With just one word in a controversial motion, the Ontario legislative assembly on April 6, 2017, touched the hearts of 500,000 Canadian Sikhs. Moved by Liberal Party MP from Brampton-Springdale Harinder Kaur Malhi , and voted 35:4, the motion described the targeted killings of Sikhs in India following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 as “Genocide”.
A Sikh man being surrounded and beaten by a mob, Source: Times of India
It condemned “all forms of communal violence and hatred anywhere in the world”, re-affirmed the Ontario government’s “commitment to justice” and asked all sides to “embrace truth and reconciliation.”
The Indian government has rejected the motion calling it “misguided”. An External Affairs Ministry Spokesman said it was “based on a limited understanding of India, its ethos, rule of law and the judicial process”.The Sikh political and social groups worldwide have welcomed it and the victims’ families find it healing.
“I lost my brother in that. We needed to know that our loss was not for nothing. So many sons died. So many children died. We just needed this recognition,” says Joginder Singh Brar, 75, who, like many victims, left India in the wake of the violence.“The recognition has given the Sikhs emotional security,” Singh says.
The Ontario resolution is a symbolism that many Sikhs have been craving since the “orchestrated” communal violence by members of the Indian National Congress political party after their leader’s assassination by two Sikh security guards.
Singh says he had “two ways to go at that point. I was young and could have fought back but I chose to step back and make sure my mother still had one son to take care of her. I think that was the best decision I made.”
He has sought solace in his religion which, he remarks, “is all for peace.”
“I come to the gurudwara every day and serve langar ( food cooked in the community kitchen) ; every day in someone or the other I see my brother and feel he is here with me. I hope I made him, my late mother and my two kids proud.”
Langar served at the Dixie Gurudwara
Looking at his two-year-old granddaughter who accompanies him to the Dixie Gurudwara every Sunday, he says: “Had I not kept quiet may be this beautiful angel would not have been with me.”
“Justice,” he adds, “is served best when there is peace.”
Sikhs gathered to celebrate Vaisakhi
Back in India, justice has eluded the victims’ families for 32-long-years despite several official and independent enquiries into the communal killings.
More than five thousand Sikhs were killed--most of all in the Indian capital Delhi, scores of thousands displaced and the entire community was left generally scarred. Sikhs are two percent of India’s 1.2 billion people.
India has long debated whether the 1984 Sikh killings were a genocide, a pogrom or just frenzied violence. Mcgill University Law Professor Payam Akhavan, also a war crimes prosecutor, believes it is counter-productive for justice activists to insist on using debatable and loaded terms like genocide. The important goal, he told the Vancouver Sun, should be to recognize the immense suffering caused by such crimes and to stop further persecution.
“Going by the Oxford dictionary meaning of the word, the Sikh killings of 1984 were genocide,” says political commentator Baljit Balli. A Sikh himself, Balli condemns those who oppose the Ontario resolution.
“They are crass political opportunists who have no qualms about exploiting the Sikhs’ pain and anguish for votes; they have done nothing to provide the healing touch to them.”
He describes the resolution as “historic and healing”. “It reflects that Canada stands by the concept of equality of all citizens and communities, including the Sikhs.”
Canada officially recognizes only a few events as genocide, including the Holocaust in which six million Jews were exterminated, Holodomor (hunger plague) in which the Soviet Union starved to death up to five million Ukrainians and the Rwandan murder of more than a million Hutus. The 1984 Sikh killings in India are the latest to be recognized as genocide, but only by one province of Canada, not by the Canadian government itself.
Manmeet Kaur Bherauchi