Connecticut becomes first to observe Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day

NORWICH — More than 30 years after genocidal riots in India resulted in the death of thousands of Sikhs, Connecticut has become the first U.S. state to officially observe Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day.
Nov. 1 will now be known as Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day in Connecticut in perpetuity after legislation introduced by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Norwich, was signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy in June. A commemoration ceremony will be held Nov. 10 at the State Legislative Office Building in Hartford.The legislation, Senate Bill 489, originated from conversations between Osten, Ryan and Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Norwich resident who serves as president of the Sikh Sewak Society International USA and a member of the World Sikh Parliament. In 1984, anti-Sikh riots, also known as the 1984 Sikh Massacre targeted Indian Sikhs in response to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by Sikh bodyguards. The number of Sikhs killed in the riots is not officially known, but Singh Khalsa said the number is estimated at 30,000 deaths in 110 Indian cities, including 7,000 who were burned alive.
“It didn’t just happen in Delhi,” Singh Khalsa said. “It happened in virtually every city in India outside of Punjab.” Singh Khalsa’s father Parminder Pal Singh Khalsa was living in Delhi, described as the center of the violence, during the genocide, and said he is glad to see Connecticut become the first state to officially recognize the Sikh genocide through a legislative act.

“All of the Sikhs in Delhi were affected,” the elder Singh Khalsa said. “We really appreciate what is happening here. The Indian government still does not consider it to be a genocide.” Swaranjit Singh Khalsa said with the current state of American politics, remembering an atrocity such as the Sikh genocide is important.
“How the hate is growing here, we don’t want our politicians to use hate speech to incite public violence,” he said. Singh Khalsa said he is very appreciative of his local elected officials working to get official state recognition. “When I talked with Kevin Ryan and Cathy Osten, they agreed that it was important to make sure education about the genocide can be spread,” Singh Khalsa said.
Osten said while it’s a good step to have one day of remembrance, ultimately she would like to see recognition for the whole month of November. “It’s important to remember because it points out some of the travesties that happen through religious discrimination,” Osten said. “To have this genocide happen and not be recognized, that would be a travesty.” Singh Khalsa said there are more than 500 Sikh families in Connecticut, approximately 25 of which live in Norwich. Singh Khalsa said Norwich made history in 2014 when the city issued a proclamation marking November as Sikh Awareness Month, becoming the first city in Connecticut to recognize the tragedy.

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