The recent high-profile killing a former suspect in the 1985 Air India bombings is reminiscent of the unsolved mystery behind the gunning down of an editor and publisher in 1998.
Ripudaman Singh Malik, cofounder of Khalsa School and Khalsa Credit Union, was shot to death in Surrey on July 14. Malik was found not guilty in the conspiracy to blow up Air India planes in 2005 for lack of evidence.
The June 23, 1985 tragedy left 331 people dead and was the worst incident of aviation terror before 9/11. Among those who perished were 329 people aboard Air India flight 182 that exploded mid-air above the Irish Sea due to a suitcase bomb. In a separate incident on the same day, a bomb killed two baggage handlers at Narita Airport. The bombs used in the crimes were put on planes leaving Vancouver.
Malik was accused of being a financier of those involved in the plot. His murder in broad daylight not only rekindled the pain of the victims’ families who continue to await justice, but also memories of the murder of Tara Singh Hayer.
Like Malik, Hayer also came to Canada as an immigrant. While Hayer established himself as the editor and publisher of the Indo-Canadian Times, Malik became a successful businessman.
Being Sikhs, both men were deeply hurt by the repression of their community by the Indian state in 1984.
In June that year, the Indian army attacked the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, to deal with a handful of militants who had launched an armed struggle from inside the place of worship. This outraged Sikhs across the world.
There was an angry demonstration outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver. The ill-conceived military invasion culminated in the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. This was followed by a state-sponsored massacre of Sikhs in different parts of India.
It is believed that the Air India conspiracy was hatched by Babbar Khalsa, a banned terror group seeking revenge for the bloody events of 1984. Babbar Khalsa, like several other insurgent organizations, had been fighting for a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan.
Whereas Hayer glorified Babbar Khalsa, especially its leader the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, Malik donated money to the group.
Parmar was considered as the mastermind behind the Air India bombings. He had died at the hands of Indian police in 1992.
Both Hayer and Malik were tied to the Air India case through Parmar.
However, Hayer later fell out with the militants and turned into a critic of violence and terrorism and became an ally of the Indian establishment. So much so, he was going to be a witness in the Air India trial, whenever it would be held, until he was shot dead in Surrey in November 1998.
Malik was charged three years after the killing of Hayer. The latter did not survive to testify and see the outcome of the trial.
After his acquittal in 2005, Malik gradually distanced himself from Sikh separatists. By 2019, he was able to get visa to visit India and turned into a supporter of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
It is noteworthy that both Hayer and Malik were appropriated by pro-India forces by the end of their lives.
Whereas pro-India moderate Sikhs, with the exception of former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, made a hero out of Hayer, glossing over his controversial past, apologists of Modi, too, have started portraying Malik as a victim.
The supporters of the two slain men—as one can see—have an axe to grind against the Sikh radicals, who continue to fight for Khalistan in Canada.
Even though investigations in both cases remain inconclusive, the public narrative remains focused on Khalistanis as potential suspects—something that suits the agenda of the government in New Delhi, which aims to silence any voice of dissent within the Sikh community abroad.
This is not written in any way to justify acts of violence committed by Khalistanis.
But the way in which pro-India groups conveniently overlook what Hayer and Malik had been up to and what they did earlier—openly rubbing shoulders with those indulging in extremism—only shows these groups' lack of sincerity in fighting terrorism and, rather, using rogue elements for short-term gains of their political masters.
After all, the Indian government needs to foster fear in the minds of the Hindu majority. The regime is used to "othering" minorities and thus, creating a monster of terrorism for has become necessary for its survival.
It’s time that people start questioning this instead of blindly accepting what is being served up through the Indian government's embedded media.