Sikhs around the world will gather in November to pay homage to all the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives during the state sanctioned genocide 28 years ago. In November 1984, after the death of Indira Gandhi the Indian government brutally butchered thousands of Sikhs in the capital city Delhi and throughout the country. Though the genocide occurred 28 years ago, justice was never delivered and Sikhs are continuing to fight a struggle against oppression.
This year in New York during the anniversary of the 1984 genocide, the New York Sikh Arts and Film Festival has decided to ignore the memories of pain imbedded in the minds of Sikhs and instead honor those who represent the state that continues to marginalize the Sikh community. In order to “celebrate the rich heritage, culture and traditions of the Sikhs”, the NYC Sikh Arts and Film Festival is honoring Nirupama Rao, India’s Ambassador the United States as the Chief Guest and others such as Prabhu Dayal, Consul General India, and Hardeep Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations as Guest of Honors.
Sikhism has always promoted equality regardless of race, religion, class, or any other distinguishing factor. However, Sikhism has also always promoted a defense for human rights and a voice against oppression. These individuals may not have been directly involved with the 1984 genocide yet they represent a state which committed the gruesome acts and never provided justice. By honoring the Indian state at a Sikh event during the 1984 anniversary is a blow at the hearts of Sikhs worldwide.
The legacy of 1984 continues to haunt Sikhs today and the most recent examples are the attempted hanging of Rajoana and the illegal detention and torture of Daljit Singh Bittu and Kulbir Singh Barapind. These men dedicated their lives to fight on behalf of the sovereignty of the Sikh nation and they were faced with repression by a corrupt Indian State. Sikhs have been advocating for these men and though the hanging of Rajoana was stayed, Bittu and Barapind still remain behind bars. It is important for Sikhs to hold the Indian government accountable for these human rights injustices that have been going on prior to and after 1984. By honoring these guests at the Film Festival, the organizers are attempting to negate the Sikh struggle and delegitimize valid concerns raised against the Indian state.
According to Canadian Sikh Coalition Spokesperson Moninder Singh, “Indian politicians who were involved in the 1984 genocide have never been held to account rather still hold powerful positions within the Indian state today. It is disappointing to see the Sikh Film Festival committee honor these politicians during a time that is devastating for Sikhs worldwide. With North American organizations launching the Free the Singh campaign and international Human Rights organization commenting on the current use of torture in India, it is necessary for us to stand in solidarity against human rights violations. We need to continue the struggle for justice and not try to coat it with honorariums at Film Festivals in the United States.”
The Canadian Sikh Coalition urges all Sikh organizations who have partnered with the film festival and all those planning on attending to boycott the event as CSC is doing to show solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs awaiting justice in the Indian state and the millions of other minorities who are subject to the same oppressive regime. We must recognize that the legacy of 1984 lives on and it is through pro-active methods such as this that we can attempt to build a better and safer world for ourselves and the generations to come.