Gurpreet Singh: Man behind early authentic field report on Sikh Genocide is in jail; will the world take notice?

Gautam Navlakha has consistently spoken out on behalf of people being persecuted in India

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      As we approach the first week of November, marking the 37th anniversary of the Sikh massacre in India, a scholar who helped document the tragedy is struggling for his release from an Indian jail.

      Gautam Navlakha, who was arrested in April 2020 on trumped-up charges along with other prominent scholars and social-justice activists, is currently lodged in prison near Mumbai. His only crime is that he dared to question the powerful and has always stood up for minorities and the oppressed.

      In spite of health issues and the danger of the pandemic in jails, he is not being released on compassionate grounds. He hasn’t received any respite from the courts, either.

      Navlakha is associated with the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) that published a report on the Sikh Genocide in partnership with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties shortly after the pogroms.

      Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India by political goons following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

      Who are the guilty? was probably the first authentic field report revealing the complicity of the Indian state in the anti-Sikh violence.

      Navlakha, who is a journalist and author, remained steadfast in his position to name the influential political figures involved even as others expressed their reservations. He has always maintained that though it was the then-self proclaimed secular Congress government which was directly responsible for the massacre, members of the currently ruling Hindu nationalist BJP cannot be vindicated, either.

      That's because of their silence or direct support for the mob violence targeting a particular minority group. Notably, the Congress won the general election following the massacre with a majority by polarizing the Hindu majority and riding on anti-Sikh wave.

      That the BJP was routed in that election explains how its vote share had shifted to the Congress with Sikh blood on its hands. Thus, an era of impunity for mass murderers had begun.

      The story did not end there. For years, Navlakha has exposed the pattern behind "othering" minorities in India and has never failed to remind people through his writings how the events of 1984 set a precedent.

      In 2002, the state of Gujarat witnessed a similar violence against Muslims under the watch of then-BJP chief minister Narendra Modi.

      His rise to power as prime minister in 2014 can only be understood through an analysis of the Sikh massacre. Navlakha is a published author and has been writhing hard-hitting columns for NewsClick and Economic and Political Weekly.

      Today, the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under an outright Hindu supremacist government.

      Since Navlakha has been vocal against ongoing repression of Muslims and marginalized communities such as the Dalits (so-called untouchables) and Adivasis (tribal people), he has been facing assaults and other forms of backlash from supporters of BJP.

      Hopefully, Canadian politicians, especially those of Sikh heritage who do not fail to remember 1984, will pay attention and raise their voices for the release of Navlakha and other jailed scholars who have been thrown behind the bars in the world’s so-called largest democracy.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. Radical Desi invites all media people and scholars to join a rally in support Indian journalist and author Gautam Navlakha at 5 p.m. on Sunday (October 31, 2021) outside Indian visa and passport application centre in Surrey. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.