This weekend at the Gurdwara Sahib we are holding an Akhand Paath in remembrance of the Shaheeds who were martyred in the atrocities of 1984.
I have shared a lot of history on this blog because I know how important it is for our future to remember the past. Yet 1984 has been the history that I have for so long held back from researching in depth. Deep down I think it was because I thought it would be too painful to bear. Even though it was before I was born, it is still a sensitive topic that carries fresh pain for many. I didn’t think I could withstand the depth of emotion of immersing myself in hearing the stories of what happened. On Sunday Veer Ji said on the stage to make sure you do your research on our history. His words stuck with me. I needed to know what happened with our people. To honour those that lost their lives we must bear witness to their story and not only remember but teach our children too.
There is a lot to understand about 1984; not only about the attacks on Sikhs that had gathered to remember the Shaheedi of Guru Arjan Dev Ji in June, but also the genocide which occurred in November (some people call these riots but our Parliament has recognized this as a genocide). I cannot do this topic justice in one post. To understand 1984, we in fact need to go back to at least 1947 when the partition of India and Pakistan happened in order to understand the backdrop and conditions that the Sikhs faced at the time.
During our research, I think it is important to have a questioning and open mind to understand why there are conflicting stories being told. I found it interesting that I had a very hard time finding the Sikh story including the eyewitness accounts. I kept typing in different search terms only to get the same results- the government story, the army story, but not the Sikh experience. It reminded me that there is a bias in the way search engines are run too. I also learned that there was a media ban at the time. Even though it was dangerous, there did manage to be some limited photos and media publications from the time. Eventually I did find the resources I was looking for, so I want to share those for you to make them more easily accessible. I encourage you also to get educated.
Reading and watching hours of footage over the last couple of days shocked me and changed me forever. It made me ask a lot of questions, and I’m sure it will do the same for you- questions about our direction and future as Sikhs and personal questions about yourself. It stirred many conversations with my parents too which was great. I was especially inspired at the story of Jaswant Singh Khalra (see links below), a human rights activist who uncovered that thousands of missing youth from Punjab (up to 25,000) between 1984 and 1994 were cremated by police and took his case to Canadian Parliament. Knowing this work put him at risk, he continued to uncover the truth. He was then murdered by the police, and 6 officers were sentenced to life in prison for his murder. He awakened those around him to speak the truth and do courageous work of uncovering the truth.
Let us remember those Sikhs who lost their lives in 1984. It was during these days that Sikhs suffered in the stifling 40 degree heat hiding for their lives in the Harmandir Sahib complex. Our Sikhi survived and is still alive. It is our responsibility to honour those lives by not only educating ourselves, but also holding onto our Sikhi. May we learn and grow in our spiritual path. May we stand for the 3 pillars of Naam Japna, Vand Shakna, and Kirat karni. As Bhai Jagraj Singh Ji (from Basics of Sikhi) reminded us, things like learning our language are key aspects to keeping Sikhi alive as Punjabi allows us to read and understand Gurbani which allows us to get Naam. He reminded us that it is important to change our mindsets. We can make a huge difference in the world doing sewa (as a job and in our free time); we should dream big and set achievable goals along the way.
well-researched publication, highly recommended for reading**
Short but powerful English video about 1984*
In this amazing well-researched multi-part series from Basics of Sikhi, Bhai Jagraj Singh goes back to 1925 to explain the backdrop leading up to 1984, the events of 1984 itself, and where we are today**
Punjabi and English: Bhai Manvir Singh Ji’s well-researched presentation on June 1984
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGKXDA1Uok0 presentation by Bhai Manvir Singh Ji about Nov 1984
Presentation by Bhai Harinder Singh Ji similar to the above
A documentary showing various footage of Sikhs in the days after the attacks
Myth vs. reality
Like me, you may find this BBC documentary () as one of the first things that comes up about 1984. I watched it then realized it’s not meant to be a journalist uncovering the truth but rather her own personal journey (not really a documentary) and we should take it as that. In fact afterwards there was a debate in response to this documentary and the link is below. I don’t think you should make any conclusions based off of this about the events since she left out pretty much the whole history, but I wanted to mention it because I kept seeing it over and over and will likely come up in your searches as well.
Debate about the BBC documentary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxI4ETEGO58&t=1414s Presentation about November 1984 by Bhai Harjinder Singh Ji
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jcdCe-AzYU recognizing genocide in Canadian Parliament
More on Jaswant Singh Khalra
Pamphlet of the above myth vs truth
This website in itself is a resource list including books on 1984
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v-Q5SPzkVQ Gyani Sant Singh Maskeen Ji
Gen. Brar’s interview, who was leading the attack in order for us to understand the government and army position, which is mostly the side that gets presented and is ingrained into the psyche of many, as they were given this side of the story through the media at the time. You can search up the official government White Paper and Brar’s other interviews on this too.
Eye witness accounts: