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Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson was presented with the Radical Desi medal of courage by members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) on Thursday, April 15. 

Swanson had recently brought a motion in support of the Indian farmers who have been camping outside New Delhi for the past several months.  

The agitating farmers are opposing the controversial laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government, which many believe threaten the livelihood of the peasantry.  

The motion that strongly expressed solidarity with the Indian farmers was passed by a majority vote.  

Partly due to pressure from the pro-India lobby, the motion was watered down and directed the Mayor of Vancouver to write to the federal and provincial governments asking them to intervene.  

Swanson, who is a well-known social justice advocate, had earlier brought a motion against India’s infamous Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from the neighbouring countries.  

However, she was forced to withdraw that motion because of a backlash from the Indian consulate and lack of support from others in the city council. Even the Khalsa Diwan Society, the oldest Sikh body in the city, known for its loyalties toward the Indian government, and which had vehemently opposed Swanson's motion against the CAA, supported her motion in solidarity with the farmers .   

Formed in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents in India, IAPI believes that Swanson has shown courage by standing up for those suffering repression in the world’s so-called largest democracy.   

Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics and a media partner of IAPI. It had established the medal of courage back in 2018 to honour those who have stood up for the oppressed.   

Due to COVID 19 restrictions, the ceremony was kept brief and small. IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh presented her with the medal right outside the Vancouver City Hall, in the presence of two other members of the group, Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh.  

*** 

An annual vigil was held on Tuesday evening at Surrey’s Holland Park in commemoration of those killed by the troops in British India 102 years ago.  

Close to 1,000 peaceful demonstrators died in the indiscriminate firing at Jallianwala Bagh, a public park in Amritsar, on April 13, 1919.  

The agitators had gathered to oppose draconian laws passed by the British government to suppress the freedom movement.  

Organized by Mehak Punjab Di TV, the vigil attracts scores of people every year. This year however, the gathering was kept small due to COVID 19 restrictions.  

The event was started with a moment of silence for protesters killed during the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India and pro-democracy campaign in Myanmar.  

The participants also remembered the Black victims of police violence in the US, and the late Sarwan Singh Aujla, a renowned Punjabi scholar who passed away recently. Aujla had written extensively about the heroes of the Indian liberation movement. 

Pictures related to the history of the Jallianwala Bagh episode were also displayed on the occasion.  

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for rolling back controversial farm legislations in India, the scrapping of anti-democratic laws, and an unconditional release of political prisoners fighting against the policies of the current right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.  

They raised slogans in support of the agitating farmers and those jailed for questioning the Indian state.  

Among those who addressed the gathering were Mehak Punjab Di TV host Kamaljit Singh Thind, Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation leader Sahib Singh Thind, prominent social justice activist Imtiaz Popat, community activist Amritpal Singh Gill, a well-known broadcaster Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, and the director of Radical Desi publications, Gurpreet Singh.   

 

 

In a major jolt to the Indian government, the City of Vancouver has passed a motion to show support with the farmers agitating for their rights outside New Delhi since November, 2020.  

Moved by councillor Jean Swanson, the motion was passed by a majority vote on Wednesday, March 31. While four councillors voted in its support, four others abstained.  

The motion says that Council stands in solidarity with the Indian farmers, and directs the Mayor of Vancouver to write to the provincial and federal governments asking them to support Indian citizens’ rights to expression and liberty.  

Thousands of Indian farmers have been camping on the border of the national capital asking the right wing Hindu nationalist government to roll back controversial farm laws that threaten their livelihood. They believe that the laws, which have been passed without debate and due consultations, are aimed to ensurecorporate control over the agro industry. After the protesting farmers had to face police violence, angry demonstrations have been held across Canada by members of the Indian diaspora. A rally was held outside Vancouver City Hall on Monday, March 29. The organizers displayed more than 200 shoes on the steps leading to the building as a mark of respect to hundreds of farmers who have lost their lives during the struggle.  

Swanson’s original motion went into the details of these laws and urged the Indian government to revoke them.  

