Gurpreet Singh: Panel at UBC raises eerie parallels between anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim violence in India

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      As activists across India observed August 25 as Kandhmal Day in commemoration of the victims of anti-Christian pogrom in 2008, a public discussion was held at the University of British Columbia concerning growing attacks on religious minorities under Modi government. 

      Visiting Indian journalist Rana Ayyub joined Vancouver-based researcher Kamal Arora in conversation at the C.K. Choi Building on the Point Grey campus,.

      Ayyub authored Gujarat Files, a book based on her investigation of the complicity of the state government of Gujarat in violence against Muslims. Arora has a PhD from UBC and has extensively studied the widows of the anti-Sikh carnage in India.

      Both incidents were engineered by ruling parties to target minorities. 

      The Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002 started after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire under mysterious circumstances. The incident that left more than 50 passengers dead was blamed on Muslims by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

      Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat back then. Survivors of the violence and human rights activists continue to maintain that he was directly involved in the bloodshed.   

      The technique used to target Muslims was similar to one used by the so-called secularist Congress national government in Delhi in 1984 to attack Sikhs.

      The anti-Sikh massacre followed the assassination of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards. Congress leaders were seen inciting mobs to "teach Sikhs a lesson". 

      Following both massacres, the BJP and Congress benefited during the elections that followed ugly political events by polarizing the Hindu majority against Muslims and Sikhs, respectively. 

      Both Ayyub and Arora agreed there were striking similarities between the two episodes, which reflected badly on India, often referred to as world's largest secular democracy. Ayyub insisted that if justice had been done to the Sikhs in 1984, the massacre in 2002 would not have happened. 

      The impunity enjoyed by those involved in these crimes gave encouragement to similar pogroms in the years to come. In August 2008, anti-Christian violence broke out in Kandhmal in the Indian state of Odisha following the assassination of a Hindu seer by Maoists.

      Yet BJP supporters targeted innocent Christians after falsely accusing Christian missionaries of the murder. 

      Ayyub acknowledged the significance of the Kandhmal Day and reminded the audience of growing attacks on minorities in India since Modi became prime minister in 2014.  Both panelists emphasized that minorities need to join hands to fight back against majoritarianism and the process of "othering" minority communities in India by a government determined to transform a pluralist nation into Hindu theocracy. 

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.