The incomprehensible New York Sikh International Film Festival

Editorial cartoon about the honoring of Indian politicians and officials during the 2012 Sikh International Film Festival in New York in the first week of November. (source: Sikhtoons)

Editorial cartoon about the honoring of Indian politicians and officials during the 2012 Sikh International Film Festival in New York in the first week of November. (source: Sikhtoons)

In just over a week, Sikhs in the United States and around the world will be commemorating the 28th anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984quite often described as a genocide — in which thousands of Sikhs were pulled from their homes and butchered in the streets of India during the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

In the decades since, Sikhs and human rights organizations have attempted to hold accountable those guilty of orchestrating and participating in the state-sanctioned violence, but justice has been elusive. Years of obfuscation and impunity was the only government response, and those who facilitated and engaged in this violence — government officials, law enforcement, and citizens — continue to roam free and, even worse, were (and are) often promoted and protected. The redress for the surviving victims of the crimes — many of whom are widows and orphans — was minimal.

I was not even a teenager at the time the pogroms took place. While I was living in the west,  what had happened during that fateful week in November 1984 shaped the trajectory of my life, as I wrote last year. It is for this reason that it seems incomprehensible that a film festival organized by Sikhs, namely the annual Sikh International Film Festival organized annually by Sikhs in New York, has chosen to honor Indian government officials at their opening gala during the very same week that Sikhs will be remembering the massacre of their own. From the Sikh International Film Festival website:

November 2, 2012

Celebrate the rich Heritage, Traditions & Culture of Sikhs with a “Star Studded”
Evening of Awards, Dance, Art Auction, Fun & Entertainment…

Chief Guest

Her Excellency Nirupama Rao
Ambassador of India to the United States of America

Guests of Honor

Honorable Partap Singh Bajwa, Member of Parliament, India
His Excellency Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Her Excellency Laxmi Puri
His Excellency Prabhu Dayal, Consul General India, New York
His Excellency Manjeev Singh Puri, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations


Lifetime Achievement Award
Honorable Tarlochan Singh, Former Chairman Minorities Commission and former Member of Parliament

Leadership Award
Lord Indarjit Singh, Esteemed Journalist and Member of the British House of Lords

Twenty-eight years ago, Sikhs were being burned to death and massacred at the hands of Indian government officials, and next week, representatives of that government (one that has done very little to atone for the atrocities against Sikhs) will be “guests of honor” — of Sikhs, no less!

I find this horrific and beyond inexcusable. I am also not alone in this regard.

Last week, on the blog The Langar Hall, guest blogger Rocco writes:

After the Oak Creek Massacre, Sikhs in the US have united to make sure our rights are better protected, yet little attention is given to events in India over the past 28 years. Though a Film Festival may not be the ideal venue to bring up these issues, honoring officials of a country that has caused so much destruction to our community goes directly against the ethos of our rich heritage, culture and tradition which is based on justice, goodwill and helping those that cannot help themselves. Rather the invitation of the Indian officials smacks in the face these universal values and sends a message of impunity and lack of accountability.

T. Sher Singh, on his website SikhChic, also recently berated the organizer of New York’s Sikh film festival for the symbolic nature and timing of its honoring officials of the Indian government:

Sikh events everywhere are — and always should be — open to one and all, regardless of religion, nationality, etc. There is nothing wrong in welcoming all who wish to buy tickets to such events. There is also nothing wrong in welcoming special guests and recognizing their presence in the audience.

As long as they are not hostile to Sikh interests, or representing those who are considered hostile, and seen as nursing an antipathy, to our community.

The Indian Ambassador as Chief Guest? At a SIKH event?


There are also now calls for a boycott of New York’s Sikh film festival, as a result. The Canadian Sikh Coalition has officially made that call:

The Canadian Sikh Coalition urges all Sikh organizations who have partnered with the film festival and all those planning on attending to boycott the event as CSC is doing to show solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs awaiting justice in the Indian state and the millions of other minorities who are subject to the same oppressive regime.

We are almost three decades removed from the atrocities committed against innocent Sikh men, women and children in India. As such, a complete exacting of justice for the events of 1984 has long escaped. We could never right those wrongs in the first place, but any attempt to do so in a meaningful way has also disappeared. Still, despite maintained resistance from the Indian government, Sikh and other human rights organizations (such as Ensaaf) have continued to document the untold stories of the survivors, and they also have continued to pursue whatever fragments of justice left to be had today.

Thus, during the first week of November, instead of attending the film festival in New York, I encourage to instead direct resources to organizations who, instead of trying to remove us from our living past, keep us connected to it.

Let us never forget.


  1. serve2unite

    Well said. Well articulated. My initial thought is in line with this article and those who were cited. In addition, though, it must be pointed out that in order to bring people to the table in order to discuss reparations or progressive and positive movement towards solutions – sometimes a fig leave must be offered. I’m hoping that this is the plan of action from the organization that is holding the award ceremony. Maybe we need to double check this intention or at the very least nudge those involved to bring these most salient points to light.

  2. Pingback: Lord Indarjit Singh declines invitation to NY Sikh International Film Festival « American Turban

  3. Pingback: Sikh International Film Festival postpones opening gala due to “community concern” « American Turban


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