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Gurpreet Singh

 

The United Nations needs to do to Indian Prime Minister what Canada did to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Narendra Modi was given a Champions of the Earth Award last Wednesday in Delhi by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, a day after Canada stripped Suu Kyi of her Honorary Citizenship.

Suu Kyi is the Myanmar leader accused of remaining indifferent to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of military officials and Buddhist extremists. The Canadian Senate unanimously passed a motion to revoke her Honorary Citizenship, given in recognition of her long struggle against dictatorship.

While human rights advocacy groups rejoiced at this victory in Canada, the United Nations chose to honour someone whose track record on both human rights and environment is problematic.

Modi is the leader of a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, which is determined to turn the world’s so-called largest secular democracy into a Hindu theocracy. Ever since his party came to power with a brute majority in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have grown. In fact, Modi, who was formerly the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is often held responsible for the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002 in that state. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered across the state by his party men following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. That incident, which left more than 50 dead, was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by Modi. He was never convicted for the bloodshed, though survivors of the violence and human rights activists believe that he was complicit in the crime.

To be fair, Modi was given the Champions of the Earth award by the UN for taking some initiatives to deal with climate change, such as elimination of the use of plastic bags and promoting solar technology. Undoubtedly those steps are important, but his government has been protecting companies that are responsible for causing pollution and targeting environmental activists and land defenders.

Global Witness report noted that being an environmental activist is as dangerous as it is important, including in India, where the situation has reportedly turned as bad as in Colombia and Congo. The report revealed that 16 activists and members of indigenous communities were killed in 2016 alone. 

Much like in Canada, indigenous groups in India continue to fight for their right to land and against extraction industries that are trying to evict them in the name of development and progress with the backing of the Indian state.

The recent arrests of political activists and intellectuals who have been raising concerns over the rights of indigenous communities in mineral rich tribal areas of India only show how intolerant the Modi government is towards any voice of dissent, even if it is meant to defend the climate and livelihood of the poor and marginalized. These individuals were not only branded as sympathizers of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal belt, but also accused of being involved in conspiracy to murder Modi, a charge that has been refuted by Maoists. Ironically, the United Nations had also raised the issue of jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was given a life sentence despite being 90 percent disabled below the waist. Like others, he was also dubbed as a Maoist supporter. It is widely believed that Saibaba was framed for standing up for the rights of indigenous communities.

This year, 13 protesters were killed in a police action in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, where they were demonstrating against water and air contamination caused by the Sterlite copper factory, owned by the Vedanta group, which has donated money to the BJP and other big parties. Vedanta is a resource industry which is also in direct conflict with indigenous communities in other parts of India.

For the record, Modi is also a climate change denier. He has been arguing that the Mother Earth has become older and thus has lost its resistance power. That is his explanation of climate change and global warming, which has obviously nothing to do with science. Both Modi and his party continue to confuse people by mixing science with Hindu mythology.  

In the light of these facts, the UN has not only given legitimacy to the political right which is embroiled in fights with environmentalists and human rights activists all over the world, it has also set a bad example by picking someone who could be described as anything but a champion of the earth.

 

 

 

 

Yoga and Ahimsa aren’t the only elements of the world’s so-called largest democracy. It’s time for those enamoured by India’s tolerance and diversity to open their eyes and get familiar with the growing religious bigotry under a right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
 
Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh and the Age of Unreason by Chidanand Rajghatta can help in understanding this ugly reality. Based on the life and murder of a Kannada journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017, by Hindu extremists, the book is authored by none other than the deceased’s ex-husband.
 
Rajghatta, who himself is a journalist reveals that though the couple had divorced they remained good friends. So much so, his current wife Mary Breeding and their children also adored her. That Mary chose to write an obituary for Gauri that is included in the postscript of the book shows how open and generous she was.

It was this liberalism both in her personal and journalistic life that led to her assassination.
 
Gauri was the Editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike that gave voice to the minorities and the oppressed communities. She remained a vocal critic of the Hindu Right that has gained currency ever since the BJP came to power in India with a brute majority in 2014. The attacks on Muslims and other minority communities by those who wish to turn India into Hindu theocracy have intensified.
 
Gauri who was also an activist was agitated by the rapid growth of Hindu fanaticism in her home state of Karnataka that has always been known for its pluralism. She was influenced by her late father who was a progressive journalist and writer and denounced superstition and sectarianism. Though she had begun her journalistic career in the mainstream English press, she gave it up to join her father’s publication Lankesh Patrike that mastered in Kannada journalism. Only after she fell apart with her brother for ideological reasons, she started a publication under her name. 

Gauri who had no inclination towards religion and had scientific temperament ensured that no rituals were observed at the funeral of her father.
 
She was a defender of the Indian constitution that is based on the principles of secularism and democracy and guarantees religious freedom. She remained a staunch opponent of the caste system that stratifies Indian society and supports untouchability and therefore openly challenged Hindu orthodoxy for practising it. Though she was equally critical of the opposition Congress party for pandering religious groups and fanaticism of every shade, she had come under constant attack from the supporters of BJP and Hindu right-wing groups during the months preceding her death. Some active on social media had rejoiced her murder. 

