Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma reflects on unanswered questions surrounding the UK government’s role in the 1984 Golden Temple massacre of Sikhs in India, in his latest Gazette column.
This summer we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War and as part of those activities we will remember the 80,000 Sikhs who gave their lives for Britain and the allies in that terrible world conflict.
In June it will also be the 30th anniversary of the attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 by the Indian Army that resulted in the death of hundreds of Sikhs and which then led to the assassination of India’s Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi and widespread communal violence that brought about further massacres of Sikhs across India.
Many of my constituents are like myself from the Punjab and many of them are of the Sikh religion and the events of both 100 years ago and 30 years ago are part of the collective memory and are etched in our minds and part of our family histories. The wounds from WW1 have healed by and large, but the events in Amritsar in 1984 are still an open wound in the Sikh community and the feelings are still raw. Especially for those who were affected directly including my constituents, some whom are close to me, who lost members of their families at Amritsar.
It was a terrible tragedy so imagine the shock when it was revealed at the beginning of this year, when 30 year old government documents were released, that the Thatcher government in February 1984 secretly sent an SAS Officer to advise the Indian authorities how to end the Golden Temple siege. There was, quite rightly, outrage expressed by the Sikh community here in the UK on hearing this news and the government immediately set up an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary to try to establish the facts.
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs William Hague presented the findings of the investigation and made a statement to Parliament on 4th February. Although I welcomed the investigation and its findings it did not go far enough and left many questions unanswered. What happened to the file that was destroyed in 2009 and what did it contain? Why can’t we see what the former Foreign Secretary of the time Geoffrey Howe said to the investigation? What about the Cabinet minutes that Tom Watson referred to in the debate that showed that during the period following the massacre the British government was taking into account commercial interests in its dealings with this issue and the Indian government. Was Parliament misled over the wider period of time. Why can’t more documents be released and published?
I questioned the Foreign Secretary in Parliament at the time of his statement and have called for an independent inquiry into British involvement in both the events leading up to June 1984 and also in the period after when communal violence following Mrs Gandhi’s assassination led to the further tragic loss of life, the majority of whom were Sikhs.
Regrettably there has been no apology from the British government for its part in sending a military advisor to India prior to the tragic events at Amritsar and also no willingness to have a full independent inquiry covering a wider period of time. Until this happens there will not be closure for the families that suffered and suspicion will linger that the Thatcher government was more involved than has so far come to light and that the current Tory led government is engaged in a cover up.
For the Sikh community across the world and especially here in the UK and in my constituency it is vital that such answers are provided particularly when we reflect this summer on the enormous sacrifice Sikhs made for Britain in the First World War.