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Rally against the killings of protesters in Tamil Nadu held in Canada

South Asian activists came together to protest against the killings of 12 demonstrators by the Tamil Nadu police at Holland Park in Surrey on Saturday evening, May 26.  

Organized by Radical Desi, the rally started with a moment of silence for the demonstrators killed by the police in Thoothukudi, and also for nearly 60 Palestinian protesters killed by the Israeli forces in Gaza recently.

The speakers unanimously condemned the police high handedness in the world’s so called largest democracy and expressed their solidarity with the activists who have been fighting against the controversial Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi. They agreed that irrespective of the party line, most parliamentary parties in India, including the ruling BJP, the opposition Congress and even the CPI(M) have encouraged state repression and allowed the police to be used as mercenaries by the corporate houses. They also demanded the release of political prisoners, such as Prof. GN Saibaba and Chandershekhar Azad and the scrapping of draconian laws that are often used to suppress voice of dissent. The ongoing practice of extra-judicial killings of political activists by the police also came under criticism. Kesar Singh Baghi, whose son was murdered by the Punjab police, was also in attendance.

Among the speakers was visiting leftist activist from India Sardara Singh Mahil, who insisted that the present ruling classes of India are no different from the British rulers of the past as they continue to inherit their legacy of repression.

Others who spoke on the occasion were leftist activists Parminder Swaich of East Indian Defence Committee, Sucha Deepak, Sikh activists Gian Singh Gill and Kulwinder Singh, besides Avtar Gill of the Rationalist Society, and cofounder of Radical Desi Gurpreet Singh. Piara Singh Chahal recited revolutionary poems on the occasion.

The participants also raised slogans against state violence and sought the release of all political prisoners. Others present at the event were Ganesha, Savitri and Kokila from Tamil Nadu and rationalist and Marxist activists Navtej Johal, Jagrup Dhaliwal and Sadhu Singh Jhorhraan, besides Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation leader Harbhajan Gill.

No local elected official showed up at the rally in spite of being invited, even though Surrey has a number of MPs and MLAs of Indian origin.

Close to the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the trigger happy police in the world’s so-called largest democracy killed 11 protesters.


The survivors of police firing believe that those in uniform acted at the behest of the influential plant and used excessive force to create fear and to suppress the demonstrators who were practising passive resistance. The survivors argue that other means to disperse the crowd, such as firing tear gas shells or water cannons, could have been easily used to avoid these deaths.
The police violence  on May 22 followed months of peaceful agitation by civil society groups against a controversial copper plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Sterlite plant operated by Vedanta group that is already infamous for displacing tribal people from mineral rich areas, has caused massive harm to the environment and human lives in the region. The local population has been pressing upon the government to shut the plant, which enjoys the backing of almost all the big political parties that survive on corporate donations.

This isn’t the first time that the Indian establishment’s role as a mercenary of the rich and influential has come to light. In 1984, following a gas leak at the Union Carbide insecticide plant in Bhopal, the government let the company CEO Warren Anderson escape to the U.S. where he died without being tried in India for the deaths that the accident caused. 

There were other occasions too where the police and the administration colluded with rich investors in cases of industrial disasters and to deal with labour unrest. Though political parties of all stripes lack the will to make the big corporations accountable, it's even worse under the current right-wing and staunchly pro-business government led by Narendra Modi. The industrial houses enjoy not only  impunity, but also immunity in any adverse situation. 

The extra-judicial killings of political activists by the police is another story. Those involved are often honoured with out-of-turn promotions and gallantry awards in the name of peace and progress. So much so, the use of sexual violence by the police and security forces is either conveniently overlooked or gets legitimacy by hawkish politicians who are eager to sell their image by invoking threats to national security, both real and perceived. 

It’s a shame that all this is happening in post-British India where people can elect their own representatives. Almost 100 years ago—on April 13, 1919—the British army fired indiscriminately at peaceful demonstrators who had assembled at a public park called Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. It left more than 300 people dead.

The assembly had been called to protest against the repressive laws and the arrests of several leaders of the civil disobedience movement that was started to obtain the freedom of India from British occupation.

Those who died in the massacre must be rolling in their graves over what happened in Tamil Nadu.

Was this the freedom they were asking for? An absolute freedom for the rich at the cost of the liberty of ordinary people who continue to fight for a dignified and healthy life?

The Indian leadership has lost its moral right to even talk about Jallianwala Bagh and curse the British, if this is what the country has chosen to become: a tyrannical state in the garb of democracy. 

