Sikhs in Indian crosshairs again

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  • The world needs to wake up

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. The advent of Narendra Modi’s government 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 ISI 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-year-old 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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and Punjab/Union Governments have thrown blame on ISI of their failing instead of maintaining law and order.

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.

India is engaged in one of the most brutal reigns of terror in Occupied Kashmir 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.

VIASULTAN M HALI
SOURCEpt
Sultan M Hali
The writer is a former PAF Group Captain-turn-practicing journalist. He contributes to the print media, conducts a TV show and produces documentaries. He may be contacted at: [email protected]

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