Sikh youth in Calgary determined to continue the conversation around 1984 Sikh massacre

·3 min read
To remember the thousands of lives lost in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Sikhs across the globe light a candle on their doorstep and at temples from Nov. 1 to 3. (Submitted by Aarondeep Maan - image credit)
To remember the thousands of lives lost in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Sikhs across the globe light a candle on their doorstep and at temples from Nov. 1 to 3. (Submitted by Aarondeep Maan - image credit)

When Aarondeep Maan first started asking about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that took thousands of lives in India, he says his grandparents brushed off his questions.

It wasn't until he grew older that he understood how difficult that conversation can be for his family members and older members in the community.

So as a young Sikh man and the founder of Sikhs Doing Seva — a volunteer organization in Calgary committed to giving back to their community — he took it upon himself to learn more about what is known as the 1984 Sikh massacre.

"It's extremely important that we educate ourselves because as generations increase, this isn't something that should be forgotten," said Maan.

Submitted by Aarondeep Maan
Submitted by Aarondeep Maan

This week marks 37 years since the assassination of India's prime minister Indira Gandhi sparked large-scale violence against Sikhs. In just three days, 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. The Indian government refuses to recognize the anti-Sikh riots as genocide and has put its estimate of dead at 2,800.

Now, each year, Sikhs across the globe come together to set out candles on their doorsteps and at temples to remember lives lost decades ago.

"These days are difficult days," said Amanpreet Singh Gill, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre. "Even though it's been 37 years, the 1984 genocide is still fresh in our minds."

Although the massacre happened years before Maan was born, he said the impacts felt throughout the generations formed his identity into who he is today.

"And that's largely why we created Sikhs Doing Seva — to help the education, to promote education, to give back to the community."

Racist graffiti at Sikh temple in Calgary

The 37th anniversary of this tragedy comes just a week after racist graffiti was sprayed on a road outside a Sikh temple in southwest Calgary.

Nina Saini, executive director of Punjabi Community Health Services Calgary — a non-profit organization that provides culturally aware counselling to the city's South Asian community — said these events are part of a larger conversation in the Sikh community.

"From a counselling perspective, we're looking at people getting triggered: really going back to trauma they've experienced, fear that they're now reminded of and a strong sense of othering," said Saini.

Submitted by Nina Saini
Submitted by Nina Saini

She said this ongoing sense of othering and displacement have been felt by members of the Sikh community across the globe for many years.

Maan said it's extremely disheartening that Sikhs and other marginalized communities continue to face racism today.

"I think it sent a very clear message to the perpetrators and anyone beyond that of how resilient we truly are. As Sikhs, we stand for what's right," he said.

Heightened feelings of displacement and trauma can create mental health issues such as depression and isolation, Saini said.

"PCHS Calgary is always there. We're a free service. We provide language-specific services in the areas of mental health, addiction, family violence, and we're always readily available," she said.

Outside of PCHS, Saini said coming together to light candles at home and in temples in tribute to the lives lost can be very powerful for those in the community who are struggling.

"An act like that really congregates people together, and again, unifies people. [It] really helps kind of diminish that sense of, 'I'm in this alone' or 'I'm the only person feeling this way.'"

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting