Jaskaran Sandhu: Never Let India Stifle #NeverForget1984
We have seen the Indian government ramp up threats to social media platforms like Twitter, in order to control the narrative on multiple fronts
June 1, 2021 | 3 min. read | Opinion
Last year, like many others, I posted a #NeverForget1984 tweet on June 1.
As far as 1984 related content goes, it was fairly typical of the many other posts that helped make the hashtag trend across Canada and the world.
I quote tweeted a World Sikh Organization of Canada post, that included pictures of a destroyed Akal Takht, while remembering the atrocious Indian army invasion of the Darbar Sahib and other Gurdwaras across the country in what was a long-planned attack to cut right at the heart of the Sikh people.
WSO @WorldSikhOrgOn June 1, 1984, the Indian Army launched a military assault on the Darbar Sahib killing thousands of innocent Sikhs gathered to commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Sahib. 1/4 #neverforget1984 https://t.co/rjUcvfNjXv
Three months later, however, I would receive an email from Twitter Legal informing me that Indian Law Enforcement had asked to have my tweet removed. I recall others also had their tweets using #NeverForget1984 flagged in a similar manner.
In the end, nothing happened. The tweet stayed up, and I never publicly shared that I received the notice. My fear was that it would only amplify what the Indian government wanted from the whole exercise - chilling our free speech and dampening future advocacy and mobilization efforts, especially from young second-generation Sikhs finding their voice online.
I share it now because I believe we need to openly talk about how and why the Indian state continues to try to stifle dissent, and in this case, remembrance of what would ignite the Sikh Genocide.
We have seen the Indian government ramp up threats to social media platforms like Twitter, in order to control the narrative on multiple fronts.
Whether it is about the Famers’ Protest or the failure in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi regime has increasingly taken an authoritarian approach to censor individuals on the few platforms that still exist to speak without gatekeepers filtering out critiquing voices.
While the world is only now waking up to the harsh realities of India’s “democracy”, we as Sikhs have known it all too well for decades now - irrespective of the governing party.
In the past, the only mediums that existed to share news, opinions, and analysis within India were all controlled by the state, and their enemy has always been the minorities and marginalized of the country.
Outside India, the western media has consistently failed to invest time and energy to understand nuanced community issues as well, making it difficult to use their platforms to raise awareness of what is happening back home.
Social media obviously changed that, and while some talk about the polarization of society due to it, the truth is minorities like Sikhs finally have a space for internal dialogue as well as a platform to educate those outside the community. And, while oppressive regimes like that of the Indian government may find it extremely concerning, we finally can speak as a collective around the world - which was most recently used to great success in the Farmers’ Protest.
Growing up I use to hear from others that we should not talk about 1984 openly. That we should not remember our shaheeds, we should not remember the atrocities, we should not remember the why.
“You will get banned from going to India,” would be the common retort from some people, with an added “and for what good? It is not like anyone cares or is listening anyway. Nothing is going to change.”
While the threat of being blacklisted from India is a legitimate fear for many - if we do not use the unprecedented tools we have available to us, especially if we live in the relative safety of the West, to share the truth and our lived experiences, then how are we honouring all those that sacrificed their lives fighting for our people?
We should use the amazingly powerful platforms available to us, we should not be threatened into silence, and we should never be afraid to mobilize around the issues that have shaped us as a people.
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
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