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Gurpreet Singh  

The Indian Prime Minister’s greetings on the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism sound hypocritical, considering how his police have assaulted agitating farmers from Punjab in the national capital of the world’s so called largest democracy.  

The Sikhs will celebrate the 551st birthday of Guru Nanak Dev across the globe on Monday, November 30.  

In his radio address to the nation, Modi extended his greetings and noted that the influence of the Sikh Guru is visible in the entire world. He added, “From Vancouver to Wellington, from Singapore to South Africa, his message reverberates everywhere.”  

Undoubtedly, Nanak won over many hearts by preaching universal brotherhood, to share and earn one’s livelihood through honesty and hard work. He often dined with the poor and working people and refused to accept the hospitality of the rich and tyrants, because of which he remained popular among the oppressed communities and the tillers. Apart from spreading the word about his newly founded religion that denounced Hindu orthodoxy and the brutal caste system, he challenged the repression of the Islamic rulers.  

Modi’s greeting at a time when his police force in New Delhi has been harassing farmers from Punjab is a mere token, lacking sincerity towards the message of Nanak.   

The Punjab farmers, who are predominantly Sikhs, are camping in the city along with farmers of other Indian states to register their peaceful protest against recent controversial bills introduced by Modi's government. These measures are aimed at rolling back subsidies given to the farmers as India remains an agro-based economy. The bills were pushed through without due consultations, causing anxiety in the farming community.  

Not only were there attempts to prevent Punjab farmers from entering the capital, but they were brutally assaulted by Delhi police. Those at the receiving end included aged farmers. If this was not enough, Modi’s right wing Hindu nationalist supporters have been trying to label the Sikh farmers as separatists and anti-national, to discredit them in the eyes of those following developments on the ground. Several embedded journalists are also trying to create a narrative of the agitation being led by  Sikh radicals, without appreciating the fact that it is an organic movement that also includes people from leftist backgrounds, besides members of other faith groups.   

Modi and his sycophants should be ashamed that despite such barbarity and hostility, the Sikh farmers have been seen serving meal and water to the policemen on duty, in accordance with the teachings of Nanak, who had started langar or community kitchen to break the barriers of caste and class.   

The moral of the story is that either Modi should stop making such meaningless gestures, or give respect to those who plough the fields - like Guru Nanak - but are being tormented by his police on the streets of New Delhi. If nothing, at least ask your supporters to stop spewing venom against the people who put food on your table.  

*** 

 

British Columbia's largest university recognized the contributions of India-based social-justice activist Teesta Setalvad on the evening of Thursday, November 26. 

An award-winning journalist, Setalvad played a prominent role in the campaign for justice for victims of the state-supported massacre of Muslims in 2002. 

She was among the 10 recipients of honorary degrees from University of British Columbia.  

Setalvad has been to Vancouver twice. During her 2018 visit to Canada, she spoke at UBC. 

Anne Murphy from the university's department of Asian Studies played a key role in her nomination for the degree.  

The 2002 pogrom against Muslims took place in the western Indian state of Gujarat, under the watch of current Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who was the state's chief minister back then. Though Modi was never convicted, Setalvad’s memoir Foot Soldier of the Constitution indicts him for the bloodshed. 

Thousands of Muslims were murdered by supporters of Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 people dead. 

Even though one commission of inquiry later found that the tragedy was a pure accident, Modi blamed it on Muslims, inciting violence against the minority community. 

Though he was never convicted of wrongdoing, he reportedly asked the police to look the other way and let Hindu mobs vent their anger on helpless Muslims. 

Modi was denied a visa by the U.S. until he became India's prime minister in 2014.    

Setalvad’s fight for justice and closure continues even today. She has faced threats and intimidation because of her daring work.  

As a staunch secularist, she has also been critical of the anti-Sikh massacre engineered by the Congress party in 1984. Innocent Sikhs were slaughtered across India by the mobs led by Congress activists following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. 

This orchestrated violence by Congress leaders occurred despite the party claiming to be a secular alternative to the BJP, which aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. 

Ever since the BJP came to power, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown in the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

Held through remote technology because of COVID 19, which prevented the recipients from attending in person, the Thursday event coincided with the anniversary of the adoption of India's constitution, which guarantees religious freedom and equality. In her brief presentation, Setelvad pointed out how the Indian constitution is being violated by those in power under current circumstances.  

