1984 – Looking in Artfully by Sartaj Singh Dhami
A couple weeks back, I caught my young nephews doing something frequently at my home. In their joy of playing with all my cool toys, they paused silently in the stairwell to observe the beautiful painting by the Singh Twins. In its horror, it captures the violent attack and destruction of the Harimandar Sahib complex in early June 1984 by the Indian Army as ordered by their government. Many times I catch them quietly reflecting and whispering to one another when looking at the painting.
30 years ago, I was their age. I quietly watched the news clips of the attack every night in the news. I saw the horror portrayed in the evening news and felt the pain of the community. India had attacked the complex on a Sikh holy day capturing thousands of pilgrims in a firefight all in the name of capturing a hand full of militants as defined by the Indian government. The Army used overwhelming force to destroy a small group of men, and the center of Sikhdom. Sikh soldiers in the Army mutinied, as they laid siege to its own people and country.
Now 30 years later, people say forget and move on. Time heals. Well I say that wounds never heal properly and they leave scars.
I’ve got scars on my body due to a checkered medical past, and I can’t ignore them. I can’t move on, as they are part of me. They define me as I see them every day.
So too are the tragic events of 1984. I can’t ignore it as those scars too are part of me and define me.
My nephews, nieces, child, and future generations will never understand first-hand the pain and wounds experienced by my community 30 years ago this June.
But in time, they will learn about our defining scars that can never be hidden.
The events of 1984 and the insurgency towards sovereignty in 1990s have always been taboo topics within many aspects of the South Asian community. Many would fear discussing due to the oppressive nature of both the Indian and Punjab governments, which would make people shy away and act like the deaths and disappearances of thousands of individuals of the Sikh faith, or those sympathetic towards its plight, never happened. Over time, art has played a powerful part to keep these self defined unspeakable attrocites brought to the front fold making people aware and acknowledge.
The Singh Twin’s 1984 painting does this beautifully. In its sea of colors one sees destruction on a large scale depicting what happened accurately. Furthermore the painting has many areas of reflection, such as the media being blacked out to cover the events and depictions of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib and Shaheed Udam Singh being knocked to the ground. All true actions conducted by the Indian government whether it be an actual act or a symbolic representation towards the hurt feelings of the Sikh community.
Now media is playing an ever bigger roles to unearthing Punjab’s ruthless aggression and killings in the 1990s through artistic short video pieces. Ensaaf, a Sikh human rights organization bringing the light to the disappearances of Punjabis in the 1990s, recently released a video online called “The Last Killing”. It chronicles the story of Satwant Singh Manak, a former employee of the Punjab Police who witnessed the deaths of many Sikhs in fake police encounters. These encounters instilled fear in the Sikh community of Punjab, all in the name of restoring peace which is still being felt today. The short film beautifully strikes a nerve in viewers to challenge them how justice has still not been brought to those innocent victims to Punjab’s civil war.
Through art, we as a community can open up and discuss our feelings to a tortured recent past which many find too difficult to discuss.
Google “Operation BlueStar” this week, as well as “Punjab Killings.” Educate yourself and those around you.
May Waheguru bless the Sikh community to strengthen itself over its scars so that they can define us into a stronger Panth.
Sartaj Singh Dhami
Co-Founder of Restoringthepride.com
Writer, Director, Editor and Founder of Dashmesh Pictures
Born and raised in the suburbs of Washington DC, Sartaj graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech. He currently utilizes his engineering expertise to aide towards identifying solutions to complex technical problems with one of the largest engineering firms in the United States.
Aside from his professional life, Sartaj is an active member in the local Sikh community of Washington DC. He is known to help by working closely with youth groups, outreaching to Non-Sikh organizations to strengthen community bonds, as well as being a principle organizer for Guru Gobind Singh Foundation’s annual summer youth camp.
However, Sartaj is also known to be an instrumental advocate for bringing educational awareness to society about Sikhism. Whether in Blacksburg or Washington DC, he has aided in bringing attention to sensitive issues to many various Sikh advocacy groups. Considering himself as one of the many “trench workers,” some of Sartaj’s silent contributions have been vocalizing misrepresentation of Sikhism in the Eternal Blade and Hitman 2 video games, identifying slanderous material about Sikhism distributed at Bhangra Blowout, as well as co-organizing a youth lead memorial service for Sgt. Uday Singh of the US Army. He has volunteered with the Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund, and played an active role in organizing the Sikh Council On Religion & Education’s Capitol Hill Heritage Dinner.
In 2000, alongside his friends, Sartaj started to experiment with the idea of filmmaking. Several years later in 2003, he went on to release the underground smash hit Gatka 1: The Experimentation. This short film became an Internet highlight among the Sikh community and was viewed throughout the world. Later, it went as far as to be featured on SikhNet.
After creating several more shorts, Sartaj formed Dashmesh Pictures as a creative outlet dedicated to portraying Sikhism in a positive manner. Sartaj is passionate for creating this organization, which is open to all, so that the next Sikh “Steven Spielberg” can be found.