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Ami Bera Loses Support of Sikh Community over 1984 Massacre in India

Ami Bera Loses Support of Sikh Community over 1984 Massacre in India

Democratic Congressman Ami Bera, who is Indian, is losing support for his 2014 reelection because many Sikhs are angry at his refusal to acknowledge the Indian government’s culpability in the massacre of 3,000 Sikhs in India in 1984, according to the Sacramento Bee. Bera hails from the Indian state of Gujurat, but is not Sikh.

The massacre in 1984 was catalyzed by the Oct. 31, 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two Sikh bodyguards.

Bera became a congressman in 2012, but with the 30th anniversary of the massacre coming soon, he has not joined with five other California congressman and more than ten state and local officials acknowledging the Indian government’s culpability, according to attorney Amar Shergill, a Sikh activist from Elk Grove who is a registered Democrat. He said, “I have formally withdrawn my support for Dr. Bera,” even though he once organized a fundraiser for Bera and donated $1,400 to Bera between 2010 and 2012.

The American Sikh Committee to Evaluate Congressional Candidates, a bipartisan national organization of 18 Sikh leaders, polled congressional candidates with significant Sikh constituencies on issues of interest to Sikhs. Bera would not answer two questions:

“Do you agree thousands of Sikhs were murdered in India in November 1984 with the assistance or lack of intervention by political parties, law enforcement, military, or members of the government?”

“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’s GOP opponent, Doug Ose, answered both questions affirmatively.

Shergill said, “I am shocked and disappointed that (Bera) is the only congressional representative in the Sacramento area not to say that the Indian government was responsible for the November 1984 slaughter of thousands of Sikhs. To American Sikhs, this is the equivalent of denying that the South African government was responsible for apartheid.” He added that he is aware of about 400 Sikhs, primarily young people, “who are fired up on this issue.”

Bera has said that former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized publicly to the Sikh community in 2005 over the matter. Some politicians and government officials have been convicted for their role in the massacre. Bera stated, “This is a tragedy that should never be repeated… you would expect that the Indian government has learned from this. But I can’t dictate how the Indian government approaches it.” 

Bera asserted that he has tried to address problems for Sikhs in the U.S., including bullying, adding that after 9/11, “the Sikh community has faced some prejudice and violent attacks, including the two Sikh gentlemen who were murdered in my home town of Elk Grove.” 

Bera said he has defended the right of Sikhs to serve in the military and in law enforcement without trimming their beards and hair, and also encouraged the FBI to create a special hate-crimes category for Sikhs.

Bera also said he has met with CEOs of large Indian firms, adding, “My job is to promote our region as a global brand, represent Sacramento County in Congress, and not necessarily dictate to other countries how to run their own countries.”

Darshan Singh Mundy, spokesman for the West Sacramento Sikh Temple and a registered Republican, donated to Bera in 2010 and 2011 but said he won’t support him because he refuses to acknowledge the Indian government’s culpability in the 1984 massacre. He noted that mobs orchestrated by government officials “burned Sikh homes, gurdwaras, holy books and family and raped your sister, wife and daughter in front of you. They did it all over India.”

Elk Grove veterinarian Gurpreet Singh, a registered Democrat, remembered being in Delhi for his entrance exam for medical school when hell broke loose: “I was 16 and wore a turban, and as I was walking home, three or four people came after me shouting, ‘He’s a Sikh, let’s kill him! I had to jump over a fence into my aunt’s place. We hid under our beds and didn’t even eat for two days so nobody could see us. We could see the mobs going through the area, and some of them belonged to the local ruling Congress Party.”

He concluded, “I’m not voting for Bera.”

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