In private gatherings too, nothing stopped her from challenging those, including family friends who blinded by majoritarianism said nasty things about Muslims or the depressed classes. Rajghatta mentions how she once recommended him to hire a single mother as domestic help and take care of her daughters. 

The author offers so many details that a reader can take away not only the memories of Gauri as a hero of the underdog but a deeper understanding of how India is heading to become a monolithic and closed society. 
 
The book isn’t just the story of Gauri, it rather situates her story in the broader context of the current situation of India where freethinkers and rationalists are being targeted for questioning the power and challenging the myths with impunity.

 

The Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) released its policy document at an event organized in memory of Comrade Darshan Singh Canadian at North Delta George Mackie Library on Sunday, September 30.

Canadian was a towering communist leader of Punjab who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists on September 25, 1986. 

At an event organized in commemoration of his 32nd death anniversary, the members of IAPI, which was established in July, 2017 in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and rationalists under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, released their policy document that explains what the group stands for.

The document was formally released by the IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, Organizing Secretary Rakesh Kumar, Treasurer Navtej Johal, Spokesman Gurpreet Singh and other IAPI members Sandeep Samalsar and Sarabjit Singh Baaz.  

Gurpreet Singh explained that since Canada has witnessed the devastating impact of residential schools that were opened to Christianise indigenous peoples by the state and the church, it is necessary for Indians based in Canada to raise their voices against any kind of theocracy and attempts to turn India into a Hindu state.

Navtej Johal linked the ongoing violence against rationalists in India by Hindu extremists with the murders of communists like Canadian by Sikh separatists during the 1980s. He pointed out that September also marks the martyrdom anniversary of rationalist scholar Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered by Hindu fanatics last year, and called upon all secularists to join hands and fight back against communalism.

People’s Voice Editor Kimball Cariou gave a keynote speech on Canadian and explained how his legacy of secularism remains relevant in the light of growing bigotry all over the world. He also spoke about his contribution to the labour movement and international solidarity. He was later honoured with a medal by Parshotam Dosanjh.

Others who spoke on the occasion included Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh. She reminded the gathering that Canadian had fought for the right to vote during his decade long stay in Canada from 1937-1947. She mentioned that fight for electoral reforms still continues and urged the gathering to vote in support of upcoming referendum on proportional representation.

Amrit Diwana recited a poem dedicated to Gauri Lankesh, while Sarabjit Singh Baaz recited a poem dedicated to Paash, a revolutionary communist poet who was also murdered by Sikh extremists. Minaxi Sidhu sang a revolutionary song dedicated to all the communist revolutionaries. 

Those present in the gathering included Canadian’s daughter Amardeep Kaur and the son of the late Indian Marxist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Paramjit Basi. In the meantime, IAPI also condemned the recent attack on Punjabi poet Surjit Gag by Sikh fundamentalists, who accused him of hurting their religious sentiments in one of his poems. Gag has been receiving threats from both Hindu and Sikh extremists for his poems that are critical of religious orthodoxy and intolerance. 

 

 

Parabjot K. Singh

Canada is a diverse nation that welcomes individuals from all over the world regardless of religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, and most importantly, language. Unlike its counterpart, the United States of America, Canada is known to embrace multiculturalism and inclusiveness while the USA prefers her immigrants to adopt assimilation subsequently entering the country. While it is important for immigrants to learn one of the official languages of Canada (English or French), their heritage languages are dishonoured and not given the same respect as the official languages.

Minority Language Rights policy is socially unjust because the policy contradicts its principles, fails to reflect Canadian demographics, and it is ignorant of the linguistic well-being of non-English and French speaking Canadians.

          Section 23: Minority Language Rights policy in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom aims to preserve and promote the English and French languages in Canada. Since majority of emigrants came to Canada from English and French speaking countries, English and French represented the majority emigrant population in Canada during colonialism. Thus, the children of English or French speaking parents have the right, according to law, to be educated in one of these languages. For example, French minority language education rights are guaranteed to French-speaking communities in English speaking areas. On the other hand, English minority language education rights are guaranteed to English speaking communities in French speaking areas such as Quebec and New Brunswick (“Minority Language Education Rights”).

Furthermore, the policy is divided into three subsections. The first section states that a child can learn the language of his or her parent if the parent’s first language is the minority language of the province. The second section declares that if the parent received its school instruction in either English or French and continues to live in a province where one of these languages is the minority, his or her child can receive their school instruction in either language. The final section states that all children of the parent are allowed to receive their school instruction in the same language (“Minority Language Education Rights”). While the promotion of English and French makes it easier for the Canadian government to efficiently deal with Canadian society, it fails to consider the needs of other language groups in Canada.

