Having grown up at a time and in a place where I did, this word Extradition evokes strong memories for me. That was a time and a place when demands were made for extradition of certain persons. They were made again and again, month after month, year after year, for more than a decade. And they were routinely denied. No one was ever extradited. Not once, not ever. It didn’t even come near it.
The place of origin of these demands was India. The crime involved was terrorism. There is more to say about this word, but let’s use it just to proceed further. This terrorism went on for a little less than two decades. And the terrorist attacks in this case claimed more lives in indiscriminate attacks on random people (and some targeted ones, including a few very important ones). The number, if added up for this period, would probably be more than all the terrorist attacks directed by ‘Islamic terrorists’ against Western countries, Israel *and* India, summed up for the whole period of ‘Islamic terrorist’ attacks. I am, of course, excluding the cases where the victims of Islamic attacks were, or are, Muslims, such as the routine terrorist attacks in Iraq or Pakistan or Afghanistan. Those lives, right now, have perhaps the least value, that is, as victims of terrorist attacks. Otherwise, of course, there are plenty who die daily in the Global South without anyone ever noticing.
The important ones I mentioned included the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which was followed by a free-for-all carnage, a pogrom, against the Sikhs all over India, especially in Delhi. The toll in this pogrom was of the same order as a later one against Muslims, that is, around (or more than) 2000 dead, murdered by mobs. Happy, healthy and normal people they all were, or at least most of them were.
In both these cases the pogrom was sponsored and supported by the ruling party and was not hindered in any way by the police. And both are usually called ‘riots’, which in Indian English means a riot between two groups or communities, as if both parties in it were equally guilty. Needless to add that most of the Sikhs killed had nothing to do with terrorism.
And in both the cases, there were prominent politicians of the respective ruling parties (one centrist and one right-wing Fascist) who had led the mobs in their killings in several incidents. None of them was ever punished for their crimes, even though their involvement was well known. They, instead, went on with their participation in government, being Ministers and the like. All attempts to bring them to justice failed. Again and again.
The locality in New Delhi where I lived during most of the latter part of this period was very next to a place where many of the survivors of the pogrom had been relocated in slum-like dwellings (ours was slightly better). The most notable thing about them was that they happened to be mostly Dalit (Majabi) Sikhs, the lower castes in a religion that is supposed to have no place for inequality of human beings. The fact is, that the majority of victims of the pogrom were the most vulnerable Dalit Sikhs. Not by any co-incidence, though. One stroll through that place made you understand the utter desolation, despair, hopelessness and helplessness, even as they tried bravely to go on living.
They were much better off than their counterparts in the Gujarat pogrom that was perpetrated in 2002.
It was only later, when the bloodthirst had been satisfied, that the army was called in (as is the custom in India) to ‘restore calm’.
The pogrom naturally lead to a further spurt in terrorist activities. This terrorism with a huge toll of Indian lives (that most have forgotten about, even in India, or at least pretend to) was the ‘Punjab terrorism’. It could easily be called the ‘Sikh terrorism’, but that would be as wrong as any talk of ‘Islamic terrorism’. ‘Punjab terrorism’ is a more objective term, because, like in most (perhaps all) other cases of terrorism, there was a grievance involved. Whether the grievance was justified or not is a debate that I don’t want to get into here. It was a part of a secessionist movement: secession of the state of Punjab from the Indian nation. It would be fair and accurate to say that for many years this movement had considerable support among the Sikhs in Punjab and elsewhere. Elsewhere in India as well as abroad.
The movement, and the terrorism associated with it, was suppressed with increasing brutality by the Indian state, reaching to levels in the 1990s that can be only hinted at by terms like mass cremations and summary executions.
Most of the people involved, on the ground, in this brutal suppression , it must be mentioned, were themselves Sikhs. The Good Sikhs. Like the one who is the current Indian Prime Minister. I mean he is a Good Sikh, not that he was involved in the brutal suppression then (he has been in other brutal suppressions that came later). Just as a former President of India was a Good Muslim and another was also a Good Sikh. And still another a Good Muslim. Two more, in fact. And just as the current President of the US is a Good Negro.
In this matter we progressed much earlier than the US.
