The Spin-Doctors by T. SHER SINGH
Are At It Again
The verdict on the Air-India trial was delivered not too long ago by a prestigious senior Justice: that the entire scenario painted by the various intelligence authorities over the course of two decades was no more than a sham.
In recent weeks, during a public federal enquiry studying the tragedy - led by another highly-respected jurist - it's been revealed that the same authorities have been lying throughout to hide, at the very least, gross negligence and incompetence. There are widespread fears now, based on new testimony and the many old questions that remain unanswered, that there may be more than meets the eye.
So, what do the authorities do? Exactly what they always do so well, in this wonderful media-saturated world: get the spin-doctors to start drumming up fears and innuendo. They are desperate, it appears, to counter the massive fall-out from the enquiry. Smoke-screens, they have learnt from experience, easily obfuscate uncomfortable and unsavoury facts.
Watch out for a well-orchestrated campaign, already in high gear, of vacuous stories once again carelessly bandying about the word "terrorists"; and "experts" exploring bloated threats and possibilities - all without any real news or anything new.
The following piece by T. Sher Singh was published a couple of years ago in The Toronto Star. It continues to ring true today, louder than ever before - and is therefore being reproduced herein.
During the two decades between the horrendous crime and tragedy of the downing of Air-India Flight 182 in 1985 and the verdict on the trial of the two accused of the outrage, my beard has gone from jet black to snow white.
Part of it, of course, is due to age, in my case, 55.
Some of the silver undoubtedly stems from the vagaries of the practice of law which, coincidentally, began for me in 1985.
A good portion of it also relates to the tragedy, from watching helplessly from the sidelines as several close friends have struggled with the loss of dear ones - a son and daughter, a spouse, a sister.
And some of the salt, inevitably replacing the pepper, is from watching my immediate community - almost 500,000 Sikh-Canadians - unfairly bear the cross of innuendo and broad brush-strokes.
All because the background and context of the tragedy lies in India, in accusations of dire human rights violations by the Indian government against its Sikh minority and the Khalistani separatist movement spawned as a result.
Yesterday's front-page headlines in one Toronto newspaper unabashedly refer to two "Sikh" militants who were found "Not guilty".
Sikh? True, their religion is Sikh. But this moniker is shared by me and my daughter, 500,000 Sikh-Canadians, and 25 million others around the world, only a handful of whom condone or support either the crime or the criminals, whoever they may be.
But, why not "Khalistani", instead of Sikh, which would make it relevant and accurate?
I have never seen - and thank God for it - Nazis referred to as "Christian" terrorists. We have Palestinian suicide-bombers and we have Israeli raids. IRA terrorists. But, why Sikh militants?
My daughter was six years old in June, 1985.
I was, and am, a single parent and my primary challenge ever since has been to prevent, or at least lessen, the collateral damage caused by the carelessness of the media.
I remember a Sikh-Canadian friend bringing over a newspaper one day to show me how his 12-year-old had come home one evening, spotted the headlines on an Air-India story, pored over the article and, taking a black marker, slashed a huge X and inscribed "Lies! Lies! Lies!" across the page. My friend found it crumpled and thrown in the wastebasket.
I remember meeting with a number of CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) operatives in 1987, to assist them in understanding the basics about Indian and Punjabi politics and their spillover into Canada.
My advice was being sought, free, because neither institution had any Sikh or Indian or Punjabi or South Asian personnel on their staff who were equipped to assist them in the Air-India matter. Imagine, this with respect to a Canadian community (Punjabi-speaking citizens) a million strong and a century old!
Their question was: "Why does every Sikh household in this country sport the Khalistani flag? See: Here's the separatist symbol! "
I looked at the sample one of them had pulled from a briefcase. It was the saffron triangle flown outside every gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in the world, and the icon (the Khanda) displayed in homes, on necklaces and T-shirts, on bumper-stickers ... just like the Christian Cross and the Jewish Star of David.
I explained. Their jaws dropped collectively, as if I had just clarified quantum physics.