Radical Desi has organized a rally against the killings of protesters in Tamil Nadu at Holland Park in Surrey on Saturday (May 26) at 6 p.m. 

 

It is pathetic to see how the two contentious issues - Kinder Morgan Pipeline and Site C dam - are being evaluated through a purely economic standpoint and the pragmatic lens of big business which controls not just the media, but also the political structure of this country.

Most of the time, people get swayed by what is served to them in the name of development and progress. And if this is not enough, fear tactics, such as spiralling gas prices, are used to alter public opinion in support of the pipeline.

This has polarized Canadian society completely, and the minority groups, especially those from immigrant and non-indigenous communities, are no different. Many of them also support controversial projects, like Kinder Morgan and Site C, just for the sake of being part of the mainstream discourse that is being throttled down cunningly by the rich and powerful.

It’s a shame that a broader section among the settler immigrants, who are so passionate about their minority rights, won’t see that the opposition to these projects is coming from another most important minority community: indigenous peoples who make merely four percent of the Canadian population, despite being the original habitants of this land.

The indigenous communities have been consistently fighting against occupation of their traditional lands and attempts to push through development projects into their territories without informed consent. 

In spite of the fact that the development model of the dominant society has already done enough harm to the environment, creating problems like global warming and climate change, we remain skeptical to the political strength of the First Nations to dismantle such destructive models and provide us better alternatives. 

During such hard times, when we should actually be relying on the leadership of the First Nations who hold the key to keep Mother Earth safe and healthy, we continue to ignore their skills, despite  knowing well that they are much closer to nature and the land.

The way Kinder Morgan and Site C dam are being projected as symbols of development by ignoring the concerns of the indigenous groups, the governments in BC, Alberta and Ottawa are showing that they are no different from the colonial governments of the past.

It goes to the credit of the BC’s New Democratic Premier John Horgan that he has taken a strong stand against Kinder Morgan, yet he cannot escape the blame of giving a green signal to Site C dam. Likewise, Horgan’s party colleague, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, may be a progressive leader as against others in electoral politics, but she continues to overlook the interests of the indigenous communities who are opposing Kinder Morgan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in spite of his humanitarian approach toward minorities and indigenous communities as against the previous Conservative leader of the country, has also failed to keep his words on nation to nation consultation with the First Nations on such ticklish issues.

Horgan supports Site C, while Notley and Trudeau support Kinder Morgan, which brings them on the same page when it comes to addressing the issues of the First Nations. Their only common defence to this charge would be that some First Nation groups are on their side. But who cares? Racist politicians like Donald Trump also have some Muslims, Mexicans and Blacks on their side. This is nothing but the politics of showcasing and photo ops.

It is time to stand up and call spade, a spade. If Canada really means what it says, it must stand up to show that it respects its indigenous population. The apologies for historical wrongs won’t do. Politicians of all stripes, left, center or right will have to fix this problem. Racism against indigenous communities is deeply entrenched in our political structure and we must acknowledge it and try to remove it honestly rather than repeating the mistakes of colonial masters in a more sophisticated manner.

 

Above all, the minorities who are so concerned about their own existence and rights in Canada should stand up for the Indigenous Peoples, who are the actual stewards of this country, and make Canada accountable for not doing enough to fulfill its responsibilities under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 

Support in Canada continues to grow for a Delhi University Professor who is incarcerated in an Indian jail despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.  

After the World Sikh Organization (WSO), the Alliance Against Displacement joins the list of Canadian groups who have raised their voice for wheelchair bound GN Saibaba, who was given a life sentence last year.  

Saibaba has been advocating for the rights of the oppressed groups and indigenous communities in India. He was charged for being a supporter of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal areas.

Saibaba had mobilized public opinion against growing state repression of the indigenous peoples, who are being displaced from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian government, forcing many to join Maoist movement. His family and friends believe that he has been framed to silence any voice of dissent from civil society. They apprehend danger to his life as he has multiple health issues.

On Monday April 30, Alliance Against Displacement organized a conversation on the criminalization of indigenous people and racialized communities, in the Dr. Ambedkar room of Surrey Central Library. The organizers included anti-poverty activists Dave Diewert and Ivan Drury. Among the participants were members of visible minority groups who shared their experiences of racial profiling and police high handedness.

Incidentally, Dr. Ambedkar was a towering social justice activist of India, who had dedicated his entire life for the empowerment of depressed classes.  

