Over this weekend, the New York Sikh International Film Festival announced that they are postponing their opening Heritage Awards Gala, originally scheduled for November 2, 2012:
Some concerns have surfaced, pertaining to our plans for the November 2, 2012 Gala. We are, therefore, postponing the Annual Heritage Gala. We will solicit the community’s concerns to address them productively.
We invite you to attend the Sikh International Film Festival on November 3, 2012 at the Asia Society Museum – located at 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street, New York, NY. Please visit http://www.sikharts.com for further details.
This action by the organizers of the event probably comes in light of the protest by the Sikh community regarding the honoring of Government of India (GOI) officials at the Gala, including that of Lord Indarjit Singh from the United Kingdom.
I am personally relieved that the organizers have taken the step to postpone and reassess this Gala, as the perception of honoring representatives of a government whose officials organized the killings, and that still today has denied justice to the thousands victims of the 1984 pogroms would have tainted the entire film festival. The timing of this action — on the 28th anniversary of the massacres of Sikhs in India — would have been highly inappropriate.
In the aftermath of the postponement of the Gala, a few questions come to mind that are worthy of discussion.
First, during this controversy, there is a school of thought that believed that having GOI officials attend these Sikh-oriented events offers us the opportunity to express our concerns to these representatives directly and publicly. On Friday, Sikh columnist I.J. Singh expressed this view in a column published on SikhNet.com as he recalled a previous event at which GOI officials were present:
Readers know well that I am not fond of government connected spokesmen from India. Why then did I remain silent and why do I raise this matter now?
Because while these Indian government bureaucrats were present there were always movies or presentations on the injustice of 1984 that these people got to see. And that they need to do so. No compromise was ever made on that. I recall when Amu, a classic film on the injustice of 1984 was screened and its maker, Shonali Bose, honored with a standing ovation, the whole assembly of several hundred stood up – except the 3 or 4 Indian government people.
If they felt embarrassed that is good; if they learned something that’s even better. But don’t hold your breath for it to happen.
I am certainly not disagreeable to this view. If we can bring our concerns directly to these officials, we make a strong statement to them that we have not forgotten or abandoned our pursuit of justice. My dissent to this, however, is that organizing an event to celebrate Sikh heritage that also honors representatives of the GOI is not appropriate. This is what was on the schedule in New York’s postponed gala.
The second consideration that came to mind is what appears to be a greater tendency by these GOI officials to express support for the Sikh American community, and/or to attend our events, while remaining completely mum on the issues of Sikhs within India that are of concern to America’s Sikhs. For example, in just the last year:
- The GOI protested Jay Leno’s use of a picture of the Golden Temple in a joke about Mitt Romney early this year (this is the same government that attacked the Golden Temple in 1984).
- The Indian Ambassador expressed sympathy with the victims of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting, and officials even made a visit this month. The sentiment expressed by these officials is certainly kind, but is not in line with the actions of the Indian Government regarding the Sikhs massacred in India in the 1980s and 1990s at the hands of government agencies and politicians.
- The Indian Consul General was in attendance when California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law in September that would afford Sikhs more rights in terms of workplace religious freedom and more education about Sikhs in California’s high school curriculum. Ironically, it is the Government of India that has itself dragged its feet for half a century to even recognize Sikhs as a distinct faith group in India’s Constitution.
At the same time, the Government of India has made overt insinuations about the rise of Sikh extremism in Canada, and in the United Kingdom, turning these into international issues.
What we are seeing are contradictory actions by the GOI with Sikhs in the west, and while it seems there is an attempt to “warm” relations with America’s Sikhs, the controversy around the Sikh Film Festival’s Heritage Gala makes it clear that there are past issues that must be resolved by India’s government before any such conciliatory gestures will be accepted by the Sikhs in this country.
The Indian Govt propaganda machinery is quite capable of giving a different twist to and event where there representatives are bestowed honor. The presence of Indian representatives would have marginalize the event and further divided the Sikh community. The organizers should have been farsighted and avoided honoring the Indian representatives in any way possible.
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