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

“I don’t vote for foreign people”, scribbled an anonymous voter on one of the mail-in-ballots we were shown by those doing the final count for the Surrey-Green Timbers candidates on Friday, November 6.   

Being husband of the incumbent MLA Rachna Singh, who represented the riding for NDP and eventually got re-elected and has now been appointed as Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives, I was there as a volunteer on behalf of her campaign to ensure that the final count was done smoothly.  

When one of the staff of Elections BC showed the ballot with those words written in no unclear terms, it instantly left a bad taste in my mouth. 

Although the ballot was rejected as the person had intended, the incident shook me completely. Those words were in clear reference to Rachna and her Liberal opponent Dilraj Atwal. Both candidates were of Punjabi heritage, and there was nobody else in the race. The intentions of the person were very clear - to convey hatred for those running because of their ancestry. This happened despite the fact that Surrey-Green Timbers is a diverse riding with a sizeable Punjabi population. Let’s face it. Racism is still alive and refuses to die.    

However, the results that gave an NDP majority in the end were very encouraging, considering what happened in several other ridings across the province.  

Another Punjabi candidate, Harwinder Sandhu of the NDP, who was elected in Vernon-Monashee, faced the worst during the campaign, when one of her election signs was defaced with a swastika and a misogynist word. She endured that in the past too, but this time her racist detractors were left with licking their wounds.  

She was not alone, nor the first woman of colour to suffer this. Amanda Poon Tang, a Green candidate in Kelowna-Mission, was subjected to racist and sexist vandalism as well. Unlike Harwinder and Rachna, she is of Chinese origin.  

Male candidates of colour also became targets of racism during the campaign for the October 24 election. Among them were the NDP's Aman Singh in Richmond-Queensborough, and Liberal candidate for Saanich South, Rishi Sharma.  

Singh got elected as the first turbaned Sikh MLA. Aman was more focussed on his campaign and remained discreet about it, but racial slurs hurled at Rishi became major news. 

Niki Sharma, elected as the NDP candidate in Vancouver Hastings, has been vocal against racism, and faced it in the past while running for the board of directors at Vancity credit union. Likewise, during the 2017 provincial election, Bowinn Ma, the NDP candidate who was elected in North Vancouver-Lonsdale, and her rival Liberal candidate Naomi Yamamoto, saw their lawn signs vandalized with swastikas because of their Asian heritage.

While the victories and re-elections of some of these candidates sends a strong message to the bigots in our communities, this does not necessarily mean a permanent defeat of those spreading hatred.  

The loss of Toni Boot, a black female NDP candidate from Penticton, was heart breaking.  As Mayor of Summerland, she had passionately led a campaign against racism following vandalizing of the house of an Indo-Canadian family last July.  The house was targeted with hateful graffiti.  

Right now, when the whole world is celebrating the defeat of Donald Trump as a racist US President, our politicians need to focus on racism here in BC. Considering how anti-Asian hatred has spiked in Vancouver because of COVID 19 that broke out first in China and gradually spread across the globe, this challenge has to be taken seriously. All the sweet talk about diversity and Canada being tolerant won’t do. A lot of action is needed to end this menace. With a comfortable majority, the NDP must deliver on its commitment towards social justice.  It goes to the credit of this government for bringing back the human rights commission that was dismantled by the previous Liberal government and creating a post of parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, but the herculean task of flattening the curve of rising hate is still to be achieved.  

 

Gurpreet Singh  

On November 24, the world renowned author is turning close to 60, but isn’t giving up her fight for a just society.  

This year's birthday of Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy coincides with the incarceration of dozens of scholars and writers who are rotting in jails in the world’s so called largest democracy.  

Among them are some of her closest allies, like disabled Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, and Anand Teltumbde, who was arrested early this year. Their only crime was daring to question the power, and standing up for the religious minorities and oppressed people who face state violence under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime.  

Attacks on minorities and political dissidents have grown ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. His supporters continue to hound Roy and likeminded authors and activists.   

Undeterred by threats and intimidations, she continues to write and speak against the rising tide of fascism.   

Her latest book of political essays confirms her unwavering commitment toward human rights and social justice. Azadi (freedom) presents the true picture of India under an extremely intolerant government, a picture that otherwise remains obscured by embedded journalists.  

