Local Sikh members hold educational exhibition on “Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day”
Norwich ― Although it was 38 years ago, many religious community members who practice Sikhism continue to feel the effects of what they call a government-backed genocide.
Community members were welcomed to the Sikh Art Gallery on Saturday to learn about the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots for an exhibition on “Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day” and to hear personal accounts by survivors.
Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a city council member and the gallery’s director, said the local Sikh community has done events in Hartford and at city hall but now they want to focus more on educational initiatives, especially as campaigns from opposing Indian groups claim Sikhs are terrorists.
He added Saturday’s event allowed Sikh people to share their experiences as the gallery is working on an oral history project.
During a presentation for attendees, Khalsa said Sikhs had their own country, known as the Sikh Empire, from 1799 to 1849, then a partition in 1947 divided the nation, splitting it between India and Pakistan. Khalsa said more than one million Sikhs were displaced.
Khalsa said Sikhs were not treated fairly in India. He said it led to the June 1984 attack of the Sikh Golden Temple in the state of Punjab by the Indian army as well as the widespread violence and murder of Sikhs across India in November 1984. The violence is said to have started after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
The violence included burning and beating deaths and rapes of Sikh civilians and destruction of homes and businesses.
He said the Indian government has denied the genocide in the aftermath of violence as politicians and congressmen were allegedly involved.
“We know what happened to us,” Khalsa said.
Even after investigations, Khalsa many still hold power and the Sikh continue to seek recognition of the genocide, justice and the sovereignty of Punjab, also known as Khalistan― translating to “land of the pure.”
He noted that the state of Connecticut has passed legislation recognizing Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day on Nov. 1.
Other members of the Sikh community were invited to talk as well as local officials who have faced opposition for supporting the Sikh community. Mayor Peter Nystrom and the city council have had emails, texts, phone calls and letters circulated by the Indian community demanding that they rescind their proclamation declaring April 29 as Sikh Declaration of Independence Day.
Baljeet Singh said he was a young boy in New Delhi when violence ensued against the Sikh community in 1984. He recalled stories his mother would tell him and how she tried to protect him. Singh added he remains traumatized by the events.
Singh recited a poem by memory in the Punjabi language while another member translated.
“I’ve seen orphans cry for parents and parents killed,” his poem said. “I’ve seen killers and rapists... If you killed me once, kill me again but let my sisters go. Leave us alone, leave us alone.”
Amarjite Singh Trumbull said he had a three-month-old son when the violence began. He recalled being on a bus with his brother that he was lucky to get off of before people were drawn out of the bus and burned.
Trumbull said he and his family took shelter in the home of a neighbor for days.
Pawan Singh said the Sikh have never had the opportunity to count the deaths totaled from the acts of violence in 1984. He said one activist, Jaswant Singh Khalra, got close to investigating before he was abducted, tortured and murdered in India in 1995.
Khalra is included in a mural on the Market Street Garage featuring 10 local heroes and social justice champions.
Nystrom attended the event and said he has received calls and negative pushback for his support of the community, calling it all an intimidation factor.
“It’s not going to work. They are people of peace,” Nystrom said, referring to the Sikh community. “They are a part of us.”