They cited huge numbers of separatists in this country and provided the evidence: Tens of thousands of them, maybe even hundreds of thousands, refrained from clipping their beards or doffing their turbans. Are they potential terrorists, they asked?
They were genuinely puzzled when I told them that these were the basic requirements for those who have taken on the full discipline of the Sikh spiritual path, and had nothing to do with any political stance. And I added that I was one of them, pointing to my turban and untrimmed beard. I never heard from them again.
But I have heard of erased tapes, of bunglings, of missed opportunities, and ah yes, of broad public references to "Sikh terrorists".
It helped me decide on the route I would take with my daughter. I chose to encourage her to watch and hear and read the news with me, and to discuss its contents.
As a result, I believe, she has learned to discern right from wrong in a way clearer than most people I know.
As she grew up, I noted she had begun to nurture a deep sense of justice and fairness, and sport the ability to quickly cut through onion layers of obfuscation. We often talked about what we saw going on around the Air-India situation.
We quickly learned that there was a pattern emerging in the way the RCMP and CSIS were handling the case and anything else even vaguely related to it.
It has been long forgotten, but there were two trials, one in Hamilton, the other in Montreal, several years ago. Both purportedly related to the Khalistani movement.
Terrorists were being tried, we were forewarned. SWAT teams visibly stood coiled around the "specially barricaded" facilities.
"Terrorists! Terrorists!" echoed every preparatory press conference. It was high drama, neatly orchestrated to meet every news deadline.
Well, both matters were finally heard, one by one, in separate cities.
The judge found that the bases of the charges were fraudulent: false affidavits, sworn by "investigative" personnel, were the mainstay.
There was no other real evidence. The charges were dismissed. In each case.
A similar case took place in New York State. Same scenario, SWAT teams and all. On the eve of the trial, it was discovered that the prosecutor had been penning threatening letters to the judge and signing them with the names of the accused.
The charges were dropped and the prosecutor taken away, reportedly for psychiatric treatment.
My daughter and I learned the following: If the prosecution protests loudly and repeatedly that $100 million has been spent on the case, that there are 10 truckloads of evidence, there are 100 witnesses, that there were 300 victims - and never, ever claims that there are X number of solid witnesses, and X number of damaging documents, and oodles, no - some, no - even one piece of impeccable evidence connecting the accused with the crimes, then you know there isn't a case.
Not just a weak case. Simply, no case. And then, when you hear the word "terrorists" bandied about freely and with full-throated ease, you know it is a smokescreen to hide the absence of substance.
Were we surprised by the verdict?
Yes, we were. We are always surprised - pleasantly - at how our judicial system ultimately rises to the occasion, and does what it is supposed to do, albeit belatedly.
Now, just wait and see how loudly and how often the authorities use the word "terrorists" henceforth.
Here's my grey-haired conclusion:
There is good news and there is bad news. The good news: Ours is the best justice system in the world. The bad news: Ours is the best justice system in the world!
We do need an inquiry. It is a must. The truth behind why it took twenty years to get to this unsatisfactory juncture has to be outed.
And, we simply can't let the real criminals go free.
One more thing. My daughter grew up to choose journalism as a career: The pursuit of truth ...
[Article: courtesy - The Toronto Star.]
Image on this page: detail from a painting by Kanwar Singh Dhillon of The Nishaan Sahib, the Sikh flag that publicly proclaims that every gurdwara in the world is open to one and all - regardless of faith and belief, religious or political affiliation, gender, caste, race, nationality, language, sexual orientation or financial status - for food, shelter and solace.
Conversation about this article
1: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), June 29, 2007, 11:02 AM.
Yes, but the incompetence and agendas of intelligence agencies should never blind us to the fact that there was, and still is, a group within the community which may have been involved in extremism in the past and may still remain wedded to this kind of ideology. Let's spare some rage for them too.
2: G.C.Singh (U.S.A.), July 01, 2007, 6:28 AM.
