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Recognise 1984 anti-Sikh riots as genocide: NDP’s Jagmeet Singh asks Canada govt

During his campaign for leadership of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh raised the issue of the 1984 riots, pushing for it to be acknowledged as anti-Sikh.

world Updated: Nov 02, 2017 10:08 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey (in white jacket) at the candlelight vigil to mark the 33rd anniversary of the 1984 riots in the suburb of Toronto.
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey (in white jacket) at the candlelight vigil to mark the 33rd anniversary of the 1984 riots in the suburb of Toronto.(Photo courtesy Sukhminder Singh Hansra)

Canada’s opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), now led by Jagmeet Singh, has asked the government to “recognise” the 1984 riots in India following the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi as “genocide”.

Making a statement in the House of Commons to mark the 33rd anniversary of the outbreak of violence in Delhi and other parts of India, NDP’s parliamentary leader Guy Caron, said: “Both the Delhi Assembly and the Ontario Legislature have recognised these atrocities as genocide. I stand in this place in hopes that someday soon, the House of Commons and this government will do the same.”

Since he became head of the NDP, one of Canada’s three main political parties, the 38-year-old Singh has courted controversy in India and Canada by refusing to speak out against the veneration of Talwinder Singh Parmar, the mastermind of the 1985 terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 as a martyr by some Canadian gurdwaras.

Caron, an MP from Quebec, was among the major rivals to Singh for the leadership of the NDP and was appointed to head the party’s parliamentary caucus by Singh after his victory a month ago.

Singh tweeted his support for Caron’s statement: “Today our Parl leader @GuyCaronNPDjoined the Delhi Assembly and ON Leg in recognizing the #SikhGenocide & called on the Govt to do the same.”

Caron started out by quoting a comment attributed to India’s home minister Rajnath Singh: “It was not riot, it was genocide.” Rajnath Singh had used the Hindi term “nar sanhar”, which does not necessarily translate directly to genocide.

Caron added, “Today and for the next three days, Sikh Canadians and human rights advocates will mark the 33rd anniversary of the 1984 Sikh Genocide.

“Sikh men were burned alive. Women were subject to unthinkable sexual violence and children were murdered in gruesome fashion.

“I am reminded that thousands of Canadians live with this pain as survivors and bearers of intergenerational trauma.”

The NDP’s statement was welcomed by hardline groups, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) Canada (SADA Canada). Its Canada East unit president Sukhminder Singh Hansra said they “echo” what Caron said in the House and demanded the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “recognise the massacre of Sikhs on Nov 1, 1984 as a genocide”.

The group also held a candlelight vigil in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto, to mark the anniversary and among those in attendance was the town’s mayor Linda Jeffrey.

Hansra said he hoped that provinces beyond Ontario would pass resolutions to describe the 1984 riots as genocide, adding his group is seeking similar motions in cities such as Brampton to “put pressure on the federal government” to formally ascribe that term to those tragic events.

During his campaign for leadership of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh had raised this issue, particularly on the anniversary of Operation Bluestar when he stated: “It was on this the day that the government of India initiated a genocidal campaign against the Sikh minority beginning with a military invasion of the Golden Temple.

“The Indian military killed thousands of innocent people in just one day.

“This genocide continued for the next 20 years. Across Punjab, Sikh youth disappeared, torture was rampant, and Sikhs endured relentless state-sanctioned terrorism,” he had said in a statement issued on June 6.

With Singh, who was denied a visa by India in 2013, as the national leader of the party, this 1984 riots now appear to be at the forefront of the NDP’s agenda.