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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Bitter hijacker seeks gratitude
By Asit Jolly
BBC correspondent in Punjab

Golden Temple
The army's attack on the Golden Temple caused fury
A Sikh man who once hijacked an Indian airliner says he is still waiting for recognition and gratitude from his community for his action.

Tejinder Singh hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft 19 years ago, to protest against the Indian army attack on the Golden Temple - Sikhism's holiest shrine.

When the army stormed the Golden Temple to flush out armed separatists in June 1984, angry adherents of the faith protested against the action in a variety of ways.

Hundreds of Sikh soldiers deserted. Prominent members of the community resigned top government positions. Others returned awards and decorations bestowed upon them by the Indian Government.

Then only 19 years old, Tejinder Singh remembers being furious at what he and many others like him, still view as a deliberate attack on the Sikh faith.

Tejinder Singh
We sacrificed out entire youth for the faith, yet, not one among the many Sikh institutions or their leaders has come forward to help us
Tejinder Singh
"Every man expresses what he feels in one way or the other," he told BBC News Online.

"Hijacking the Indian Airlines plane was our way of telling the world that the Sikh people were being subjected to grave injustices within their own homeland."

On 24 August 1984, Singh and six others commandeered an Indian Airlines flight, which was scheduled to fly from the northern city of Chandigarh to Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

"We carried no real weapons because we had no intention of causing harm to the passengers," insists Singh.

'Too easy'

"Believe it or not, the 'petrol bomb' we used to threaten the crew of the aircraft was actually a bottle of cough syrup with a shoelace sticking out of the cap. One man carried a 'time-bomb' which was a small automatic camera with an electronic beeping device."

Indian Airlines hijack
Chandigarh-Srinagar flight hijacked
Flown to Pakistan and refuelled
Headed for US but landed in Dubai
Hijackers arrested and deported to India
"Too easy," is what Singh remembers of the incident that must surely have been a veritable nightmare for the passengers and crew.

The hijackers first ordered the airliner to head for Amritsar before heading for Lahore in Pakistan.

Landing at Lahore, they released some of the passengers, refuelled and then took off for the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.

"We wanted to take the plane to the USA to focus the attention of the world's media on what had happened at the Golden Temple. But the aircraft was too small to make the journey and we ended up in Dubai," Singh recounted.

He vividly remembers how "the Dubai Authority switched off all lights on their runways and only allowed us to land when we threatened to crash the plane into the ATC (air traffic control) tower".

The landing at Dubai was the last moment of freedom that Singh and his associates would enjoy for many years to come.

Life terms

"We had requested political asylum in the USA, but instead we were deported back to Delhi a week later," he said.

Balwant Singh and Harjit Kaur
Tejinder's parents are disillusioned with their son
Back in the Indian capital, there began an endless phase of police interrogations that kept Singh and his friends awake for many nights on end.

Following a trial, the seven hijackers were sentenced to life terms in prison.

They spent the next 12 years incarcerated at Ajmer in the western state of Rajasthan.

All seven men were released some years ago after completing the mandatory period of their sentences.

Despite the jail term, Tejinder Singh has lost none of his extreme religious fervour.

Bitter

"If Sikhism is in danger I would happily put my life on the line once again," he says.

But the hijacker is also a very bitter man. Once in jail his community virtually forgot about him and his comrades.

"We sacrificed our entire youth for the faith, yet, not one among the many Sikh institutions or their leaders has come forward to help us."

His aging parents - Balwant Singh and Harjit Kaur - are even more disillusioned than their son.

"He has only ended up spoiling his life!" says Balwant Singh, a retired government official.

"It is a good thing to be religious. But to what end? What he did ruined our whole family. We were all branded as 'dangerous terrorists' and left to fend for ourselves."


SEE ALSO:
Hardline Sikhs mourn militant hero
06 Jun 01  |  South Asia
Top Sikh separatist held
12 Apr 01  |  South Asia
Operation Bluestar remembered
06 Jun 00  |  South Asia
Who are the Sikhs?
15 Apr 99  |  South Asia
The Sikh Khalsa: Community of the Pure
14 Apr 99  |  South Asia


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