During the event, the participants were told about the case of Saibaba, who has always stood for religious minorities and indigenous communities, following which they held out “FREE SAIBABA” signs to show their solidarity. Not long ago, seniors with disabilities at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services in Surrey also did the same by posing with “FREE SAIBABA” signs before the camera.

Earlier, WSO came out with a statement expressing its concerns over the deteriorating health condition of Saibaba. As one of the largest Sikh advocacy groups in Canada, WSO has been raising the issues of political prisoners in India even in the past.

Likewise, Khalra Mission, a human rights group established in memory of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a Sikh activist who was kidnapped and murdered by the Indian police in 1995, has also expressed its support to Saibaba. The slain activist’s son, Janmeent Singh Khalra, lives in Calgary and has been raising the issue of Saibaba through social media.    

A petition asking for the release of Saibaba on compassionate grounds has received 1,000 signatures in Canada. Most of these signatures were collected during the Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey last year. Members of the Sikh community enthusiastically signed the petition, which was launched by Radical Desi, and later submitted to at least two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian.  

Federal New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh and BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger also made statements in support of Saibaba.

Within the academic circles, Seema Ahluwalia, who teaches indigenous studies at Kwantlen College, and Anne Murphy who teaches at the University of British Columbia also helped in raising awareness about the situation of Saibaba. 

Canada-based World Sikh Organization (WSO) has raised its voice for the disabled Delhi University Professor, who continues to be incarcerated under inhuman conditions.

G.N. Saibaba - who is ninety percent disabled below his waist - is serving a life sentence after being convicted for being a supporter of the Maoist insurgents.

His family and supporters believe that he is being persecuted for standing up for religious minorities and the oppressed communities, and mobilizing public opinion against state violence in tribal areas where the government and the extraction industry are trying to evict indigenous communities to get access to natural resources. This situation has forced many tribal people to take up arms and join the Maoist ranks.

Wheelchair bound Saibaba was convicted under a draconian law in March, 2017. His health condition continues to deteriorate in the jail, while his wife fears for his life. 

Over 1,000 people in Canada signed a petition asking for international intervention to get him released. Launched by Radical Desi, the petition was submitted to the Canadian parliament by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian, while the Federal New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh made a statement on social media expressing his concern over the health of Saibaba.

BC Federation of Labour leader Irene Lanzinger also made a statement for Saibaba on International Human Rights Day.

The WSO, which is a powerful lobby group in Canada, has been consistently raising the issues of political prisoners and state repression in India. Its President Mukbir Singh said in a statement that Saibaba’s detention and treatment is “shocking”.  “Human rights organizations, including the WSO are concerned that Saibaba has been targeted based on his human rights advocacy work and convicted on false pretenses”.

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

Some self-styled Indian patriots settled in UK have launched a petition seeking action against those who tore the Indian national flag recently.

The incident happened during protests against visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The protests were mainly organized by groups representing religious minorities in India that feel threatened under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Modi.

Ever since Modi got elected as Prime Minister in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have grown. The BJP supporters frequently target Muslims and Christians, as well as so-called untouchables. Members of the Sikh minority fear assimilation, since the BJP considers Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold a claim that is  vehemently denied by the Sikh leaders). Despite this, the BJP and Hindu Right organizations have been directly or indirectly involved in attacks on Sikhs in the past and during recent times.

The Indian government also reacted sharply to the “act of sacrilege,” and the UK has apologized for the incident.

It is understandable that people can be sensitive about national flags, but considering some recent developments in India, one can argue that this reaction is completely hypocritical.

In fact, the Indian state and its apologists outside the country have no moral right to grumble over what happened in London.

Do we need to remind them that the biggest disgrace to the flag was committed by supporters of the BJP when they rallied in support of those accused of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua? Asifa Bano belonged to a nomadic community. Some Hindu fanatics conspired to rape and kill her to not only humiliate her community, but to force them to migrate. Clearly, sexual violence was used as a political weapon on an innocent child. 

Those who rallied in support of the perpetrators were seen waving the Indian national flag. We need to ask those shedding tears for a torn flag, wasn’t this shameful? Where were these patriots when the national flag was used in defence of the rapists and murderers?

This wasn’t the first time that BJP supporters used the national flag in defence of those involved in heinous crime. Earlier, the dead body of a Hindu extremist who was convicted for the murder of a Muslim and had died due to illness was draped in the national flag. Why was such outrage missing when the coffin of a Hindu bigot was covered with the national flag?

