The upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Canada on April 16 has raised the hopes here for an Air India memorial in New Delhi.
Air India Flight 182 was bombed above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people on board the Boeing jet named Kanishka. The crime was blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge for the riots in India during 1984. The victims’ families have been asking for a fitting memorial at Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi.
The suitcase bomb was checked in at the Vancouver airport. Most of those killed were people of Indian origin. The Air India memorials have been built in Ireland and Canada but there is not a single one in India, although it was the worst crime in the history of aviation terror before 9/11.
The families of flight’s pilots Narendra Singh Hanse and Satwinder Singh Bhinder have written to the Indian civil aviation minister already, asking for a fitting memorial. Since Modi’s visit coincides with 30 years of the tragedy, the demand is picking up in Vancouver.
Major Singh Sidhu, vice-president of the Ross Street gurdwara, had lost his sister, a nephew and a niece in the incident. He says India should have raised the memorial long ago without asking. “Where was the need for such a demand in the first place when those who died were Indian?”
Sidhu’s gurdwara will host Modi on his visit. “He will be here for a very limited time due to his busy schedule. I really don’t know if he can spare a moment to listen to people like me,” he said. The victims’ families, he says, are disturbed because of the lack of political will on part of the Canadian and Indian governments to bring a dignified closure. “It took years to get Air India memorials built even in Canada. On top of that, only one person (Canadian national Inderjit Singh Reyat) has been convicted of 329 murders, while the bigger culprits are still moving freely in our society,” said Sidhu.
The Air India tragedy had motivated Sidhu to jump into gurdwara politics. “I wanted to remove the fundamentalists from the control of the gurdwaras because it is they who committed this barbaric act,” he said. Former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh, a vocal critic of religious extremism, feels the same. “The Indian government never showed any sensitivity to either the 1984 anti-Sikh violence or the Air India incident. If it had a strong will, it could have built memorials to the victims of both tragedies,” said Dosanjh, who wants Modi to look into this demand seriously.