Various men were put in charge to put down this movement and the terrorism associated with it. They included a strict police chief (Julio Ribeiro, a Christian) who had made his name in Mumbai and elsewhere. Another was a Bengali Hindu, who was made Governor of Punjab. He was a prominent politician in the history of Independent India. He was the one credited with putting down (most brutally) the (Maoist) Naxalite uprising in West Bengal as the Governor of that state in the 70s. He was also a great friend of one of the most respected Communist leaders in Indian history, Jyoti Basu, long time Chief Minister of West Bengal. Jyoti Basu was a leader of the pro-China Communist Party of India (Marxist), which came from the *left-wing* of the original Communist Party of India. This party, which ruled West Bengal for a record period of time (there is an interesting story there too), was trying to implement, with enthusiasm, the Capitalistic Neo-Liberal policies, when it ran against a popular movement that opposed those policies and was ousted from power a few years ago.
These two men, Ribeiro and Ray, achieved some ‘successes’, but the movement/terrorism continued.
Then another man, this time a Sikh named Kanwar Pal Singh Gill was made the police chief of Punjab. He was removed once, but was soon brought back. He had gained (long) experience in his job in the North-East of India, ‘a hotbed of secessionist movements’. He was the one who ultimately crushed the movement and virtually stopped terrorism (though sporadic incidents happened even later on). He did this, by leading what can be described with some justification, as a reign of terror: the mass cremations referred to earlier, just to mention one major kind of event.
He had a kind of explanation of what was done under his rule (he was given a free hand by the then Chief Minister, who was also assassinated). He famously said that this was a Jat Sikh versus Jat Sikh affair, thereby telling those who raised objections that this is between us and you outsiders have nothing to do with this. And there was some truth in this. For the majority of those who were involved in the secessionist movement and terrorism were indeed Jat Sikhs, that is, upper caste Sikhs (not the Majabi Sikhs). And Jat Sikhs also formed an overwhelming majority in the (Punjab) state repression machinery, the police, most importantly. So, in a way, it was Jat Sikh versus Jat Sikh. But you can accept this argument only if you ignore the presence of the Indian state and the rest of the Indians, who, of course were very clear about which side of the Jat Sikhs they were supporting. They basically took the stance that, well, settle it among yourselves and let us know. If it is the wrong side that wins, we will see what we need to do.
K. P. S. Gill is a very respectable and admired figure in India. He writes regular columns for a best-selling, secular, one could say progressive magazine.
I must confess here that, though I strongly disapproved of his (and his predecessors’) methods, I was looking forward to the end of this movement/terrorism in which lots of people were being killed, in my opinion (as a nationlist), unnecessarily.
Does all this make very clear sense? Very strange things happen in the world and, if you want to understand them, you have to be sure that you know enough about them, not to mention having (and keeping) an open mind.
Anyway, like ‘Islamic terrorism’, the Punjab terrorism too was a creation of the same people who would later work hard to suppress it. It is common knowledge (as in the other case) that the ruling party in New Delhi under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and with the active involvement of a man who would later become India’s President, had propped up the early figurehead of this movement, a religious fanatic (sounds familiar?), who would later be killed in the infamous attack by the Indian security forces on the Golden Temple (familiar again?).
But this man, the figurehead, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was only one of the important men in this movement. As I said earlier, the movement had considerable support. And some of this support came from *some* Sikhs living abroad.
So as these terrorist attacks took place in various cities in India, but especially in the Punjab and in New Delhi, the government of India started taking various measures. And that included (familiar! familiar!) efforts at preventing people from giving support to the terrorists. It was widely known then that some people living abroad were actively providing help, or even organizing, the attacks. These were, on quite objective grounds, terrorists living abroad who were involved in one terrorist attack after another on the Indian soil.
The Indian government, therefore, wanted these men. The government demanded that they be, yes, extradited to India.
The places they were living in were (mainly) the US, Canada, but most importantly, the UK.
Yes, Pakistan too, but that’s the default location where anti-India people live. I don’t even need to mention it, do I?
The Indian government was asking the UK (or the British, whichever you prefer) government, among others, to extradite these men to India. The demands were made again and again. And they were rejected again and again. There were courts who took up these matters and they, again and again, concluded that these men could not be extradited to India because they could not expect a fair trial there, even if there was substantial evidence that they were involved in all those horrible attacks.
