Jarnail Singh

A visiting journalist who shot into prominence after throwing a shoe at India’s Home Minister in protest against attempts to hush up investigations of the 1984 Sikh massacre was honoured by Radical Desi on Thursday, June 6.

Jarnail Singh, who once worked with Dainik Jagran, a national Hindi daily, is here in connection with special events being organized in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Sikh repression.

Singh had hurled a shoe at then-Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram in 2009 during a press conference. He became agitated when Chidambram refused to answer his repeated questions on attempts to shield those involved in the massacre.

Following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India by mobs instigated by activists of 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 that year. The ill-conceived military operation planned to deal with handful of armed militants inside the place of worship, but had left many worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

Chidambaram, a minister in the Congress-led government, had expressed his satisfaction over the clean chit given to the party leaders involved in the massacre. When Singh tried to grill him, he not only became evasive, but also tried to accuse Singh of using the forum of a press 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.

In later years, Singh joined active politics with the Aam Aadmi Party, which claims to be a third alternative to the Congress and the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). He has also authored his memoir based on his first-hand experience as a survivor of the Sikh massacre.

Singh had witnessed the violence in New Delhi during 1984. As he grew older he curiously searched old newspaper files to find 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.

The members of Radical Desi team presented him with a medal of courage during an event organized in commemoration of the Sikh holocaust at Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib in New Westminster.

Earlier, Singh addressed the gathering, to link the events of 1984 with the current situation in India. He said that the current BJP government is using similar methods as the then Congress government by scapegoating minorities to polarize the Hindu majority for political survival.

He pointed out that 35 years later, the BJP has been able to come back to power with a heavy majority by demonizing other minority communities, such as Muslims and Christians, by following in the footsteps of Congress that victimized the Sikh community to gain a majority in the general election following the ugly incidents of 1984.

The BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected, with 300 seats in house of 543 in the May general election. This was despite the fact that Modi’s previous five-year-term witnessed growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindu extremists.

Singh emphasised that India should remain diverse and never be allowed to become a Hindu theocracy. He warned that its secular fabric is in danger because the BJP is promoting religious animosity between different communities to stick to power.

The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the recent general election to embarrass Congress, but Singh noted that BJP supporters were also complicit in the state sponsored repression of Sikhs.

Singh said that majoritarianism is the root of the problem, and considers that there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP, as both parties have used tactics to appease the Hindu majority. He thinks that under the current government India has become a land of Godse, and has lost touch with the spirit of Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the passive resistance movement against the British occupation of India, was shot to death in 1948 by a Hindu radical, Nathuram Godse. The assassin belonged to a group that wanted to establish a Hindu nation and saw the secularist Gandhi as a major roadblock. Many in BJP continue to glorify Godse as a patriot.


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