Gurpreet Singh: New memorial in Surrey recalls Indian army attack on Golden Temple complex

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      On the 33rd anniversary of the infamous Operation Bluestar, a memorial was inaugurated in Surrey dedicated to an independent Sikh homeland and those who died battling Indian forces.

      Built by the Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple, the collection of photos and text honours fighters for an independent Khalistan. That was the name of an imagined Sikh nation that supporters hoped would be carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.

      The memorial unveiled Saturday (June 3) includes the picture of the devastated Akal Takhat building inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab. It's beside portraits of militant leaders who died fighting against the army.

      Notably, the alleged mastermine of the 1985 Air India bombing, prominent Sikh separatist leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, is on one of the columns of the memorial.

      Parmar was a Canadian citizen who went back to India to pursue the struggle for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan when he was arrested and killed in 1992 under mysterious circumstances.

      Also, a photo exhibition depicting the history of Operation Bluestar, which was the name of the Indian army's military operation, was organized on the occasion.

      In the first week of June 1984, the Indian government ordered the military attack on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, to flush out a handful of religious militants who had fortified the place of worship.

      The attack left many innocent pilgrims dead and buildings inside the complex destroyed. What especially angered many in the Sikh community was the devastation of Akal Takhat, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs. This prompted angry protests across the world.

      Photos of Operation Bluestar were shown along with the unveiling of the memorial.
      Gurpreet Singh

      In a fit of rage, Sikh bodyguards of the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, shot her to death at her official residence in New Delhi on October 31, 1984. The assassination was followed by an anti-Sikh pogrom all over India. Members of the slain leader's so-called secularist Congress party were seen instigating the mobs to kill ordinary Sikhs.

      The ugly political events of 1984 culminated into the bombing of Air India Flight 182, killing all 329 passengers and crew onboard on June 23, 1985. The crime was blamed on Canada-based separatists seeking revenge for the repression of Sikhs in India.

      In the meantime, an annual vigil in memory of the victims of Operation Bluestar was held at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver on Saturday evening. The event was well attended by the local Sikh community and opened with a traditional song by indigenous activist Cecilia Point from the Musqueam First Nation.

      Reminders of 1984 were on display at Jack Poole Plaza.

      Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, a Sikh activist and researcher, emphasized the unity between Sikhs and indigenous peoples, noting that both have been fighting for the right to self-determination. She has been working closely with indigenous communities.

      A small video documentary based on the eyewitness accounts of Operation Bluestar was also shown at the event. This appeared beside a video presentation on controversial former Punjab director of police K.P.S. Gill, who died recently. Gill was accused of human rights abuses in Punjab while suppressing the Sikh separatist movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

      Though mainstream political parties and media in India credit him for ending Sikh militancy, human rights activists insist that he promoted state-sanctioned butchery in the name of a war on terrorism.

      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