Their parents' generation was hesitant to talk about 1984 after the Air India bombing. Those who spoke up were tagged as extremists or terrorists. Many remained silent and over the years became apathetic, the members of B.C. Sikh Youth said.
However, the youth are indifferent to the charge of promoting Khalistan. They say the accusation is a myth intended to divert attention from the injustices. "Our main concern at these events is strictly human rights," said Jagjit Singh, the main spokesman for the youth group. Kirpa Kaur, a recent graduate in psychology and social equity, said some of the youth may be supporters of Khalistan. "But these events are about fighting injustice and [the secessionist movement is]absolutely irrelevant to what we are doing."
Prabhroop Kaur, 21, has been going to annual vigils for events in 1984 "ever since I can remember," she said. Her parents instilled in her a strong commitment to justice. "They sat me down and told me what happened. We were supposed to fight injustice everywhere.... We grew up with that. We see clearly injustice and we have to do something about it."
Gurdit Singh, 25, a college student in human-resource management, identified "an education gap" between his parents and himself. His father was a farmer in Punjab and his mother was a high-school teacher. "They talk about it, but they had more raw emotions, more anger built up inside them. They did not know how to proceed, what to do next."
Some parents accepted what the Indian government told them. Paneet Singh said his mother left India in 1986 believing that Sikhs brought the assault upon themselves, as the government of India says. His mother told him the extremists had to be flushed out of the temple and the government had to restore order.
But the younger generation has more tools than their parents to find out what went on in 1984. "The ease with which we can go and find records, find third-party accounts, is exponentially bigger than what our parents would have been able to do, if they had the knowledge base and skills to do it," said Perpinder Singh Patrola, a 31-year-old lawyer. "We have resources that did not exist 15, 20 years ago. We may feel emotions, but we can move beyond raw emotion and look at actual facts and figures, and present it - without reducing it to something that is purely emotional."
Research has shown that stories they were told about their history were often not true, Kirpa Kaur said. "We have to do a lot of work ourselves to figure out the true story."
Shining a global spotlight on what actually happened is a step toward having justice done, she added. "Living in a country as Canada, which claims to support so many human rights-type initiatives, we say it is time to support us in fighting against injustice."
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the Indian army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the first week of June, 1984, to flush out militant Sikh leaders who were using the religious compound as their headquarters in a campaign of violence against their critics, the police and state institutions.
Why did the government send in troops at that time?
The Indian government moved to restore law and order after a lengthy string of killings, arsons and lootings that it said threatened the stability of the state. Violence had claimed the lives of 410 people and injured more than 1,180 in the two years before the attack, according to a white paper on the Punjab agitation dated July 10, 1984. More than 775 violent incidents were recorded in the five months prior to the attack.
Who were the religious
The political leadership in Punjab province had a lengthy list of grievances with the central government built up over several years, ranging from disputes over surplus water rights to concerns over issues related to the Sikh religion. Sectarian violence erupted in 1978, with fundamentalist Sikhs embracing secession as the most effective way to protect their religion. The troubles escalated in 1981, following several killings, the hijacking of an Indian plane by Sikh extremists, and rallies by the All India Sikh Students Federation calling for the creation of Khalistan. After the head of the student group was arrested in July, 1982, fundamentalist leaders moved into the Golden Temple complex and turned it into a fortified encampment.
Were only religious militants killed in the assault?
The military assault coincided with a religious pilgrimage that had drawn thousands of Sikhs to the site. The militants were in dormitories on the compound as well as in the religious halls. Hundreds if not thousands of pilgrims were caught in the crossfire. Shekhar Gupta, a correspondent with India Today, wrote in a report published Aug 15, 1984: "As the army got sniped at from a number of rooms in the parikrama [a walkway around the pool that surrounded the temple]and the sarais [dormitories ] the troops just threw grenades into the rooms. 'People were dying on both sides,' recalls an officer, adding, 'and there was no time to find out who was inside a room.' Some of the pilgrims also died of thirst. Many died of the fires which broke out."