23 years later, Kanishka tragedy re-enacted

April 26th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by admin  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, April 26 (IANS) Twenty-three years after 329 people perished when Air India Kaniskha Flight 182 was bombed off the Irish coast, Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson has re-enacted the tragedy in his documentary “Air India 182″. Driven by a mind-numbing narrative, chilling footage, re-enactments and interviews with the loved ones of those who perished, “Air India 182″ gives this so-called “Indian tragedy” a Canadian perspective.

Perhaps the initial Canadian reaction of not owning this aviation disaster till 9/11 was not lost on Gunnarsson who grew up in Vancouver, where Babbar Khalsa plotted the bombing.

It enraged him that despite the fact that most victims were Canadian citizens, the then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent his condolences to his Indian counterpart Rajiv Gandhi.

“The bombing of Air India had little impact on the Canadian psyche. There was no outrage. There was no debate in parliament. There was a total sense of denial by Canadians,” Gunnarsson told IANS at the Canadian International Documentary Festival here where his work premiered last week.

Indeed, “Air India 182″ is a very disturbing sequence of events spread over 16 hours before the bombing and the recovery operations: how two bomb-carrying suitcases were checked in at Vancouver airport by an M. Singh, how they were transferred undetected onto Air India flight 182 and another Canadian flight to Tokyo (where it was to put on an Air India flight to India), and how Flight 182 went off radar screens as it approached Ireland.

In the 16-hour timeline of the documentary, Gunnarsson squeezes in all re-enacted important events - such as the testing of bombs by plot mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat, wiretapping of plot conversations and their mindless erasing by the Canadian spy agency, and baggage screening machines conking out at Toronto airport that day.

But the most moving part relates to the soon-to-be victims saying a lingering last goodbye to their loved ones and their last happy moments on the plane.

The most disturbing part is the footage of recovery operations and identification of bodies in Ireland: how twisted and taut bodies were fished out of the waters by Irish rescuers who were overwhelmed and driven to tears by the magnitude of the tragedy, how one woman identified her sister by the way she wore her eyeliner, and how a woman found only one of her two young boys.

The frequent comments by Jack Hooper, retired deputy director of the Canadian spy agency (called Canadian Security Intelligence Service or CSIS), show how Canadian agencies underestimated threats by Sikh radicals despite repeated warnings by India.

And one cannot be left untouched by the remorse of check-in assistant at Vancouver airport who let an M. Singh prevail upon her to check in the bomb-carrying suits despite non-availability of a connecting flight from Tokyo.

As the filmmaker sums up, “Air India 182″ is a story of “what could go wrong, went wrong” that fateful day.

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