Remembering Sikhs and 1984: Langara College event

Amanpreet Kaur, Indira Prahst and Prabhsharanbir Singh.

AN event titled “Commemoration of and Resistance to Historic Atrocity: Sikhs and 1984” was organized this week at Langara College by Indira Prahst, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology to commemorate the Sikh Genocide of 1984. This is not the first time that an event concerning Sikhs and atrocities has been organized at Langara.
In fact, in 2006 Langara hosted the official opening of the film “Amu” with the then-president of Langara, Linda Holms, present and the film producers and director, Shonali Bose, speaking about the film and the extent to which the film was censored, especially where verbal references to the Indian state violence were made. After watching the film at the time, students and educators were stunned, not knowing about the dark history of 1984.
In current geopolitical climates, atrocities worldwide continue to be of interest to people as they try to grapple with the ripple effects that manifest themselves on multifaceted levels. For this reason, three scholars – Prahst along with Prabhsharanbir Singh, University of British Columbia, and Amanpreet Kaur, University of Exeter, UK – presented their papers at the event to continue to educate and engage on the subject.
Prahst shared her work on commemoration and the survivor narratives of the1984 Sikh Genocide from the Widow Colony in Delhi. She presented harrowing accounts of violence and how in current geopolitical climates, the Indian state continues to employ subtle mechanisms to silence, eclipse and distort this violent history as it builds its nation. She cautioned how power is maintained through state discourses of 1984 and how they have become normalized, altering subjectivities with domesticating effects. Urging for more critical approaches to understanding 1984, she also cautioned against aestheticizing of suffering, arguing that it generalizes suffering.
Prabhsharanbir Singh said that India as a modern nation-state has combined two forms of violence: the very public spectacle of brutal mob violence in which police and other state apparatuses also participate, and the disciplinary violent modern institutions. For this reason, India has ruthlessly suppressed mass movements. He also talked about the psychic aspects of violence. The violence targeted at Sikhs can be better understood through the idea of soul-murder. In desecrating the Gurdwaras and Guru Granth Sahib, the Indian state has tried to rob something that is essential for the Sikh community: their respect for their Gurus and the sacred spaces. The trauma of such psychic violence is playing a decisive role in giving direction to Sikh politics. It also shapes the Sikh subjectivity.
Amanpreet Kaur shared memories from her trip to Punjab and how the violence of this history and its impact inspired her to learn more. She spoke about how Sikh identities have become diluted because of the challenges Sikh youth face with modernity and connecting to Sikhi as they try to find themselves in the chaos of the modern world. She highlighted the role of spirituality and Gurbani in understanding the resilience of people who endured unspeakable atrocities. She ended with a reminder that most critical signifiers of what a Sikh is connects to their history of oppression and resistance. “The resistance to not forget and to remember to maintain who we are,” she added.
The event was followed by an engaging question and answer session in which participants discussed issues such as contemporary Sikh politics, the role of the international community and media in failing to highlight this atrocity and how to penetrate state discourses. It was attended by scores of students and Langara faculty members.