Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Bis ‘n’ Pieces: Performance exposes Sikh genocide

By , Columbian staff writer

Here’s a quick, horrible history lesson that will be new news to some: In 1984, the Sikh bodyguards of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assassinated her in retaliation for a military assault on their holiest site, the Golden Temple, which had become the base of operations where Sikh separatists stockpiled weapons.

The assassination led to waves of mob violence in Delhi and the slaughter of as many as 3,000 Sikhs; in recent years and even recent days, there have been repeated investigations and calls for the Indian government and police to admit their own complicity, if not coordinated leadership, in the widespread killings. In October, Time Magazine called on the Indian government to accept responsibility, and to stop calling the incident “a riot.” In late December, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the correct term is “genocide.”

“We have always called it genocide,” agreed Pawneet Sethi, who lives in Camas. “For the past 30 years, Sikhs have been asking for justice in the Indian courts of law.”

Now, an experimental stage presentation called “Kultar’s Mime” is making the rounds, using poetry and theater, music and painting to present “the tale of four young children who survived the massacre,” Sethi said. To broaden its point, “Kultar’s Mime” starts with an earlier, tragically similar injustice: well-coordinated and murderous riots against Jews in 1903 in Kishinev, Russia.

“The message is that, the violence in this world is not limited to any one community. Tyrants always want to oppress people. People need to speak out if that is going to stop,” Sethi said.

The performance, which draws from eyewitness accounts, is a collaboration between playwright and poet Sarbpreet Singh and experimental theater director J. Mehr Kaur. It premiered at Harvard University in 2013 and has traveled around the world since. The traveling theater company is from the Boston area, which Singh calls home.

“We are excited to host this show here,” Sethi said. “We want to share the experience of the pain that the Sikhs have witnessed and others have witnessed, too.”

Sikhism is a progressive religion that arose in India as a reaction against the rigid, repressive caste system there about 600 years ago; today there are around 25 million Sikhs worldwide and an estimated 750,000 in the United States.

Just one performance of “Kultur’s Mime” will take place in the Vancouver-Portland area. It’s set for 5 p.m. Sunday at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St. While the performance is free, organizers ask that theater-goers visit to register for tickets. Donations will be accepted as the play travels around the world.

Note: the very serious material may be difficult for young children. Learn more at

Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email

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