By Sudarshan Kapoor, PhD.
In the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two trusted Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, in India, anti-Sikh violence occurred in Delhi which lasted for about three days; later, violence spread to other cities, according to historians. No doubt, it was a grim and gruesome tragedy as the violence resulted in the loss of many innocent lives; to this day, survivors and their families continue to experience pain and suffering.
Measures to assist the victims of 1984 violence have been undertaken by the Government of India and apologies have been made at the highest level by leaders like Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, a Sikh himself, in the Parliament of India [Aug. 2005]. The current Prime Minister Modi of India said the violence was “a dagger pierced through India’s chest”. However, the issue has still lingered on without any resolution and closure in India, and indeed, not in California.
BACKGROUND OF EVENTS IN FRESNO: There is a saying in our community that when rain clouds appear in Delhi, India, people start sneezing in Fresno and take up the umbrellas. Such is the impact of ‘weather’ now being felt in Fresno. I find myself in the midst of the storm, owing in large part to what I believe is an inaccurate characterization of my position and views in articles in the Fresno Bee.
A draft Resolution on ‘Sikh Genocide In India’ was introduced last January at the City Hall in Fresno. The Resolution was withdrawn, and I and many others thought that the matter was closed.
In early June, a city council member requested a meeting, inviting me and another member of the Indian community for a discussion in view of the mounting pressure and the possibility for the reintroduction of the Resolution. My response was that he and other council members who want to be well informed should reach out Consul General of India’s Office in San Francisco for details and better understanding of the issues and concerns raised in the draft resolution and also about Government of India’s current policies and initiatives pertaining to the violence of 1984.
As a result, the office of City Council’s President officially invited and arranged the visit of Consul General of India. The Council President’s office scheduled the meetings on June 22 with council members who showed interest in meeting the Consul General. The Consul General explained in detail the background of the issue, the Government of India’s position and various measures and initiatives taken to address the issues. A prepared statement was given to council members.
An interview was given by the Consul General, as requested, to a Fresno Bee reporter who was invited by a council member without prior consultation with Council President and his office. The Fresno Bee story the next day, unfortunately, caused a big firestorm and misunderstanding in our community.
I want to clearly state that there is no justification for the violence perpetuated against the Sikhs in 1984.
It was very disturbing for me personally because of my family’s long history of association with the Sikh faith and the influence and admiration I hold for the teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev JI, the founder of Sikh faith, who focused his teachings on love, peace and harmony among Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.
I also consider the anti-Sikh violence as a gross violation of human rights. It was a dark spot on the face of India in the history of the relationship between Hindus and Sikhs who have lived together peacefully and harmoniously for centuries. Many Hindus, including myself, have condemned and decried the killings of innocent people.
That said, having read the Resolution, I felt very much depressed and disappointed by the overall tone of the resolution. I feel that the Sikh Community is a vital part of Indian society, has been and will remain so, as we share common values and are proud of our heritage and culture. This resolution, and others like it that have been adopted here in the Valley, arise out of a sense that there has been little true justice for the victims of the 1984 pogrom—another term that has been frequently used to describe the events. Unfortunately, adopting this resolution, here in Fresno, does not further that aim. Instead, it is creating a wedge amongst the Indian diaspora.
Subsequent meetings with council members have been very informational and educational. In one meeting, one council member proposed the idea of arranging a dialogue between the selected community leaders from both sides of the issue. The idea of a dialogue was warmly supported to bring peace, understanding and harmony within the community. The idea is still under active consideration and I personally support strongly and recommend that it be pursued vigorously by the council member and his colleagues. It might very well pave the way to peace in our community. I strongly believe that PEACE is the way to PEACE. There is no other better way for civilized and cultured groups to resolve their conflicts. In order to avoid any further damage, polarization and violence in our community, initiatives such as constructive dialogue must be encouraged and pursued by a third neutral party, also called mediators.
A Tentative Peace Plan Toward Conflict Resolution
Here are some suggestions for the RESOLUTION. Details can be worked out through dialogue and discussion under the leadership of a team of peacemakers and peace-builders:
- Recognize the anti-Sikh violence and the tragedy that took place in Nov. 1984 in India. There is no justification for this violence. It was a gross violation of human rights of people. Those responsible for this heinous crime and have not yet been brought to justice must be held accountable.
- Pay tributes to the victims and survivors of this tragedy. Many innocent lives were lost leaving behind pain and suffering.
- Measures taken by the Government of India so far to provide due relief and assistance to the victims of 1984 violence are commendable. Government of India must undertake additional ways and means for the redress of this issue.
- Gov. of India must adopt measures for the closure of this issue which has been dragged on too long. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) established by the current government in 2015 to probe the events of 1984 must speed up its process and submit the report as early as possible. Delay in the process unnecessarily creates doubt and mistrust contributing to the uncomfortable social relations amongst various segments of the society in India and abroad.
- Gov. of India and the CIVIL SOCIETY work together to take steps toward healing and reconciliation using the model and experiences of TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION OF SOUTH AFRICA.
‘ BLESSED ARE PEACE MAKERS. BE A PEACE MAKER.’
Sudarshan Kapoor is Prof. Emeritus at CSU FRESNO. He was the Founding Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at CSU FRESNO, founder of the Peace Garden at Fresno State, and a founding member of the Center for Nonviolence, Fresno.