Sikhs Don’t Forget 1984

Every year, Sikhs hold a march in London around the anniversary of the 1984 massacre in India, when their most sacred temple in Amritsar was attacked by the Indian Army.  Accounts of exactly what happened and why differ, but obviously many Sikhs feel very deeply about this event and the massacres of Sikhs that came later in the year after the Indian Prime Minister had been killed by her two Sikh bodyguards.

We don’t actually read a great deal about events in India in our newspapers, except at exceptional times, and there has been a great deal of violence over the years that has been unreported, particularly if it takes place away from the major cities.  It’s hard for an outsider like myself to know quite how seriously to take the Sikh claims of genocide – though certainly many Sikhs have been massacred, or to know how serious is the call for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan.

But certainly the march in London attracts Sikhs from around the country, and this year, the 26th anniversary, there were perhaps 5000 at the start of the march in Hyde Park and perhaps almost double that by the time the rally was taking place in Trafalgar Square.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
2010: Long Live Khalistan – Sikhs call for an independent Sikh state

Its both a serious and a colourful march, led by baptised Sikhs in orange robes, at the front two men carrying the Sikh flags and after them the five holding their unsheathed swords up in front of them.  Perhaps because of the police complaints at last year’s march there were fewer placards and almost none of the graphic images of the massacres to which the police objected, and virtually none of the obvious support for the banned armed separatist group, Babbar.

© 2009 Peter Marshall
2009: Superintendent Kohli complains about some of the placards.

There were just a handful of Babbar t-shirts, and most of those I saw were worn by children rather than the large groups of young men and women last year.

There were many speeches, a few in English, but mainly not, although in any case I find I can’t follow speeches when my mind is engaged in making photographs. I do usually carry a small voice recorder and at times record them to listen to later, but at this event I didn’t bother. But it is a useful way to record the names of speakers and other useful information at times, often easier than finding a notebook and pen and writing them.

Its perhaps too easy to treat an occasion like this as simply an opportunity to record exotic images and unusual characters in the crowd, but I try to photograph in a way that reflects the mood of the event and as far as possible the issues. Banners and placards are important as the camera doesn’t record the spoken word, and the lack of them at this event made it harder.

Most of the pictures I took were of something the event organisers announced a little diffidently as something visual for the press,  but it wasn’t the kind of silly publicity stunt that some PR guys like to think up. It did seem an apt way to let those at the rally take part in the event rather than just listen to speeches, by coming to lay flowers into large slabs of flower arranging foam making the shape 1984, the year of the massacre, 1984.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
2010: Sikhs wait to come up an place their flowers

As a small boy I used to accompany my mother as she visited the graves of long-dead relatives in half a dozen cemeteries in the area around where we lived, tidying them and putting fresh flowers on them, and all too often going along our streets we see the flowers on a fence or lamppost that mark where someone was killed.

More of the pictures from this year’s march and rally on My London Diary.

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