April 18, 2015 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
California State Capitol, Sacramento, CA (April 16): In an historic and unprecedented move, the California State Assembly has recognized the responsibility of the Indian government in the rape, torture and murder of thousands of Sikhs across India in November 1984. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 34 (ACR 34), co-authored by Sacramento area assemblymembers Jim Cooper (pictured to the lef), Kevin McCarty, Jim Gallagher and Ken Cooley, states “government and law enforcement officials organized, participated in, and failed to intervene to prevent the killings.” Further, remarks on the floor of the assembly declared that the atrocities were a “genocide” since it “resulted in the intentional destruction of many Sikh families, communities, homes, and businesses.”
American Sikh Political Action Committee (PAC) wrote and sponsored the resolution as a means to memorialize the atrocities committed by the Indian government and to honor the victims. The PAC has been increasingly active in California politics through fundraising, education and legislative campaigns. “This resolution is the first time that any nation or government has officially declared that the government of India was responsible for the slaughter of its own Sikh citizens across the country in November 1984,” explained Amar Shergill, attorney and American Sikh PAC board member. “Indian officials and police officers led the way in the rape, torture and murder of thousands of Sikhs just a few miles from the prime minister’s residence. Even today, Christians, Muslims, Dalits and Sikhs are at risk. The time has come for the Indian government to admit its culpability and make a commitment to protect all of India’s minority communities.”
Representing the official position of the citizens of California, the resolution remembers the victims of the genocide and those that fought against it, “Many Sikh lives were saved from the massacre by compassionate Indians of all religious backgrounds who put their own lives at risk by providing shelter to their Sikh friends and neighbors.” The Assembly welcomed Sikhs from across Northern California, including representation from Sikh Temples in Stockton, Yuba City, Roseville, Sacramento, Tracy, Fremont and many others.
Assembly member Jim Cooper spoke from the heart regarding his work on behalf of this issue, “Although we cannot change the horror of the events of 1984, as an assembly member representing families of genocide victims, I felt it was important that we tell the truth about those events and honor the thousands of victims. Sikhs around the world should know that, here in California, we will always stand against intolerance and will not forget the tragedy of 1984.”
Dr. Gurpreet Singh Chahal, of Elk Grove, California, survived the genocide and was instrumental in lobbying local leaders, “”I was a young student living with family in New Delhi during the genocide. I was on my way home from my aunt’s house when the mob saw me. They pursued me and shouted that they would kill me. God granted me an escape from that madness and protected my family in the days to come, but others were not so fortunate. The government, police and army did not protect us and were often leading the genocide. I am so thankful to God and this country for giving me safety, security and freedom of religion. Perhaps, one day, the government of India will admit that they are responsible for so much pain, torture and death.” Also attending the assembly session and officially recognized in the transcript was 1984 Genocide survivor Saran Singh Chawla of Sacramento.
Assemblymember Kristin Olsen supported the resolution, stating “I decry the violence of 1984 that occurred against the Sikh community, remember those that lost their lives and honor the survivors.” Assemblymember James Gallagher addressed the Assembly, “We remember and recognize the pogrom which claimed the lives of thousands of Sikhs in 1984. The best way to combat evil is to confront it and shine a light upon it. We do this by speaking truth; the light of truth extinguishes the darkness.”
Assemblymember McCarty stated, “During my time as a city councilmember and assemblymember, it has been my honor to represent and work with many of the hardworking Sikhs of Northern California. We must remember the victims and their families of the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984. This resolution sends a clear message that Californians appreciate the contributions of the Sikh community and understand its difficult history. I am proud to stand with my Sikh brothers and sisters in support of this resolution.”
Darshan Singh Mundy, American Sikh PAC board member and Sacramento Sikh Temple public relations officer, stated, “I am blessed to live in a country which honors freedom of religion and speaks out against human right violations around the world. Now that the California State Assembly has clearly described the role of the Indian government in leading the anti-Sikh pogroms, we hope that our nation’s congressional representatives will have the courage to do the same.”
California Republican Party Vice Chairman Harmeet Kaur Dhillon worked diligently with Republican legislators and built a consensus to support the resolution. She spoke about the resolution, “I feel proud as a Sikh American and a resident of California today that legislators from across the political spectrum marked the tragic days of horror for Sikhs worldwide in 1984 with this resolution; this remembrance will help ensure that such horrific crimes against the Sikhs are never repeated, anywhere.”
Mikey Singh Hothi, District Director for Assemblymember Cooper, was instrumental in ensuring that all legislative obstacles were quickly overcome and that ACR 34 received a full and open hearing in the assembly. The American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce, led by Bhajan Bhinder and Mike Boparai, assisted in lobbying assembly members, as did Ruby Singh Dhaliwal, Mayor of San Joaquin, and Aman Singh Gahoonia of Rocklin.
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