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In Solidarity for Collective Liberation

Purple frame with two book covers on the left and text in black on white background on the right that reads: ghallugara (in Panjabi) and underneath, gen-o-cide. First book cover image is from The Valiant by Gurmeet Kaur, with illustrations of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra by Inkquisitive. Second image is The Wheat Fields still Whisper by Mallika Kaur. Alt text available in images.

Book covers: Faith, Gender and Activism in the Punjab Conflict The Wheat Fields Still Whisper © Mallika Kaur. 2009. The Valiant ©

This June, 2024 is the 40th year of remembrance. Forty years of waiting for justice. Forty years of yearning for the Disappeared. Forty years of collective pain.

The first ten days of June are a solemn marker of the historical trauma experienced by generations of Sikh families around the world. In 1984, the army of the Indian state launched an attack on Darbar Sahib – known widely as The Golden Temple – in Amritsar, Panjab, one of the most revered historical sites of Sikhi. The apparent goal was to ‘destroy the extrem*sts’, ‘ter*or*sts’, or whatever narrative framed the political appeal.

A meticulously planned strategy, launched assault on multiple Sikh sites – on an auspicious religious holiday – a correlation that would maximize the targeting of a specific group of humans. Official numbers of civilian casualties remain unknown but our collective memory has preserved the horrors and truths of the tens of thousands who were brutally massacred.

collage of photographs humanizing the massacred of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs.

Photograph ©Saffron Press
Taken at Exhibit titled 1984: Path of the Warrior Saints at PAMA

Termed Operation Blue Star, a curfew began, locking thousands of devotees in strategic sites throughout Panjab. As with most politically-driven acts of violence, then came a complete media blackout. Foreign journalists were forced to leave, phone lines cut and news stations were carefully censored. This did not happen overnight, and historical context reveals the powers that had been at play for years leading to this annihilation.

At a recent gathering, I heard from community activists, about how even the few phone calls received between family members at the time were heavily censored and how mail was infiltrated. History had to be preserved through memory.

Eyewitness accounts speak of the indiscriminate deaths, of the targeting of the dastaar and homes of Sikh families being marked using voting lists, of the stench of burning flesh. Rubber tires were put over the heads of Sikh men and then burned.

Official casualties sit at around 3000. And yet, 10,000 pairs of shoes were left at the doors of just one of those sites of attack, where the Army barred doors and windows, preventing any escape.

Forty years later, we remember how humanity was lost at its core. We remember the relentless work of human rights activists like Jaswant Singh Ji Khalra who raised their voices for the Disappeared, despite the callous torture and oppression. We remember our collective grief. We remember the mothers still waiting for their children to return, sisters whose bodies were ravaged, our hair weaponized, families holding on to memories of a time, then unimaginable.

Ya Tayr Still Life (art print) © Keerat Kaur. Click image to purchase – 50% of proceeds go to helping a family in G@za. No copyright infringement intended.

We are witnessing carnage and savagery now and it is being filmed in real time, in Gaza, Rafah, in Sudan and Congo. We cannot ever turn away from the genocide of our people in 1984 and we absolutely cannot turn away from what we are witnessing today. Liberation is collective. We are all connected through our humanity. May we never lose it.

In solidarity.

Links for further learning:

Faith, Gender and Activism in the Punjab Conflict: The Wheat Fields Still Whisper by Mallika Kaur (Palgrave McMillan 2019)

Ensaaf website

The Valiant – Jaswant Singh Khalra by Gurmeet Kaur, illustrated by Inkquisitive

A digital archive

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Image of Navjot Kaur with thank you message for supporting a small, independent press. There is a green frame around the text with a black tag in the bottom left. Text on black tag shows website address and hashtag #WhereStoriesGrow. Small logo in gold. Navjot is wearing a white top and some of her long black hair is placed over her left shoulder.

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