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    Tuesday, March 21, 2023

    Norwich Sikh leader accuses Indian delegate of defamation

    In this November 2017 file photo, Swaranjit Singh Khalsa stands in front of the flag of the Khalistan movement, a Sikh nationalist movement which seeks to create a separate country called Khalistan. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    A Norwich businessman and Sikh community leader has sued the consul general of India in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, for defamation and attempting to interfere with Connecticut legislation.

    Norwich resident Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, owner of the Norwichtown Shell gas station, was instrumental in establishing Nov. 30 as Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day in Connecticut.

    The day, which became official when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed Public Act No. 18-60 on June 1, recognizes an anti-Sikh massacre in India that happened in early November 1984 after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

    The Indian government has said 2,733 Sikh civilians were murdered within three days of the assassination. Indian media have said the number may be more than twice that, while Sikh advocacy groups have said about 30,000 were killed and others were raped or burned alive

    Though few have been charged or convicted in the attacks on Sikhs, police and political leaders likely were complicit, the nonprofit Human Rights Watch said.

    In his civil action, Singh Khalsa claims Chakravorty defamed him in a Nov. 5 letter written to state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the politician who asked for Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day to be included in this year’s bill designating various days and weeks.

    Sikhism, Osten noted in her March letter to colleagues, is “a monotheistic religion that emphasizes compassion and service to others.”

    In his letter, Chakravorty said though many Sikhs moved from India to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, “there was no persecution of Sikhs in India.”

    He said more than 20 million Sikhs live in India, some of whom “occupy highest offices.” He denied genocide had occurred and said the anti-Sikh violence of 1984, while “reprehensible," was the result of “years of terrorism perpetrated by Sikh terrorists.”

    Chakravorty finally told Osten the 30,000 figure she mentioned in her own letter to Connecticut legislators was an exaggerated number “being purveyed by Sikh separatists/terrorists who demand a separate state for the Sikhs.”

    He called the Connecticut Sikh community’s efforts “vociferous, pernicious and divisive.”

    Speaking by phone Wednesday, Singh Khalsa said Chakravorty’s letter was insulting and defamatory.

    Singh Khalsa said he believes Indian elected officials haven’t called the 1984 killings “genocide” because high-profile politicians could face jail time if they did. He also said he thinks the officials worry about how such a declaration would impact international trade.

    The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York notified Chakravorty a civil action had been filed against him Nov. 15 and gave him 21 days to answer.

    Singh Khalsa said Chakravorty could claim diplomatic immunity to dismiss the case, but Singh Khalsa would consider that a victory because “that means (Chakravorty) knows what he did.”

    “It’s important to have a defamation case on him so he doesn’t think this is India and he can buy elected officials,” said Singh Khalsa, who came to Norwich in 2010 after completing graduate school in New Jersey.

    “We have freedom of speech and religion here and will do whatever possible under U.S. law to give our people some justice,” he said.

    Singh Khalsa said his own parents had to move from the capital region of New Delhi to Punjab in the north because a mob came and burned their cars in the 1980s.

    “We are victims, as well,” he said.

    The FBI and other agencies have recognized Singh Khalsa for his work to promote peace and understanding among different cultures. He also played a role in getting another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 452, passed in Connecticut this year.

    The bill, which Malloy signed into law May 10, required public schools in Connecticut to provide Holocaust and genocide education to their students beginning July 1. 

    “We don’t want history to repeat itself,” said Singh Khalsa, who said he has heard the Indian government again is detaining and questioning young activists. “That’s why we’re being proactive. It’s like what Cathy Osten said ... If we don’t recognize what happened, it’s doomed to happen again and again.”


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