"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.
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Even though the year end is still far off, the Vancouver-based online magazine has already picked its Person of the Year 2021 to show support to the ongoing farmers’ struggle.  

Jazzy B is a Canadian Punjabi rapper who stood up for the Indian farmers who have been agitating since November, 2020 against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.  

The farmers camping in the national capital believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood. In addition, they think they have been adopted without transparency and consultation, only to benefit big corporates seeking to increase their control over the agro-industry. 

Jazzy B, being a Sikh and from a farming family, was among those deeply disturbed by these events. He not only showed his solidarity through tweets, he also visited the agitating farmers and spent several days with them. 

Because the Indian government blocked his Twitter account, his followers in India weren’t able to see his tweets. 

Apart from that, Jazzy B probably made the Indian government upset by commemorating the anniversary of the infamous June 1984 military invasion on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. The ill-conceived army operation aimed to deal with a handful of militants, but left scores of innocent pilgrims dead and historical buildings inside heavily damaged, which outraged Sikhs across the globe. 

The operation was done to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. The BJP, which was in the opposition back then, celebrated the bloody event. 

 

For years without a break, the Burnaby-based IT Productions has celebrated Canada Day with the rest of Canadians.  

This year however, due to the pall of gloom that has descended over Indigenous communities following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves on the sites of residential schools, the CEO of the company has decided to abandon its annual ritual of making greetings.  

Shushma Datt, who is an award-winning seasoned broadcaster, in a brief message that goes on air July 1 says, “On this Canada Day, the staff and the management of IT Productions, IT Media Broadcasting, Spice Radio and Radio Rim Jhim (all part of the same group) stand in solidarity with the indigenous peoples.” 

Although the audio message that runs in English, Hindi and Punjabi ends with customary Happy Canada Day greetings, it is in line with the growing demands for cancelling Canada Day events across the country.  

Close to 1,000 graves of Indigenous children have been found recently, sparking the campaign.  Already, the City of Victoria and a few other municipalities have cancelled online July 1 events to show their respect to the First Nations. 

The residential schools were established to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into the European and Christian ways to build a nation state on their stolen lands.  

Datt, who had started the Hands Against Racism campaign in January, 2015 from her radio stations, has been vocal against systemic racism being faced by Aboriginal peoples and other visible minority groups in Canada. That campaign, coinciding with Holi, an Indian festival of colours, encourages participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on white sheet alongside a message against bigotry, and has been recognized both by the federal and the provincial governments.  As part of that commitment, the other on air hosts of IT Productions will also be sharing their messages of support to the Indigenous peoples on July 1 and 2.

  

 

 

The provincial government has honoured an anti-racist activist and scholar, who exposed the conspiracy to relocate Indian immigrants to British Honduras.  

A proclamation has been signed to declare July 1, 2021 as “Sant Teja Singh Day” by the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing and the Lieutenant Governor.  

Sant Teja Singh was a towering spiritual leader of the Sikh community who fought for the equal rights to the immigrants, especially those who began coming to BC from India during the end of the nineteenth century. This was the time when India was under British occupation, and most immigrants started arriving to this part of the world as British subjects in hopes of a better livelihood. However, they had to endure blatant racism, not allowed to bring in their families, or the right to vote. The authorities who wanted to keep Canada as a “white man’s land” adopted several policies that were aimed at discouraging permanent settlement of Indian immigrants in BC.  

As part of these measures, a conspiracy was hatched to relocate Indian immigrants to Honduras.  

Sant Teja Singh came to know about such plans. He alerted his community and helped in mobilizing people against it.  

The community’s resistance forced the government to abandon the idea.   

Every year, the Sikhs commemorate Sant Teja Singh Day on July 1. Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib, Khalsa Diwan Society in New Westminster has been in the forefront of this tradition.  

Recognizing these efforts of the community, the BC government has officially proclaimed July 1 as Sant Teja Singh Day.  

Significantly, the proclamation describes Singh as “a humanitarian, scholar and tireless advocate for Sikhs in Canada who dedicated his life to challenging inequality, fighting for a just society and serving without discrimination in accordance with the tenets of Sikhism”.  

The development comes when the BC government is already on the way to bring anti-racism legislation in the light of growing bigotry and hate.  

 

 

Close to the birthday of George Orwell and the 46th anniversary of Emergency in the world’s so called largest democracy, activists came together in Surrey on Sunday, June 27, to raise their voices against the incarceration of thinkers by the Indian authorities.

Organized by Radical Desi publications, the rally was held right outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center. The participants carried placards with pictures of jailed scholars who are being detained under trumped up charges for merely questioning the power and standing up for the poor and marginalized. Among them are former Delhi University Prof. G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist; towering columnist and author Anand Teltumbde, who is the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, an architect of the Indian constitution; elderly revolutionary poet Varavara Rao; and renowned human rights lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj. The health of Saibaba, who is suffering with multiple ailments, continues to deteriorate. 

Attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime. This is despite the fact that the present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had disguised himself as a Sikh to go into hiding during the emergency and press censorship imposed by the then Congress government on June 25, 1975. Modi is accused of repeating the history through an undeclared emergency and throwing his critics in jail. 

Incidentally, June 25 is also the birthday of George Orwell, who was born in British India. Orwell made a prophecy about a totalitarian regime in his famous novel 1984. The actions of successive governments in New Delhi have proved his imagination right. 

A moment of silence was observed at the beginning of the rally in memory of two journalists, Jarnail Singh and Raj Kumar Keswani, who died last month due to COVID 19 complications. While Singh kept fighting to make the Indian government accountable for the Sikh Genocide, Keswani has been trying to expose Indian officials for shielding those involved in the gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal. Both the tragedies rocked India in 1984, leaving thousands of people dead . Those complicit at the highest level of the government remain unpunished for all these years. 

The speakers unanimously demanded the scrapping of draconian laws under which the journalists and scholars are being targeted, and sought the unconditional release of political prisoners. They also condemned the growing foreign interference from Indian diplomats in Canada, and attempts to silence activists and media outlets daring to challenge the policies of the government in New Delhi. Those who spoke on the occasion included Telugu Church leader John Yajala, prominent Sikh activist Dupinder Kaur Saran, anti-racism and social justice educator Susan Ruzic, and cofounder of Radical Desi Gurpreet Singh. Ruzic was presented at the event with a Radical Desi medal of courage for standing up for Saibaba and all scholars at risk in India and elsewheret. Saran presented her the medal on behalf of Radical Desi. 

Those in attendance also raised slogans against black laws and in support of the freedom of Saibaba and others.  

*** 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

June 24 marks the birth anniversary of a revolutionary poet and saint whose rebellious rhymes will always remain relevant. 

Kabir was born to a Muslim family of weavers in Varanasi, India in 1398.  

He denounced orthodoxy of both Islam and Hinduism, and was highly critical of blind faith and the brutal caste system within Hindu society.  

He grew up as a poet, whose body of work inspired Sikh gurus who included his verses in their holy scriptures of Guru Granth Sahib.  

Some of his poems were no less than a war cry that inspired many radicals to take up arms to fight against injustice and repression. 

He mainly stood for the poor and marginalized, which incited the Hindu and Muslim clergy to team up against him, and provoked the then-Delhi emperor Sikandar Lodi to punish him. However, Kabir survived several attempts by Lodi to get him executed. This was primarily because he had a huge following even among those who worked for the king.  

Ironically, his birthplace is now the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose actions are the mirror image of Lodi. 

Not only have attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents grown under his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government, the Hindu orthodoxy that Kabir challenged has captured the centre stage of Indian politics.  

Yet Modi has been trying to appropriate Kabir. On Thursday, while paying tribute to the saint on his birth anniversary, Modi said that the path shown by Kabir will continue to inspire generations to move ahead with brotherhood and goodwill.  

What could be more contradictory than someone like Modi saying this, when his government has locked up scholars who stand up for the underdog, following in the footsteps of Kabir. The list is long, but just a few instances are enough to suggest that he has no moral right to even talk about Kabir.  

Anand Teltumbde, the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a towering social justice activist and the architect of the Indian constitution, whose family is believed to have been influenced by Kabir, has been incarcerated for the past one year on trumped up charges for merely questioning the power. Teltumbde is a renowned writer and columnist who exactly practiced what Kabir had preached.    

Likewise, Prof. G.N. Saibaba, a former Delhi University who is disabled below the waist, continues to be jailed under inhuman conditions for raising his voice against repression of minorities and the poor. 

Elderly revolutionary poet Vara Vara Rao is also detained, to silence any voice of reason and dissent. 

Maybe, we need to remind Modi, that it was Kabir who said; “The brave is the one who fights for the oppressed.” By persecuting Teltumbde, Saibaba, Rao and many more like them, Modi is simply repeating what Lodi did centuries ago.  

 

 

Deepak Sharma has been found guilty by the North Vancouver provincial court.  The former President of the Abbotsford Hindu temple was charged for sexual assault of a woman in his cab in January, 2019.

Following a trial, Judge Patricia Bond delivered her verdict on Friday. The date for sentencing is yet to be set.

Sharma had been driving for North Shore Taxi when the incident happened. The episode was partly captured by the cab’s onboard security cameras.