While preserving heritages and cultures have positive results, psychological research strengthens the belief that bilingualism benefits all individuals. Many parents believe that learning two or three languages at the same time hinders their child’s language development. As a matter of fact, this is not true. In their articles, Bialystok and Kaushanskaya et al. (qtd. in Willis 1) explain that students who were exposed to more than one language between five to ten years performed higher on cognitive performance tests, and had better judgment and attention skills compared to monolingual students (2012). Also, bilingual research shows how students benefit and perform better in all aspects of their lives. According to Danesi, (qtd. in Duff 77) there are three principles that promote bilingual students’ success academically. Linguistic interdependence means that the student is able to successfully transfer his or her knowledge from the heritage language to the second language. The principle of narrativity suggests that students who are familiar with their heritage cultural story telling are more mentally versatile when learning a second language. The last principle, cognitive enhancement shows that students make better connections while learning the second language (2008). Despite the fact that the Minority Language Rights policy is aware of bilingual research, it still clings on to the bilingual framework. The progressive changes in the policy need to be implemented as soon as possible because it is unfair to the other language speakers in Canada.

The Minority Language Rights policy strongly believes in the core principle of preserving languages and cultures. I agree that a culture does not survive without its language. In order to prove this claim, the policy states that providing education to the minority language community in their own language provides a better education, as children are taught in the language they best understand, and in a culture they share” (“Minority Language Education Rights”).  If the Canadian Charter recognizes this fact, then why are English and French the only language options in the education system? While the policy contradicts its own belief, research supports the idea that children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue or their mother tongue is taught to them alongside another language. Duff argues that heritage languages play a crucial role in the success of minority language students. Students who maintained their heritage language tend to achieve higher in third language performance compared to those who were unable to read or write in their heritage language (2008). In relation to the Minority Language Rights policy, as a result, it clearly does not represent the true demographics of Canadian provinces. Cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have a high immigrant population from all over the world, specifically from India and China. Therefore, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to reform its principles in order to reflect Canadian demographics.

          Speaking of Canada’s demographics, BC is an attractive province for immigrants; thus, the second most spoken language in BC is Punjabi. Sanghera, the president of the Punjabi Language Education Association, states that “Punjabi . . . is now the third most spoken language in Canada with at least 460,000 speakers” (2013). Most Punjabi speakers reside in the lower mainland of BC and the Punjabi speaking population is increasing over the years. Because of the increasing Punjabi population, the Punjabi language should be given recognition in BC, not French. The French speaking community is the minority in BC and there are far more Punjabi speakers in the province than those of French. Moreover, Binning argues that the language policy needs to be changed at the federal level. He gives two suggestions that the Canadian government can take into consideration. One suggestion he makes is that the new language policy should reflect the demographics of Canada even though this may be a lengthy process. Also, the government should produce a formula that recognizes languages based on their population and length (2016).  I agree with both Sanghera’s and Binning’s point of view. Demographics have always been the one number indicator of determining language use since the past. While the system continues to remain static, it is logical to suggest that the Punjabi language should be given recognition in BC.

          The Punjabi Language Education Association of BC (PLEA) was formed in 1994. The main goal of PLEA is to connect children and adolescents from Punjabi speaking families to their heritage language. PLEA successfully managed to implement Punjabi classes in many public elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions in the lower mainland.

After celebrating their 10th annual International Mother Tongue Day event, Sanghera states, “A number of teachers made an excellent effort in encouraging their students to participate. PLEA is very thankful to all of those parents, teachers and students who were there either as participants or as part of the audience” (2013). PLEA’s efforts to connect younger generations to their culture through the language create a healthy Canadian society.  On the other hand, PLEA’s progressive ideas and beliefs allow non-Punjabi individuals to learn the language. In his article, Sanghera states that “[Former] MLAs Sue Hammell and Bruce Ralston [took] Punjabi language classes at SFU’s Surrey campus . . . including Vancouver [former] mayor Sam Sullivan . . . also [learnt] this language privately or in BC’s public schools and post secondary institutions” (2007). As a result, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to take the demographics into serious consideration; progressive organizations like PLEA will continue to progress with implementing language classes into the public-school system.    

          Although the Minority Language Rights policy may not change in the next ten years or so, students who learn their heritage language have a better sense of their identity and connect well with their grandparents. Duff states that “Participants reported feeling anger, frustration, shame, and disappointment with such outcomes, thus experiencing negative self-image and negative views of their ethnic cultures and a feeling of identifying with neither their [heritage language] nor the dominant English culture” (2008). This is bound to happen because as social beings, individuals need a place to belong. One of the reasons that immigrants come to Canada is to give their children a better life. If their children do not feel socially and linguistically well in their country, then the future of Canada will not flourish and prosper. Since the offspring of majority immigrants are third generation Canadians, they have had a Canadian upbringing. These young individuals, as a result, are bicultural citizens. Furthermore, bilingual individuals are able to successfully adapt in terms of intergenerational communication. According to Dagenais and Berron, third generation individuals have the ability to code-switch when speaking to members of their family. For instance, they speak in their heritage language when conversing with grandparents. On the other hand, they switch to English when conversing with siblings and use both languages when communicating with their parents (2001). It is interesting to note how the heritage and official languages are both used in the same context. Instead of being worried about preserving English and French, we should be more worried about the preservation of other heritage languages in Canada. It is logical to state that these languages, not English and French, may become extinct and endangered if they are not taken care of. Because of these reasons, the Minority Language Rights policy needs to consider the linguistic diversity that exists in Canada.

