The horrific 1984 anti-Sikh riots may be a fading memory in India, but they remain current here in the United States, are now an election issue in a congressional district in California.
Ami Bera, the only Indian American in US congress, is seeking a second term from this district and is faced with revolt from the Sikh community that had voted for him in 2012.
“Do not vote for Congressman Ami Bera,” read a flyer that went out recently to all members of this community in California’s congressional district No 7, Bera’s constituency.
“Congressman Ami Bera is denying the truth about the November 1984 Genocide of Sikhs in Delhi,” it went on.
“He refuses to acknowledge that the Indian government was responsible for the rape, torture and murder of thousands of Sikhs.”
Bera, a Democrat, is in a tight race, and needs every vote.
There are around 6,000 Sikh voters in California 7, which is a sizable number for a constituency divided equally among Democrats and Republicans.
The man running against Bera, Doug Ose, is a Republican who has served three terms in the House of Representatives. And he has come out on the right side of the 1984 test.
“It was clear that what the (Indian) government did was wrong and the fact that nobody was held accountable is inexcusable,” Ose has said.
There was no response from Bera’s campaign to several mails and phone messages. And some of his advisers reached by email had not responded till the filing of this report..
A body of US-based Sikhs sent serving and aspiring officials a questionnaire in April asking them a set of questions to test their position on issues considered important by the community.
Two of them were about the 1984 riots:
1. Do you agree that thousands of Sikhs were murdered in India in November 1984 with the assistance of or lack of intervention by political parties, law enforcement, military or members of the government?
2. Would you, as a Member of Congress, seek to remember and acknowledge the pogroms against Sikhs in November 1984, pursue justice for the victims, and work to ensure it does not happen again?
Bera didn’t answer the questions in “yes” or “no” as required. And in a longer response to the second, he said there is no place for “such violence in a free society”.
That didn’t go down well.
“As a longtime supporter of Dr. Bera, I am shocked and disappointed that he is the only congressional representative in the Sacramento area that has refused to acknowledge that the Indian government was responsible for the November 1984 slaughter of thousands of Sikhs,” said lawyer Amar Shergill.