It’s been more than 35 years since Bal Gupta of Etobicoke, Ont., lost his wife on Air India Flight 182.
Ramwati Gupta was one of 329 people on the plane when it exploded off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. None survived the terrorist attack.
Gupta and his family mourned deeply. Ramwati, 37, left behind two young sons. She had been on her way to visit family in India.
“I remember the day this thing happened and how it happened,” Gupta told Global News.
“It’s almost like a book, which was kind of closed and sitting on one side, and the pages have started opening, one by one.”
On Thursday, one of the men accused in the attacks was shot dead in broad daylight in Surrey, B.C.
Ripudaman Singh Malik was acquitted in 2005 of any role in the two-pronged plot, which included a failed plane bombing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on the same day Flight 182 went down.
In the 24 hours since the shooting, however, some families of those killed say Malik’s death brings up a host of painful memories they had kept close, but tucked away, over the years.
“It basically opens up the wounds, which had developed a little bit of a scar over time,” Gupta said. “That was the first reaction.”
Gupta has, in the past, served as a spokesperson for the families. He also participated in the public inquiry into the atrocity, which killed 268 Canadians, 27 British citizens, 24 Indian citizens, and two baggage handlers at the international airport in Tokyo.
He recognized Malik’s acquittal but said he believes the trial was “mishandled,” and justice will never be served for the victims. Malik’s death, he added, does not bring justice either.
“I have talked with some of the family members … they are in the same state as I am — a different degree of mixture in their feelings,” he said.
“(The shooting) is not justice. This is a criminal act with its own implications, and we hope the Canadian government becomes hard on terrorists, criminals, gangsters, drug dealers.”
Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted in 2005 of mass murder and conspiracy charges related to the Air India attacks, whose victims were mostly from the Toronto and Vancouver areas.
Only bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat was ever convicted in both bombings, sent to prison for manslaughter, explosive and perjury charges. Talwinder Singh Parmar, believed to have been the mastermind of the attacks, died in a shootout with Indian police in Phillaur, Punjab in 1992.
“I think that is one of the biggest frustrations for the families, is that the masterminds and the many people that are involved in Canada’s worst act of aviation terrorism and the largest mass murder in Canadian history have not been held accountable,” said Deepak Khandelwal of Oakville, Ont.
“(Malik’s) death, however it came by, does take a lot more of the secrets that he had to the grave, which we will never know about.”
Khandelwal was 17 when his older sisters, Chandra and Manju, were killed on Flight 182.
He said Malik’s death was a “shock” that brought back 37 years of pain and thoughts about his sisters’ “lost potential.” He said he plans to go to Ireland next week to visit the victims’ memorial in Cork, which he has done many times since the attack.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever happy with violence and the results of violence,” he said of the shooting, adding that he would rather focus on the victims and their families than on Malik.
“There’s just so much potential and innocence that was taken away by these people with such a heinous act, and that’s where — at least for me — that’s what you try to do, is make sure the world doesn’t lose all that.”
The investigation and prosecution in the Air India bombings took almost 20 years.
When Malik and Bagri were acquitted, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson noted the Crown had fallen “markedly short” of the threshold for conviction, and he found the main witnesses not credible. He also revealed that a trove of potential evidence — including more than 100 recordings from CSIS wiretaps on the suspects and other witnesses — had been destroyed, making the remaining tapes inadmissible.
The public inquiry into the tragedy concluded in 2010 with a 4,000-page report finding a “cascading series of errors” by the federal government, RCMP and CSIS who allowed the bombing to take place.
Given the litany of “mistakes,” Khandelwal said he’s not holding out much hope in the RCMP’s current investigation into Malik’s death.
“The thing I do hold out hope for, is that hopefully Canada learns from this and thereby we do a better job at preventing terrorist activities like this that are bred on Canadian soil,” he said.
He described his lost sisters as “fun-loving people,” the eldest being the more outgoing and sociable of the two, and the younger being very academically oriented.
“People always ask, ‘Is there closure?’ There never really is.”
Malik’s family has maintained his innocence. On Thursday, his son, Jaspreet Malik, described his father as a man who valued education above all, and who taught him he could be successful and still be Sikh.
“The bigger part of his life was his community, his family and the legacy he’s left with,” said Jaspreet in an interview. “Khalsa schools, Khalsa Credit Union, five kids, eight grandkids.”
Malik, 75, was a prominent but polarizing figure. As of Friday afternoon, a single bouquet of flowers had been laid out on the sidewalk near where he was killed.