          In conclusion the Minority Language Rights policy is socially unjust in present day Canada. Firstly, this policy contradicts its own principles especially the value that preserving the mother tongue increases students’ ability to learn in school. Secondly, the policy does not represent current Canadian demographics. Finally, the policy does not consider implementing the Punjabi language despite the fact that it is heavily spoken in BC’s lower mainland and other urban areas across Canada. In the end, the federal government needs to revise and reform the Minority Language Rights policy. It needs to be fair to other linguistic groups that reside in Canada. While it is extremely important to learn at least one of the two official languages, it is equally important to honour, preserve and promote other heritage languages in Canada.

Therefore, Canada’s success does not only depend on multiculturalism; however, multilingualism must be given equal rights too.

 

 Parabjot K. Singh is an educator, social activist, and writer. She is a board member of Punjabi Language Education Association.  She was one of the Surrey's Top 25 Under 25 award recipients of 2016. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Berron, Catherine and Dagenais, Diane. “Promoting Multilingualism through French Immersion and Language Maintenance in Three Immigrant Families.” Language, Culture and Curriculum, vol. 14, no. 2, 2001, pp.142-155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07908310108666618

 

Binning, Sadhu. “A Significant Moment for the Punjabi Language in Canada.” Punjabi Language Education Association. Wordpress.com 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. https://plea4punjabi1.wordpress.com/

 

Duff, Patricia. “Heritage Language Education in Canada: A New Field Emerging.” HeritageEducation in Canada, edited by Donna M. Brinton, Olga Kagan and Susan Bauckus, New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2008, pp. 71-90.

“Minority Language Education Rights.”  The Charter in the Classroom: Students, Teachers and Rights ,CC:STAR, http://www.thecharterrules.ca/index.php?main=concepts&concept=10

 

Sanghera, Balwant. “Canadians non-Punjabis Start Learning Punjabi.” Punjabi Language Education Association. Wordpress.com 16 Jan. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. https://plea4punjabi1.wordpress.com/documents/canadians-non-punjabis-start-learning-punjabi/

 

Sanghera, Balwant. “How Punjabi in Canada Became the Third Most Spoken Language.” NewsEastWest, Sogwap Web Design, 1 Mar. 2013, http://newseastwest.com/how-punjabi-became-the-third-most-spoken-language-in-canada/

 

Willis, Judy. “Bilingual Brains: Smarter and Faster.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22

Nov. 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching/201211/bilingual-brains-smarter-faster

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The New Democratic Party Indigenous MP Romeo Saganash (from the Quebec riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou) recently made headlines by using the “F” word in the House of Commons.

He was arguing against Prime Minister Trudeau’s continuous efforts to push through controversial Trans Mountain pipeline without proper consultations with First Nations.

For the record, he said, "Why doesn't the prime minister just say the truth and tell Indigenous Peoples that he doesn't give a fuck about their rights?"

The statement has angered supporters of pipeline and the apologists of those in power. One media headline screamed, “NDP MP Romeo Saganash drops F-bomb in House of Commons”.

The House Speaker asked Saganash to withdraw his words and apologize, to which he clearly said that he was angry at what was happening, and withdrew his words that were described as “unparliamentary”.  

Those who are concerned about the niceties of Parliament and more obsessed with “F” word should actually focus their attention on the issue Saganash has been trying to raise repeatedly for all these years.

Sometimes, such small actions become necessary to make deaf governments hear. There are instances where radical political activists such as Bhagat Singh – who was hanged for waging war against British occupation of India in 1931 - had to throw a smoke bomb in the Legislative Assembly in Delhi to protest against repressive laws passed by the government. Singh remains one of the most revered freedom fighters of India. Compared to that, Saganash’s so called F-bomb is nothing.

The fact remains that the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that the Canadian government did not do enough to consult Indigenous groups before finalizing plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline through their traditional lands. This is despite the fact that during his 2015 election campaign, Trudeau promised to establish a true "nation to nation" relationship with indigenous peoples. On the contrary, his government decided to buy the company to rescue it from financial uncertainty due to growing grassroots level resistance.

Saganash’s frustration needs to be understood; thanks to him for forcing everyone to talk about this important issue, and get out of the denial about all the sweet talk by Trudeau over reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

It’s a shame that First Nations, who are the original inhabitants of Canada that was built on their stolen lands, continue to face structural racism and violence in their everyday life. Their numbers in the jails over-represent their population. Indigenous women and girls continue to be killed, sexually assaulted and frequently go missing, while the national inquiry on this issue ordered by Trudeau has failed to get anywhere.

Tearful apologies from Trudeau over the historical wrongs committed against them are not enough. He has to engage them and listen to their concerns, rather than giving a free hand for resource extraction projects like Trans Mountain. It is high time that we start showing respect to the Indigenous peoples and their rights if we claim to be the human rights leader in the world.