A nation is not defined by a land mass, its boundaries or its national icons, such as flags or emblems. It is represented by its people. These patriots should rather be upset over what the current government and its supporters are doing to the citizens, by denying them equal rights, raping them and killing them with impunity, in complete contradiction to what the Indian constitution stands for. The fashionable patriots who are carried away by a symbolic gesture of protesters in London should rather ask themselves whether or not the Indian constitution is based on the principles of religious freedom and equality? If that is true, then their anger must be directed at Modi and his cohorts, instead of those who only wanted to draw  international attention to the ongoing violence against minorities in India.

 

 

An eight-year-old who was raped and murdered in Kathua, India was remembered at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade on Saturday, April 21.

Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomad community, was kidnapped, held captive in a Hindu temple, sedated, raped and then brutally murdered in January this year. Although her relatives and activists followed the whole episode closely, the issue got international attention only recently. While angry protests were held all over the globe, including one in Surrey last Thursday, United Nations and International Monetary Fund also came out with strong statements.

What outraged most people was the support given to the accused in the case by the leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The police charge sheet has established that this was done as part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate the community members of the deceased child and force them to migrate. It is believed that rape was used as a weapon to shame the Muslims. The assailants kidnapped Asifa when she had taken family horses for grazing. Her body was later dumped in a jungle.  

On Thursday, hundreds of people assembled at Holland Park in Surrey to attend the vigil organized by Global Girl Power. The widespread anger was noticed across the Lower Mainland. Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt and her team took to social media to register their protest. Datt even tweeted in Hindi and questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party has either tried to shield the perpetrators or is trying to dilute the matter.

During Vaisakhi parade, where 500,000 people showed up, posters carrying pictures of the victim with the slogan “Justice for Asifa” could be seen on display at various corners along the route. Some floats, such as one belonging to Mamta Foundation, which tries to help abandoned girls and the destitute in India, also carried the poster.

Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple spokesperson Gian Singh Gill told the Radical Desi that the community here is distraught over what happened to Asifa, and these posters were manifestation of that anger. The Surrey Vaisakhi parade is held every year under the aegis of Dashmesh Darbar.

On Sunday, visiting human rights activists from India Teesta Setalvad and Buta Singh spoke about the case of Asifa at an event organized by Radical Desi, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, Seerat and Punjabi Sahit Sabha (Mudhli). Both speakers told the gathering at Surrey Newton Library that Asifa’s rape and murder is part of a pattern of using the bodies of women and young girls as battlefields. They insisted that any attempt to dilute the gravity of this case is helping the perpetrators and the BJP which is backing them.

Those in attendance included MLA Rachna Singh, prominent media broadcasters Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, Imtiaz Popat and Balli Kaur Deol (who was one of the organizers of the Thursday vigil), Makhan Tutt of Mamta Foundation, film actor BKS Rakhra, Sikh activist Barjinder Singh, social justice activist Sunil Kumar, Indian rationalist society leader Avtar Gill, East Indian Defence Committee members Harbhajan Cheema and Parminder Kaur Swaich, communist activists Shahnaz Nighat and Navtej Johal, and the publisher of Alameen Post newspaper Jaffer Bhamji – who also organized an event for Asifa at Riverside Signature Banquet Hall in Surrey on Monday, April 23.   

Later, the participants rallied outside the library carrying placards asking for justice for Asifa and raised slogans against the forces that are trying to shield the accused.

 

 

Visiting social justice activist from India Teesta Setalvad was honoured with a medal of courage by Radical Desipublications and Indians Abroad For Pluralist India, at an event organized in commemoration of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Friday, April 13.

Held at the Surrey Central Library, the event was organized to launch the Punjabi edition of Foot Soldier of the Constitution. Originally authored by Setalvad in English, it was translated by Buta Singh into Punjabi. The book is a memoir of Setalvad, based on her journey as a journalist and an activist who has been fighting for justice to the victims of state repression. The Indian establishment tried to prevent her from travelling abroad by slapping malicious charges against her. However, she was finally allowed by the Indian Supreme Court to leave for Canada.

Setalvad spoke at length about the current situation in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist government and growing attacks on religious minorities. She pointed out that the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre has become more relevant today as the police and security forces continue to target people by using repressive laws.

