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Today marks 34 years of the Air India Flight 182 bombing that left 329 people dead. The suitcase bomb used in the crime that is widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government originated from Vancouver. The incident was the worst attack in the history of aviation terror before 9/11.

Investigators believe that the episode was in response to repression of Sikhs in India during 1984. The Indian army had invaded the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984, to deal with a handful of armed militants. The military operation left many worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

The same year, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Delhi, following which innocent Sikhs were targeted all across India by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling Congress party with the help of police.

These bloody events alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream, and galvanized the movement for a separate Sikh homeland, both in India and Canada.
At the annual memorial event this year in Stanley Park, Vancouver , where a wall bears the names of the victims, the speakers paid tributes to the dead and emphasised remaining vigilant against terrorism anywhere in the world. Among them were Counsel General of India Abhilasha Joshi, and some pro-India moderate Sikhs who are known to be vocal critics of terrorism and violence.

They rightly condemned those who were involved in the Air India bombing conspiracy and expressed their frustration over just one conviction for 329 murders, but none of them touched upon the terrorism of Hindu extremists which has spiked in India over the past several years under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Ever since the BJP came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, attacks on religious minorities by Hindu fundamentalists have grown. Emboldened by the electoral support Modi continues to receive in a Hindu dominated India, they are bent upon turning a secular democracy into an official Hindu state.

So much so, Modi endorsed newly elected BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who was responsible for a bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. The incident left eight people dead and 100 injured. Thakur got a bail on medical grounds and was allowed to run for the parliamentary election. Modi justified the decision citing the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 engineered by the then ruling Congress party.

Notably, Modi repeated the 1984-like carnage in Gujarat in 2002 when he was Chief Minister of the state. Thousands of Muslims were killed by BJP supporters after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving more than 50 people dead. Modi blamed Muslim extremists for the incident.

It is important to mention here that the son of a Muslim couple that perished in the Air India tragedy had also suffered during the Gujarat violence. Irfan was only ten-years-old when his father Umar Jethva and mother Zebunisa died in the tragedy. They were both visiting Vancouver to see their relatives leaving behind their son when the bombing happened during their return journey.

Irfan was then brought up by the extended family in Gujarat. His computer business shop was destroyed during the anti-Muslim violence. His cousin Renee Saklikar is a Vancouver-based poet who has authored a book, based on her poems dedicated to more than 80 children who died in the Air India bombing. Her husband Adrian Dix, the health minister in the BC Government, was Master of Ceremony at the memorial event. And yet there was a complete silence about terrorism being patronized by Modi administration.

Ironically, Joshi said in her speech that it was everyone’s duty to speak up against “dark forces” that try to disrupt peace. But no one at today’s event found it necessary to say anything against majoritarian terrorism in the name of Hindu theocracy that poses a greater threat to the peace in India because of state support. The Air India tragedy was the culmination of sectarian politics of the Indian politicians, and if the Indian leadership continues to oppress minorities and patronise majoritarianism, this is going to cause more problems in the Indian Diaspora.

Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.


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