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The Sikh Temple Shooting: The Question Of Mistaken Identity

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By Vidya Bhushan Rawat *

There is a terrorist attack in a Gurudwara in United States which the FBI is claiming to be a possibility if a domestic terror attack in which Six people were killed and several injured. It is reported that one gunman opened fire inside a crowded gurdwara near Milwaukee during Sunday morning prayers. The gunman was later shot. According to police there might be a possibility of other people involved in the firing. Now, it is coming to light that one of the gunmen was a former army personnel who is influenced with Nazi movement yet the American media has not yet spoken against it as a racial crime and act of terrorism.

The shootings occurred at about 10.30 am at the gurdwara in the town of Oak Creek, just south of Wisconsin’s biggest city Milwaukee. Being a Sunday, there were 300-400 people inside. A Sikh priest had specially come from India to address the gathering.

There is shock among the Sikh community in the United States but this has not turned into an outrage as reports suggest that it is a case of ‘mistaken’ identity. Immediately, in the aftermath of 9/11, a number of Sikhs faced discrimination as well as violence in United States as many of the perpetrators of these violence felt they were ‘Muslims’. And hence to defend the criminal’s act it was again mentioned as case of ‘mistaken’ identity. And mind you, this is not massacre as the killed are not Americans and killer is not a Muslims. A Muslim is ‘capable’ of committing massacre. Unfortunate part of this is that the Sikhs themselves feel that it is not a ‘terrorist’ attack but attack due to ‘mistaken’ identity. Why do we forget at the end of it whether mistaken or terror, it is the people who are killed?

There are a few ethical questions which arise out of it. One, in case, if the victims were Muslims and not Sikhs, then how would have the media described the incident? Will it justify the killings of Muslims simply because Osama Bin Laden was a Muslim? Why has the media over the years remained fixed to these terminologies and then try to pretend being impartial. I still remember, when there was massacre of youths in Norway by a fascist terrorist, the initial reactions in Indian media was about Islamic terror but the Norwegians were much better in their description perhaps because they knew the identity of the person. The Prime Minister and others said that it is a case of psychopath who is influenced by the fascist ideology of Hitler.

We are habitual of such descriptions in India. There was a time when terrorism and terror was pet description of media for Sikhs only. But after the Akali Dal has come close to Hindutva outfits and became part of the larger Hindu family, this tag is gone. Now, there is no terrorism in Punjab. And slowly, terror and terrorism is the term widely and perhaps exclusively used for Muslims only. Any bomb blast anywhere and the first speculation in media in India is ‘ Islamic Jehadi’ groups but then if the police come to another conclusion then these references are questioned. Despite the clear motivation of the Sangh Parivar’s terror, we have not been able to really speak against the threat of the terror of all variety and not just targeting a particular variety.

In the modern capitalist democracy, media is another arm of the state. It pretend to oppose injustice but it really does not question the root cause and any debate is sought to be countered in the quagmire of ‘identity’ politics even when we all know that all of them may belong to the same school of thought except for a few minor changes here and there. Nothing will be achieved by scoring a few brownie points through these debates unless the people who are the victims, who are fighting for their rights, are taken into confidence and justice is done to all. When we debate on a particular issue with some ‘experts’ and ‘select’ audience, it will never help unless the issues are discussed threadbare and in candid details. What are the grievances of tribal and why are they supporting Maoists more than the state of India? It means that Maoists might be doing something good for them. So, we do not discuss right and wrongs but in our schemes of things every crime is justiciable as long as the ‘killed’ persons could be declared as ‘Maoist’. I can say firmly, India could face deep trouble at the United Nation on the issue of protection and support of ‘indigenous people’. How interesting it is that when a tribal is killed and when you carry operation green hunt, it is easily dubbed as anti naxal and anti-Maoist operation. Replace Maoism and Naxalism with aadivasis or indigenous people and situation for Indian government would be difficult to justify but then our media does not write about it. Our anchors will not say ‘aadivasis’ killed or ‘indigenous’ communities massacred. What are the headlines? The duty of the media is to tell the truth but it looks that the headlines are made according to guidelines of the home ministry. It is same that Anna’s 1000 people are for strengthening democracy while 200000 aadivasis speaking for their rights are Naxals. Their issues are not to be discussed in the media but only whether they are Naxals or not?

Often, we heard about ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir though there is a reality also that they are best placed in Delhi too and elsewhere. Former Governor, Jagmohan has been a great supporter of them. We all agree that it is wrong to displace people from their native place and they have the right to be there. But a simple question to all and this will expose the hypocrisy of our media and policy makers. It will expose those also who are using things according to their convenience. Why our heart does not melt for the people in Kudankulan when they are displaced? Why we do not cry when Aadivasis are brutally massacred and murdered for taking control of their beautiful land which we have not yet developed. Why we are unable to see the enormity of the issue in Assam and how Muslims have been singularly victimized by the Bodos. In all the cases, people were brutally massacred, butchered and thrown away from their place. They have received no support. What about the Muslims selectively targeted in Gujarat and many other communal riots. How were Sikhs butchered in Delhi in 1984 after Indira Gandhi’s assassination? How Muslims were killed in the aftermath of 1991-1992 post Babari violence? All this is not massacre. All this is not ethnic cleansing. All this is not terrorism. Why?

And the simple question came in the form of a warning by Sardar Hukum Singh in the Constituent Assembly debates on minority rights that ‘assertion of minorities would be described as communalism, while the Majoirity communalism will tend to be described as ‘nationalism’. We have moved much beyond this simple warning which Sardar Hukum Singh would never have had imagined. Today we can hold a tri color in our hand and say Vande Mataram loudly and all our ‘saat khoon maaf’, our sins are forgiven.

All powerful media need a lot of training now to really reflect the changing pattern of society. In the name of ‘people’s choice’, media impose an ideology which suits its business interests and therefore it is important for all of us to continue to monitor media and read between the lines and see beyond the described visuals. They must know that they are being monitored by people. They must change their terminologies only then we will be able to fight war against communalism or terrorism. The people of India need more than the media to read these terminologies to understand the agenda of the media and whose issues it is taking up in their name.

* Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter : freetohumanity skype : vbrawat Facebook : Vidya Bhushan Rawat


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