First presented on the night of March 10, the motion covered a lot of layers associated with the issue. However, in the absence of unanimity on part of the city councillors, the vote was delayed and the motion was watered down.  

Notably, the council was under pressure from the pro-India lobby groups. A majority of the speakers from the community opposed the motion and supported the position of the Indian government, which is trying to down play these concerns and continues to resist international criticism because of the mistreatment of farmers.  

Barring Imtiaz Popat, a well-known social justice activist, nobody came in support of the motion.  

Swanson had previously brought a motion against India’s discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act that discouraged Muslim refugees coming to the country from neighbouring nations. She had to eventually withdraw it after backlash from the supporters of the Indian government and its consulate in Vancouver.  

Interestingly, that motion was opposed by Khalsa Diwan Society (KDS), the oldest Sikh body of Vancouver, which welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. This time the KDS supported Swanson’s motion though.  

 

The seventh annual event against racism started by Spice Radio was held online this year on Saturday, March 27 due to COVID 19 restrictions. 

Launched in 2015 by the Burnaby-based radio station, on the birth anniversary of the towering civil rights movement leader the late Martin Luther King Jr,. this year’s campaign culminated with the participation of Justin Trudeau and the Chief Medical Officer of British Columbia.    

In their powerful video messages, both Trudeau and Henry underlined the need to fight back against growing racism, especially the one directed against people of Asian origin in the wake of the pandemic that broke out in China and eventually spread across the globe.   

Most speakers, including recipients of the annual Hands Against Racism awards, were unanimous in their criticism of anti-Asian racism.  

In fact, one of the two recipients of this year’s awards is Tammy Hu, a young Chinese woman, who spearheaded a campaign against controversial media headlines describing COVID 19 as “China virus” that fuelled hatred against people of Asian descent.  

The announcement came close to the killings of six Asian women in Atlanta, US.    

While introducing this year’s recipients of Spice Radio’s awards, the BC Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives, Rachna Singh, recognized the challenge in Greater Vancouver which has seen a huge spike in anti-Asian racism. 

The second recipient is Kamika Williams, a former member of Anti-Racism Coalition. She had started a campaign to recognize the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. as Black Shirt Day to raise awareness about Black history in schools.  

The campaign, flagged off by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt, coincides with Holi, the Indian festival of colours and the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.   

Participants are encouraged to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on a white sheet of paper alongside a message against racism and intolerance.  

Both Hu and Williams had participated in Hands Against Racism this year. They have now joined the list of trailblazers and strong voices for change who have been honoured by Spice Radio in the past.  

The very first recipient of the Hands Against Racism award was Baltej Singh Dhillon. He was the first turbaned Sikh RCMP officer, who had to face a racist backlash from both within and outside the force.  

The second annual award went to Sunera Thobani, a Muslim academic who had to face hostility for questioning US foreign policies following the 9/11 terror attacks. Her award was given to challenge growing Islamophobia under Donald Trump.  

The following year in 2018, Georgia Straight Editor Charlie Smith and anti-racism educator Alan Dutton were honoured for standing up for minorities and for amplifying the stories of white allies in an ongoing struggle against intolerance. Dutton has been receiving serious threats from white supremacists.  

In 2019, indigenous activist Cecilia Point and South Asian activist Niki Sharma, who is now a member of the BC Legislature, were presented the awards for breaking many barriers and facing racism and sexism. Point has been in the forefront of the annual marches in memory of the missing and murdered indigenous women, whereas Sharma, who has been present in many rallies in support of refugees, had to face blatant racism while running for office in the city of Vancouver.   

In 2020, a police officer-turned activist, Kal Dosanjh, and author and social justice activist Harsha Walia were honoured. Dosanjh is running a group called Kidsplay Foundation that educates youngsters to stay away from racism, while Walia is a die-hard grassroots level activist who has published two books.  

Most of these recipients joined the Saturday event, along with other well-known anti-racism activists, such as Annie Ohana, Suresh Kurl and Dr. Arun Garg.  

