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Young Sikhs in Yuba City take on tough history

Her words and voice were more direct and strident than many in the Yuba City-area Sikh community are accustomed to hearing.

But Kamal Kaur, 19, a small, lean figure in a dark track suit and deep blue turban, held several hundred in the Yuba City Sikh Temple rapt Sunday as she spoke out angrily about the plight of her countryman Balwant Singh Rajoana.

“I’m tired of hearing from the older generation that the government will do whatever they want. They are enabling the (Indian) government to continue its corrupt ways,” she said to young and old seated before her. “We are being hunted, and the Indian government is getting away with it.”

Kaur, a U.C. Davis student from Fremont, appeared during the culmination of a 48-hour prayer reading and vigil held at the Yuba City gurdwara on Tierra Buena Road.

She urged members of the crowd to actively educate the community at large about Rajoana and the larger context of Sikh persecution in India.

The event in Yuba City was one of several held in Sikh communities in Northern California in recent weeks to show support for Rajoana. In August 1984, during an incident that was cited frequently Sunday, government officials sent the military and police into the Golden Temple at Amritsar, a holy site for Sikhs, during a religious holiday.

The move was meant to quash a growing Sikh separatist movement, a movement promoted at Sunday’s event in Yuba City.

An estimated 9,000 to 30,000 Sikhs are believed to have been killed during the Golden Temple attack, and similar attacks at smaller temples, as well as in subsequent riots across India.

Rajoana admitted to helping kill the provincial minister, Beant Singh, who is believed responsible for much of the Sikh bloodshed. He has been imprisoned since 1995 and sentenced to death by hanging.

On March 28, he was granted a stay of execution in light of international publicity about the case. The Indian government still regards Rajoana as a terrorist. But, in Sikh communities, Rajoana is considered to be a living martyr.

“Our Sikh spirit will be hanged with him,” Kaur told her Yuba City audience of the still-pending execution. “Here in Yuba City, you have so much potential. You can let the world know what has happened to us. This is like another Punjab,” she said, a reference to the area’s large Sikh community.

“We will assimilate and we will disappear if we are asleep as a community,” she said. “If Sikhs were lambs, I’d be scared. But we are lions.”

On Sunday, a long wall inside the Yuba City temple’s communal area featured life-sized photographs of maimed and bloodied men who had been killed in the wake of the 1984 incident, by Indian government officials such as Beant Singh, according to temple goers.

“Look at all these people,” said Tejinder Dosanjh, the temple’s secretary. “The ones who did this are still alive. They have never been take to court. There’s no justice.”

Sunday’s event was notable because of Kaur and other young speakers, and for its attendance by hundreds — perhaps thousands during its duration — of children, teenagers and young adults.

“This is the first time I’ve seen kids get involved,” said Jagdip Dhillon, a Stockton Record reporter from Yuba City who attended Sunday’s event.

Internet sites and social networking platforms have recently galvanized a Sikh youth movement around support of Rajoana, he said.

“It’s really cool how they’re doing this,” said Gary Mann, 16, a River Valley High School student. “We’re remembering who we are and who helped us get here.”

“We don’t learn about this in school. We know about everybody else’s history, but they don’t know about ours,” he said.

His brothers, ages 11, and 8, nodded in agreement.

“I’m so happy that the young generation is taking over,” said Dosanjh, gesturing toward young boys in orange turbans.

Lakhbir Sahota, 47, said she too is grateful for the passion exhibited by young people over this issue.

Sikhs have no rights in India, she said.

“In India, if I speak out, they would put me in the jail,” she said. “But like Martin Luther King said, ‘all blood is same.’”

News Source: Appeal Democrat

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