Canadian Parliament has recorded a unique petition on June 9th 2010. It is about several thousand Sikhs killed in a planned manner after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984. The government machinery was allegedly used to identify Sikhs’ houses from the voters’ lists. Delhi police first disarmed some Sikhs by confiscating licensed weapons from their possession, and then collaborated with mobs to kill turbaned citizens of India. The ruling Congress leaders allegedly decided the mode of killing and made available all apparatus for committing crimes. People were targeted on the basis of their appearance. They had no connection whatsoever with the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Despite about a dozen commissions appointed in the last 25 years to apprehend perpetrators of crimes, India failed to punish the guilty. More than 3000 Sikhs lost their lives alone in Delhi. The law of the land became redundant. The ruling party immediately after the Sikh carnage and Bhopal gas tragedy, created a history by winning 411 seats out of 530 in the 1985 parliamentary election. Massive mandate appeared to have ratified the murders of Sikhs. A new definition of the Nation underpinned the collective consciousness. Sikhs as a people had no place in it. Sikhs vaguely characterized as Indians or Hindus however had every chance to shine in the Indian firmament. Those who subscribed to it prospered, those who didn’t, risked there reputations as terrorists and separatists. Punishing the guilty was always interpreted as encouraging Sikh separatism. To discourage it became a new passion for the neo- nationalists. No where it turned out to be as evident as it is in the case of Canadian Sikhs’ audacity to move a petition in the court of people in spite of the heavy odds in its way.
On June 9th the first matter to be taken up on the floor of the Canadian House of Commons was the petition about 1984 Sikh genocide. Two Canadian MP’s Mr. Andrew Kania and Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal read the contents. No objection from any quarters was raised to the motion. The petition is based on the premise that United Nation’s protocol on genocide is very defining and unambiguous. Since Canada has emerged as a multicultural society championing human rights of minorities, the petition seeks to secure justice for victims of 1984 violence. Prominent among those who supported the motion were Gurbax Malhi, Navdeep Bains, Bonnie Crombie and Kristy Duncan. Bains described 25 years of apathy as a “blot on India’s legal system.”
On the other hand, Tory MP Deepak Oberoi worked very hard to defeat the petition by terming it as mischievous and divisive. He lamented “These guys want to use Canada to divide India.” Consulate General of India allegedly coordinated with other organizations to support a consistent drive to influence Canadian lawmakers’ opinion. Canada India Foundation, an advocacy group jointly with Consulate office devised strategies to block the petition.
Canada India Foundation was established in 2007 by high profile Indo-Canadians to promote business and good relations. It actively sought to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it would divide Sikh Community and alienate them from other Indians. The foundation warned Canadian Parliament of dangers in taking up the cause of militant Sikhs.
In a letter written to MP’s the CIF reminded that they should take notice of $12 billion Indian money in Canadian business as compared to Canada’s only 500 millions in India . Aditya Jha, National Convener of CIF tried to emphasize the corporate profiteering over human rights concerns. Jha asserted that Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Alhuwalia are excellent examples of Sikhs enjoying preeminent positions in the Indian society. Manoj Pandit, spokesman for the Foundation, said that the petition was “ill-advised and ill- intentioned since there is no justification for Canada to take the position that the petition demands.” It will damage stronger Indo Canada bilateral relations.
Mr. Jha in his article for the National Post “Rejecting the Message of the Militant Sikhs” writes that the petition by Liberal MP Andrew Kania and Sukh Dhaliwal is to inflame anti-India sentiments among Sikhs. He impressed on the Canadian lawmakers to ignore the petition as it was the internal matter of India. The resulting damage to Indo-Canadian business ventures would affect both countries. National Post carried out another article on June 9th, asserting that the petition in the House of Commons was Anti-India.
Jha had many supporters in people like Balraj Deol, a Punjabi journalist who expressed that the petition would be a memorial to terrorists. “Elements in the Sikh separatist movement pressurized to move the agenda forward.” Editor of the “Canadian Post”, Jagdish Grewal also condemned the petition as not reflecting Sikhs’ majority opinion.
Canada India Foundation lobbied vehemently to convince MP’s that the petition was designed to appease terrorists and divide those Sikhs who want to live as peaceful citizens of India. CIF brought many lawmakers and Indo Americans to its apprehension of fears of militant Sikhs. CIF successfully persuaded Liberal Chief Michael Ignatieff to denounce the petition publicly. The leader said “It is used here to provoke a changed visceral response which will not bring closer to mutual understanding. His party never stands with those who polarize communities or aggravate the tensions around long standing conflicts that divide us in other lands.” The activists of CIF were sure of the success of their aggressive struggle and defeat of the petition on the floor of the House of Commons. But to their utter shock and dismay, no objections were raised by any member in the house.
According to the Foundation website “Canada India Foundation is a national, non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 2007 to foster support for stronger bi-lateral relations between Canada and India; to educate Canadians on the changing face of India; and To increase the participation of Indo-Canadians in the public policy process in Canada. CIF's founding members include industrialists, senior Canadian business executives and top tier professionals.”
The foundation’s claim of being non-partisan compels scrutiny. In the above case it has not only played a partisan role, but also tried to use its clout to defend criminals responsible for a spate of murders. The petition only highlighted how culprits have been given shelter by the government that claims to be fighting terrorism. Punishing them would have strengthened such a fight and made India stronger. But interpreting the demand for justice as anti-India is rather devious and preposterous. It only implies that such killings are pro-India or a nationalist cauase. The Foundation needs to do introspection as to how it got the right to speak for all Indians? When its membership is restricted only to a few top tier industrialists and professionals, how it got the right to speak for the second most populated nation in the world?
The scope of the petition after a quarter century of the bloodshed is to explore peaceful solution to wounds of the psyche. It is a step to unite people and share their pain. When there is a true sharing, a lot of anger disappears automatically. On the contrary, the action of leaders of the Canada India Foundation is partisan, divisive and anti-India in the literal sense.
The petition will go down in Indo-Canadian history as a new chapter of solving global issues. A spirit of dialog and deliberation can solve most intricate issues if taken up in good faith. Ironically it is a method that India most recommends to others but follows least in her own case.