During the latter part of this period, I had moved to Delhi, from a place that is not far from there. That was the only period when I actually sometimes felt the threat of a terrorist attack, because public transport buses were among the main targets and I was travelling in them all the time. And I was still a nationalist in those days, even if of a kind that is unusual. Therefore, I noted, with a great deal of resentment, how these extradition requests were routinely denied by the big powers of the world. Oh yes, the same powers who are now prepared to do the unthinkable for a matter that would be dismissed with derisive laughter in most Indian police stations. And courts. Unless, of course, it involved the uncovering of the crimes against humanity on the part of the Indian government or the big corporations (there is hardly a difference between the two now).
I had strong feelings about this and I also noted, with equal resentment, how the Western media (such as the BBC) used terms like ‘secessionists’ for those who carried out these massive terrorist attacks in India, whereas they always called the Palestinians involved in the most minor attacks against their countries (or Israel), without any qualification or explanation, ‘terrorists’. At one point I had even written a letter of protest to the BBC. I don’t remember whether I actually sent it or not.
This whole long episode is a wound for India, and for me, that has not completely healed. Things, though, have been swept under the carpet.
And other things, of course, changed with ’9/11′, as India began its love affair with the US. And with great effort, we are now able to get the world attention to terrorist attacks in India. There are advantages in being close to the global powers. Or should I say The Global Power?
Close is a relative word. For, even now, victims of terrorist attacks in India, with all the Great Game realignment, deserve much less attention that those in the West.
Never mind. There has been some progress.
By the way, the ‘Punjab terrorism’ also marked the beginning of the security culture in India. This culture was still within sane limits, but it just went off the hook after ’9/11′ and the attack on the Indian Parliament. Ever since then it has been going further and further off into the realms of insanity, just like in most other places in the world. A lot of people have a great deal to benefit from this kind of insanity.
There are a whole lot of details about this matter (the Punjab terrorism and the extradition, or the Western response to it in general) that could be given. On a case by case basis. Each case has a long story. But I am not the right person to tell those stories.
The long and short is that there were horrible terrorist attacks and some of the terrorist ‘master-minds’ were provided safe havens in the US, Canada and the UK. And none was ever extradited, in spite of the repeated attempts by the Indian government, including long court proceedings in those countries. Including, even, attempts at lobbying in the rulings circles of those countries.
Given all this, you can guess what I, or other people with similar memories, must feel when that Cameron guy or that Hague guy stands up solemnly and declares how the UK is going to carry out its obligation to extradite someone, who, in any fair world, would be considered, if not a hero, at least a symbol of great positive change.
And the non-stop, mean, vicious, most hateful chorus of yapping lapdogs, he-dogs and she-dogs (with laptops) goes on, at their masters’ feet. They get the good bones thrown to them regularly. And pats on their backs. May be hugs and kisses sometimes.
(See how it has provoked me too into hateful yapping).
To put it in the most charitable way, they are the spoilt brats, not the students striking in Quebec.
But positive change is a scarce commodity in a world of Free (but definitely not free) and Fair (but certainly not fair) Markets.
I wonder how an Iraqi observing daily terrorist attacks, and living in fear of them, should feel about the great international criminals who set up this situation in his country. In the name of democracy.
How easy it is to forget that Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been the biggest victims of terrorist attacks in the world for the last many years. And here I just use the word in the conventional sense, not the state (Empire) and corporate terrorism, of which also they are very major victims.
The Indian government (with that same supposedly centrist party in power now as then), by the way, would like to forget about this affair. And understandably so, given its own crimes of a massive magnitude. Before, during, and after this affair.
I have not been a nationalist for a long time now. If the same thing were to happen again, I am not sure I would be enthusiastic about the (Indian) government’s attempts to get people extradited. And that is, to put it simply, because (on these matters) I simply don’t trust the Indian government, or any government, at all. In fact, I don’t trust anything that even smells a little of ‘counter-terrorism’. As far as I am concerned, the greatest threat that I feel is from this ‘counter-terrorism’ (or anything of the kind), as it encapsulates within it all the horrors of the worst kind of terrorism. And more. And I can give you plenty of reasons why.
Some I just gave, didn’t I?
Did I mention the (half) white American man involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks?