Politics

California and the US recognize 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms

By Anju Kaur | April 29, 2015
Left: Sikhs standing outside the California State Assembly hall in Sacramento, on April 16. Legislators passed a resolution recognizing the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and India’s role in orchestrating the massacre. Right: Panelists at the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, on Sept. 30, 2014, brought attention to India’s 30 years of impunity and also called for its accountability. From left to right: Sukhman Singh Dhami, Ensaaf; Manoj Mitta, author; Manmeet Singh and Har

Left: Sikhs standing outside the California State Assembly hall in Sacramento, on April 16. Legislators passed a resolution recognizing the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and India’s role in orchestrating the massacre. Right: Panelists at the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, on Sept. 30, 2014, brought attention to India’s 30 years of impunity and also called for its accountability. From left to right: Sukhman Singh Dhami, Ensaaf; Manoj Mitta, author; Manmeet Singh and Har

Reporting from Washington – The California State Assembly, this month, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, last September, recognized the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms, the role of the Indian government and law enforcement officials in orchestrating the massacre, and the need for their accountability.
 
California passed a resolution on April 16, in Sacramento, “remembering those who lost their lives during the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and massacre.”
 
“Sikhs around the world should know that, here in California, we will always stand against intolerance and will not forget the tragedy of 1984,” said Jim Cooper, an assembly member, in a news release from the American Sikh Political Action Committee, a California group that lobbied for the resolution.
 
The resolution items are prefaced with the statement: “Many Sikh lives were saved from the massacre by compassionate Indians from all religious backgrounds…”
 
“The truth of the genocide of 1984 cannot be changed,” said Amar Shergill, representing the PAC. “Non-Sikhs led the massacre, however non-Sikhs also stood up and risked their lives.”
 
Sikhs were beaten with iron rods, had their Kesh forcibly shorn, doused with kerosene and set on fire during the first week of November 1984, the resolution says. Sikh women lost their fathers, husbands, and sons in the pogroms, and were gang raped by the assailants, it says.
 
The resolution also references evidence from eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights activists that shows “government and law enforcement officials organized, participated in, and failed to intervene to prevent the killings through direct and indirect means.”
 
“The best way to combat evil is to confront it and shine a light upon it,” said James Gallagher, also an assembly member. “We do this by speaking truth.”
 
The pogroms were the Indian government’s retaliation for the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in October 1984.
 
Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated the Indian leader in retaliation for Operation Blue Star, the Indian army’s attack of Darbar Sahib, in Amritsar, in June 1984. The army also attacked other gurdwaras across Punjab, barricaded the entire state, cut communications, and expelled journalists and non-governmental organizations as Indian forces committed genocidal atrocities with impunity. Thousands of innocent pilgrims were killed in Darbar Sahib alone.
 
While California assembly members recognized the call for justice from “individuals and organizations throughout the world,” they stopped short of asking for the prosecution of those responsible for the November pogroms.
 
Using stronger language, the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the United States Congress last year brought attention to India’s 30 years of impunity and also called for accountability.
 
The public briefing was held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, on Sept. 30, and moderated by Rajdeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition. The briefing began with a viewing of “The Widow Colony,” an award-winning documentary by Sach Productions about the Sikh widows who survived the pogroms and still are languishing in the isolated government-housing projects in Delhi, without justice for their lost family members. Filmmakers, Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh, were among the panelists.
 
Manoj Mitta, author of “When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath,” also was a panelist. He spoke about the orchestration effort from the highest to the local levels of the Indian government, involvement of law enforcement officers and public instigation by the Indian media.
 
Sukhman Singh Dhami, co-director of Ensaaf, a California nonprofit that collects evidence of the Punjab government’s atrocities during the “Decade of Disappearances” that followed the events of 1984, also discussed the Indian government’s cover-up efforts.
 
The commission recognized “India’s failure to prosecute the architects of the pogroms… and the importance that accountability will have for India’s future.”
 
The commission does not make U.S. foreign policy in relation to India but it can make recommendations by presenting facts regarding the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms, a commission representative told SFP.
 
“It (also) is difficult for the state of California to affect change in India,” Shergill added. But the PAC will continue to “work with legislators in D.C. to make that happen.”