Sharma has been close to the Indian consulate in Vancouver and has been hosting public events to celebrate Indian nationalism, inviting Indian officials, including former Counsel Generals of India, Ashok Das and Abhilasha Joshi, besides former acting counsel general Amarjit Singh.

He had established a group called India Canada Association, that took into its embrace pro-India moderate Sikhs. One of its posters carried the pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Kumar Kovind.

His pictures from the programs designed to promote India-Canada friendship are available on social media. In one of these pictures, he can also be seen in the company of a visiting minister of the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, Prakash Javadekar.

It is interesting that the Indian consulate often accuses anyone raising questions against the government of the day for its repressive policies of being anti-India, whereas individuals like Sharma have always been in their good books.

The situation has turned from bad to worse under an intolerant regime led by the BJP, where anyone from a minority community can conveniently be labeled as a traitor for trying to hold the government accountable. Not only can such a person be denied visa, in all likelihood their social media accounts will come under scrutiny. If that is what nationalism means, then it is better to be called antinational instead of being blue eyed boys of Hindu nationalist rulers.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

While most Bollywood stars have been busy defending the Indian government which faces international criticism for mistreating agitating farmers, a famous Punjabi actress has stood up for the underdog.

Undeterred by threats, sexism or fear of losing her film career, Sonia Mann has been helping the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since last November in protest against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.

The critics believe that these laws, which have been adopted without due consultations, will hurt the livelihood of farmers and increase the corporate control over the agro-based economy. Scores of farmers have laid down their lives during the struggle as they face police brutality.

Sonia, who comes from a family involved in farming, has been acting in both Bollywood and Punjabi film industry.

Not only has she been giving monetary support to the female protestors at the camp site of the ongoing agitation, she has been sitting with them to raise her voice against repression. This has led to a backlash from supporters of the ruling BJP, while also being warned that she might lose some film offers.

This is in sharp contrast to what many Bollywood stars did when the BJP government came under global condemnation for ignoring and humiliating the farmers. They rather sided with the government and described the international criticism as propaganda.

For doing so, Sonia had to also endure sexism from both the right wing trolls, and a section of the agitating farmers, who are mostly aligned with reactionary elements and agent provocateurs.

Notably, her father, the late Baldev Singh Mann, was a revolutionary communist, who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists in 1986.

Sonia was merely 16 days old when he was murdered. Since she was away with her mother, her father had written her a highly emotional letter which became an important document of literature. 

The father had warned his daughter against patriarchy within Indian society. He honestly acknowledged that some within the family were also unhappy at her birth, and prepared her to face many barriers for being a girl in a male-dominated world. 

He advised his daughter to grow up as a good human being, rather than with any religious identity. Although born in the Sikh faith, he wasn’t a die-hard religious person, and being a communist strictly practiced pluralism in his real life. He was killed for challenging the ideology of the Sikh militants who were fighting for a separate homeland and targeting their political critics, as well as Hindus in Punjab. This was despite the fact that he had also denounced state violence against Sikhs in the name of war on terror and the Hindu Right. He was also in the forefront of farmers’ agitations of his times. 

Years later, Sonia is facing similar challenges. Having been raised single-handed by her mother, who often took her to political and cultural events, she preferred to choose film line. The farmers’ agitation has given her an opportunity to carry forward the mission of her father. She has confessed on several occasions that the letter from her father became a guiding light for her life, and today she feels great by standing up for his values, such as social justice and secularism.

 

Six people, from Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson to Sahib Kaur Dhaliwal, a young student from the University of Ottawa, have been presented with medals of courage by a Canada-based online magazine that covers alternative politics.

Radical Desi, which started its journey in 2014, had established a medal bearing the quote of Desmond Tutu: “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” to honour individuals who have stood up against repression and injustice.

This year, the magazine gave six medals to those who have raised their voices for Indian farmers, who have been camping on the borders of New Delhi since last November, against controversial farm laws which have been passed by the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government. 

The farmers believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood and increase corporate control over the agro-industry. 

The first among the recipients of the Radical Desi medal for this cause was Jean Swanson, who brought a motion against the Indian farm laws to Vancouver City Council, followed by well-known community activist and the founder of Coalition Against Bigotry, Imtiaz Popat, prominent poet Sherry Duggal,  two organizers of the farmers’ protests across BC, Dupinder Kaur Saran and Ishwinder Singh, besides Sahib Kaur Dhaliwal, a promising student who spoke passionately for agitating farmers during the youth parliament session. She is the daughter of renowned Punjabi media personality Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal.

Notably, Saran and Singh were also instrumental behind a vigil organized on behalf of the South Asian community in Surrey, in memory of the 215 indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered from near the site of the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops.

Duggal has written two poems dedicated to the farmers’ struggle, while Popat had spoken in support of Swanson’s motion in the Vancouver Council chambers. Popat is vocal against growing racism in Canada and attacks on religious minorities in India and elsewhere in the world.

