On Sept. 11, Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Indian National Congress Party, is scheduled to speak at an event called “India at 70: Reflections on the Path Forward” sponsored by the Berkeley Research on Contemporary India Program at the Institute of International Studies and the Institute for South Asia Studies at UC Berkeley.
Gandhi has, in the past, noted that some members of the party may have been involved in what are now known as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. As they were carried out with impunity, they may better be recognized as the 1984 Sikh massacre. These pogroms on the lives, homes, businesses, properties and places of worship of Sikhs in India were carried out in an organized and meticulous manner resulting in the death of over 8,000 Sikhs — many of them burnt alive — the systematic rape of Sikh women, the burning of scores of Sikh Gurdwaras and the displacement of at least 50,000 Sikhs. The United Nations has yet to classify the ethnic violence against Sikhs in India as a genocide, but several cities in California, including Kerman and Stockton, have done so.
For the witnesses of the massacre and family members of victims who have found solace in the state of California, Gandhi’s speaking engagement at UC Berkeley will be a tormenting experience, reversing the healing process of those attempting to overcome the haunting memories of the systematic violence allegedly organized and overlooked by the leaders of the Indian National Congress Party.
We of Sikhs for Justice believe that Gandhi, as vice president of the Indian National Congress Party — and thus, a representative of a party with members possibly complicit in the 1984 Sikh massacre — has no place in an institution of learning. He has no authority to lecture students and academia about the future of human society. His appearance will set a precedent of condoning speakers who overlook human rights violations.
Sikhs For Justice, a human rights nongovernmental organization working on the issue of the 1984 pogroms against Sikhs, has written to Chancellor Carol Christ and the directors of the Berkeley Research on Contemporary India Program and the Institute for South Asia Studies to urge them to withdraw their speaking invitation to Gandhi. The victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre will hold a rally outside of International House’s Chevron Auditorium on Sept. 11 from 5-9 p.m. to oppose Gandhi’s presence at UC Berkeley.
Gurpatwant Pannun is an attorney at law and a legal advisor for Sikhs for Justice.