Saganash’s statement should also open the eyes of NDP governments in Alberta and BC. Ironically, the ruling New Democrats in Alberta support the pipeline, while their counterparts in BC don’t support it, but have given a green light to the Site C dam that is being built on Indigenous lands without proper informed consent. The Indigenous resistance against this controversial project continues. Hopefully, BC Premier Johan Horgan will also pay a little more attention to what Saganash has said, as this may even be true for him.


Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India honoured Niranjan Takle - a courageous journalist who exposed the mysterious death of Justice B.H. Loya - in Delta on Monday, September 17.

Takle was in Vancouver on the invitation of South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. He was presented with a medal by IAPI members, including its President Parshotam Dosanjh, Outreach Secretary Rakesh Keshu, Organizing Secretary Sarabjit Singh Baaz, Treasurer Navtej Johal and spokesman Gurpreet Singh.

Takle had published an investigative story on the death of Loya for Caravan magazine in November, 2017. The story was previously ignored by other publications, including The Week magazine for which Takle worked. As a result he had to resign to do the story independently. However, Caravan magazine gave an opportunity to Takle to cover the issue, despite the fact that other outlets were under extreme pressure from the government, and a section of the mainstream media in India has even tried to discredit the story.

In 2005, a Muslim named Shohrabuddin Sheikh was murdered in custody by the Gujarat police. His wife, Kauser Bi, who had witnessed his arrest, was raped and murdered. Amit Shah, the  current president of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was complicit in the conspiracy. Being a home minister of Gujarat back then, he was in charge of the law and order in the state.

The Supreme Court of India ordered an inquiry into these murders, and appointed a Special court to try Shah and police officers involved.

Justice Loya, who headed the Special Court, was allegedly pressured to give a favourable verdict and exonerate Shah. The story done by Takle revealed that Loya had died under mysterious circumstances, leaving many unanswered questions and raising doubts over the nature of the autopsy and the actions of those who conducted postmortem procedures.

Subsequently, the new judge discharged Shah and others. Takle’s story is based on the interviews he did with Loya’s family, and autopsy documents that point to many gaps. Takle continues to be under surveillance for trying to unearth the truth.
***

 
 

 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI)  held a rally against the recent arrests of five political activists in India.

 

The Friday rally organized at Holland Park in Surrey was attended by the representatives of various progressive groups. The speakers unanimously condemned the the arrests of  revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, Human Rights lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj, besides authors and activists Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira, and retired teacher Vernon Gonsalves. .

 

IAPI believes that they have been framed to suppress the voice of dissent, as they have always stood for the oppressed and marginalized. 

 

The participants raised slogans against draconian laws and state repression in the world’s so called largest democracy and held out placards carrying the pictures of those arrested to show their solidarity with them. Among those in attendance were seniors, women and youngsters. Progressive poets and activists like Amrit Diwana and Sarabjit Baaz recited rebellious poems om the occasion. Renowned story writer Harpreet Sekha and documentary filmmaker Ajay Bhardwaj were also in attendance to show support. Those who spoke at the event included IAPI cofounders Parshottam Dosanjh, Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh. Veteran community activist Chin Banerjee spoke at length to explain what is going on in India under the right-wing Modi government. None of the elected officials who were invited by the organizers showed up, even though Surrey has a significant number of Indo-Canadian MPs and MLAs.    

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India have unanimously condemned the arrests of five political activists in India.

In all, ten resolutions were passed at the emergency meeting of the IAPI in Delta on Tuesday evening, August 28.

One of the resolutions condemned the arrests of political activists and raids on the houses of others across India.

Those arrested include revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, Human Rights lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj, besides authors and activists Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira.  Ferreira was arrested and imprisoned in the past too.

The Indian police have arrested these individuals on malicious charges. They are being accused of having links with Maoist insurgents and for being involved in a plot to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

IAPI believes that they have been framed to suppress the voice of dissent as they have always stood for the oppressed and marginalized. IAPI has decided to hold a protest rally in Surrey on Friday, August 31.

The IAPI also condemned the recent attack on student activist Umar Khalid in Delhi by supporters of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.

Another resolution condemned the opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement absolving his party from the charge of being involved in 1984 anti-Sikh massacre.

Though IAPI condemned the attack on a visiting Akali leader, Manjit Singh GK, in California by the Sikh separatists, and threats being made to Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu by the Hindu fanatics, it clarified that they do not agree with the bourgeois politics of the two leaders and will continue to oppose their policies that are only good for the elite.

The IAPI also remembered the victims of Kandhmal violence on its tenth anniversary. The Hindu extremists murdered scores of Christians in Orissa in August, 2008. Many of the victims of this violence have migrated to other states, while the perpetrators of the massacre remain unpunished. IAPI demanded the prosecution of those involved.

A resolution was also passed to show solidarity with the people of Kerala who continue to grapple with the crisis caused by massive floods, and to condemn the central government for meting out step-motherly treatment to the state and not doing enough to help those affected.

Other resolutions included condemnation of the declaration of a Jewish state by the Israeli government, and online racist threats being made against South Asian candidates running for city election in Vancouver.  IAPI also welcomed the United Nation’s indictment of Army officers in Myanmar for their involvement in genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

This month marks the first anniversary of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI).  