She pulls no punches while challenging the tyrants occupying high offices in New Delhi, and speaks about the imprisonment of fellow writers. Not only has she become a voice for those detained scholars, but also for political prisoners and those fighting for emancipation in occupied territories, such as Kashmir within the Indian union. One of her latest essays is about how the poor and minorities are being made to suffer more under pandemic caused by COVID 19.  

In a nutshell, this compilation of powerful and thought provoking essays is a call for freedom from the shackles of a barbaric state, and the structural violence affecting marginalised sections (religious minorities, Dalits or so called untouchables, and Adivasis, the original inhabitants of India), and neo-colonialism, all in the name of the free market.  

In such hopeless times, we wish Arundhati Roy a healthy long life, so that her march goes on till there is an end to this seemingly long and depressing tunnel. At least gift yourself with Azadi on her birth anniversary, to show your support for her beautiful work, and to empower others by educating them about what has been going on in India.

 

Gurpreet Singh   

Authored by a former Indian spy, the latest book tells how then-ruling Congress party of India engineered a pogrom against the minority Sikh community during the month of November, 1984.  

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered across India by mobs led by Congress party activists following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards, who were seeking revenge for the military invasion on their holiest shrine in Amritsar in June that year. 

The ill-conceived army operation, which left many pilgrims dead and enraged the Sikhs worldwide, was avoidable, according to author G.B.S. Sidhu, a former Sikh officer of India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).  

He explains in detail how the attack was planned and executed to suppress the Sikh struggle for the right to self-determination and autonomy of their home state of Punjab, to polarize the Hindu majority for the so called secularist Congress party to win the upcoming general election.  

He gives first-hand information of how Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi - who succeeded her as the next Prime Minister - and his close associates were directly involved in the Sikh massacre, which helped him gain a brute majority in the election that followed.  

Significantly, he puts on record how the police force in the national capital of New Delhi was helping the mobs going after Sikhs. He himself had to briefly take refuge in a Hindu colleague's house. 

This memoir is important to read, to put the movement for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan in perspective, and to see how repression of the Sikhs strengthened that movement, rather than blaming Sikh activists in places like Canada alone for instigating violence and bloodshed in Punjab.  

Sidhu makes us understand that Khalistan was never a popular demand. It was the creation of the Congress leadership, which deliberately wanted to discredit and weaken a genuine Sikh movement in Punjab, for more autonomy to the state and several religious concessions, by othering Sikhs to gain the sympathy of Hindu voters. Its calculation failed completely. The extremist elements they wished to prop up against moderate Sikh leaders went out of control, and Punjab was pushed into turmoil during a decade long militancy.  

He rightly observes that neighbouring Pakistan had only taken advantage of the domestic crisis, for which the blame lies squarely with the Congress party. He warns that if India fails to bring closure to 1984, Pakistan and Khalistan supporters outside India will continue to precipitate their agenda.  

However, Sidhu has conveniently overlooked the involvement of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

That the supporters of Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) also participated in the Sikh massacre is well documented. Yet that part is missing in the book. So much so, Modi’s government gave Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, to the late Nanaji Deshmukh, a Hindu supremacist leader who had justified the violence against Sikhs. But Sidhu is silent about this.  On the contrary, he tries to paint a rosy picture of Modi's government by claiming that is has removed the names of Sikh expatriates from a blacklist prepared by the previous Congress government, to deny entry to those who had been raising voices against state repression abroad and creating an environment for reinvestigating the massacre of 1984.  

How could he gloss over all this, especially when the attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown under Modi? It is pertinent to mention that Modi had repeated what happened in 1984 back in 2002, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which witnessed Muslim genocide after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving more than 50 people dead. Although one commission of enquiry found that it was an accident, Modi blamed it on Muslims and incited violence against them. Because of that, he was denied a visa by the US and other western countries until he became the Prime Minister in 2014.  

Even in 2019, Modi supporters targeted Kashmiri Muslims across India, following a militant attack that left forty soldiers dead in Kashmir.   

