Why Khalistani narrative about Canada is a disservice to Sikhs – DailyO


| Opinion | India / Canada | 5 June 2017 Asia Samachar |


By Harmeet Singh Shah

I love Google Earth. It’s on-screen fun to use 3-D maps on TV as an explainer for stories with multiple locations.

Somehow, I feel some of us in the media fraternity are also programmed like Google Earth, inherently.

Let me step into the shoes of a Canada-posted foreign correspondent of a New Delhi-based newspaper or wire service.

A couple of assignments I have on my plate are Sikh parades in two corners of the country, Vancouver and Toronto.

I travel to British Columbia first.

For my audience back home in India, especially state and self-anointed nationalists, what’s there for me in it to zoom in on? Ah, there you go! Let’s ignore everything else — that sea of humanity, Asia’s wondrous legacy of spirituality, that unique blending of success and faith. Let me just grab that single float with a large “Khalistan” banner. Yay! I got my headline.

Back to Ontario for the second story. It’s prime minister Justin Trudeau coming in there.

Forget the message he’s sending out to innumerable cultures and nationalities in Canada and outside by participating in the Toronto Sikh religious event at a time when an aggressive right-wing wave is battering some of the world’s finest democracies.

Let me whoosh closer to a “Khalistani flag” behind or around him for my headline again. There you go! I got it!

And guess what? New Delhi has also expressed “concern” over his presence in the Toronto parade. See, that’s called impact!

Now, let me introspect about what I wrote. Did I, or anyone else with a basic understanding of democratic governance, really expect a Trudeau to back out because of a handful of flags, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s posters, a float of an imaginary, impossible homeland? Was I serious?

Forget the so-called Khalistan, can a Canadian PM even order a ban on a Quebec flag if raised to press for sovereignty? Remember, Quebecers have had two such referendums on their constitutional future, in 1980 and 1995.

Back in Amritsar, on the compound of Sri Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple), the centre of the Sikh faith, stands an Operation Blue Star memorial commemorating Bhindranwale and his companions.

The slain militant leader was co-opted by none other than the Shiromani Akali Dal, an ally of the BJP, in 2003 when the Akal Takht declared him a “martyr”.

Just to jog your memory, the Akal Takht is the highest seat of Sikh temporal authority, whose jathedar, or leader, is elected by the Akali-controlled SGPC, the top Sikh religious administration that governs historical gurdwaras, mostly in Punjab.

Posters and banners of the defunct Khalistani movement aside, an entire structure unrelated to the Gurus’ period has been raised on the sacred complex of the Golden Temple. An inscription at the entrance of this Blue Star monument roughly reads “memorial in the memory of the 14th head of Damdami Taksal martyr, ‘Sant’ Giani Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale, and all martyrs of 1984”.

Still, every Indian prime minister, many foreign heads of state and governments, chief ministers, national and international celebrities visit Sri Darbar Sahib, paying no attention to what represents a bloody conflict between a large number of Sikhs and the Indian state under Indira Gandhi.

Don’t they?

Whether it’s a Trudeau at a Toronto Sikh procession or a British monarch or our own PMs at the Golden Temple, their calls upon religions and cultures carry a higher symbolism, much higher than gory histories.

There’s no harm if we, as journalists, also activate another stunning feature of Google Earth in ourselves — which is its bird’s-eye view. That distinct ability to see and show things and people in totality, from a higher vantage point.

If we don’t, our reportage ends up painting every Sikh living, working and studying hard in Canada as a Khalistani. In our local lexicon, by the way, Khalistan is synonymous with terrorism.

The context was different but lawyer Karuna Nundy late last month rightly diagnosed the infection that some writers, professional journalists and amateur commentators included, are afflicted with.

She tweeted:

I too believe it’s popcorn journalism if we build a Khalistani narrative around Canada to insinuate the country is only harbouring Sikh “terrorists”.

For the record, militancy in Punjab practically ended in 1992. Advocates of Khalistan have been rejected politically in the Sikh-majority state. They are living on the fringes of Punjab’s political and social landscape now.

Likewise, Sikh separatists, howsoever wealthy they might be, hold little sway over the larger diaspora overseas.

The movement is long dead. Let’s declare it so in our news writing.

And let’s not pretend to be treating a corpse, like doctors of Gabbar Is Back!

The writer is associate executive producer at India Today TV. This article appeared in DailyO, an online opinion platform from the India Today Group. See original article here.



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