VANCOUVER, BC, Canada—A disturbing image from a turbulent time in India’s recent past is now prominently featured on the New Westminster skyline.
An elderly Sikh man, lying on the ground with his turban removed, is surrounded by Indian police who appear to be kicking him.
That snapshot from India’s 1984 religious war is now being displayed on a digital billboard visible to motorists travelling over the Queensborough Bridge
“The Sikh genocide that took place is a Canadian issue –- it aligns with core Canadian values of upholding human rights, upholding liberty and freedoms,” said Jaspal Singh, treasurer of the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, which is displaying the provocative image along with the Khalsa Diwan Society. “This billboard is not only for the wider community, but also to ensure our children are more aware of these recent events and be strong and stand up for their own religion.”
The early 1980s were politically charged in India. Sikhdom’s holiest site, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, was raided by Indian troops, and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
Hindus outraged by Gandhi’s death went on a revenge killing spree, in what is referred to as the Sikh Genocide.
‘Sikhs Remember 1984 Genocide,’ screams the sign’s blood-red lettering, displayed on a digital billboard recently erected by the city of New Westminster.
Rober Emanuels, New Westminster’s manager of design and construction, said he hasn’t received any complaints about the sign’s provocative messaging.
But Emanuels said he has contacted the ad agency which vets all ads for the billboard, to make sure it fits in with guidelines for acceptable ads.
“We’ve asked them to take a look at it,” said Emanuels, noting that a clause in the city’s ad contract states that the city may determine whether the digital message meets standards put in place by Advertising Standards Canada — the ad industry’s self-regulating body created in 1957 to ensure the integrity and viability of advertising.
The Sikh genocide message is one of four digital ads that rotate in a continuous loop on the billboard, located just east of the Queensborough Bridge.