ORANGE, CA – To explore the events of 1984 and the ensuing decade of disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab and the current situation of impunity for human rights violations in India, a lecture was organized at the Chapman University Leatherby Libraries on Jan 31. It was hosted by Sikhlens in...
Quoting an European Union funded project by the People’s Watch which examined 9 of India’s 30 states, Dhami said India’s security forces torture 1.8 million people every year. Sikh youth disappeared and were unlawfully killed in thousands. Dhami referred to the mass cremations uncovered in Punjab, where security forces secretly cremated thousands of bodies to hide evidence of their crimes committed during the counter-insurgency operations in the 1980’s and 90’s. India’s Supreme Court had called these events “a flagrant violation of human rights on a mass scale”. Dhami said as co-director and co-founder of Ensaaf, he conducted his own research, went to each village in Punjab and found that security forces also dumped bodies in waterways. “Despite these high-level inquiries, a policy of impunity has prevailed, the architects of these crimes have been promoted, pardoned, or protected by law and the few prosecutions or cases that have proceeded against perpetrators take decades to work their way through the courts and often stall or end in acquittal,” Dhami said.
A documentary, ‘A Witness Among the Bodies: Surviving Bluestar’ was shown that presented an eyewitness account of the Indian Army attack on The Harmandir Sahib Complex in Amritsar, from June 1 and June 6, 1984. This exclusive interview revealed how the Indian Army intentionally killed thousands of civilians and used excessive force during this assault.
A panel discussion followed. Director and movie maker Michael Singh moderated the panel which included Dr. Paul Arthur, Chair of the Peace Studies program at Chapman University and Dhami. The panel focused on how the Government of India won the propaganda war and failed to provide justice to the aggrieved families. Arthur who had been a key person in facilitating conflict resolution all over the world especially Ireland, drew some parallels between conflicts in Northern Ireland and Punjab and the current status of the problem in Punjab and strategies to publicize the agenda to force the Indian Government to pay attention.
Host and emcee of the event Charlene Baldwin, Dean of the Leatherby Libraries said the theme of the evening was ‘Justice Delayed. Justice Denied. 1984: Not Forgotten’. Baldwin said Sikh partnerships at Chapman University and the Leatherby Libraries was particularly strong thanks to friends like Bicky and Gurpreet Singh. She said some of those partnerships included the Sikhlens Film Festival, Sikhs in the Great War Exhibition, a commemorative coin and 2014 and 2015 Calendars launch, display of a golden replica of the Golden Temple and limited edition print of the famous painting by the Singh twins about the events of 1984, screening of the “Prisoner’s Song” in Dr. Keene’s class, a Movie produced by Michael Singh, Vaisakhi Celebrations, turban display in the lobby of the Leatherby Libraries where hundreds of students stopped to learn about turbans and current installed exhibition on anti-Sikh riots that happened in Delhi and other parts of India in 1984.
Giving closing remarks, Gurpreet Singh on behalf of Sikhlens thanked the Chapman University board of trustees, President James L. Doti, Chancellor Daniele Struppa and Dean Baldwin for their support extended to the community. She also announced the start of an initiative to create the world’s first Sikh Story Room, a physical place in the Library, where Sikh stories will be displayed and told to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. SALDEF had teamed up with Sikhlens and Chapman to assist in creating content for the Sikh story room. She thanked Dhami, Arthur and Michael Singh for their time and for sharing their wisdom.