Formed in Surrey, BC on July 8, 2017, IAPI was created in response to the growing attacks on religious minorities in India.

Ever since the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India in 2014, violence against minorities has grown in the world’s so called largest liberal democracy.

It is only a matter of time  before the BJP government officially declares a Hindu state, as cultural and religious diversity remains under constant threat from the Hindu chauvinists who continue to terrorise Muslims, Christians and Dalits or those considered untouchables with impunity.  In light of the recent declaration of a Jewish state by Israel, and a deafening silence of the west, the possibility for a Hindu India in the  near future cannot be ruled out.

Under the current government in India, not only minority communities, but people from the majority Hindu community who denounce the ideology of the BJP, are also frequently targeted by the Hindu extremists.

IAPI represents various religious and cultural sections within the Indian Diaspora in Canada and stands for a pluralist and tolerant society.  Among those who came forward to establish the group were people of Indian origin from different faith groups. Those who participated in the first meeting included two Hindus, two Muslims, three Sikhs, two Dalits and at least one Christian. Others were atheists or free thinkers. They unanimously condemned growing attacks on minorities in India and resolved to raise a voice for a secular and tolerant India. They decided to hold a big demonstration against killings of Muslims suspected of carrying beef by the self-styled cow vigilantes.

It was also decided not to limit the focus of IAPI to criticising the BJP, but also to act like a watchdog against other political parties, to discourage them from indulging in majoritarianism. The opposition Congress, which has been involved in sectarian politics for opportunistic reasons in the past under the garb of secularism, must also take the blame for the gradual growth of Hindu fanaticism in India.

Though IAPI is yet to formulate its constitution and set up a governing body, the active members and cofounders include myself, Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal, Rakesh Kumar and Amrit Diwana. There are others who are not actively involved, but remain a big support.   

On July 30 last year, we held our first public rally outside Surrey City Hall. More than 50 people participated, including a significant number of women and children. Unfortunately, no South Asian politician showed up, while the media also ignored the rally.

A month later, IAPI invited Rana Ayyub, a courageous Indian journalist who had exposed the politicians and state officials involved in the killings of Muslims under BJP government in Gujarat in 2002. The current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was the Chief Minister of the state when the anti-Muslim pogrom was organized by his party. Ayyub had investigated the involvement of BJP leaders and police officers in these killings during a sting operation she did for Tehalka media group. She later published a book based on her undercover investigation.  Gujarat Files remains a popular book which has been translated into different languages. IAPI helped in publication and distribution of the Punjabi translation, done by an activist friend Buta Singh, who lives in India. She continues to receive threats for being critical of the BJP.

On August 12, Ayyub spoke at a Surrey Central Library event organized by IAPI. The program was held inside the room named after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar the architect of the Indian constitution that guarantees religious equality and freedom. He had forewarned Indians about a threat by the Hindu right to peace and harmony.

This time, the response was huge and an unprecedented number of people came to listen to Ayyub’s lecture. She was duly honoured by the group for her bravery.

On August 27, we held a rally at the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver. The Komagata Maru ship carrying more than 300 passengers from British India was turned back in July 1914 under a discriminatory immigration law that was passed to discourage Indian immigrants from permanent settlement in Canada. Those aboard the ship belonged to different faith groups. IAPI decided to hold one demonstration right near the memorial that symbolizes unity and diversity of the founding fathers of India, who not only fought against British occupation back home, but also racism abroad. The idea was to make people in the mainstream aware of unfortunate incidents taking place in India.

We marched from the Simon Fraser University Harbour Center to the Komagata Maru memorial, and stopped at the Indian Consulate where slogans were raised and flyers were dropped to let the Indian agents know what we want. Speakers from different religious communities spoke at the memorial and condemned the policies of the BJP.

On September 5, the world was shocked at the news of the assassination of Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh by suspected Hindu extremists. We promptly condemned the murder. Lankesh was critical of the BJP and had translated Ayyub’s book in Kannada, which made everybody in IAPI anxious about her safety. A day later, we held an emergency rally against the murder of Lankesh at Holland Park in Surrey. This time, other than Rachna Singh, the MLA from Surrey Green Timber, no other elected official showed up. (For the record Singh is my wife, but her decision to join the rally was her own.)

IAPI was also prompted to intervene on the Rohingya issue when the Indian government got embroiled into an unwanted controversy.  Thousands of Rohingyas were slaughtered by the military and Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, forcing many to flee to India for safety. However, the Muslim Rohingyas did not get a good reception in India. Several BJP leaders suggested that they should be deported. Some went to the extent of saying that only Hindu Rohingyas be allowed to stay back. This was in violation of the Indian convention of accepting refugees without discrimination. So much so, the Hindu fundamentalists also attacked Khalsa Aid – a Sikh humanitarian group that was helping the refugees languishing in various camps - on social media.

IAPI held a rally at the Holland Park in Surrey again on September 23 demanding that India accept all Rohingya refugees with open arms, without discriminating against Muslims, and show its support to Khalsa Aid. Not only Muslim activists from Myanmar attended the rally; Surrey Center MP Randeep Sarai, and Conservative Party supporter Harpreet Singh also joined the gathering. Sarai later wrote a letter to the Prime Minister forwarding the demands raised at the rally. Few days later, IAPI supporters joined a rally for Rohingyas outside Vancouver Art Gallery. 

