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Kim Bolan, reporter with the Vancouver Sun
"The whole Sikh community's reputation has been tarnished by several acts of extreme violence"
 real 28k

Friday, 2 June, 2000, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Call for end to Sikh murder mystery
Generic Sikh graphic
by BBC News Online's Chris Summers

An MP, Piara Khabra, has urged the police to redouble their efforts to find the killer of a Sikh newspaper editor assassinated in London five years ago, a crime which could be linked to the Air India bombing in 1985.

The murder of Tarsem Singh Purewal, editor of Britain's biggest-selling Punjabi weekly Des Pardes, in Southall, west London may also be linked to the assassination of another Punjabi-language newspaper in Canada in 1998.

Tara Singh Hayer, editor of the Indo-Canadian Times, was gunned down at his home in Surrey, British Columbia 10 years after being paralysed by another gunman.

Murdered Sikh editors
Tarsem Singh Purewal (left) pictured with Tara Singh Hayer in 1983 Vancouver Sun

Mr Hayer's son, Dave, told BBC News Online: "I'm sure the same organisation was behind both deaths, if not the same individual.

"My father and Mr Purewal were good friends and both were investigating the same elements in the Sikh community.

He said: "They are small in number but they are involved in criminal activities, terrorism. They were trying to expose them."

Mr Hayer, whose father was installed in the Canadian Press Hall of Fame last month, said: "Despite being shot in 1988, he decided to stand up for his community and said 'If they are going to kill me, so be it'."

He said he believed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) might be close to cracking the case and said: "Hopefully when it is solved, the Purewal case will be looked at again.

"There are so many good, honest British Sikhs who will bring this information to the police. They will be helping the Sikh cause, as well as bringing the criminals to justice."

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the Sikh 'holy of holies'
Gurbux Singh Virk, editor of Des Pardes, told BBC News Online it appeared the police had closed the file on his predecessor's murder and he said he was "disappointed" with their attitude.

The roots to both killings seem to lie in Punjabi politics.


In 1984, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the army in to crush pro-independence Sikhs in the Punjab.

But she signed her own death warrant by ordering troops to flush militants out of the sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Her assassination, by her Sikh bodyguards, sparked a wave of attacks on Sikhs all over India.

In the Punjab supporters of an independent Sikh state - known as Khalistan - massacred many political opponents and non-Sikhs.

The Sikhs
The Sikh religion was founded by a Hindu, Guru Nanak, in the 16th century but retains close cultural links with Hinduism.
There are 20 million Sikhs worldwide, of whom 9.5 million live in the Punjab, a fertile area of northern India which provides 60% of India's grain.
Orthodox adherents are distinguished by long, flowing hair known as kesh - worn in a turban by men; a metal bangle or kkara which they wear; a ceremonial dagger or kirpan carried on the waist; a kangha or comb which they also use; and an under-garment called a kaccha.
When Britain quit the sub-continent in 1947 the Punjab was split in half and most Sikhs fled Pakistan to live on the Indian side of the border.
But by 1990 India had regained the upper hand in the Punjab and violence fell markedly.

Stability was achieved at a price - there were accusations of widespread police brutality and many supporters of Khalistan have only recently been released from detention.

Sikhs all over the world have been affected by the trouble back home.

There are pro- and anti-Khalistan cliques wherever the Sikh diaspora has taken roots.

Britain's most sizeable Sikh community is in the west London suburb of Southall.

There are also significant Sikh communities in the United States, South Africa, Malaysia and Canada - 250,000 Sikhs live in British Columbia alone.


Mr Purewal, 60, founded Des Pardes (Home and Abroad) in 1965 and the paper tended to take a pro-Khalistan viewpoint during the 1980s and early 1990s but shortly before his death he appeared to have fallen out with certain radical Sikh groups.

Kim Bolan, a reporter on the Vancouver Sun newspaper who has covered Sikh politics since 1984, told BBC News Online Mr Purewal had been preparing a series of articles uncovering fraud and other shady practices within the separatist movement.

