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Who Bombed Air India?
A review of Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder by Kim Bolan (McClelland & Stewart; September 13, 2005; pp. 388; $27.95).

By PUNEET SINGH LAMBA

The Sikh Times, Boston, Feb. 13, 2006


Photo: Loss of Faith

Perhaps no one is better acquainted with the details of the Air India case and the surrounding events than Kim Bolan. She had barely joined the Vancouver Sun newspaper as a rookie reporter when Air India Flight 182 exploded in the sky on July 23, 1985, killing all 329 on board. Ever since, Bolan has doggedly followed the case for two decades, making four trips to India and several visits to Pakistan, the U.S., and the U.K.

This book, the result of her long and arduous 'sewa' (service, p. 206), takes the reader through the backdrop, the bombing, and the tortuous investigation that climaxed in the twin trials and acquittals of two Vancouver-based Sikhs, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.

The entire episode is packed with ironies. 'Cowards' (p. 4) like Bagri, who publicly called for the murder of 'fifty thousand Hindus' (p. 46), are roaming free. Meanwhile, the few who demonstrated the courage to expose the violence and hatred were either assassinated or are living under death threats.

Tara Singh Hayer was the founding editor of the vernacular weekly Indo-Canadian Times. A failed attempt on his life on August 28, 1988, just days after he published his 'most pointed reference to Bagri' (p. 196), left him in a wheelchair. Harkirat Singh Bagga told the police that 'Bagri had provided him with the .357-caliber revolver he had used to shoot Hayer' (p. 191). Hardip Singh Uppal, 'passed a polygraph test' and 'told police that the Babbar Khalsa had put up $50,000 to kill Hayer' (p. 306).

Tarsem Singh Purewal, publisher of the British Punjabi-language newspaper Des Pardes, was assassinated in 1995 after he 'wrote an article that was extremely critical of the I.S.Y.F. [International Sikh Youth Federation] and promised more exposÚs on the Babbar Khalsa' (p. 195).

'Rani Kumar' (not her real name) was the star witness against Malik. A note she had tucked into her journal said that 'if she were found dead, she had not committed suicide' (p. 153).

Regarding 'Premika' (not her real name), a former girlfriend of Bagri and a prosecution witness, the Supreme Court of British Columbia judge ruled that 'her lack of recall was directly related to the fact she believed her life would be in danger if she testified against Bagri' (p. 311; testimony reported in section 102 of the judgment dated March 5, 2004).

Many of the Sikhs at the forefront on both sides of the equation were 'born again' Sikhs. That is, they had shed the orthodox external regalia, including unshorn hair and turbans, only to reacquire the symbols in the religiously hyper-charged milieu following Operation Bluestar. (Bluestar was the Indian army's 1984 offensive on the Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple complex at Amritsar, Punjab, a Sikh Vatican of sorts.) Examples include Talwinder Singh Parmar, Bagri, and Hayer.

As the book makes clear, Canadian federal authorities might never have laid many of the related charges (e.g. against Malik's Khalsa School) had they not been repeatedly shamed into doing so by Bolan's proactive investigative journalism.

Inderjit Singh Reyat is the only person ever to have been convicted in connection with this case. He was convicted for manslaughter for making the bombs that destroyed two Air India craft, including Kanishka (Flight 182). The revolver used to shoot Hayer in 1988 and the one found illegally in Reyat's possession were both traced back to the same source in California (p. 215).

Malik would surely not wish to be judged by the company he kept. The first three witnesses who took the stand in his defense were 'proven by the Crown [prosecution] to have a history of lying' (p. 328). One defense witness for Malik, Raminder Singh 'Mindy' Bhandher, a graduate of Malik's Khalsa School, admitted to eight years of criminal and gang activity and to having thrown rocks through the living room window of prosecution witness Narinder Gill in 1997 to keep him from disclosing financial irregularities at Malik's Khalsa School (p. 326; testimony dated May 31, 2004). Another defense witness, Satwant Singh Sandhu, admitted to having made an on-air death threat against Bolan (p. 327; testimony dated June 16, 2004).

Malik himself had 'lied under oath' at the hearing in connection with the funding for his legal defense for the Air India trial (p. 282).

According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.), 'all [prosecution witnesses] had passed lie-detector tests that the defence witnesses had not had to take' (p. 349). The judge, Ian Josephson, declared defense witness Reyat to be 'an unmitigated liar under oath' (p. 339; section 225 of the final judgment dated March 16, 2005).

The prosecution, the defense, and the judge all 'accepted that Talwinder Parmar had masterminded the bombings' (p. 339). But if Parmar, the chief of the Babbar Khalsa, was the 'mastermind,' then how are Bagri, Parmar's self-acknowledged deputy (p. 315), and Malik, the Babbar Khalsa's primary financier (p. 32, 52), to be regarded as innocent?

As indicated above and clarified by Kim Bolan in an interview (June 11, 2006) with The Sikh Times, many of the details mentioned in the book are not in the final judgment. These details appear in the 'testimony during the trial or rulings within the trial (there were 3 dozen over the course of 19 months.)' Bolan added, 'I work for a large mainstream newspaper and have to be accurate. Otherwise, we can be taken before the B.C. Press Council or the Supreme Court, if there is a libel or defamation suit. McClelland & Stewart is the largest and oldest publisher in Canada. Everything in my book was gone over numerous times by two lawyers. I had to document everything I wrote.'

Given all of the above, it is no small miracle that Kim Bolan actually survived long enough to document her detailed findings. And for that we should all be grateful.