Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a newly elected councilor from Norwich, takes his duty to represent the people of the city seriously. He takes his ethnic and religious heritage even more seriously. He is a Sikh, born in New Delhi and raised in Punjab after a genocidal purge made life in the Indian capital dangerous.
“We need to recognize cultural identities. Recognizing them is the first step to feeling welcome here,” says Singh Khalsa. “We need to capture the feelings of the Sikh community.”
Singh Khalsa is director of the Sikh Art Museum, a collection of artwork, historical artifacts, and magazine and newspaper articles telling the story of the Sikhs – their culture, religion, music, stories of their heroes and their struggle for recognition and citizenship. rights.
The museum opened in the fall of 2020. Due to the pandemic, it was just cut as part of a Sikh Independence Day on April 29. It begins at 11 a.m. at City Hall, 100 Broadway; continues with the unveiling of a mural at noon at 82 Chelsea Harbour; and ends with the official opening of the museum at 7 Clinic Drive at 1:30 p.m.
The mural will feature an image of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a Sikh human rights activist who was arrested in Punjab in 1995 and never seen again.
Of the approximately 30 million Sikhs worldwide, the vast majority live in Punjab, where the religion has its roots. Singh Khalsa said Singh Khalra’s plight is similar to that of many Sikh activists in Punjab. He said emigrant Sikhs need to speak out.
“In Punjab, the Sikh struggle will continue. Sikhs living in the Diaspora need to give the world the right narrative, tell the world the reality of Sikhs,” he says. “We have to keep the fight going, keep the stories alive.”
Singh Khalsa estimated that 20 Sikh families live in Norwich and around 500 live in Connecticut. Gurdwaras – Sikh religious gathering places – can be found in Hamden, Norwalk, Windsor and Southington.
The artwork and artifacts in the small museum tell many stories of Sikhism, whose origins date back to the mid-15th century. Among the exhibits are portraits of royalty and martyrs, renderings of religious gatherings and histories of the Sikh Empire, a self-governing state that existed from 1799 to 1849, towards the end of British annexation of the subcontinent. Indian.
The museum also organizes Punjab language and Kirtan singing lessons for the community.
Sikhism is distinguished from other religions by its lack of priests or other religious leaders.
“Our 10th Guru said to be inspired by the Sikh scriptures. He didn’t want the rulers to change the scriptures,” Singh Khalsa says.
All Sikh men bear the name Singh, which means lion. All Sikh women bear the name Kaur, which means princess.
Singh Khalsa said the aim of the museum is not only to keep Sikh stories alive in the Sikh community but also to educate the non-Sikh community.
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“After 9/11, there were a lot of hate crimes. The Sikh community needs to focus on who we are,” he says. “It’s always a fight. I’m an elected representative from Norwich but people see me walking down the street and they don’t know who I am.
In Connecticut, Sikhs have been blessed with recognition and respect. In 2018, it became the first state to observe Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day, in remembrance of the mid-1980s massacre that killed up to 17,000 Sikhs. Two weeks ago, the state Senate passed a bill authorizing state police to wear religious headgear.
“These are small steps we’re taking to educate people,” he says.
The struggle continues, however. In 2019, a Sikh genocide memorial at the Norwich Public Library was demolished when the Indian Consulate in New York complained. Yet Singh Khalsa and other local activists continue.
“My goal is to ensure that history is preserved. There is no way to change history, but the Sikh truth must come out,” he said. “I want our community to feel safe, to feel recognized, to feel that this state understands what happened to them.”
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].