Against all odds, the Sikhs in India appear to have moved on with the scars of 1984, but the same is evidently not true for the Sikh diaspora; many of whom moved to Western countries in the 1980s.
“They carried their grief along with them, and have allowed it to sediment,” says sociologist Patricia Uberoi — an Australian married to a Sikh academic who allowed their children to take up Australian nationality after the 1984 carnage.
And, Prof. Uberoi is not alone in making this observation. Her film-maker daughter Safina — who stayed on in the Capital after the carnage while her siblings moved overseas — finds her brother and sister still harbouring that pain while she, herself, has been able to come to terms with that frightening chapter of her life.
“I watched my parents recommit to life here; saw them through that phase,” recalls Ms. Uberoi.
“My father, who had abandoned his Sikh identity as a teenager, began wearing a turban after Operation Blue Star…absolutely, bad timing. We had to flee our home and when we returned, nothing was the same again. My father was a bitter man, disillusioned with his own patriotism and my mother wondered what she was doing in a country which was prepared to kill her dear ones. My parents chose to stay on and I remained with them. I saw India’s extraordinary power of reconciliation.” And, her mother says she saw the worst and the best in human nature that weekend.
But the Indian capacity for reconciliation is something alien to the Sikh diaspora who continue to remember India as anti-Sikh; evident from the heckling that Congress politicians face from the community during overseas visits. Part of the problem lies in the failure of the Indian government to build bridges with the Sikh diaspora. And, there is continuing harassment with the government adding new names to an old blacklist of overseas Sikhs as recently as 2008.
This only firms up long-held biases which, in turn, manifest in the form of ‘Long Live Khalistan’ slogans still donning the walls of gurdwaras in Canada.
Besides, in terms of identity, these Sikh immigrants of the 1980s – most of whom went in as refugees — prefer to call themselves Canadian Sikhs and not Indo-Canadians.
Though they do not openly advocate Khalistan, they give vent to their unforgiving attitude towards the Indian state at the slightest provocation. Compared to the immigrants of the 1980s, the newcomers are not bitter. But since their entry into Canada has been sponsored by the earlier generation, the moderate voice gets stifled in the quicksand of bitterness.