In the Otago Street Gurdwara, the lights are dimmed as councillors, MSPs and members of the public walk around a shocking new exhibition.
Faced with photographs of atrocities from recent genocide, visitors read the captions beneath the pictures in stunned silence, their heads bowed.
As they reflect on the images before them, only the haunting lilt of an Indian sitar can be heard within the walls of the Gurdwara.
‘A Candle In The Dark’ is a travelling exhibition to commemorate the 1984 Delhi genocide, an event which saw thousands of Sikhs killed as a result of political and philosophical friction within the Indian State.
The exhibition states that Sikhs as a community were oppressed, persecuted and had much of their cultural heritage destroyed during a dark period of violence and human rights violations – an era that they now wish to highlight and seek justice for.
Backed by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, A Candle In the Dark is now touring Britain.
As the Glasgow Sikh community welcome the arrival of A Candle In The Dark, run by the London-based National Sikh Youth Federation, the Sikhs of Glasgow consider what effect the events of 1984 have on their identity, and what can be done to pass on this information to the next generation.
“The Sikhs have gone 28 years without any justice from the government of India,” said Charandeep Singh, Public Affairs Officer at Glasgow Gurdwara.
“For Scottish Sikhs it’s about how we can start talking about this and engaging everyone in this discussion. It’s very easy to ignore this – no one wants to talk about these types of issues.
“There’s the element of justice, but there’s the internal community issue. If we don’t talk about this, what kind of impact is that going to have on our parents, if they’re also not talking about these issues?
“What were trying to do is tackle both – the external issues but also the internal, but that’s a big challenge. This exhibition aims to do both.”
Charandeep and the other young members of the Sikh community shoulder a great deal of responsibility by hosting the exhibition and passing on its message.
Not only must they educate young Sikhs about these tragic chapters of their cultural history, but they must also encourage older generations to broach these difficult topics openly.
By leading weekly workshops for teenage Sikhs, where they can talk about difficult issues and focus on what it means to be part of the community, leaders like Charandeep can instill important messages in the next generation of Glasgow Sikhs.
“We try to foster an environment so we can talk about these issues, because our parents don’t talk about it because they don’t have the answers.
“They don’t understand why it happened because they haven’t been able to talk about it themselves. We’re also trying to encourage the next generation of Sikhs to understand what their role is in society, because if we’re talking about Sikh values it’s not just to sit back – to go to school, go home and watch TV.
“We do that, but we have an add-on which is, if something wrong is going on somewhere, in your house, school, street or area, what can we do to fix that? What role do we have? What value do we add by being Sikh?”
The young Scottish Sikh community is now galvanised to campaign for justice to be brought in India relating to the crimes of the 1984 genocide. They have rallied together to create petitions, have supported active debate in the Scottish Parliament relating to the issue and are committed to ensuring that their voices are heard on an international stage.
Representatives from interfaith groups, councillors and members of the public present at the Glasgow launch of the exhibition left with a greater knowledge of the Sikh community, both at home and abroad, and of the work still left to be done to seek justice for the crimes of 1984.
“Ignorance of the suffering of Sikhs in recent Indian history is deep and widespread,” said Rose Drew of Inter faith Glasgow after attending the launch.
“That is why this exhibition is so important. It is a powerful testament to atrocities which should never have taken place and must never be repeated. I hope it will be widely attended.”
For the members of the Otago Street Gurdwara, welcoming the new exhibition is a milestone on the path to creating open discussion on controversial subjects, for Scottish Sikhs young and old.
- ‘A Candle In The Dark’ is held at 27 Otago Street from Thursday 22 November – Sunday 25 November.