The Kerman City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday night on whether to recognize the anti-Sikh violence that started in 1984 in India as a genocide.
Thousands of Sikh civilians were killed starting in November of that year after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. If the resolution passes, Kerman would become one of the first cities in California to consider the deaths a genocide. Earlier this year, the city of San Joaquin passed a similar resolution.
The national advocacy group Sikhs for Justice requested the Kerman resolution in an Oct. 23 letter to the City Council.
“The organized and systematic violence was perpetrated with the active connivance of the police and administration, against the Sikh population throughout India, with a clear intent to destroy the Sikh community,” the letter reads.
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More than 30,000 Sikhs live in the central San Joaquin Valley
Last year, the group organized a petition that garnered more than 30,500 signatures. It called on the White House to recognize the 1984 atrocities as a genocide. It did not.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, coined the term “genocide” in 1943, meaning the deliberate killing of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.
Protests have wracked the Punjab state of India since June after torn-up copies of Guru Granth Sahib – Sikhism’s holy book – were found in different parts of the state. Police opened fire during a protest last month in a northern Punjab village, killing two protesters and wounding dozens of others, according to the BBC.
Sikhs worry the current violence will erupt into a repeat of 1984.
Sikhism, which promotes equality, compassion and tolerance, is the world’s fifth-largest religion. More than 30,000 Sikhs live in the central San Joaquin Valley.
An influx in the last two decades of Punjabi immigrants has helped reshape Kerman, a farming town of nearly 14,000 people that is largely Latino. City Council member Bill Nijjer is Punjabi.
Gurpatwant Pannun, Sikhs for Justice legal adviser, said the group wants to start with genocide recognition in smaller cities that are willing and ready to listen.
“The bigger the city,” he said, “the bigger the challenges.”