Sikholars: Graduate Student Conference
By Ilene Gillispie (Chandigarh, India ’12 and ’13) and Soyna Kapoor (Chandigarh, India ’13)
We (Ilene Gillispie and Soyna Kapoor) received a CLS Alumni Development Fund award to attend the annual “Sikholars: Graduate Student Conference” at Stanford University in February.
The conference was an opportunity for Punjab and Sikh studies scholars to come together for discussion and collaboration, and is the only graduate student conference for Punjab studies in the United States.
For the past five years, the Sikholars conference has attracted scholars from more than three continents and 25 universities. Topics have ranged from Khalistani nationalism to epistemology and historiography, from the state of health in Punjab to a diasporic literature analysis, from remembrances of the Battle of Amritsar in 1984 to present-day identity issues, and from art and architecture to representations of masculinity in Punjabi films. These are topics we also discussed during our CLS Program and were interested in pursuing further.
Participation and attendance at the Sikholars conference allowed us to collaborate, engage, and discuss with other scholars and researchers studying Punjab and Sikh studies. We also had an opportunity to share experiences from our CLS Program with fellow attendees at the conference.
This conference was a great opportunity to engage with other scholars another and discuss issues at the forefront of Punjab studies. It allowed us to continue the discussion of topics that we were introduced to this past summer, and it opened a forum for more in-depth discussion and consideration. We were able to network with students and professionals who have studied and completed projects in Punjab, as well as network for potential projects for the future.
This year’s Sikholars conference theme focused on Sikh memories of 1984, the year that began a tumultuous period in recent Sikh history. The turmoil began with Operation Blue Star, when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple (the Sikh religion’s holiest shrine) to depose Sikh separatists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was agitating for the formation of a new Sikh state called Khalistan.
After Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered Indian Army troops into the Golden Temple, a massacre ensued, and hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians were injured or killed in Amritsar. In reaction to the violence and the desecration of their holy site, two Sikh bodyguards working for Gandhi assassinated her. This event set off a wave of anti-Sikh pogroms throughout the country that lasted many years. Discrimination and prejudice against Sikhs in India still persists stemming from these events.
At Sikholars, several people whose lives were touched by the events in1984 told their stories—stories about narrow escapes, relatives and friends lost, and families and communities ripped apart. We also had the privilege of watching a screening of the new film “The Last Killing,” which tells the story of a former Punjab police officer fighting against the corruption and violence that stemmed from the turmoil of 1984. The conference’s focus on 1984 was fascinating and enriching.