"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Notable parallels between Kristallnacht and Sikh massacre of 1984 Featured

Gurpreet Singh

The month of November, which brings back memories of the fallen heroes of World War I, has a special significance for two minority communities – the Jews and the Sikhs.

It triggers the ugly flashback of persecution of these two groups by the members of dominant communities with the backing of the state.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass" when violence against Jews broke out on November 9, 1938 following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a Polish Jew teenager.

This was in retaliation for the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. Since the assassin’s parents were among those expelled, he shot at Ernst vom Rath, a diplomat attached to the German embassy on November 7. Rath died two days later, after which the Nazis organized a pogrom against the Jewish people, accusing them of a wider conspiracy against Germany. Homes, businesses and places of worship were destroyed while dozens of Jews were killed. The night of broken glass is a reference to the glass littered on the streets following the bloodshed.

Likewise, the Sikhs were also targeted during the first week of November, 1984, after Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31 by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence. Her bodyguards were outraged by an army invasion on the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June that year. Gandhi had ordered a military attack to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation had left many innocent worshipers dead and some important buildings heavily destroyed. This had enraged the Sikhs all over the world. Gandhi’s murder was followed by well-organized anti Sikh massacres across India by the slain leader’s Congress party.  Although it claims to be secular, the Congress went the Nazi way, and attacked Sikh homes, businesses and gurdwaras, and raping Sikh women, to punish the entire community. About 3,000 people were killed in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Unlike in Germany, New Delhi streets were littered by more than broken glass. After all, tyres and kerosene were used to kill innocent Sikhs by way of necklacing.  

In both cases, the Nazis and the Congress party systematically scapegoated minority groups and consolidated their power by othering them in the eyes of the majority Germans and Hindus, while the police and fire fighters remained mute spectators.

This month, the two communities came together at Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Surrey to commemorate the victims of the two holocausts that took place in different parts of the world. Genocide Remembrance: Moving From Darkness To Light, mainly organized by Sikh activist and researcher Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, was attended by award-winning social justice Jewish educator Annie Ohana. The two women never forget to acknowledge the cultural genocide of other groups, including the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and believe that remembrance is important to challenge the attempts to make people forget history and move on.

Indeed, one who forgets history is condemned to repeat it, yet bigotry continues to grow unchallenged. The November is not just an occasion to remember the past, but also an occasion to reflect on the present. Racism against Jews remains alive, considering the recent murders of 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by an anti-Semitic white supremacist; meanwhile, attacks on non-Hindus, especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or so-called untouchables, have grown in India under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government which is clearly taking advantage of a culture of impunity started by the Congress in 1984. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely blamed for repeating 1984 in 2002 against Muslims in Gujarat, where he was the Chief Minister.  

The hypocritical privileged society keeps telling the minority communities to forgive and forget, but never fail to forget Remembrance Day or even the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Busloads of tourists are brought to the former residence of Indira Gandhi, which has now been turned into a museum, and yet the Sikhs are repeatedly lectured to bury the past. Those who are scared to discuss these dark chapters of history need to shed this fear and accept the reality of an unevenly divided world, living with selective memory and a false sense of belonging. To change this discourse we need to first recognize all the historical wrongs and fix them through reconciliation, and then make sure they are not allowed to be repeated by populist leaders such as Trump and Modi.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 November 2018 03:47
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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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