Critics fear billboard portraying Sikh massacre could incite violence
CTV British Columbia
Published Friday, June 21, 2013 10:17PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, June 21, 2013 10:44PM PDT
A billboard on the Queensborough Bridge that displays a disturbing image of the 1984 Sikh massacre is drawing complaints from citizens concerned the message may incite violence.
The Khalsa Diwan Society in New Westminster paid $2,000 for the ad, which depicts an elderly Sikh man being beaten by Indian police next to the caption: “Sikhs remember 1984 genocide.”
Temple spokesman Sukhpreet Singh told CTV News the billboard was intended to remind people of the violence committed against innocent Sikhs after Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards.
Mob violence broke out just hours later and lasted four days. By the end, thousands were killed in racial attacks.
“We believe it’s time to really put the pressure on the Indian government to send the message that we have not forgotten the genocide. We stand with the victims, and we still demand justice 29 years later,” said Singh.
But some worry the content of the message is too extreme, and potentially dangerous. Most official accounts cite the 1984 massacre as motivation for Sikh terrorists in B.C.
Duncan resident Inderjit Singh Reyat was convicted of making the bomb that detonated aboard Air India Flight 182 the following year, killing 329 people in June 1985.
The violence continued in India, leading Dr. Sadhu Madhar to flee the country for Canada.
“My colleagues and my fellow writers, some of them were killed,” said Madhar, who worries about the impact the billboard could have. “It can incite communal feelings in some persons who do not know the whole context.”
Radio India host Gurpreet Singh believes temples should focus on spreading peace.
"We have good Canadian stories, we can bring the South Asians together rather than create divisions," he said.
The Khalsa Diwan Society insists the billboard is not a call for revenge, but a plea for justice. Though 442 people have reportedly been convicted in the massacre, some believe there are still perpetrators who haven’t been held responsible.
The sign is on New Westminster property and the city receives part of the ad revenue. Officials confirmed they have received complaints, and will be holding meetings in the coming days to decide whether to take it down.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Jon Woodward