I could not agree more with this article. Since the start of this latest commission of inquiry into the Air India tragedy, the continuous drum-beat of so-called Sikh "extremism" and "terrorism" has been headlined by the Canadian media without any regard to the real facts. Some so-called "moderate" Sikh leaders in Canada, have also joined in this chorus since the Surrey Vaisakhi procession. Just yesterday, this crowd, led by the incorrigible and viciously anti-Sikh journalist Kim Bolan, assembled at the Fraser Institute to highlight "Sikh extremism" in Canada. No wonder Kim Bolan's lengthy diatribe against Sikh community and her prescription to limit Sikh participation in Canadian politics has been prominently carried by all major Indian newspapers.
3: R. Sandhu (Brampton, Canada), July 02, 2007, 2:40 AM.
Propaganda is a potent weapon, and smearing a whole community is no more than a red herring to divert attention from the underlying and ongoing malaise in the country of origin, with its politico-economic agendas; i.e., global domination, meddling/dabbling in agendas, dirty politics of deras/sadhs, dirty inter-provincial rivalries, compounded by narrow, bigoted world-views of politicians, conveniently forgotten pogroms (no memorials there, of course!), manipulations, deals, injustices, disappearences, topped with lack of any real understanding of human rights and freedoms, xenophobic/ultra-nationalist mindsets and responses to law and order: all those things swept behind a crudely fabricated bogeyman of a "terrorist", in order to avoid sensible discourse and solutions! Seems like economics/trade is the new deity of the new, globalised world. And then we have those hybrid uncle toms/don quixotes within, who just love taking blame for something and everything, even if there is not an iota of a reason to do so. Lofty denunciations, crucifying the entire community in order to curry favours by conveniently raking up the requisite Khalistani ... and of course their misplaced "rage" being vociferously directed at manufactured fiction, instead of any facts... On the other hand, it could be as simple as: let justice take its course ... every individual is responsible for his/her actions in Canadian society ... and no one is guilty until found to be so in accordance with the law. As for Madame Bolan ... journalism is about uncovering the truth, not personal biases honed in right-wing outfits with agendas. Beating up on the Sikh community collective is not going to yield any criminals ... only an efficient system of policing and, of course, the governmental will to withstand foreign pressures, will do the trick. Let Ms Bolan spare a little bit of newsprint to write up on those governments/foreign officials that our politicians are afraid of losing ground with, if all evidence were to be properly aired. Has anyone read the book titled "Open Secrets", by Malloy Krishna Dhar - the chief spook posted in the community in the 80's?
4: Ajit Singh (Brampton, Canada), July 02, 2007, 6:32 PM.
Excellent insight into the whole era of falsehoods and smokescreens. I only wish that the Sikh community was as vocal as its Jewish counterpart which, when confronted with similar distortions, makes sure that its voices are heard to counter the false branding by the media. Sikhs - lions! - need to roar more often - but, of course, only when it is meaningful to do so.
5: Shawn Singh Tucker (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), July 25, 2007, 12:14 AM.
Sardar Ji, keep writing! Your words are a great representation and tool for all Sikhs.
6: Jashan (New York, U.S.A.), July 28, 2007, 1:38 PM.
Nice article. Just a sidenote ... I don't think that being a 'Khalistani' is analogous to being a 'Nazi'. Nazis were hardcore killers with an agenda for acquiring world power, while we, the Sikhs, only want what is rightfully ours. I don't think asking for a separate homeland is being 'too demanding'. We are the only major religion in the whole world that doesn't have its own land ... a land where we can make our own decisions and govern in accordance with our ideals. Sadly, it's mostly our own people who oppose the idea of being independent. Call it Khalistan or whatever you wish, it is imperative that we have our sovereign land where our kids can grow up free to practice their faith. While the United States and other Western countries do offer us many freedoms, there are often reports in the media of hate crimes against turbaned men and boys. Also our culture is being diluted by Western influence. I think we are indebted to our ancestors who sacrificed everything for Sikhi, and we owe it to our future generations to secure a land we can truly call our own. Any Sikh opposed to this idea may not fully understand the significance of the concept. A Sikh homeland? Our whole identity depends upon it.