Interestingly, while claiming to be an authority on Sikh history, Sidhu does not take pains to look into the BJP agenda of assimilating Sikhs into the dominant Hindu society, which is a great source of worry among the Sikhs and has been at the root of the conflict between the community and the Indian establishment. It is not surprising to see how this anxiety has grown under Modi, who remains highly unpopular among the Sikhs in spite of the opportunistic political alliance between trhe BJP and Akali Dal, the party that claims to represent Sikh interests in Punjab.

The jailed scholar and activist, who is being incarcerated by the world's so called largest democracy, has been recognized as this year’s person by a Vancouver-based online magazine that covers alternative politics.  

Radical Desi has declared Anand Teltumbde as Person of the Year 2020 for being in the news after his arrest on trumped up charges.  

Teltumbde has authored many books, and has written columns critical of the Indian state and the way it has been treating religious minorities and oppressed groups. He was taken in custody on April 14, 2020.  

Ironically, he was arrested on the birth anniversary of the towering Indian intellectual and Dalit icon Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Teltumbde happens to be the grandson-in-law of Amebdkar, who was the architect of the Indian constitution.  

Teltumbde has been courageously speaking out against state violence and repression. He was being hounded by the Indian authorities for questioning the power. His arrest is a clear attempt to muzzle any voice of dissent by the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist regime, which has already imprisoned many other political activists and scholars under draconian laws.  

 

 

Raise Your Hands Against Racism, which was launched in January 2015, on the birth anniversary of African American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., has received a Community Service Award from the apex body of broadcasters in BC.  

The campaign, which has been recognized by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC premier John Horgan, was given this year’s fall award by BC Association of Broadcasters.  

Started by Burnaby-based Spice Radio CEO Shuhsma Datt, Raise Your Hands Against Racism continues to trend across the province.  

The campaign picked up in the post-Trump political environment in North America. In the light of recent attacks on people of Asian heritage following the outbreak of COVID 19 in China, the campaign has become even more relevant.  

It encourages the participants to dip their hands in colour and leave their palm prints alongside a message against bigotry. The annual event coincides with Holi, the Indian festival of colours.   

This year’s event was cancelled because of the pandemic.  

Over the years, many prominent political and apolitical figures have joined the campaign, and several individuals who have stood up against racism and discrimination have been awarded as part of the initiative.  

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement to congratulate Sikhs on the auspicious occasion to mark the return of their sixth master Guru Hargobind after being released from jail. 

He was imprisoned by the Moghul emperor for resisting against injustice and repression in the early 17th century. However, upon his release he insisted that another 52 kings detained alongside him on trumped up charges must also be freed.    

Since then the Sikhs celebrate the event as Bandi Chhor Divas, which literally means the day of liberation of prisoners.  

Significantly, Trudeau’s statement mentions the story behind the occasion.    

“Today, we join Sikh communities in Canada and around the world to celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas. On this day, Sikhs recall the story of Guru Hargobind Sahib and his release from prison. According to Sikh history, the Guru had refused to be released unless 52 innocent kings were also freed. Like the Guru who believed that the freedom and rights of others were more important than his own, Bandi Chhor Divas reminds us of the importance of respect, freedom, and inclusion”. 

Well said, Mr. Trudeau. But the statement means nothing without much action on the ground.  

After all, his government remains silent about what has been going on in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime led by Narendra Modi.  

Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown.  

Those opposed to his intolerant and fascist ideology continue to be arrested and thrown in jails.  

Early this year in April, a prominent scholar Anand Teltumbde, who had previously visited Canada, was forced to surrender after being booked on malicious charges. His only fault was that he has been writing against state violence and defending the rights of the minorities and the oppressed groups.  

He is not alone. Others being incarcerated include disabled Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, and prominent female lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj, besides an aged revolutionary poet, Varavara Rao.  

Then there are Sikh activists such as Jaggi Johal from UK and Muslim activists like Umar Khalid who are being held under draconian laws for raising their voices for human rights.  

The list is long and I can keep going.  

All through this, Modi's government has been selectively releasing on compassionate grounds right wing Hindu extremists who were arrested and put behind bars on serious charges of being involved in mass murders of Muslims. But there is absolutely no sympathy for the leftists, the Sikhs and the Muslim political prisoners, even as the threat of COVID 19 is hovering over overcrowded Indian jails.  

If Canada really cares about its own image as a human rights leader in the world, and if Trudeau genuinely respects the spirit behind Bandi Chhor Divas, he needs to tell Modi to free all these individuals. His silence on these matters leaves us with no doubt that his statement is a mere token to please his Sikh constituents, and nothing more than that.

