The only convict in the Air India Kaniksha bombing case and two accused who were later acquitted are among 16 Sikh men still barred from entering the country. They all remain on a “blacklist” of Sikhs maintained by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and either face visa restrictions or deportation on arrival.
The Centre had removed 27 names from the list last month including that of Udai Singh, a former Professor of Mathematics at the Laurentian University. He, however, died of a heart attack in 2013. Other names removed from the list include that of Dal Khalsa activist Karan Singh, one of the five hijackers of Indian Airlines aircraft in 1981; pro-Khalistani Canadian Sikh Coalition director Parvkar Singh Dulai; Massa Singh, considered a close aide of militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Khalistani ideologue Narinderjit Singh Thandi, who lives in the UK.
While the MHA made no official announcement of the blacklist being pruned — indeed, even its existence has been in doubt — Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, according to British Sikhs who met him in London on November 12, 2015, promised to take steps to do away with the so-called “blacklist”.
A year earlier in September 2014, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, when asked in Washington about what the PM was “doing for Sikhs in America who are on the blacklist”, had replied that Sikh groups had “given a written petition and that the Prime Minister had indicated that he would consider them sympathetically”.
The Prime Minister’s assurance last year though shone the spotlight on the list whose existence has been shrouded in mystery. The Indian Express spoke to several government officials at the Centre and in the state who have confirmed the list of 16 Sikhs, who live abroad and are barred from returning to the country.
Many of the names on the list date back to the mid 1980s, after Operation Blue Star, when central and state intelligence agencies, embassies and high commissions began blacklisting sympathisers of the separatist movement for Khalistan, those either accused of terror activities or related to the accused, among others. Some were not provided visas while the rest were deported from Delhi airport.
The blacklisted individuals found out about the ban in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they tried to visit India. They took up the matter at certain platforms but to no avail.
Police sources told The Indian Express that the then Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had taken up their cause in 2005 after his controversial visit to Dixie gurdwara in Canada, where Sikhs, had handed him a list of 198 such people.
Amarinder submitted the list to the union government and the Centre brought it down to 169, after finding that several names had been replicated, but allegedly kept the list a well-guarded secret.
It then allegedly deleted several more names in 2011. Left with 43 names this year, the union government has allegedly pruned it down 27, retaining 16 of them. There has, however, also been ambiguity on the number on the list. Sikh hardliners in the state insist that hundreds of people are barred from coming to India.
Below is the list of the 16 men still allegedly retained on the list.
Inderjit Singh Reyat
The only accused in the Kanishka bombing who was convicted. Was released on parole by a Canadian court in January this year. Has been sent to a halfway house/rehabilitation centre for the remainder of his sentence which will end in August 2018.
Ajaib Singh Bagri
A Babbar Khalsa International (Parmar) activist, Bagri was one of the accused in the Kanishka bombing but was acquitted by a British Columbia court in March 2005. Also known as Ajit alias A S Khalsa, he now lives in Canada. According to the Jain Commission interim report into Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Bagri had emphasised the need for arms and financial assistance to the “freedom fighters”.
Ripudaman Singh Malik
Originally from New Delhi, where he ran an export firm, Ripudaman Malik now lives in Vancouver, Canada. He was the other accused acquitted in the Kanishka bombing case.
Paramjit Singh Ajrawat
A doctor by profession, Ajrawat, who lives in the US, runs a pro-Khalistan website ‘khalistan.net’. The website flaunts a picture of the ‘Khalistan flag’ and the Khalistan national bird – a hawk.
Gurmeet Singh Aulakh
Self-styled president of the “Council of Khalistan”, Aulakh lives in the US.
One of the five hijackers of the Indian Airlines Delhi-Srinagar flight, which was taken to Lahore in 1981, Jasbir was a member of the radical Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa. He was granted political asylum and now lives in Switzerland. For the record, Pakistan initiated commando action and got all passengers of the aircraft released.
Was among nine men who hijacked another Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore in 1984. The hijackers had demanded compensation for the damage caused to the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star and the release of Sikhs arrested during the operation. They had to eventually surrender. He too now lives in Switzerland.
Avtar Singh Sanghera
A BKI activist living in United Kingdom, Sanghera originally hails from a village near Nakodar. He is a regular kar sewak at gurdwaras in Pakistan; is also the president of a UK based kar sewa committee.
Harjit Singh Atwal
A member of the Canadian chapter of International Sikh Youth Federation (considered a terrorist group by India), Atwal was an accused in 1986 shooting of Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu (who survived the attack), but was acquitted in the case. He was also charged with obstruction of evidence during the Kanishka bombing case trial after allegedly discouraging a witness from testifying in the case.
Satinderpal Singh Gill
According to Jain Commission’s interim report into late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Gill allegedly called upon Sikhs to render help in every possible way to the “freedom fighters” in their struggle against the government. Gill is a former member of a breakaway faction of the ISYF. He lives in Canada.
Raminder Singh Bhandher
Raminder Singh Bhander’s father, Balwant Singh, was a suspect in the 1985 Kanishka bombing and is suspected to have carried the suitcase with the bomb. He, however, was never arrested. Raminder though was convicted in July 2010 for gunning down a 24-year-old youth Tejvir Bains in Canada. A Canadian court awarded him a life term with a rider that he would not be given parole for 10 years.
Santokh Singh Khela
A BKI activist hailing from Sahungra village in Hoshiarpur district, Khela’s name features on a list of “non-hardcore terrorists” maintained by the Nawanshahr police. He currently lives in Canada.
Jethinder Singh Narwal
Jethinder was convicted in 2009 by a Canadian court in the separate kidnappings of three men, all suspected to have been behind the disappearance of marijuana to be smuggled across the border to the US. Narwal has been linked to Air-India bombing investigation. His aunt was a defence witness for Ajaib Singh Bagri, who was acquitted in the case.
Davinder Singh Nahal
A BKI activist from a village in Jalandhar district, Nahal lives in Birmingham.
An activist of the ISYF, he now lives in Europe. He hails from a village in Hoshiarpur district.
Another former ISYF activist living outside India.
The 27 taken off the list