The PM’s role in securing a probe into Sri Lanka’s human rights violations should extend to India’s massacre of Sikhs

The truth of what happened in India in 1984 deserves to be told, writes Hardeep Singh.

The truth of what happened in India in 1984 deserves to be told, writes Hardeep Singh

Revelations about the Thatcher government’s ‘limited’ involvement in the 1984 Golden Temple massacre have led to calls on the coalition to support a UN resolution for investigating human rights violations by India.

Although an ambitious goal, recent developments at the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) indicate it’s not impossible.

In the Centenary year of the Great War, Sikhs who remember the sacrifice of their forefathers for Britain are now turning to the government to help uncover the truth about what happened in Amritsar 30 years ago.

The prime minister’s calls for a comprehensive independent investigation into human rights violations by Sri Lanka succeeded last month, with a majority vote by members of the UN HRC. A euphoric tweet from the foreign secretary on the 27 March celebrated the UK and US-led resolution, mandating the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to probe human rights violations by Sri Lanka.

No doubt this is a historic victory for Tamil human rights campaigners.

News of Britain’s positive role at the UN HRC brings some solace to British Sikhs in view of embarrassing disclosures by journalist Phil Miller, indicating the Thatcher government’s support of Indian military preparations leading up to Operation Bluestar.

Surely those in the corridors of power would naturally extend their support to get to the truth of the horrors of 1984?

In a debate in the House of Lords on 3 March (when the PM’s international efforts in getting to the truth in Sri Lanka were underway) Lord Singh of Wimbledon pressed the government to support an independent UN-led inquiry into the Sikh genocide of 1984, saying:

“I urge the government to add their support for an open, independent inquiry into the massacre or genocide of Sikhs in 1984 in the same way that they are backing a UN-led inquiry into the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Against this, all offers of government assistance and offers to talk to Sikhs pale into an unnecessary distraction.”

Baroness Warsi adeptly avoided the question, however, responding thus:

“The noble Lord’s question goes slightly beyond the remit of this Question. I spent an hour and a half with the noble Lord and members of the community yesterday discussing exactly this issue and what follow-up work could be done post that report. I will, of course, write to him in due course as a follow-up to that discussion.”

In a subsequent letter, Baroness Warsi wrote that any calls for an international inquiry were a “matter for the Indian authorities”.

She also ruled out calls for a public inquiry, stating that the “government does not believe there are any grounds for one to be set up”.

Last week the NUJ called on the PM to establish a public inquiry covering the whole of 1984. Documents that disappeared from the National Archive in Kew at the time of the revelations are, however, unlikely to magically reappear.

On the 26 March Adam Holloway MP asked the PM what more could be done to bring justice for the appalling events at Amritsar thirty years ago.

The PM acknowledged the continuing hurt to the Sikh community, describing the events of 1984 as “a stain on the post-independence history of India”.

He added that “the most important thing we can do in this country is celebrate the immense contribution that British Sikhs make to our country, to our armed forces, to our culture and to our business life and celebrate what they do for this country”.

The government’s inconsistent approach on human rights is regrettable, disappointing and deeply saddening. Sikhs, who attended this year’s Downing Street Vaisakhi reception, would have heard predictable plaudits, talking of Britain’s 448,000 Sikhs as a “model” community, hard working and an exemplar when it comes to integrating into British life.

Their egos would have been suitably massaged by the charming narration of Sikh sacrifices in the Great War, men like Manta Singh, who saved a wounded English colleague at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle. They would have learned about the important Sikh contribution to UK PLC, the PM’s visit to the Golden Temple, but little about Sikhs human rights.

They would have lapped up the PM’s description of basic Sikh teachings, like Nam Japna, remember god, Vand Chakna, Sharing wealth with the underprivileged and Kirat Karna, earning an honest living.

They would have reveled in photo opportunities with the PM and senior cabinet members, smiling like Cheshire cats.

But I wonder if any of them pointed to the fundamental Sikh teaching calling on people to “recognise the human race as one”, or had the temerity to ask our elected leaders whether Sikhs are lesser human beings than people in Sri Lanka.

Most revealing of all was the PM’s own recent admission about his first speech in a gurdwara in 1996. Unsure how to address the congregation of worshippers in Stafford, a friend provided what would prove to be timeless advice:

“Well, just remember to say that British Sikhs are incredibly hard-working and remember to say that they’ve won more Victoria Crosses than any other ethnic group in the British Army, and you’ll never disappoint.”

The coalition has an opportunity to extend their victory for the Sri Lankan people. The truth of what happened in India in 1984 deserves to be told.

Hardeep Singh is a freelance journalist and is press secretary for the Network of Sikh Organisations 

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