maligned for organizing an annual blood drive in memory of those who died in 1984. An objection was raised over the use of word “genocide” by the self-identified Sikh Nation. This is despite the fact that the drive has saved an estimated 113,000 lives since 1999.
What is most ironic is that Indian home affairs minister Rajnath Singh, who is in charge of law and order, has described the massacre of the Sikhs in 1984 as genocide. Yet Indian agents tried to intervene when a motion for Sikh Genocide was being brought before Fresno city council in September this year.
SFJ has already launched a complaint against them with the U.S. government seeking action for their interference in local affairs.
Notably, Singh belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that is currently in power in India. The BJP also shares power with the Akali Dal, a regional party of Sikhs in the northwestern state of Punjab.
The two parties consider Congress as their common enemy. It is therefore understandable why the BJP is willing to accept the Sikh massacre as genocide.
It is a separate matter that the BJP has also been responsible for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The present prime minister, Narendra Modi, was chief minister of Gujarat when Muslims were slaughtered by using a similar technique applied to target the Sikh community in 1984.
Modi was denied entry to the U.S. and other countries for this reason until he became the prime minister in 2014. Supporters of SFJ participated in demonstrations against Modi during his visits to Canada and the U.S. in 2014 and 2015.
Interestingly, Modi expressed his sadness over the massacre of the Sikhs on the anniversary of the bloodshed in his recent radio address.
On the other hand, the Congress party that was in power when the anti-Sikh massacre happened leaves no stone unturned in blaming the BJP for the anti-Muslim violence of 2002. Rather, one of its leaders has stated that Muslims feel like Jews under Nazis when BJP is in power.
Both Congress and the BJP, two major political parties of India with stakes in the power structure, have been conveniently using such framing to shame each other. But Indian officials will try to prevent Sikh activists from using such terminology as "genocide" or "holocaust" with the Indian diaspora.
This not only reflects the lack of the political will of the Indian leadership to accept an inconvenient truth, but also its hypocrisy that is limited to paying lip service to their constituents, such as Sikhs or Muslims and doing nothing to bring closure and justice. On the contrary, both parties have tried to shield each other while at the same time making hollow public statements.
The BJP has been to power in the past too, but until now no justice has been done to the Sikhs. In fact, Indian human-rights lawyer Harvinder Singh Phoolka, who has been fighting for justice for Sikhs for many years, has maintained that the premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, is trying to protect Congress leaders even under Modi's BJP government.
Phoolka is associated with the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party. He believes that this is mainly being done to ensure that his party does not come to the power in Punjab, which is heading for elections early next year.
The Aam Aadmi Party has become a major threat to the BJP and the Congress as a third alternative. Phoolka therefore has reasons to believe that the two major parties share a class interest. It is pertinent to mention that the Aam Aadmi Party that holds power in the national capital territory of Delhi has ordered a special investigative team to reopen cases of violence in 1984.
Only time will tell whether Sikhs will ever get justice. But the Indian state needs to accept blame for allowing its citizens to be killed by political goons in connivance with the police. Instead of defaming those who are trying to raise voices of dissent abroad, the Indian establishment should set its house in order or accept that it is a killer republic.