Among those who joined this year’s campaign that began in January were Kiran Sidhu, a South Asian teacher who was assaulted by the wife of a white police officer in Delta, Surrey City Councillor Jack Hundial, who brought a motion asking for the recognition of indigenous lands, the first turbaned Sikh MLA in the BC legislature Aman Singh, Black activist Kombii Nanjalah, prison justice and anti-poverty activist Minakshi Mannoe, Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke, who brought a motion against Quebec’s law that discriminates against religious symbols, Yasmin Ullah, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman who has been raising a voice against Islamophobia, Dupinder Kaur Saran, a Sikh activist, who has been raising her voice against repression of minorities in India and elsewhere, and Global TV anchor Neetu Garcha, besides Bhupinder Singh Hundal, the news director and station manager of the same channel. Both Garcha and Hundal have broken the glass ceiling. 

Anita Lal, an exceptional activist who has stood up for the rights and dignity of the so called untouchables within the caste ridden South Asian community, besides other marginalised groups, joined the campaign and left a handprint with a tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a revered Indian scholar and the architect of the Indian constitution.  

Former Spice Radio host and cultural activist Safeeya Pirani opened and closed the  event.   

 

On the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination, the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) presented a medal to Shusma Datt.  

The CEO of Spice Radio 1200 AM had launched "Hands Against Racism" on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. in January, 2015.  

The campaign, which has entered its seventh year, coincides with Holi, the Indian festival of colours. Participants are encouraged to colour their hands and leave a palm print on a white sheet of paper, alongside a message against bigotry. Every year, individuals who have fought against racism are also honoured as part of this campaign.   

On Sunday, March 21, IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh honoured Datt with the Radical Desi medal of courage, at the Spice Radio station located in Burnaby.  

Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics, and is a media partner of IAPI, which was established in response to growing religious intolerance in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist government. IAPI is also vocal against racism in North America.  

Datt has stood up against chauvinism of every shade, and has been vocal against violence against minorities in India and anywhere else in the world. Being a woman of colour, she has faced numerous challenges from both within and outside the community because of her gender and ethnic background. She had received serious threats from Sikh extremists in the past for her criticism of their violent actions. Nevertheless, she has also been critical of Hindu fanatics who have become emboldened under the current Indian regime.    

The other IAPI members present on the occasion were Amrit Diwana, Tejinder Sharma, Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh.  

 

 

Gurpreet Singh   

As we are all anxiously waiting for our turn to get a vaccine to prevent COVID 19, one of the many challenges before the people would be to which shot they prefer to be injected into their bodies.   

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has already said that residents of his province will have a choice not to get AstraZeneca, but many of our political leaders have remained silent on this issue.  

The majority of those opposed to AstraZeneca in Alberta have concerns about it being prepared with material from fetal cells - although this is not factual. Since anti-abortion voices are stronger in that region, Kenney has spelt out clearly that such choice will be given to the people based on their ethical values.  

However, not much is being discussed in the media about the anxiety among the Canadians of Indian origin whose ethical concerns are much bigger than those of anti-abortionists and science deniers.  

By now, we are all familiar with the fact that close to 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca are destined to arrive here from India. After all, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to provide them to deal with the shortage of vaccine in Canada.  

This is despite the fact that Modi is a tyrant, under whose watch attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014.  

Modi belongs to the Hindu supremacist group RSS, which aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. As part of his right wing pro corporate agenda, he has already introduced controversial farming laws that threaten the livelihood of small farmers and those living in rural India. Since these laws were passed without much consultation and debate, the farmers continued to protest for the past several months. Even Trudeau had condemned the police barbarity on the agitating farmers, only to make a U turn later to ask for the vaccine, which has disappointed many of us.   

This reflects poorly on Canada for two reasons. First, how can Canada claim to be a human rights leader in the world, but overlook the crimes of Modi and seek his help? This has given him undue legitimacy and emboldened his supporters in Canada, who are bent upon discrediting those showing their solidarity with the farmers of India.  

