In the ongoing probe into the toolkit tweeted by Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg, among those in the cross-hairs of the Delhi Police is a 61-year-old US-based Sikh activist Bhajan Singh Bhinder alias Iqbal Chaudhary. He spoke to The Indian Express about his background and the allegations being levelled against him.
When did your family leave India?
My family hails from Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. My grandfather, Sultan Singh, was a normal guy who fought against British rule, faced harassment and had to leave the country under duress. He settled in Malaya like several other people, who opposed Britishers, and never returned. We were born and brought up there. Then I shifted to the US in 1980 at a young age of 20-21 years and now I am living in the northern part of California. I have been running my insurance business for the past 22 years. I was the youngest president of the biggest gurdwara — Fremont — in late 1980s and created a new building of gurdwara and set up Khalsa School where now 400-500 kids are learning basic Punjabi language. I visited India once in the mid-1970s. I had also worked in Silicon Valley in 1984-85. Apart from founding the Sikh Information Centre (SIC) in 1988, I also founded the Organisation of Minorities of India (OFMI) in 2006.
Delhi Police has called you a leading proponent of the “K2 (Kashmir and Khalistan) desk” of the Pakistan ISI. What do you have to say about it and why do they call you Iqbal Chaudhry?
K2 has been created by the government and a section of the media. I have no idea what is K2. The Indian government’s own report says that from year 2000 onwards Bhinder has changed the strategy of his working; he is fighting an information war now. When I am fighting a ‘Kaghji ladai’ (a paper war) — which is to unite all those who are suppressed and victimised — for the past 20 years, then how can they call me a militant or an ISI agent”.
Also my name was there in the black list till 2011, but after that my name was deleted that’s what I was told.
Now, when Indian government has released several those who were involved in militancy in every aspect including killing, bombing and a new chapter has been started by the government. Then targeting people for supporting farmers in such manner is uncalled for and gives a bad name to farmers’ protest.
My name is Bhajan Singh or Bhajan Singh Bhinder only, as to why they call me that (Iqbal) — that’s a question that can best be answered by Delhi Police.
What do you have to say about being called a Khalistani?
I am not denying it. There was a time in 1984, when I, like any other Sikh was angry about the situation with the attack on the Golden Temple and then Delhi riots killed thousands of Sikhs. It was traumatic for every Sikh in the world and more hurting because it was committed by our own people on our own people. At one point of time out of anger, we supported militants by providing medication, food, aid to them and their families on humanitarian grounds. But I am not a militant, and never participated in any violence.
Also, we wanted to act against state oppression and atrocities on people not against India. I have no involvement in any kind of violence whatsoever.
SIC was founded following the 1984 massacre to bring greater awareness in the world about the plight of Sikhs during dark militancy days when several youths disappeared. Now even the people are apologising for the 1984 attack but we wanted to speak for those, who could not speak for themselves, during those dark times of militancy.
OFMI was formed to advance the individual liberty of minorities in South Asia by encouraging secularism.
The time changes and everyone evolves. We also evolved and even Indian government is now releasing former militants and I have been educating people for their human rights and not supporting any type of militancy in any way.
How is US rights activist Pieter Friedrich associated with you?
I met him in 2006 as he was working against the persecution of Christians. We wrote two books — Kite Fights: The Proxy Wars Behind the Kabul Gurdwara Massacre and ‘Captivating’ The Simple-Hearted: A struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Multiple reports about Sikh religion, history of Mulnivasi are carried in it. Pieter, I and several other like minded people who are working for human rights are protesting together. They are doing conferences, meetings, writing etc. together.
Pieter is a freelance writer having a large following as he was never my employee and we may not be seeing each other for years but our line of working and activism is on similar lines.
What do you have to say about the Toolkit episode?
Toolkits are not a crime. It is a knowledge enhancer even during Covid time it was widely used to make awareness. The government is using it. The whole world is using it. I would love to be a part of this (Greta’s Tweet) toolkit, zoom meeting to help the farmers because farmers are the backbone of India. I wanted to help farmers. But I am not part of any such toolkit or Zoom meeting but the government may blame us.
People are laughing at us because the toolkit is being presented as an atomic bomb. If Indian people from north south, east, west are supporting farmers it is like universal support from Indians and very much an Indian thing.
Government in India has been targeting the farmers’ movement in the name of China, Pakistani, Khalistani-backed and now this ISI and K2 agenda has come. They are digging all old records and putting persons there to tarnish the farmers’ protest.
Nobody wants to face the real issue. The world is passing through one of the most challenging times and here we are playing with this kind of thing.
Do you support the Referendum 2020 movement?
I am not adverse to the term ‘referendum’ as it is happening all over the world. But having said that I am not a part of SFJ, my work is concerning the welfare of the minorities in India and focusing on the philosophy of icons like Dr BR Ambedkar, Shaeed Bhagat Singhand educating people to live with dignity and self respect.
How can I be against the land of my grandfather, our Sikh Gurus.
Why am I supporting the farmers only because if the farmers will go down everybody will go down in India.
I am a member of Dr BR Ambedkar foundation, I support Sir Chhotu Ram Movement, Kanshi Ram Movement. I want farmers to be respected, I want laws to be repealed and want a happy healthy India.
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