By Sharnjit Purewal M.D.
In the August issue of Community Alliance, Sudarshan Kapoor’s article “Anti-Sikh Violence in 1984 in India” was published, providing his perspective on the recent events in Fresno. While Dr. Kapoor sought to highlight his own position on the matter, his opinions of the atrocities faced by the Sikh community and the lack of subsequent justice, present only a limited view of the issue.
The story of the 1984 Sikh Genocide began on June 6, 1984, when Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to attack the Golden Temple, the “Vatican” of the Sikh religion, in order to remove a small group of militants numbering less than 100. Sikhs were observing the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjun, the fifth prophet of the Sikhs, therefore a larger crowd than usual had gathered there. This day was seemingly chosen to maximize casualties and an estimated 3000 to 6000 innocent worshippers were killed in the attack. To this day the official number has yet to be determined since the government imposed a media blackout, and has not released any of the names of the victims. Forty other Sikh temples were concurrently raided by the army with no justification given.
It was this event that precipitated the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, followed by the Indian State orchestrated genocide against the Sikh population. Tens of thousands were murdered in cold-blood, as Indian State politicians took to the streets providing mobs with voter address lists of Sikh homes and businesses, as well as arming them with murder weapons such as crowbars and gasoline. Buses were provided for transportation of the mobs. The numbers that were killed during those days has yet to be quantified, as mass graves continue to be discovered today, as recently as 2011 in the village of Hondh Chillar.
Again the government imposed a media blackout and reporters were detained when seen out and about. Across the entire country, untold numbers were killed and official numbers do not corroborate the eye-witness reports of the survivors. Even today in Delhi there is an area called the “Widow’s Colony” where thousands of women remain, often destitute, due to the loss of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. To be a Sikh during those days marked one for death. Chilling eyewitness reports later recounted how high government officials such as Sujjan Kumar and Jagdish Titler were directing the mobs, police were standing by doing nothing to protect innocent victims, stepping in only to disarm Sikhs who brandished weapons to defend themselves.
In the subsequent 15 years after 1984, the government carried out a campaign of terror throughout the state of Punjab, the home of the Sikhs. Sikhs, mostly boys and young men, were detained for no apparent reason. Many were killed after arrest, in staged “encounters” with police. Others were jailed indefinitely without due process. Men who were tortured by police have revealed their scars to reporters but their cases are repeatedly blocked by the judicial system to this day. Many of the surviving family members are poor uneducated villagers who have nowhere to turn. Some have placed the total death toll during this time at 300,000 whereas others have estimated to be as high as 1.2 million (see Sekhon and Dilgeer, India Kills the Sikhs, The Sikh Educational Trust).
Despite the passing of 32 years, justice has been denied. As the corrupt Indian judicial system has been unable to convict its political rulers. Sikhs throughout the world are committed to making sure these crimes against humanity are not forgotten.
Nonprofit organizations such as Ensaaf continue to document cases of death and Sikhs for Justice has petitioned the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate and officially declare it a genocide. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the fact that this was a genocide systematically perpetrated against the Sikh population of India and sustained over a period of several years. The subsequent cover-up was effective in hiding the truth from the world. The government continues to censor the media and entertainment industry, yet calls itself the “world’s largest democracy”. Recent incidents in Fresno demonstrate how the government of India is still trying to cover up the facts.
The 30,000 strong Sikh population in Fresno today has many members directly connected to the violence. From family members to college roommates to personal friends, the events of 1984 are the defining moment for the current activism of Sikhs across California.
The resolution officially declaring the events of 1984 a genocide, was initially brought before Fresno city council members in January. It was tabled due to opposition from Dr. Kapoor and Mr. Rama Kant Dawar, a Central Unified School District board member. As the resolution garnered increasing support the Consul General of India came from San Francisco to meet with City council members to quash the resolution. As reported by the Fresno Bee the Consul General was accompanied by Dr. Kapoor. The Sikh community of Fresno is offended by this blatant attempt by a foreign government to interfere in the local political process and in this apparent Genocide-denial. Sikhs throughout the US are asking – why is Dr. Kapoor complicit in the Indian government cover-up of this heinous crime against humanity? For references and more information see the following:
Sharnjit Purewal is the General Secretary of the Sikh Council of Central California. Contact her at Sharn.firstname.lastname@example.org