Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (16:30): I rise this evening to acknowledge the members of the Australian Sikh community, who have made great efforts to be here to witness the tabling of this historic petition. In fact, we have had members of the Sikh community travel from all over Australia and even from as far away as Canada to be here.
I will not go into much background on the events of November 1984 as the Members present have been briefed and the Sikh community is, of course, very well aware. But it is important to note that today, 1 November, is 28 years to the day that these attacks took place. And as long as they continue to be referred to as ‘anti-Sikh riots’ there can be no closure for the Sikh community.
Discussions around mass violence and genocide will always be controversial but the continued denial of such historical injustices can only encourage modern day crimes against humanity. It was 1939 when Hitler justified the persecution of Jews by referring to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915. Those few simple words he uttered to the leaders of Poland, ‘”Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” led to the deaths of six million Jews.
Almost 100 years on, the Armenians are still fighting for recognition. But their cause was helped last year when seven members of this parliament called for Australian recognition of crimes against humanity in the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian genocides.
More recently, in March, this House formally recognised the killing of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 as ‘an act of genocide’. It was this event that cemented my commitment to this cause today. If the killing of 7,000 people could be recognised so quickly by world leaders, why has the Sikh community had to struggle for so long? I am aware that the Prime Minister of India has asked the victims to ‘forgive and forget’. But it seems clear to me that the events of 1984 onwards-and the lack of justice-has left lasting wounds on the Sikh psyche.
L-R: Sikhs for Justice Gurpatwant Singh, Warren Entsch MP and Daljit Singh, the petition organiser, approach Parliament House in Canberra.
The old saying, ‘a crime unpunished is a crime encouraged’, is illustrated by the fact that those responsible for this violence-the police, the ‘death squads’ and those who authorised their actions-have never faced criminal prosecution. In many cases they have actually been promoted. I am aware that numerous mass graves from 1984 have been discovered recently in Haryana and other states, with these deaths-totalling thousands-outside of official figures.
There is also proof that tens of thousands of people have gone missing since 1984-imprisoned and executed without trial outside the judicial system. I am told that people still cannot speak openly due to pressure from the state security forces. And it was just three years ago that Indian MPs were first allowed to discuss the events of 1984 in their own parliament.
To close, I would like to emphasise that this is not an attack on any particular element of Indian society. It is well-known that many Sikh lives were saved through the courageous actions of Hindus, and we must pay tribute to them. This petition is asking the Australian government to recognise that these killings fit the United Nations’ definition of ‘genocide’, and to urge the Indian government to take the proper legal action against those responsible.
This is something I am pursuing because I personally feel it is the right thing to do. I made a commitment to my dear friend, Mr Daljit Singh, who through our friendship educated me about Sikh culture, tradition and religion, and made me aware of this horrific event. That is why I commenced this journey two years ago and I hope our aims will be taken in that context.
I know as well that we cannot turn back the clock, but this is part of the healing process. There are many in the Sikh community who will never forget the harrowing images in their minds, and who want to see justice in their lifetime.
I therefore seek leave to table this petition of 4,453 signatures. It is now over to the Sikh community to use the awareness raised here today to build momentum, to lobby their local MPs and to encourage public debate and discussion. I wish them well for their journey and I commit absolutely to working with them to achieve a just outcome.
It was a colourful display in the Chamber with around 300 Sikhs attending.