The following letter by a human rights activist sets the record straight.
Dear Sikh brothers and sisters,
I have been in touch with Sikhs in the lower mainland and following closely the issue at stake in Vancouver regarding the VIBC Bhangra performances slated for June 6th in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery which has not only outraged me, but pained me as well. However, this morning, I was informed that a unanimous decision has been made to hold a protest. While I cannot be there to join you in protest, as I have begun my commemorative actions for the 31st anniversary of Operation Blue Star, by educating the mainstream about Sikh atrocities at conferences at the University of Ottawa, Montreal and then head to California, I am present with you in spirit and firmly stand in solidarity with you all.
June 1st, to June 7th, has been a historical marker for Sikhs worldwide to commemorate Operation Blue Star. Indeed, the murder of a massive number of innocent people killed during the Indian Army’s premeditated attack planned four years earlier, on the Sikh holiest shrine, Sri Darbar Sahib in June 1984, was an act that humiliated Sikhs in unspeakable ways which has revealed itself in my research of ten years. In addition to the death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, hundreds of innocent Sikhs were killed in the Sri Darbar Sahib complex where they were commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji.
June 6th, the Day that the Bhangra celebrations are to be held, has been a day that was established by Sikhs to commemorate this atrocity against Sikhs- their bodies, spirit and identity. For this reason a celebratory event is not possible. No compromise is possible that you can have both a celebration and a commemoration of a historical atrocity about a serious tragic event on the same day. This should not even be a discussion- oil and water do not mix. The solution to this problem is not to have any Bhangra activity on that commemorative day. If this is not honoured, Sikhs are duty bound to protect the DIGNITY and GRAVITY of this day through protest. I have consulted with professors in Ottawa and Montreal who specialize in commemoration of atrocities and they agree with my firm position on this issue. However, Dr. Karin Doerr, a German Holocaust scholar advised that: “A protest of this nature should not be self-focused, but rather has to be a commemorative action to show that no matter what, that this sad day cannot be forgotten or eclipsed by festive events.” I echo Dr. Doerr’s sentiments and wish to add that this is an opportunity to show the world that the memory of this day and the Shaheeds do not fall into oblivion- it is an act of resistance against dehistorization and deflection from such an atrocity.
One Sikh whose life was totally transformed following Operation Blue Star, with teary eyes told me: “The 1984 attack on Sri Darbar Sahib really hurt me, even talking to you is difficult. I take death more lightly than the attack on the golden temple. Why would someone want to destroy something so beautiful- for humanity?”
Indira Prahst, Scholar in Sociology, specializing in Racism and Ethnic Relations, and Human Rights Activist
Learn More: Stop Bhangra Event