After the murder of Ripudaman Singh Malik, a B.C. writer is urging the prime minister to look into relationships between suspects in the Air India bombings and India’s spy agency
-ਗੁਰਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਕੈਨੇਡਾ (ਸੰਪਾਦਕ ਰੈਡੀਕਲ ਦੇਸੀ ਰਸਾਲਾ) email: [email protected]
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
I am a Canadian citizen of Indian origin who grew up with ugly memories of the worst episode in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11.
I was only 15 when Air India flight 182 was blown up above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985, leaving all 329 people aboard dead. Around the same time, another blast at Narita Airport killed two baggage handlers. In all, 331 innocent lives were lost in the blasts caused by bombs that originated from British Columbia.
I was in New Delhi with my family to attend the wedding of a cousin when the news came, and still remember the heart-wrenching TV images of debris floating on the surface of the ocean.
A year before, the national capital of India was rocked by anti-Sikh massacres in the wake of the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, who wanted to avenge the June 1984 military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar.
The scars of the destruction of the Amritsar assault are also etched in my memory permanently. As we lived right in the city, we saw firsthand the signs of devastation caused by the Indian forces. My own family of practising Sikhs was hurt by this sacrilegious action of the government. My father and myself turned deeply religious, although I gave up on my faith as I grew older.
We were deeply concerned as the media began speculating on the involvement of Sikh militants in the Air India bombings. In fact, there were apprehensions of another pogrom. While nothing untoward happened, I feel that the community has lived under a microscope since then.
As I became an adult and chose the profession of journalism, I began looking for answers in this series of incidents, ranging from the ill-conceived military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex to the Air India tragedy. I am therefore aware of all the conflicting perspectives on this issue.
I have listened to all the different sides and have felt the pain of the victims on both sides of the violence. While covering these issues, I never discriminated when it came to hearing out the stories of the victims of the state violence or the militants.
I also followed the Air India case since 2000, when one of the former suspects, Ripudaman Singh Malik, was arrested. I worked with the Tribune in Punjab and was posted in Firozpur, the native city of Malik. I had an opportunity to meet his extended family and his old classmates.
What I came to know was that he was disturbed by the events of 1984, like many other Sikhs across the globe. Considering my own family background, Malik wasn’t an exception.
That said, the innocent passengers and crew members on the two flights did not deserve this. Until now, the governments in Ottawa and New Delhi have tried to make everyone believe that this was the handiwork of Sikh separatists seeking revenge for 1984.
After being arrested, Malik was subsequently acquitted for the lack of evidence in 2005. And yet the court refused to reimburse anything to him in 2012, saying that his “not guilty verdict” wasn’t a pronouncement of his innocence.
Like many other media persons, I had reasons to suspect the complicity of Malik and others associated with him. I kept criticizing him and other potential suspects, such as Talwinder Singh Parmar, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Inderjit Singh Reyat. While Parmar died at the hands of the Indian police in 1992, Bagri was acquitted alongside Malik. Reyat is the only convict, even as the investigation continues and remains inconclusive.
For doing that, I received death threats. Supporters of the Sikh separatist movement kept saying that Air India was done by the Indian spy agency R&AW to discredit their struggle and defame Sikh activists abroad.
My only grouse was that the Sikh suspects whose names have repeatedly appeared in the media needed to come clean. How come they were charged if they are really innocent? Also, they have no right to use the Sikh community as a human shield. So much so, some even claimed that with the acquittal of Malik and Bagri, the blot on the Sikhs has been removed, as if they represented the entire Sikh community.
I was outraged over the fact that 82 children under the age of 13 died in the bombings. Those little souls had nothing to do with what the Indian state did to the Sikhs. They were only going to visit their families in India for summer vacation.
In order to do some justice to the victims’ families, I travelled to Ireland to attend the 25th anniversary of the bombings and met many of them who had gathered there to remember their loved ones. I published a book based on their stories.
In the meantime, many conspiracy theories continued to be floated around. A book titled Soft Target was widely quoted by Sikhs.
According to it, the Air India bombing was an inside job of R&AW. Soft Target went into many details of the association the suspects had with Indian agents.
A group of human rights activists in Punjab came out with a similar suggestion, based on their own independent findings. I kept reporting that as well, and have always insisted that this whole incident needs to be looked into with an open mind. A section of the moderate Sikh community and the victims’ families were also skeptical, and suspected the involvement of Indian agencies through their spies penetrated among the militants.
One can conveniently dismiss all this by calling it propaganda, but the facts speak for themselves. Recent developments should make everyone revisit the whole affair to address these murmurings more objectively and critically.
This should have been done much earlier, but it isn’t too late even now, especially after Malik’s mysterious murder in broad daylight in Surrey on July 14.
Malik had recently become a supporter of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Earlier, he was given a visa by the Indian establishment in 2019 to visit his home country, where he and his relatives met the head of R&AW.
As a result, he fell out with a section of Sikh separatists. But that is just one part of the story, as the Indian intelligence, pro-Modi media, and his supporters have started pointing fingers at his Sikh critics, without looking into other possible scenarios.
This is despite the fact that two non-Sikh suspects have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with his killing, even as there is no word on motive.
Circumstances suggest that this could be a professional hit. And that’s the reason why I am writing you this letter.
Common sense demands that the investigators should look into all possibilities and rule out nothing.
As of now, let’s examine who is going to benefit from this high-profile murder. It’s easy to blame the Sikh separatists. So the question is: why would they kill someone whose murder can be conveniently blamed on them? Does it really help them or cause them more damage?
In recent years, the Indian lobby has intensified its campaign against Sikh separatists in Canada, even though the movement for a separate Sikh homeland has lost its charm in India. Any violent action attributed to them in Canada only helps India’s ruling classes polarize the Hindu majority, strengthen their case against Canada for being soft on Sikh extremism, and help suppress any voice of Sikh dissent in terms of the stories of human rights abuses and the fight for justice for 1984.
So why not try to find out the real culprits, instead of going after the imagined ones?
Let’s see who’s trying to jump the gun. Among them are right-wing supporters of Hindu chauvinist leader Modi, who’ve taken to social media to suggest that Malik was murdered by Sikh radicals in connivance with Pakistani agencies simply for writing a letter of support to the Indian prime minister.
This makes no sense. The investigation in Canada hasn’t made any headway, while a number of Hindu and Sikh leaders who openly welcomed Modi during his 2015 visit to Vancouver haven’t met any harm. So how can we believe that?
It is worth mentioning that most of these people have simply overlooked how the court explicitly denied Malik’s innocence in 2012, and never questioned the wisdom of the Modi government giving him visa and access to no less than the head of R&AW.
Unfortunately, until now the Air India inquiries either completely failed to look into this angle, or touched upon it very reluctantly, in spite of demands by several Sikh bodies. This only strengthens the belief that Canada is under pressure from India.
With Malik’s death, it has become highly important for your government to examine this possibility with a sense of urgency. Your police have already exhausted energy and resources on the usual suspects. Sikh figures such as Malik have already been subjected to investigation and trial. It’s time for a more specific inquiry to go beyond what we already know.
A heartless government of India, which was capable of killing its own people in 1984, wouldn’t think twice to engage elements who could take 331 human lives if it suited them. After all, the Air India bombings eclipsed the cause of justice for the victims of Sikh Genocide.