 

The Surrey City Councillor whose efforts led to the recognition of state sponsored massacre of Sikhs in India was presented with medal by members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India on Tuesday, November 10.  

Mandeep Nagra was instrumental behind the Sikh Genocide Remembrance Month proclamation read out by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum on Monday night.  

Thirty-six years after the well-organized violence against Sikhs all over India, the City of Surrey has officially declared November 2020 as “Sikh Genocide Remembrance Month”.    

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered by political goons following the assassination of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence on October 31, 1984.   

In the first week of November that year, close to 3,000 Sikhs were murdered in the national capital of New Delhi alone by mobs supported by the police.   

Sikhs in Canada have been holding commemorative events and an annual blood drive in memory of the victims every year during the month of November.   

This has been a longstanding demand of Sikhs, who have a sizeable population in Surrey. 

On Tuesday, IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh presented Nagra with the Radical Desi medal of courage at a brief event held at Channel Punjabi studios in Surrey. The medal was established by Radical Desi online magazine, which covers alternative politics and remains a media partner of IAPI.  

Nagra was honoured for standing up for human rights and bravely advocating for the proclamation, which was opposed by right wing pro-India groups. IAPI was formed in response to growing attacks on religious minorities under the currently ruling fascist and intolerant Hindu nationalist regime. It has also kept alive the issue of Sikh Genocide, which began an era of majoritarian violence with impunity in India.    

Due to COVID 19 restrictions, the event was planned on a low scale and held in the presence of Channel Punjabi team, besides two other IAPI members, Amrit Diwana and Gurpreet Singh. 

Diwana, a progressive Punjabi poet, presented a copy of one of his recent books to Nagra.     

Nagra also played a pivotal role in a proclamation in memory of the towering Punjabi human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, who was abducted and killed by the Indian police in 1995. 

Human-rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra researched 25,000 extrajudicial killings and cremations involving police in Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Khalra was investigating cases of Sikh political activists who were murdered by police in an extra-judicial manner to suppress a movement for the right to self-determination. This year marked the 25th anniversary of his disappearance and murder.   

Incidentally, Khalra’s grandfather was aboard Komagata Maru in 1914. At that time, the Canadian government forced this Japanese vessel carrying more than 350 South Asian passengers to leave Vancouver's harbour and return to India, under a discriminatory immigration policy designed to keep Canada as a “white man’s land.” 

Last year, Nagra helped rename a stretch of 75A Street in Surrey as Komagata Maru Way. 

Apart from that, he was in the forefront of the drive to encourage Surrey residents to plant 550 trees on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.  

 

*** 

 

Members of the South Asian community came together to raise their voices for justice to the survivors of state sponsored violence against Sikhs in the first week of November, 1984.  

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, the vigil was opened by Indigenous activist Jenifer Allen, at Holland Park in Surrey, on the evening of Sunday, November 1. 

She tried to make connections between the cultural genocide of the First Nations in Canada with the ongoing genocide of minorities elsewhere in the world.  

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered all across India by the political goons, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, seeking revenge for the military attack on their holiest shrine in June that year. 

Many senior politicians and police officers who were complicit in the massacre remain unpunished. Not only were the slain leader’s Congress party involved, but also members of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party. 

This was done to polarize the Hindu majority by demonizing Sikhs in the ensuing general election. The pattern has repeated under BJP rule because of the culture of impunity.  

The speakers were unanimous in their criticism of the Indian state for allowing systemic violence against religious minorities, including Sikhs, Muslims and Christians, and the oppressed communities such as Dalits, in the garb of secularism and democracy.   

Those who addressed the gathering included Member of Parliament Randeep Singh Sarai, besides Sikh activists Tejinder Kaur, Gian Singh Gill, Inderjit Singh Bains, Harbans Singh Aujla, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Charanjit Singh Sujjon, Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal and Gurmukh Singh Deol. 

Two Muslim activists, Imtiaz Popat and Sayed Wajahat, also spoke on the occasion. Preet Manpreet and Parminder Swaich recited poems in memory of the victims of 1984 pogrom.    

The participants raised slogans against ongoing state repression in India against minorities and political dissidents. 

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