March 12, 2015 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Stockton, CA, USA: A 30-year-old massacre of Sikhs by the government of India gained fresh attention in California on Tuesday when the City of Stockton, home to the oldest community of Sikhs in the United States, passed a proclamation recognizing the 1984 Sikh Genocide and praising religious liberty.
“We commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 genocide as we recognize the ongoing impact of the genocide for the Sikhs around the world and our city,” said Mayor Anthony Silva in remarks to representatives of Stockton Gurdwara at a March 10 city council meeting. “As the mayor of the city, I want to thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of the Stockton City Council, for the contributions that you have done this community.” Silva and Vice-Mayor Christina Fugazi then jointly presented a framed copy of the proclamation to over a dozen Sikh community leaders.
“Today, we are very proud to be Americans and share our sorrow, our happiness, and our joy with our fellow Americans,” remarked Bhajan Singh as he spoke on behalf of the gurdwara. “In this chaotic world of ours, occasions like today give hope to humanity, and if there is hope, humanity will thrive.” Passionately praising the “moral duty” of city leaders, Singh said Stockton had “bestowed us with dignity by giving us proclamation in which lies hope of humanity.”
Reading from the proclamation, Mayor Silva said: “Sikhs suffered a genocide in June and November of 1984 where thousands died in these attacks, including many innocent pilgrims, many men, women, and children who were solely targeted for belonging to the Sikh faith.” Because the city recognizes the 1984 violence, Silva said, “We uphold religious liberty as paramount to our social need and fundamental principles for a peaceful civilization.”
Manjit Singh Uppal, former president of Stockton Gurdwara, said he was honored to have played a part in producing the proclamation, which acknowledges “the intentional, deliberate, and systematic killing of Sikhs in India during November 1984 genocide.” Uppal stood beside Mike Boparai from the American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce, who was especially pleased the proclamation connects the Sikh genocide with incidents of violence against other minorities, including Christians and Muslims. “The suffering of Sikhs in 1984 set the stage for brutality against minorities all over India, so like even today the national government wants to pass a law banning conversion to a minority religion,” says Boparai.
The proclamation offers a summary of the genocide: “Sikhs suffered a genocide in June 1984, when the Indian government launched a full-scale military invasion of the Sikh Harmandir Sahib (also called the Golden Temple) while thousands of pilgrims thronged the area for an annual Sikh festival; Sikhs suffered another genocide in November 1984, when Sikh communities in the capital of India, New Delhi, and other areas, were systematically targeted for murder by roving bands headed by political party members and members of parliament.”
The City of Stockton’s ties to Sikhs trace back over a century. Founded in 1912, Stockton Gurdwara was the first permanent Sikh-American settlement. Its founders launched the Ghadar Party, a revolutionary group that sparked India’s independence movement. Mentioning this, the city’s proclamation also recognizes the gurdwara as home to the first Asian in U.S. Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, and the first Sikh-American soldier, Bhagat Singh Thind.
Ecstatic over the proclamation’s passage, Bhajan Singh effused after the city council meeting: “The resolution text is a true gem for many reasons. It boldly mentions the June genocide as well as that in November 1984, which I believe is a first. It also talks about similar Muslim and Christian persecution, including mentioning India’s prime minister, Modi, and his oppression of minorities. Additionally, it highlights the Ghadar rebellion sparked by Stockton Sikhs. This resolution should be a benchmark for future efforts.”
A U.S. embassy cable released by Wikileaks in 2011 revealed that the federal government also recognizes the role of the Indian State in the 1984 Sikh Genocide as it denounced “the opportunism and hatred directed by senior GOI [Government of India] officials against Sikhs in 1984.”
Stockton Gurdwara and the American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce recently worked with Organization for Minorities of India to pass a similar recognition in the neighboring City of Tracy.
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