Swanson had also brought a motion against India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries, but was forced to withdraw it due to lack of support and backlash from the Indian consulate.

All the six medals were given to these individuals on separate occasions. Swanson was honoured right outside Vancouver City Hall in April, while Popat, Duggal and Saran were given their medals on the international workers’ day rally on May 1, outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey. The last two recipients, Singh and Dhaliwal, received them on Wednesday, June 16 at Channel Punjabi studios in Surrey, from Saran on behalf of Radical Desi.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The US President’s order asking the country’s intelligence to look into the origin of COVID 19 is likely to have consequences.

Joe Biden has directed the US intelligence community to step up efforts to investigate the origins of the pandemic, and to report back in 90 days. The implication is that Biden wants to know whether the pandemic can be traced to a laboratory in China, making this a man-made crisis, a theory which has not yet been established by science. 

Until now, the World Health Organization has been saying that the virus most likely originated from animals.  

While it is important to know the source of the disease that has claimed thousands of human lives across the globe to prevent any future catastrophes, Biden’s position on the issue isn’t helpful.  

Any suggestion of this being the result of a lab leak will give racists another excuse to go after people of Asian heritage in our communities. The people of Chinese ancestry in particular continue to face outright bigotry ever since the pandemic broke out. There have been a large number of violent incidents, including the killing of six Asian women in Atlanta.

Former US President Donald Trump was blunt in his racism, precipitating this hate by repeatedly calling the pandemic a “China virus”, Biden has only rephrased this in more sophisticated language. This reminds us of the famous words of Malcolm X, the hero of Black resistance movement, who differentiated between the Republicans and Democrats as the Wolves and Foxes respectively.  

If Trump was a science denier, Biden has gone a step further by wading into the territory of science with his brand of imperialist politics. It is not a coincidence that China is being isolated internationally by the US, Canada and India on many other issues, such as human rights, trade and territorial matters. COVID 19 is just the pretext of bashing the common enemy.

Biden’s controversial statement at this juncture will give legitimacy to those targeting the Chinese community almost every day. His remarks have already sparked a fierce debate on social media. So much so, Facebook has decided not to block any post claiming that COVID 19 could be man-made, thus creating more space for hate and conspiracy theories.

As for the white supremacists who think it is justified to punish Chinese people for COVID 19 - why not pack up your bags and leave for Europe, since your elders came from there and destroyed the Indigenous population in the US and Canada by bringing in smallpox? It is time to be careful and sensitive about what we say, and fight the pandemic together, instead of scapegoating a minority group, which knows no race or boundaries.

 

Gurpreet Singh

This year’s birth anniversary of Lord Buddha coincides with six months of the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India.

On May 26, when the Indian farmers observed black day to make the deaf government hear their demands, the prime minister of the country was lecturing the people on the philosophy of Buddhism.

The farmers in India have been struggling for the repeal of controversial farm laws that threaten their livelihood and increase corporate control over the agro industry. However, the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government under Narendra Modi won’t listen.

While the Indian nation and the Indian Diaspora came together to oppose the disputed farm laws, Modi spoke on the principles of Buddha, in his online address to emphasize non-violence and the importance of serving humanity during COVID 19.  

What he conveniently overlooked was that Buddha, in spite of being born in an aristocratic family, had ploughed the fields like those who worked on the farm lands owned by his father. While Buddha was pained to see the tillers working hard and being exploited by the rich, Modi lacks compassion for the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since November 26.

Modi, a well-known political hawk, instead used the opportunity to draw attention to the menace of terrorism, as if Buddha’s only teaching was to renounce violence. In that sense, Modi was clearly being hypocritical, as his own government continues to patronise terrorism against minorities, especially Muslims.

Though he did say something meaningful by appreciating the scientists and health care workers fighting the pandemic, his statement will go down in history as tokenistic considering the ground realities in India.

More than 250,000 human lives have already been lost, while the hospitals continue to lack oxygen supplies. This is a direct result of the political ideology of Modi and his party, who lack scientific temperament and have been promoting superstition shamelessly. Modi himself has tried to glorify Hindu mythology as science several times, while some of his party leaders have been advising people to consume cow urine to be safe from COVID 19. Buddha had taught his disciples not to be blind followers of anything. He himself believed in reason, and encouraged everyone to adopt critical thinking. Like it or not, Modi’s words do not match his actions. He and his party are the deniers of science and reason, and that explains why India has gone into a mess.

Modi has no moral right to even talk about such a great soul, who led the world through sacrifice and compassion and wanted to create a just society.

We can only hope that good sense prevails over the bigots on this year’s Buddha’s birth anniversary.

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