On the 37th anniversary of the 1984 Sikh Genocide, South Asian activists gathered in Surrey to raise their voices for a jailed Indian scholar, who was behind documenting the tragedy and exposing those involved.
Gautam Navlakha was arrested on trumped up charges in April 2020, and is currently lodged in jail near Mumbai. His only crime is daring to question the powerful, and always standing up for the minorities and the oppressed.
In spite of health issues and the danger of the pandemic in prisons, he is not being released on compassionate grounds.
On the call given by Radical Desi, the activists gathered outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey on Sunday, October 31 to protest against his continued incarceration under brutal conditions. They held out signs reading “Free Gautam Navlakha”, and another one commemorating the Sikh Genocide.
Among those in attendance were Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi; freelance columnist Kanwal Gill, who has been consistently writing on the Sikh massacre; the cofounder of Coalition Against Bigotry, Imtiaz Popat; Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh and secularist activists Parshotam Dosanjh and Tejinder Sharma.
Navlakha is associated with People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which published a report on the Sikh Genocide in partnership with 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 authenticated 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, because of their silence or direct support to the mob violence targeting a particular minority group.
For years, he has exposed the pattern behind othering minorities in India, and has never failed to remind people through his writings how 1984 had set a precedent. Today, the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under an outright Hindu supremacist government.
Because Navlakha has been vocal against ongoing repression of Muslims and marginalised communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, he has faced assaults and backlash from the supporters of BJP.