Whatisa Christian response to the largest mass murder in Can- adian history?
And why have a number of those
involved turned to creating art?
Such questions are hard to avoid
in the face of the June 23, 1985
bombing of Air India flight 182 en
route from Toronto to New Delhi
via Montreal. The midair explosion
south of Ireland killed all 329 passengers and crew, the majority
South Asian Canadians, including
82 children under the age of 13.
A conference in Hamilton, Ont.,
recently commemorated the event,
which many participants see as a
comparable Canadian event to the
9/11 terrorist attacks of 15 years ago
in the U.S.
The Air India disaster resulted in
the longest and most expensive
criminal investigation in Canadian
history. And it was only six years
ago (in 2010) that a judicial public
inquiry concluded the bombing
was both “a Canadian tragedy” and
“the largest mass murder in Can-
adian history,” and the Canadian
government apologized for “insti-
started a classical Indian dance
studio in Toronto. And Dr. A.V.
Anantaraman who – after losing his
wife and two girls – founded a free
school in rural India and music
scholarships for high-performing
students in Ottawa.
Meanwhile Bal Gupta’s son
Susheel and others with him start-
ed the Canadian Resource Centre
for the Victims of Crime.
As a university literature teacher,
I found myself considering what
fiction has to offer in such circum-
stances. The arc of meaning in a
piece of fiction, the particular per-
spective it adopts, its freedom to
move seamlessly between outer and
inner worlds, its licence to include
only what is strictly necessary for
the story – all these symbolic struc-
tures enable a re-description of real-
ity that can speak simultaneously in
both particular and universal terms.
One example is Bharati Mukher-
jee’s 1988 short story “The Manage-
tutional failings and the mistreat-
ment of families.”
Chandrima Chakraborty, who or-
ganized the History, Memory, Grief
conference, reminded attendees
that back in 1985 the Canadian gov-
ernment barely responded to the
tragedy at all. No government offi-
cials contacted any of the bereaved.
The Canadian government was not
represented in Ireland as bodies
were brought ashore, though Indian,
British and Irish officials were there.
Many people at the conference
needed no reminders.
“What we have suffered cannot
be undone,” says Bal Gupta, founding chair of the Air India Victims’
Families Association, who lost his
wife in the bombing.
But, he is quick to add, the families involved have maintained an
“ardent desire that no other families
should suffer what we have suffered.”
The conference featured several
other bereaved people who have
chosen creative pursuits in their
postdisaster lives, such as poetry,
fiction and film making.
It was deeply moving to learn of
Lata Pada who – after losing her
husband and both daughters –
NUMBER OF VIC TIMS
OF THE CRASH OF AIR
INDIA FLIGH T 182 ON
JUNE 23, 1985
Air India bombing
30 years on BY DEBORAH BOWEN