1984 Sikh Genocide: Breaking the Echo Chamber

By Seerat Saini, Afshan Nasseri & Saran Kaur

I’ve grown up only hearing about this genocide from inside the Sikh community: stories of painful memories, acts of terror, and people still missing. When Afshan shared with me that she has just recently learned of this genocide from a post I had re-shared—it reinforced to me that our community’s cries for justice have been an echo chamber of pain. Why haven’t we been able to ask allies to stand with us and carry our pleas beyond our community? Why hasn’t the United Nations recognized this as a human rights violation? Afshan and I wanted to write an article and compile actionable items to help tell the truth about what happened and advocate for justice.

In June of 1984, Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, ordered an organized military attack on Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab—the holiest religious site for Sikhs. This military operation resulted in the death of thousands of civilians, leaving Sikhs furious as innocent worshippers were killed and historic buildings and records were destroyed.

Months later in October of 1984, Indira Gandhi was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards. Her death triggered a genocide throughout the country, with the epicenter being India’s capital New Delhi. Mobs took to the streets seeking revenge and unleashing violence on all Sikhs. Their stores were burned to the ground, and they were dragged out of their homes and killed. Eyewitness accounts report that law enforcement and government officials partook in the killings by provoking violence and providing mobs with weapons.


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In December 2018, Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was sentenced to life for his role in the Sikh genocide–but the Indian government hasn’t recognized the events as a “human rights violation,” let alone taken responsibility for the genocide. The government purposefully labels these tragic events as “riots” to take away from the legitimacy of the genocide–as the word “riot” implies it was not premeditated and carried out by the government itself. If you Google “Sikh genocide”, Wikipedia redirects you to the anti-Sikh riots.” This verbal erasure allows the Indian government to be free of paying reparations and taking any responsibility. 

As of January 2020, the Supreme Court accepted the recommendations of a special investigation team, headed by retired Judge Justice SN Dhingra., to reopen cases. It has probed 186 cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh “riots,” and promised to take appropriate action — but so far, no more arrests have been made. Many are doubtful that the team will make any progress towards justice.  

Sikhs were burned, raped, and murdered with impunity–with their suffering minimized to such an extreme degree. The politically motivated ignorance of the Indian government validates Hindu nationalism and the oppression of religious minorities in India. This allows the government to write their version of history. 

1984 sikh genocide

So if the Indian government won’t recognize the genocide–can we ask the world’s nations to offer solace?  In April 2017, the Ontario Legislature passed a motion recognizing the Sikh genocide, but the Indian government lobbied against it and called for its repeal. In 2020, Bill 177 was enforced by Jagmeet Singh, recognizing the first seven days of November as Sikh Genocide Awareness Week. In the United States, three months after a ”1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial” was installed at Otis Library in Connecticut, it was removed as requested by the Indian government. 

So how can we help?


  1. New York Sikh Council

“We are calling on the New York City Council, New York State Assembly & Senate as well as the United States Congress & Senate to bring forth a motion that recognizes the horrific acts of 1984 by the Indian Government as a Genocide. We are also asking for an annual moment of silence to honor the lives lost due to that genocide!” 

  1. Hasan Minhaj “Patriot Act” Episode on The 1984 Sikh Genocide

Hasan Minhaj and his show Patriot Act have an immense reach and a powerful team able to fearlessly research and raise awareness for important topics.


  1. Khalsa Aid Foundation to support families whose sons were murdered in the genocide.
  2. Sikhi Awareness Foundation to support their “Gurmat Education Program” that educates young Sikh children about their history, providing them with a deeper sense of community across 33 villages in Punjab.  


  1. The Wire’s 1984 Anti-Sikh Massacre:

“The following stories are of the families of those few individuals who dedicated and sacrificed their lives to stand up to the injustice they had witnessed and promote freedom and equality.”

  1. Peawea Films’ Hunting Sikhs

“The year 1984 saw the worst pogroms against Sikhs after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on the morning of October 31. Officially, 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone; but the real death toll across India is believed to be double that. Rajiv Gandhi justified the massacre by saying, ‘When a big tree falls, earth shakes.’” 


Share this article and its content with your friends and family. Ask them if they know that this genocide happened, why it wasn’t discussed in school, and how this affects other minorities in India to this day.   

Sharing this story helps pursue justice and protects all religious and racial minorities. History has a tendency to repeat itself and failing to recognize genocide emboldens governments to commit future mass murders of minority groups without fear of repercussions. It’s time we take a stand and it’s time India takes responsibility. 

The following post was published originally to SeeratSaini.com and republished here with permission.

By Seerat Saini

Seerat is a Sikh Punjabi tech nerd making waves in San Francisco with her passion for fashion, beauty, and intersectional … Read more ›

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).