Scores of peaceful protesters were killed in an indiscriminate firing by the troops on an assembly of people at Jallinwala Bagh in Amritsar on April 13, 1919. The demonstrators had gathered to denounce stringent laws that were passed to suppress the liberation movement under British India. Setalvad’s great-grandfather Chimanlal Setalvad was among those who cross-examined the British army general who was involved in the massacre.   

Buta Singh, a dedicated activist himself and the editor ofLok Kafila – a Punjabi magazine that covers alternative politics - also spoke on the occasion, and emphasized the need to stand up against ongoing state repression in India.

The event was started with a moment of silence for Asifa, an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was murdered and raped in Kathua, and whose killers were being defended by members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party.

The members of Ambedkar International Social Reform Organisation (AISRO) also came to welcome Setalvad, who was shown the library room named after Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar – the co-author of the Indian constitution and a towering leader of the Dalit emancipation movement. Notably, the Friday event was held on the eve of the birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Chimanlal Setalvad was a close associate of Ambedkar and helped him in his struggle against oppression of the so-called untouchables in a caste ridden society.

Later, a candle light vigil was held at Holland Park, where speakers paid tributes to the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and demanded the release of political prisoners, such as Prof GN Saibaba and Chander Shekhar Azad. Saibaba is ninety percent disabled below the waist. Both Saibaba and Azad are currently imprisoned for raising their voices for the oppressed groups.

Those who spoke on the occasion included, Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians leader Shahzad Nazir Khan, AISRO cofounder Rashpal Bhardawaj, independent Ambedkarite activist Kamlesh Aheer, veteran communist leader Harjit Daudhria, besides Setalvad and Buta Singh.

The candle light vigil, organized every year by Mehak Punjab Dee TV, was started with a moment of silence for the Palestinian protesters who were recently killed by Israeli forces. It is pertinent to mention that Mehak Punjab Dee TV Producer Kamaljit Thind has also launched an online petition seeking a formal apology from the British government. He also organizes an exhibition of pictures related to the Jallianwala Bagh history during annual Vaisakhi parades both in Vancouver and Surrey. 

South Asian seniors residing at Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Assisted Living care home in Surrey have joined the chorus in support of physically challenged Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba. 

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, continues to serve a life term in the Maharashtra jail in India.

Convicted for being an alleged supporter of Maoist insurgents, Saibaba has been in the forefront of campaigns against repression of tribal people. His supporters believe that he is being punished for standing up for the underdog and raising his voice against the extraction industry and the Indian government, who are determined to evict tribal people from their traditional lands to take control over natural resources.

Almost 1,000 people in Canada have already signed a petition seeking his release on compassionate grounds.

On Monday, April 9, dozens of seniors with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, were apprised by the team of Radical Desi about the situation of Saibaba, whose health continues to deteriorate in jail. 

This was followed by a question and answer session, after which the majority of participants agreed that Saibaba is being persecuted and should be released on humanitarian grounds. They held together signs with letters, “FREE SAIBABA” to show their support to the family of the interned professor.     

Saroj Sood, the president of the group of seniors living at the PICS care home, said that the Indian government must listen to those who want Saibaba to be released, and stop torturing a helpless man. She expressed her outrage at the fact that people like Saibaba are being forced to suffer such inhuman conditions.

A visiting social justice activist from India, Buta Singh, who has been consistently raising the issue of Saibaba, and veteran communist activist Harjit Daudhria were also in attendance. 

 

 

Dalit activists held a demonstration in solidarity with the organizers of an April 2 Bharat Bandh in India, at Holland Park in Surrey on Sunday afternoon, April 1.  

Braving cold weather, more than two dozen people showed up at the rally, held under the aegis of Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization (AISRO) of Canada.

AISRO has intensified its activities over the past several months against the growing atrocities on Dalits or so-called untouchables under the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in India. The Sunday rally was against the latest attempts to scrap the laws that were adopted to prevent violence against Dalits.

The participants carried placards and raised slogans against the BJP and the RSS.  They also announced their unconditional support to the organizers of Bharat Bandh in India and resolved to send funds to strengthen the movement back home. They were unanimous in their criticism of spiralling attacks on other minority communities in India under the BJP rule. 

Among the speakers were the AISRO cofounders Ratan Paul, Surinder Singh Sandhu and Rashpal Singh Bhardwaj, besides former Ravidas Gurdwara President Amarjit Leahl and Indian Rationalist Society leader Avtar Gill. Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, Parshotam Dosanjh and Gurpreet Singh, also attended the rally to show their support.  

 

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