Library removes Sikh memorial after criticism from India

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Library Sikh Memorial

This May, 29, 2019 photo shows he newly installed 1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial plaque at Otis Library in Norwich, Conn. The Connecticut library has removed the memorial to Sikhs killed in India 35 years ago after a protest call from the Indian Consulate in New York. (John Shishmanian/NorwichBulletin.com via AP)

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut library has removed a memorial to Sikhs killed in India 35 years ago after a protest telephone call from the Indian Consulate in New York.

The memorial, which was put up in June, included a plaque, flags and a portrait of a Sikh separatist movement leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale, who was among those killed in a June 1984 attack by the Indian army on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated five months later by two of her Sikh bodyguards, an attack which led to anti-Sikh riots across India.

The plaque read in part: "In memory of the thousands Sikh men, women, and children who lost their lives and loved ones in 1984, June. The Indian Army carried out a pre-planned attack on Harmandir Sahib, the holiest place of the Sikhs. This was followed in November by a state sponsored genocidal campaign against Sikhs all across India."

The government at the time said it believed the separatists were using the temple complex to store weapons and used some pilgrims as human shields during the fighting.

Nicholas Fortson, the president of the board of trustees at the Otis Library in Norwich, said the library removed the memorial last month. He said the memorial had generated both support and criticism, including the call from the consulate.

"The library is a nonpolitical organization," Fortson told the Norwich Bulletin. "We want to make sure our visitors are in a safe atmosphere."

Mayor Peter Nystrom, who attended the memorial's June 1 dedication ceremony, told The Day of New London that the Sikh Community of Connecticut failed to communicate in advance with library officials the scope of the display.

The plaque, flags and portrait have been returned to Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a community leader and president of the Sikh Sewak Society International, USA.

Khalsa said both city and library knew the details of the display and should not have been intimidated by "threats" from the Indian government. A plaque with the same text was part of display last November in commemoration of the Sikh Awareness Month, he said.