On October 12, IAPI honoured a retired school Principal from Punjab, Swaran Singh Aujla, at an event held at Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey.

Aujla had located the family of Muslim Indian revolutionary Rehmat Ali Wajidke in Pakistan. Wajidke had died fighting against British occupation of India. His family had migrated to Pakistan following religious partition of the country in 1947. Aujla had served as the Principal of the school at Wajidke’s native village. He not only located the family of Wajidke in Pakistan, but also got the school renamed after the national hero. This was an important step to build cultural ties between the two neighbouring countries. The recognition of Aujla’s work also became important in the light of growing attacks on Muslims, whose nationalism and patriotism is frequently questioned by the BJP. IAPI presented Aujla with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Rachna Singh was the only elected official to be present on the occasion, while Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon made a statement in the BC Legislature to recognize IAPI’s work and the contributions of Aujla.

On December 2, University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Kamal Arora was honoured by IAPI for her study on the female victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence engineered by the then Congress government following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. MLA Rachna Singh and her party colleague Amandeep Singh from the New Democratic Party were in attendance at the event held at Strawberry Hill Library.

On December 9, IAPI held a rally to mark 25 years of the demolition of Babri mosque by the BJP supporters on December 6, 1992. The BJP continues to claim that the ancient mosque was built after destroying a temple that was originally built at the birthplace of Lord Ram, a revered Hindu god. This time, not a single elected official turned up at the event that was held at Holland Park in Surrey.

On February 4, 2018 IAPI held another rally at Holland Park in commemoration of political figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Lankesh, who were killed by Hindu extremists. This year marks 70 years of the assassination of Gandhi by the supporters of a Hindu state. Gandhi had invited the wrath of the Hindu extremists for standing up against repression of Muslims during partition. Most media outlets and politicians ignored it.   

On February 11, IAPI again held a rally at Holland Park demanding the arrest of Jagdish Tytler, a senior Congress leader involved in anti-Sikh carnage. Tytler had made startling revelations during a media sting about the killings of innocent Sikhs. Most speakers agreed that a prompt action was needed against Tytler and other Congress politicians, but the BJP cannot be allowed to take advantage considering its own controversial background. Though this rally received good media coverage, some of the TV footage was disturbingly selective, omitting the statements made against BJP. The rally was started with a moment of silence for Asma Jahangir, a human rights activist from Pakistan who had passed away a few days before. Jahangir always stood for the rights of minorities in her country. 

On February 18, IAPI held a rally in commemoration of the Samjhauta express blast. The rail service that runs between India and Pakistan and was started to strengthen relations between the two neighbouring countries was targeted by the Hindu extremists on February 18, 2007. The blast had left 68 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims. An equal number of candles were to be lit in memory of the dead at Holland Park, but due to cold weather and snow, the candles couldn’t catch fire. Once again the media and elected officials ignored the rally that was attended by several known activists.

On March 20, another rally and vigil was organized at Holland Park in memory of the victims of Chittisinghpura massacre and subsequent incidents. 36 Sikhs were murdered in Chittisinghpura village of Indian-administered Kashmir on March 20, 2000. The story behind the bloodshed remains a mystery, although it is widely believed that this was either done by the Indian army or by state sponsored Hindu vigilante groups to discredit Kashmiri militants who are fighting for independence. This had happened when US President Bill Clinton was touring India. In order to cover up the affair, Indian forces killed five local residents, wrongly accusing them of being Pakistani militants involved in the massacre. This was followed by the deaths of nine protesters in the police firing. Those killed were asking for justice to the families of the five people killed by the Indian forces. Since the whole episode left 50 people dead (including 36 Sikhs) IAPI lit 50 candles in their memory.   

On April 13, IAPI honoured visiting activist from India Teesta Setalvad. Setalvad has been fighting for justice to the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre. She was invited for keynote address on the relevance of the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre that happened on April 13, 1919. Scores of peaceful protesters were killed in an indiscriminate firing by the troops on a peaceful assembly at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar in British-occupied India. The demonstrators had gathered to raise their voices against draconian laws and the arrests of leaders of the passive resistance movement against colonialism. Among those who died were Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The Jallianwala Bagh story symbolizes secular unity. Setalvad’s great grandfather Chimanlal Setalvad had cross examined the British officer responsible for the unprovoked firing. The Indian authorities tried their best to block her visit to Canada by slapping false cases against her.

She spoke at length about the history of the bloody event and its relevance today under BJP rule that continues to muzzle any voice of dissent and threatens the secular fabric of the country. Following an impressive event held at Surrey Central Library, she was honoured with medal of courage.  Buta Singh who translated Gujarat Files also joined the event where the Punjabi edition of Setalvad’s memoir, Foot Soldier of the Constitution was released. Singh, who had translated Setalvad’s book, also spoke on the occasion.