She said Mr Purewal, who had been to several Sikh terror training camps in Pakistan, also knew details of the Air India bombing in 1985, which killed 329 people.

Around 8.15pm on Tuesday, 24 January 1995, Mr Purewal was pulling down the shutters outside his office in Southall.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the Sikh 'holy of holies'
A gunman appeared from nowhere and killed him with a single shot through the chest.

Although it took place in a busy street in the middle of the evening, no witnesses came forward and the killer left few clues.

Police arrested several people in Birmingham, including Ragbir Singh, editor of another Sikh newspaper, Awaze Quam.

He was eliminated from their inquiries, as were the other suspects.

The incident room closed down and the killing appeared forgotten.

Piara Khabra, Labour MP for Ealing Southall and himself a Sikh, told BBC News Online: "The police have not been able to get any new information or any evidence whatsoever."

He said he intended to write to the Metropolitan Police to discover the reasons for the failure.

Piara Khabra MP
Piara Khabra: "There is no reason to give up"
Mr Khabra said: "I read about cases from 40 years ago being detected, and yet this case seems to be beyond them. I sometimes feel that not much attention is given to these cases if they are members of the ethnic minority community, certainly not as much as for white murders."

'No reason to give up'

Mr Khabra said: "It does not matter what the motive is, the police should be investigating properly and should find the murderer.

"With Mr Purewal's case, I don't know whether they have given up. There should be no reason to give up."

Jump forward to Wednesday 18 November 1998. Mr Hayer was manouvering himself from his car into his wheelchair when the killer struck.

No-one saw the gunman, who chose to strike in the garage, knowing he would be shielded from the close circuit television cameras which police had installed around the house after the 1988 shooting.

Corporal Dan Russell, of the RCMP, told BBC News Online: "It is still an active investigation. We have not charged anybody but we still have leads to follow."

He said Mr Hayer had received several death threats, some of which emanated from political opponents, shortly before his death but it was not clear if they were from his eventual killers.

Air India link

Fingers have been pointed in the direction of two radical Sikh groups.

Ms Bolan, who has received death threats herself and had to move out of her Vancouver home after shots were fired at it, said pro-Khalistan groups had been on the retreat on both sides of the Atlantic since the early 1990s.

Moderate groups have wrested back control of key gurdwaras (temples).

She said Mr Hayer had agreed to be a witness against suspects in the Air India case and much of his evidence was based on information he had received from Mr Purewal.

Ms Bolan said: "Mr Purewal was on the verge of doing a series of articles which were going to embarrass the ISYF and Babbar Khalsa."

Sikhs in Hounslow
Britain's Sikh community is very close knit
A few days after Mr Purewal was killed a caller claiming to represent a group implicated in the assassination of Mrs Gandhi claimed responsibility for the killing. But there was no way to corroborate the claim.

After all, Mr Purewal's death could have had a more banal explanation.

Detectives investigating his death unearthed evidence he had been routinely breaking UK law by publishing the name of rape victims in court reports.

Court officials were unaware, because they could not read Punjabi. But one theory circulating in Southall was that Mr Purewal was murdered by a hitman hired by a family whose name had been disgraced by the naming of their daughter as a rape victim.

Mr Khabra said: "I'm not concerned about what was the motive, murder is murder and it's the police's duty to find the culprit and the police have to explain why they appear to have given up."

A Scotland Yadrd spokeswoman said: "The case was reviewed last year as a result of new information.

"All lines of inquiry were pursued and exhausted. However if any new information comes to light this will be fully and thoroughly investigated."

Anyone with information about the murder of Mr Purewal should contact the incident room on 020 8733 4734 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. Anyone with information on the Hayer case can contact Cpl Russell on (001) 604 599 7641.

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See also:

15 Apr 99 | South Asia
Who are the Sikhs?
08 Apr 99 | South Asia
The cornerstones of Sikhism
29 Mar 00 | South Asia
Sikh head priest sacked
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