Second, Canada being a champion of the public health care system, should have rather produced its own vaccine rather than asking India for help.  

I have nothing against the scientists and the health experts who are behind AstraZeneca, and I don’t agree with anti-abortionists or science deniers, but I am deeply concerned with the fact that this whole vaccine deal has helped Modi in rehabilitating his image in the eyes of Canadians.  

We therefore should have a choice to refuse to accept AstraZeneca and instead get any other vaccine, to send a strong message to both Trudeau and Modi that human rights are not something that can take a back seat for the sake of your relations.  

 

*** 

 

Tammy Hu and Kamika Williams are going to receive this year's annual awards from the Burnaby-based Spice Radio station as part of its campaign Hands Against Racism.  

Started by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt in January, 2015, the campaign has entered its seventh year and coincides with Holi, the Indian festival of colours and the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination which falls this Sunday. 

Participants are encouraged to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on a white sheet of paper alongside a message against racism and intolerance. 

The virtual event scheduled for March 27 will see Hu and Williams  presented with the awards for their tireless work against bigotry. 

Hu had spearheaded a fight against offensive news headlines describing COVID 19 as a "China virus". Ever since the pandemic broke out in China, hate crimes against people of Asian heritage have increased in Metro Vancouver. Hu believes that irresponsible news reporting has contributed to such madness. Spice Radio wanted to send a strong message to those involved in anti- Asian racism by honouring Hu. The announcement came at a time when at least six Asian women were murdered in Georgia, US. A suspect has been arrested following a series of shootings targeting three spas in and around Atlanta. 

Williams is being honoured for her efforts behind Black Shirt Day campaign. The day was recognized to honour the giant leader of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. 

King, who laid down his life fighting for the rights of African Americans, was born on January 15, 1929. Williams had started a petition asking for January 15 to be declared as Black Shirt Day in schools to raise awareness among youth about systemic racism against Black people. 

Both Hu and Williams had participated in Hands Against Racism this year. They have now joined the list of trailblazers and strong voices for change who have been honoured by Spice Radio in the past. 

The very first recipient of the Hands Against Racism award was Baltej Singh Dhillon. He was the first turbaned Sikh RCMP officer, who had to face a racist backlash from both within and outside the force. 

The second annual award went to Sunera Thobani, a Muslim academic who had to face hostility for questioning US foreign policies following 9/11 terror attacks. This was done to challenge growing Islamophobia under Donald Trump. 

The following year in 2018, Georgia Straight Editor Charlie Smith and anti-racism educator Alan Dutton were honoured for standing up for minorities and to amplify the stories of white allies in an ongoing struggle against intolerance. Dutton has been receiving serious threats from white supremacists. 

In 2019, indigenous activist Cecilia Point and South Asian activist Niki Sharma, who is now a member of the BC Legislature, were presented the awards for breaking many barriers and facing racism and sexism. Point has been in the forefront of the annual marches in memory of the missing and murdered indigenous women, whereas Sharma, who has been present in many rallies in support of refugees, had to face blatant racism while running for office in the city of Vancouver.  

In 2020, a police officer-turned activist Kal Dosanjh, and author and social justice activist Harsha Walia were honoured. Dosanjh is running a group called Kidsplay Foundation that educates youngsters to stay away from racism, while Walia is a die-hard grassroots level activist who has published two books. 

 

 

 

 

 

On the eve of International Women’s Day, South Asian activists came together to raise their voices against gendered repression in the world’s so called largest democracy.  

Organized by the Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) on Sunday, March 7, the rally was held outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey.   

The demonstration was mainly focussed on the 30th anniversary of the infamous Kunan Poshpora gang rapes of Kashmiri women by the Indian soldiers.  

Close to 100 women were sexually abused by the Indian forces on the night of February 23, 1991 in the name of  "war on terror". Years have passed but the victims have not been given justice. 

The speakers were unanimous in their criticism of the Indian government for shielding the accused and repeatedly perpetuating sexual violence against women, and allowing rape to be used as a weapon to instil fear in the minds of minority communities. The pattern has grown under the present right wing Hindu nationalist government.  

