A new human rights exhibit bringing attention to the enforced disappearances of thousands of Sikhs in India’s north-western state of Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s is making its worldwide debut in Vancouver this weekend.
Lapata. And the Left Behind, is a powerful photo exhibition that uses portraits and first-person accounts to tell the story of trauma and loss experienced by Sikh families whose loved ones were killed by state-enforced violence.
The 1980s and 90s were a tumultuous time in India. In June 1984, prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian state army to bombard Harmandir Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) — the holiest place of worship for Sikhs around the world. The military operation targeted Sikh separatists who supported the creation of an independent homeland.
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Six months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, inciting mass anti-Sikh riots across Dehli and Punjab.
In Punjabi, Lapata translates to a “missing or disappeared person” and to this day, the not number Sikhs killed during this period is still unknown. In an attempt to flee the violence, many Sikhs made their way to Canada during the 1980s and 90s.
The exhibit is a collaboration between renowned Indian multimedia journalist Abhishek Madhukar and international non-profit aid and relief organization Khalsa Aid International.
“What we want people to see is an event from 20 years ago that is still very personal to the Sikh community here and also there has really been no closure and no justice,” Jatinder Singh, Canadian director of Khalsa Aid, told Daily Hive.
“These families within India are still waiting for justice are still trying to figure out when their loved one passed away and they can’t even get a simple death certificate because their family member just disappeared. ”
The photos captured by Madhukar are riveting. The black and white portraits show the sombre faces of mothers and fathers holding up pictures of their missing children. They are still left with no answers and continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones.
In a video message aired during the Lapata press conference, Madhukar says the exhibit touches on the common theme of human suffering that is experienced around the world.
“Suffering is common. As human beings, it’s common beyond religion, race, nationality. As human beings, we all suffer whether we are Tibetian refugees, whether we are Sikhs or Rohingyas. And it’s always the same suffering and it’s important to highlight that aspect and the causes … or what can be the solution of it,” he said.
“This project is about their lives. It’s about their suffering. It’s about their aspirations. It’s about their resilience.”
The exhibit is open to the public for free on May 4 until May 7 at The Space, An Art Gallery, Vancouver’s in Yaletown.
Organizers say the decision to launch the event in Vancouver is to highlight Canada’s role in accepting asylum-seeking groups and refugees who are fleeing state violence.
The exhibition will also travel to Toronto, London, New York, San Francisco, and India.
When: Saturday, May 4 to Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Where: The Space, An Art Gallery — 1063 Hamilton St, Vancouver