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International

1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial in US removed after protests

October 21, 2019 05:00 AM

COURTESY HT OCT 21
Glorifying Khalistani leader The memorial that featured a prominent picture of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale accused the Indian government of genocide

 

letterschd@hindustantimes.com

NORWICH (US) : About three months after a 1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial to the Sikh victims of the 1984 riots in India was installed at Otis Library here, the memorial was removed following the request of the Indian government.

The memorial that featured a prominent picture of Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale accused the Indian government of genocide.


“Otis Library and the Norwich Monuments Committee jointly agreed to remove the plaque, flags and portrait,” Nicholas Fortson, president of the Library Board of Trustees, told the Norwich bulletin. It was removed about two weeks ago, he said.

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, the city’s Sikh community leader and a local business owner, donated the memorial and lobbied to have it put up.

He said he opposes the library trustees’ decision. “It’s not Indian-held territory,” Khalsa said. “The (Sikh) community was very upset,” he claimed.


The city’s Plaques and Monuments Committee, whose members are Alderwoman Stacy Gould, Alderman Joe DeLucia and council president Pro Tem Bill Nash, agreed to the library’s request to remove the memorial, Gould said.

An official from the consulate in New York telephoned Otis Library executive director Bob Farwell about the memorial, Fortson said.

A call to the Indian Consulate in New York seeking a comment was not returned, the newspaper said.


The memorial upset some local Hindus, Gould said. “The library doesn’t want to get involved in some controversy.”

“The library is a non-political organisation,” Fortson said, and neither endorses products nor partisan political causes.

The “1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial was placed on a wall of the library’s main lobby. An unveiling ceremony was held in June.


According to Religion News, the Indian consul general in New York had written to Connecticut state Sen. Cathy Osten, who requested that Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day be included in a bill designating commemorative days.

In the letter, the Indian official said that Sikhs do not face persecution in India and referred to Khalsa and other local Sikhs’ efforts as “vociferous, pernicious and divisive.”

The Sikh memorial featured flags and a plaque honouring Sikh soldiers who fought to protect places of worship beneath a portrait of Bhindranwale, who was killed during Operation Bluestar - the army operation to flush out separatist Khalistani militants from the Golden Temple, Amritsar.


The temple fight later led to the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Her death sparked riots in November 1984 in which around 3,000 Sikhs were killed in riots.

The US government, although saying that a grave human rights violations” occurred, has always refused to term the killings genocide, the paper said. The plaque, however, called the November killings “a state sponsored genocidal campaign against Sikhs all across India.”

According to Khalsa, the memorial was a rare chance to present the “Sikh narrative” of what happened in 1984, which he said the Indian government has tried to suppress ever since.


Connecticut has a small Sikh community - five gurdwaras and around 400 families. However, thanks to Khalsa’s efforts last year, Connecticut became the first US state to recognize the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as a genocide when it passed Senate Bill 489 to name Nov. 30 Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day.

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