Toronto Star: Sikhs plan protest over politician's visit

“Canada has a standing in the world for upholding human rights, and when I see my government sponsoring events where a man accused of killing hundreds of Sikhs gets a platform, it makes me very angry,” said Amanpreet Bal, of the World Sikh Organization. “His visit is a slap in the face to the Sikh community, for whom the issue of prosecuting the guilty is still very much a live issue.”

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/783574--sikhs-protest-official-visitor-with-a-murky-past

Rob Ferguson
Raveena Aulakh

Sikhs have called him a war criminal. A Nazi. Pol Pot.

He was one of the many accused of organizing pogroms against Sikhs in November 1984 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in New Delhi. More than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in four days.

Now Kamal Nath, minister for road transport and highways in India, is in Toronto. He is speak Tuesday at a reception hosted by the Canada-India Business Council at the King Edward Hotel.

Outraged Sikhs across the country are demanding that he be sent packing.

“Canada has a standing in the world for upholding human rights, and when I see my government sponsoring events where a man accused of killing hundreds of Sikhs gets a platform, it makes me very angry,” said Amanpreet Bal, of the World Sikh Organization. “His visit is a slap in the face to the Sikh community, for whom the issue of prosecuting the guilty is still very much a live issue.”

But Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was not aware of Sikh concerns, and that Nath’s upcoming meeting with the minister will be their third. “It’s the first time I’ve heard of this,” he said at an Etobicoke high school Monday, adding that 1984 was “many years ago.”

He also noted that Nath’s admission to Canada is a federal responsibility, and the federal government has “welcomed” Nath to Canada.

Catherine Loubier, Foreign Affairs spokesperson in Ottawa, said Nath is a long-serving elected representative and that a commission that investigated allegations of his involvement found no evidence of wrongdoing. “Minister Nath has visited Canada on past occasions, beginning in 2001,” she said.

Sikhs say his visits are kept low-profile because they rankle the community.

Nath began a week-long official visit Wednesday, meeting federal and provincial ministers and corporate leaders. Since his visit became public, Sikhs have been writing to politicians highlighting the accusations, and started email campaigns and Facebook groups to spread awareness.

The 1984 riots were India’s worst since the 1947 independence, and the wounds still run deep in the Sikh community. For four blood-chilling days in November, rioters fanned through New Delhi, hunting for Sikhs. Their hair was cut, then they were stabbed or bludgeoned, and their bodies were tossed inside burning stores and homes.

Police and the army, called in after the first day, apparently stood idle amid the carnage.

Survivors later testified that rioters were directed by leaders of the ruling Congress Party, including Nath. Eyewitnesses alleged that on Nov. 1, Nath led a mob that attacked a Sikh temple and burned several people inside.

A commission that indicted Nath could not determine whether he was involved. While Nath testified that he was trying to disperse the mob, a journalist on the ground testified he “was controlling the crowd and the crowd was looking to him for directions.”

More than 20 people have been convicted in connection with the riots, though prosecutions continue at a snail’s pace. One of Gandhi’s killers was hanged, while the other was killed on the spot.

“Every Sikh was impacted by what happened in New Delhi in 1984,” said Lovleen Kaur, a student at York University and an email campaign organizer. “It’s not something that the next generation, my generation, can forget.”

A demonstration is planned Tuesday evening outside the King Edward Hotel.


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