On April 22, IAPI held a rally for Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu extremists in Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir in January, 2018. The crime was committed to instil fear in the minds of Muslims and force them to migrate out of fear. Clearly, sexual violence was used as a weapon to humiliate one particular community. A rally was held near Surrey Newton Library. Teesta Setalvad and Buta Singh also joined the rally that followed a presentation by both of them on rape as weapon at the library.

MLA Rachna Singh was the only elected official to show up. She later raised the issue in the BC legislature.

In the meantime, Teesta Setalvad was also taken to the Legislature in Victoria where she met Premier John Horgan and apprised him of the current situation in India.  IAPI also arranged an informal meeting between her and Federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh during the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey.

On June 24, IAPI launched the autobiography of Dr. Chandra Sankurathri who lost his wife and two children in the Air India bombing on June 23, 1985. The midair blast above the Irish Sea had left 329 people dead. The crime is widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge for repression of Sikhs in India.  Sankurathri had turned his grief into strength and started a charity in the name of his beloved wife in India. The foundation runs a free school and a free hospital respectively named after his daughter and son. Since the Air India incident was also an attack on diversity, IAPI decided to support Sankurathri.  In the absence of Sankurathri, who was in India, the book was launched by other victims’ families. Georgia StraightEditor Charlie Smith and former Globe and Mail reporter Robert Matas were the guest speakers at the event, held at George Mackie Library in Delta.

On July 22, IAPI held a rally at Holland Park to condemn the attack on Swami Agnivesh.  

Agnivesh, who is a Hindu reformist and vocal critic of superstition and Hindu extremism was assaulted by the supporters of BJP in Jharkahd.  The IAPI also condemned the vandalizing of the office of senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in Kerala. Tharoor was targeted for warning against the attempts of turning India into “Hindu Pakistan”.

The demonstration coincided with the first anniversary of IAPI. Elected officials and the media once again ignored this important rally, even though many of them were present at a festival that was taking place in the same park. 

Apart from organizing its own events, IAPI took active part in similar demonstrations held by Ambedkar Internation Social Reform Organisation (AISRO) in Surrey. AISRO has taken leadership in organizing rallies against growing attacks on Dalits or so called untouchables in India in the recent months. IAPI has joined them time and again to show its solidarity with them.  

IAPI has just started its journey and we have a long road ahead, and we will continue to raise our voice against bigotry in any form. Even though our numbers have never exceeded 50, or we haven’t received much media support, we are still thankful to few dedicated friends in media, politics and community for their continued solidarity. Considering that we have just completed first year, with limited resources, we are proud of having been successful in inviting real heroes from India, like Teesta Setalvad, Rana Ayyub or Buta Singh who continue to fight against real challenges on the ground. We are also proud of being consistently vocal against sectarian violence of any kind in any part of the world. Hopefully, our caravan will grow as we continue to march ahead.   

 

 

South Asian activists came together at Holland Park in Surrey on Sunday evening to raise their voices against the recent attack on Swami Agnivesh in India by Hindu extremists.

Agnivesh is a well known Hindu reformist and a social justice activist. He has been very vocal against sectarian politics of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. He is a staunch critic of superstition and repression of minorities and marginalized sections of the society under the BJP government that wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally was attended by people from diverse backgrounds. The speakers unanimously condemned the attack on Agnivesh and expressed their solidarity with the secularists who are being frequently targeted by the supporters of BJP. 

An associate of Aginvesh, Acharya S.P. Dwivedi – who is a Hindu preacher himself - was among the speakers. He noted that the assault was an attempt to suppress the voice of reason.

The event was started with a poem dedicated to Gauri Lankesh, a progressive journalist who was murdered last year by suspected Hindu extremists.  The poet Amrit Diwana said that the attack on Agnivesh cannot be seen in isolation as it involves similar forces that earlier assassinated Lankesh and other rationalist thinkers.

The cofounder of IAPI, Gurpreet Singh, clarified that the mandate of IAPI isn’t just confined to opposing the BJP; it is also critical of the opposition Congress which has also played the politics of majoritarianism under the garb of secularism. Nevertheless, the organizers also condemned the attack on the office of a senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor for cautioning against the attempts to turn India into a Hindu state by the BJP government. 

Others who spoke on the occasion were Muslim activists Sayed Wajahat and Imtiaz Popat, Dalit activists Roop Lal Gaddu and Rashpal Singh Bhardawaj, rationalist activists, Harjeet Daudhria, Avtar Gill, Parminder Kaur Swaich and Bhupinder Malhi and well known Sikh broadcaster Harpreet Singh, who is running for the next federal election. Though Singh is a Conservative candidate, he stopped by to show his solidarity, whereas South Asian elected officials remained absent from the rally. So much so, most South Asian media outlets ignored the rally, even though representatives of several known media channels were present at the Fusion festival in the same park. 

The demonstration coincided with the first anniversary of IAPI, which was formed last year in response to growing attacks on religious minorities in India under the BJP government.

The participants carried posters of Agnivesh that read; “An injury to one is an injury to all.” They also raised slogans against the BJP government. The event concluded with a song, “We shall overcome” by Imtiaz Popat.

 

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