As we come upon the anniversary of the November 1984 genocide of Sikhs across India, it is no secret that 1984 still matters and Sikhs still remember.
Although there are voices which tell the Sikh community that it’s time to move on and that we must forget what happened, forgetting isn’t an option for Sikhs. And it can’t be for India either.
Why India Must Not Forget
The mass killing of Sikhs in 1984 started a pattern in India. It showed that state actors can facilitate and encourage massacres of minorities and the guilty will go unpunished. Amnesty International noted in its 2010 report that after at least 9 inquiry commissions, only approximately 20 people have ever been convicted of being involved in the violence. As recently as May 2010, a local court in India’s Bihar state acquitted 27 individuals accused of killing Sikhs in November 1984 for want of evidence. Additional district and sessions judge Nand Kishore Sharma criticized the police for its failure to produce witnesses in the case before the court, which led to the court having to acquit the accused. The witnesses, all police officials, did not appear despite repeated reminders issued by the court.
Because the perpetrators of the 1984 Sikh genocide weren’t held accountable, the Godhra massacre of Muslims was allowed to happen in 2004 with the cooperation of members of the Gujarat government. The 2008 killings of Christians were allowed to happen in Orissa. The pattern of 1984 has been allowed to perpetuate itself and become part of the Indian system.
India has never been able to confront the events of 1984. To this day, no memorial or museum exists to commemorate the events in any Indian city. India is unable to address this dark chapter in its history in any meaningful way and till now has been unwilling to prosecute the powerful organizers and facilitators of the killings. For that reason, 1984 remains an open wound.
1984 & Canadian Sikhs
Sikhs in Canada continue to remember the 1984 Sikh genocide. Across Canada events are held every year including vigils, rallies and prayers. In 2010, when Indian Minister Kamal Nath came to Canada, the issue once again became a fresh one. Several eyewitnesses including Indian Express reporter Monish Sanjay Suri have deposed that they saw Minister Nath leading a mob of 4000 people which attacked Gurdwara Rakab Ganj in Delhi. Several Sikhs were burnt alive by the mob.
When WSO invited Times of India editor Manoj Mitta to speak its annual Parliamentary dinner in 2010, Mr. Mitta told the Canadian Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights that of all the accused in the 1984 genocide, the “most compelling evidence” existed against Minister Nath.
Canadian Sikhs have insisted that while business with India is important, Canada must not deal with individuals accused of mass murder. Canada must play a role in encouraging India to deliver justice to the victims of 1984 and to prosecute those individuals (politicians or otherwise) who are implicated in the mass killings of minorities.
Even thought decades have passed since the anti Sikh genocide, new evidence continues to come forward. Recently the ruins of Hondh Chillar were discovered in Haryana, where an entire village of Sikhs was massacred. Similarly in Jammu, the site of a massacre of 16 Sikhs was also discovered.
It is important now for the Sikh community to engage academics who study genocide to examine what happened in 1984, including the role of the government, media and police. The events of 1984 need to be part of the discourse on human rights and genocide.
Sikhs are a forward looking, positive community who try to live the concept of ‘chardi kala’ or forever rising spirits. But that doesn’t mean we should forget the past. We must remember 1984 not just for ourselves, but for others as well. Sikhs need to be part of the process of recording what happened. We need to make sure that 1984 is properly analyzed and those academic works are made available for future generations, so that what happened to Sikhs in 1984 can never happen again to any other community.
1984 still matters, and neither the Sikh community nor India nor the rest of the world for that matter, can afford to forget.