Gurpreet Singh: Indian journalist who campaigned for justice for genocide victims dies due to COVID-19

Jarnail Singh was also a member of the legislative assembly in Delhi

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      Another critical voice under these dark times have been lost to the pandemic.

      Jarnail Singh, who burst into the limelight for throwing a shoe at India’s then home minister, P. Chidambaram during a press conference in 2009, has passed away.

      Singh succumbed to complications from CIVID-19 after remaining in intensive care at a hospital for several days in New Delhi.

      He 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 Sikh massacre of 1984. Singh worked for the Dainik Bhaskar daily paper at the time of the incident. 

      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's bodyguards 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 were heavily damaged.

      Chidambaram, a minister in the Congress-led government, expressed his satisfaction in 2009 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 new 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.

      Video: Watch Jarnail Singh throw a shoe at the former home minister.

      In later years, Singh entered politics with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which claims to be a third alternative to the Congress and the currently ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). He was elected as a member of the Delhi legislative assembly representing Tiklik Nagar. He has also authored his memoir based on his first-hand experience as a survivor of the Sikh massacre.

      He last visited Canada in 2019 where he gave a presentation on a Sikh genocide motion that was passed by the AAP government in the Delhi legislative assembly. On behalf of Radical Desi magazine, we presented him with a medal of courage for his work.

      During a 2019 news conference in Surrey, 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.

      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.

      Singh pointed out that three decades later, the BJP was 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 captured 300 seats in a house of 543 in seeking reelection 2019. This was despite the previous five-year-term of Modi, which witnessed growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindu extremists

      Even otherwise, Modi has been accused of being linked to anti-Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the chief minister of the western Indian state back then.

      A 1984-like massacre was repeated at that time, 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 also warned that its secular fabric is in danger because of the BJP government, which is promoting religious animosity between different communities to remain in power.

      While Modi repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the 2019 general election campaign to embarrass Congress, Singh noted that the BJP supporters were also involved in the massacre as foot soldiers.

      In addition, he questioned why the BJP government gave a highest civilian award to Nanaji Deshmukh, a major leader of the Hindu right. Deshmukh has openly justified the Sikh massacre of 1984.

      Singh believed 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.

      His untimely death is a huge loss for all those fighting against an intolerant Hindu nationalist regime led by Modi and his army of bigots. 

      Singh's fight started with Hindu majoritarianism, which was brought into Indian politics much earlier by Rajiv Gandhi and is now being blatantly practiced by Modi. Singh’s battle for a just and liberal society continues and will remain relevant until India gets rid of all those who represent the interests of majoritarian rule under which minorities are destined to suffer.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.