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First-ever project in Canada to document, memorialise Kanishka tragedy

The projects are being spearheaded by Chandrima Chakraborty, an associate professor at McMaster University, who said the principal objective is to make the Kanishka tragedy “part of a larger public memory”.

world Updated: Jan 23, 2018 07:17 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Air India Flight 182 “Kanishka”,McMaster University,Canada
Chakraborty speaking at the 2017 Toronto launch of the book Remembering Air India. (Courtesy Chandrima Chakraborty)

In the summer of 2010, then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, marking the 25th anniversary of the Air India Flight 182 “Kanishka” tragedy, apologised for the “institutional failings” that led to the country’s worst act of terrorism. That statement is now unavailable on the Canadian government’s website, or if still there, it has been buried so deep it can’t be found.

This year, a pair of new projects documenting the tragedy will be launched by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, which will make this apology available to for easy public access, among other material.

These projects are being spearheaded by Chandrima Chakraborty, associate professor of English and Cultural Studies at the university, who said the principal objective is to make Kanishka “part of a larger public memory”.

Chakraborty became aware of the ignorance among young Canadians about this terror attack, which claimed 329 lives, during interactions in her classroom. The first of the projects, a website memorialising the tragedy, is expected to launch this spring. The second, and more ambitious initiative, will be a “physical and digital repository” of artefacts linked to the tragedy at the university library, the first of its kind in the country. That will formally come into being around autumn.

“The effort is to fill the silence that is there and to have a sustained public debate on the events as well as to broaden a sense of inheritance and responsibility for the bombings, because it is not just an Indo-Canadian tragedy,” Chakraborty said.

The attempt is to “reach an audience beyond those directly affected” by the tragedy, she said. The archival repository at McMaster University will include primary and secondary material, including that donated by members of the families of the victims.

The website will have a timeline and include commentary of the key events that led to the attack but also the response to it.

Chandrima Chakraborty (centre) with other organisers of the first scholarly conference on the Kanishka tragedy at McMaster University in 2015. ( Courtesy Chandrima Chakraborty )

A couple of other projects that Chakraborty has been involved with in recent years will segue into these larger efforts. Among those are an international conference hosted at McMaster University in 2015, which was, she said, the “first scholarly conference” in Canada on the tragedy. The testimonies of members of the victims’ families were videotaped at the conference and will feature in the archives, along with others gathered since.

But the archives will remain “a work in progress”, she said, since new material will be added as it becomes available.

Chakraborty was also one of three co-editors of Remembering Air India, published by the University of Alberta Press last year. While that does include “layman commentary”, it can also be brought “to the curriculum, almost like a textbook,” she said.

They also obtained permission from the Canadian Privy Council to feature Harper’s apology in that book and since it now appears to have vanished from official government websites, it will be also figure in the forthcoming documentation projects, serving the purpose of “filling in the gaps and also the erasures”, she said. Ultimately, these will help create a permanent “public record” of the tragedy.

First Published: Jan 23, 2018 07:15 IST