They also spoke out against the recent arrests of female activists by Indian police on trumped up charges during the ongoing farmers’ agitation, and held placards asking for the release of prominent human rights defender Sudha Bhardawaj and others, who are being incarcerated for their advocacy of the poor and marginalized.  

Among those who addressed the gathering were Rohingya Muslim activist Yasmin Ullah, Sikh activist Dupinder Kaur Saran, and anti-racism educator Annie Ohana. Besides these three women, others who spoke on the occasion were IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh.  

The participants raised slogans in support of Sudha Bhardawaj and the victims of Kunan Poshpora gang rapes.  

The event was started with a moment of silence for three female farm workers who died in a road accident in Abbotsford on March 7, 2007, and all those farmers who have laid down their lives during the current peasantry movement in India.  

 A collage of green handprints added a new dimension to an anti-racism initiative launched by Burnaby-based Spice Radio this week.  

The broadcasters and other team members at the station, came together to raise their voices for Indian farmers in a unique way.  

They not only left their handprints in green on a white sheet, but also scribbled their greetings to show respect to the farmers agitating against controversial laws passed by the right wing and pro corporate government in India.  

The farmers have been camping near New Delhi for the past 100 days now, asking to roll back the ordinances that threaten their livelihood.  

As part of their annual Hands Against Racism campaign, the team members dipped their hands in green colour and left a palm print on a white sheet laid outside the studio.  

Among them was Vishaljeet Kaur, who recently sang Kissan Di Vaar (a heroic ode of farmer). Kaur is a well-known Punjabi singer, whose recent song video focussing on the farmers’ struggle has received a lot of attention. “I support farmers”, she wrote right beneath her handprint.  

While Kaur works on the administrative side of the radio station, those doing on-air news and entertainment programs were in the forefront of the decision to show solidarity with the farmers. 

The morning talk show host Mankiran Aujla wrote, "Power to the farmers!" 

Likewise, Noni Kaur, another seasoned broadcaster, wrote in Punjabi, "We are indebted to the farmers."  

Hands Against Racism has entered its seventh year. It was started in 2015 on the birth anniversary of towering civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt. It coincides with Holi, a Hindu festival of colours and encourages participants to dip their hands in colours and leave a handprint alongside a message against bigotry.  

Datt has provided the radio platform to different groups and speakers advocating for the rights of the agitating farmers.  

Not to be left behind, Gaurav Shah, who has a popular musical show at Spice Radio, talks about the farmers' movement almost every day and has been consistently showing his empathy with those protesting in India on social media. 

 

 

Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) came together on Sunday, February 14, to raise their voices for the jailed Indian scholar who is being incarcerated despite being disabled below the waist, and having been tested positive for COVID 19.  

A well-known human rights defender, former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba is currently serving a life term after having been convicted on trumped up charges for merely standing up for the oppressed groups and religious minorities.  

He was arrested after being branded as a Maoist sympathiser for mobilizing public rallies against the state violence on Adivasis, or the indigenous peoples of India, who are being evicted from their traditional lands by the corporates with the backing of the Indian establishment in the name of development. Since Maoist insurgents are active in the tribal belt of India, Saibaba was accused of being a sympathizer of the radical left.  

The right wing Hindu nationalist government refuses to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, in spite of his deteriorating health on account of several ailments, and increasing global pressure. So much so, he was denied an opportunity to meet his mother who passed away recently because of cancer.   

The news of his having been tested positive for COVID 19 has sparked fear and apprehension among his admirers both within and outside India.  

The IAPI held an emergency rally seeking his release, outside Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey.  

Braving snow and cold weather, members of the group showed up at the demonstration holding signs and raising slogans against the draconian laws being used to supress any voice of dissent and to keep political activists behind bars. They also glued a sign asking for his release near the entrance of the office.  

IAPI was instrumental behind a petition for Saibaba in the past that attracted thousands of signatures from the residents of Canada.  

 

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