Sikhs vic­tim of In­dian hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion

People's Review - - OP-ED - BY RIAZ

Eth­nic and re­li­gious in­sur­gency in In­dia knows no bounds. There are more than 22 In­dian states which are plagued with sep­a­ratist move­ments. The most vis­i­ble is In­dian Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir, where In­dian forces have tried to sub­due the Mus­lims through brute force and since 1989, when the Kash­miris arose in open re­bel­lion; more than 100,000 in­no­cent Kash­miris have been mar­tyred. The other com­mu­nity in In­dia that faces sup­pres­sion is the Sikhs. Although the Sikh are a fiercely in­de­pen­dent na­tion and fought bravely for the In­dian armed forces in all its wars, their marginal­i­sa­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion against them led to an in­de­pen­dence move­ment led by Sant Jar­nail Singh Bhin­dran­wala. His forces were en­trenched in the holi­est of Sikh shrines, the Golden Tem­ple, at Am­rit­sar. In June 1984, then In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi or­dered the storm­ing of the Golden Tem­ple. The in­sur­gency was quelled but thou­sands of the fol­low­ers of Bhin­dran­wala and Sikh pil­grims trapped in the Golden Tem­ple were killed. Two of Indira Gandhi's Sikh body­guards avenged the mas­sacre at the Golden Tem­ple by as­sas­si­nat­ing her in broad day­light. Her mur­der un­leashed a frenzy of re­tal­i­a­tion by Hin­dus who hunted, looted and killed Sikhs by the thou­sands. Sep­a­ratism may have been quelled but the Sikh di­as­pora which set­tled in Europe, USA and Canada, still bears the scars of 1984 and has not for­got­ten the bru­tal as­sault on their com­mu­nity. The em­bers get rekin­dled by high­handed ap­proach of the In­dian gov­ern­ment against its mi­nori­ties. Re­cently, Canada's op­po­si­tion New Demo­cratic Party (NDP), now led by Jag­meet Singh, in Nov 2017 has asked the gov­ern­ment to “recog­nise” the 1984 ri­ots in In­dia fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi as “geno­cide”. "Sikhs For Jus­tice" (SFJ) is a hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion reg­is­tered in Canada whose man­date in­cludes ad­vanc­ing the Univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights (“UDHR”) and cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which mi­nori­ties – re­gard­less of race, re­li­gion, lan­guage, gen­der, or eth­nic­ity – can freely ex­er­cise their right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion as en­shrined in the UDHR and the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights. Many in In­dia have been catch­ing at­ten­tion of Ref­er­en­dum2020, be­ing planned by US-based Sikhs for Jus­tice (SFJ) in sup­port of a sep­a­rate state of Khal­is­tan. In the back­drop of Naren­dra Modi's gov­ern­ment as he has un­leashed forces of Hindu ex­trem­ism, which time and again tar­get the mi­nori­ties in­clud­ing Sikhs. Modi's BJP gov­ern­ment cracks down on the mi­nori­ties but blames Pak­istan and its in­tel­li­gence agency for fan­ning in­sur­gency. Sep­a­ratism may have been quelled but the Sikh di­as­pora which set­tled in Europe, USA and Canada, still bears the scars of 1984 and has not for­got­ten the bru­tal as­sault on their com­mu­nity Re­cently, the ar­rest of a 30-yearold Scot­tish Sikh of In­dian ori­gin has trig­gered a face-off be­tween the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment and sec­tions of the Sikh di­as­pora across three con­ti­nents, with even Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May weigh­ing in. Jag­tar Singh Jo­hal had flown down to Pun­jab for his wed­ding in Oc­to­ber 2017. A month later, he was ar­rested over his al­leged con­nec­tion with a spate of what is sus­pected to be tar­geted killings in the In­dian state of Pun­jab over the past two years, in­clud­ing RSS and right-wing lead­ers like Bri­gadier (r) Jagdish Gag­neja in 2016 and Ravin­der Go­sain in Oc­to­ber 2017, and a pas­tor called Sul­tan Masih in July 2017. The Pun­jab po­lice sus­pect Jo­hal's hand be­hind the mur­ders, es­pe­cially in fund­ing and ar­rang­ing weapons for a ter­ror out­fit called the Khal­is­tan Lib­er­a­tion Force. Jo­hal's ar­rest was fol­lowed by al­le­ga­tions of his be­ing tor­tured in cus­tody. This spread like wild fire across the di­as­pora, with Bri­tish and Cana­dian politi­cians rais­ing the is­sue of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May told the Bri­tish me­dia that she was aware of con­cerns about Jo­hal; the mat­ter was raised in the House of Com­mons by Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scot­tish Na­tional Party (SNP). He rep­re­sents West Dun­bar­ton­shire, where Jo­hal and his fam­ily are based. The Bri­tish For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice has al­ready con­veyed their con­cerns to the In­dian gov­ern­ment. Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh wo­man to be elected to the House of Com­mons, too feels the In­dian gov­ern­ment should help en­sure that Jo­hal's hu­man rights are not vi­o­lated. “We don't want an im­passe be­tween the two gov­ern­ments and would like to work closely with In­dia on this is­sue. How­ever, we would also like the Pun­jab po­lice and ad­min­is­tra­tion to be more demo­cratic and trans­par­ent about the ar­rest of Jo­hal,” Gill stated. Pun­jabi and Sikh mem­bers of Gill's con­stituency in Birm­ing­ham are con­cerned about is­sues like trial by the In­dian me­dia be­fore for­mal charges are brought. They fear Jo­hal may be tor­tured by the po­lice to ob­tain a con­fes­sion. “We ex­pect the In­dian gov­ern­ment and the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment to ad­here to demo­cratic pro­cesses. If there were con­cerns over Jo­hal, who is a cit­i­zen of the UK, why were these not com­mu­ni­cated to our gov­ern­ment?” asks Gill. Echo­ing her con­cerns is Jo­hal's brother Gur­preet Singh Jo­hal, a solic­i­tor in Scot­land, who feels that since his brother was not in In­dia when the al­leged crimes were com­mit­ted, he should not have been ar­rested in In­dia. “My par­ents and I are deeply con­cerned about le­gal pro­cesses in In­dia. We fear my brother has been tor­tured by the Pun­jab po­lice who are re­fus­ing an in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion,” Gur­preet opined in In­dian me­dia on phone from Lon­don. He also ex­pressed con­cerns about po­lice of­fi­cials and Chief Min­is­ter Cap­tain Amarinder Singh pub­licly ac­cus­ing his brother of var­i­ous crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore for­mal charges were filed. “Just think of the so­cial stigma that my brother will face when he comes out of all this. And it's not just him, his new­ly­wed wife is suf­fer­ing the fallout of se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion mak­ing un­sub­stan­ti­ated charges against my brother pub­licly,” he al­leges. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Kan­war Sandhu is also not fully con­vinced about the Pun­jab po­lice's case. “Some of the killings that the po­lice are talk­ing about are prob­a­bly the re­sult of ri­valry be­tween busi­ness­men or po­lit­i­cal par­ties and may not have any con­nec­tion with the con­spir­acy that the po­lice are talk­ing about.” Mean­while, Sikhs of In­dian ori­gin around the world have sought jus­tice for Jo­hal. High-pro­file Cana­dian politi­cian Jag­meet Singh, leader of the fed­eral New Demo­cratic Party (NDP), pub­licly lent his sup­port. Cana­dian mem­bers of par­lia­ment, Raj Gre­wal and Ran­deep Sarai, have com­mu­ni­cated their con­cern over hu­man rights is­sues to the In­dian high com­mis­sioner in Canada, Vikas Swarup. In the UK, the Sikh Fed­er­a­tion has been gar­ner­ing sup­port for Jo­hal's cause among mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, and protest ral­lies were held in Lon­don near the Par­lia­ment and the for­eign of­fice. The In­dian gov­ern­ment has been tar­get­ing ac­tive Sikhs, work­ing for Sikh cause like Mr Jaggi and try­ing to make them an ex­am­ple for oth­ers, who are con­tribut­ing for their com­mu­ni­ties. It is a rou­tine in In­dia to make ter­ror­ism cases against the die-hard and sin­cere mem­bers of the con­cerned mi­nor­ity. The Modi hot doc­trine to­wards non-Hin­dus has de­stroyed sec­u­lar­ism cor­ri­dor of In­dia. In that per­spec­tive, it has reignited the ag­o­nies of the sur­vivors of the 1984 Golden Tem­ple mas­sacre .On the 33rd an­niver­sary of the mas­sacre, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional In­dia launched a photo di­gest ti­tled as Chaurasi Ki Na In­saafi: #Chau­raasiKiNaIn­saafi De­mand Jus­tice for 1984 that presents a glimpse into the lives of the for­got­ten ones. The screams of the vic­tims still echo in the nar­row lanes of Delhi where thou­sands were butchered over three decades ago. It is time for In­dia to en­sure that bru­tal­i­ties of 1984 do not re­main a fes­ter­ing sore. Apart from that In­dia has also given Canada's Justin Trudeau a royal snub when he vis­ited in Fe­bru­ary 2018. In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi rou­tinely lands up at the air­port to re­ceive world dig­ni­taries. From the mo­ment a world leader sets foot on In­dian soil, Modi's photo ops be­gin. Who can for­get the fa­mous Modi hug re­served for world lead­ers? Why was In­dia be­ing so rude to Trudeau? An­swer: It has to do with the Sikhs. In­dia has of­ten ac­cused Canada of shel­ter­ing Sikh sep­a­ratists. Sikhs in Canada form a vot­ing bloc for Trudeau, so much so that he even at­tended a Khalsa Day pa­rade or­ga­nized by a Gu­rud­wara, or Sikh tem­ple, in Toronto. Some Sikh Gu­rud­waras in Canada have also barred the en­try of In­dian diplo­mats. In­dia is en­gaged in one of the most bru­tal reigns of ter­ror in Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir and Sikhs but does not con­cern it­self with hu­man rights and sup­presses any at­tempts to reach the truth. Brave at­tempts by some for­eign jour­nal­ists to cover In­dian atroc­i­ties in oc­cu­pied Kash­mir and their ar­rest and man­han­dling by In­dian army shows the de­gree of re­pres­sion be­ing per­pe­trated. The world must rise to the oc­ca­sion and ac­knowl­edge the Kash­miri free­dom strug­gle as le­git­i­mate, just and right­ful as well bring about an end to the sup­pres­sion of In­dian mi­nori­ties in­clud­ing the Sikhs af­ter ref­er­en­dum 2020.

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