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Riya Talitha 

On October 6, 2019 in an auditorium at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a crowd of roughly 40 people gathered for four hours to watch the screening of Reason -an eight-part documentary - about the current political climate of India. This mammoth project took renowned filmmaker Anand Patwardhan almost four years to complete it.  

It may have been a small crowd, but they were expressive - gasping, flinching, laughing and during the post-movie hour-long discussion, asking incisive questions to Patwardhan, who had made the trip all the way from Mumbai, India where he is based, while it was also screened next day at Toronto International Film Festival.

Patwardhan, a member of the Oscar Academy, and an alumnus of McGill University, has an intimidating number of films under his belt - nearly all of which have faced censorship from the Indian government, and have been the nexus of controversy and even violence in many cases.

The most recent example being the protests at Jadavpur University, that were most likely kickstarted when students of the Department of film studies screened Ram ke Naam (trans. In the Name of God; an explosively truthful account of the demolition of the Babri Masjid). 

India is often proclaimed to be the “largest democracy in the world”, but for the past few years has been undergoing an undeniably tumultuous shift in its political and public spheres - some would argue for the worse. 

Ever since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) came into power in 2014, there has been an increase in mob lynching of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities, as well those of lower-caste communities (https://www.dotodatabase.com/?fbclid=IwAR30jEUY52_ZFi_EgJVyZa3dnN7J448Fcjmzf40TngpTuYejbiqNbm7UCT0).

This is what Reason attempts to showcase, and through a barrage of news headlines from papers big and small, heart-rending interviews of the families of victims of communal and casteist violence, and penetrating questions posed by Patwardhan to ideologues of various shades, it largely succeeds in putting together a coherent narrative that attempts to explain what many see as the chaotic state of Indian politics right now.

There has been an unprecedented surge of popular support for right-wing and capitalist policies that is strikingly similar to the rise of political right in many places around the world. 

According to Patwardhan, in an interview with The Ubyssey, "India is not a full-blown fascist state, but it's going towards that direction". 

Patwardhan hails from a family of Indian freedom fighters but his political awakening took place far from home. 

“I went to jail in America before I went to jail anywhere else, fighting the Vietnam War” said Patwardhan of his anti-war efforts as a student at Brandeis University in Boston. After completing an MA in Communication Studies at McGill, he went back to an India in the throes of the Emergency - a 21-month period from 1974 to 1975, of intense censorship, political repression, and curtailment of democracy. His 1975 documentary about this period Waves of Revolution was made in secret, smuggled abroad to raise awareness and sound the alarm internationally, and within India was screened at underground gatherings.

“People accuse me of being pro-Congress, but I spent most of my life fighting the Congress” says Patwardhan ruefully. 

The Congress is India’s centre-left party, akin to the Liberal Party of Canada, that spearheaded the Independence struggle, but it was under a Congress Prime Minister that the Emergency was declared. 

Now in India, the party whose structure and ideology that Patwardhan is focusing on in his work is the BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

According to Patwardhan, the RSS and its various affiliated organisations have either engineered or been the prime instigators of most instances of communalist violence in modern India. Graphic shots of the burnt and mutilated bodies of Muslim and Dalit victims of these groups are depicted throughout Reason. 

The RSS is a right-wing paramilitary Hindu-nationalist organisation that has been banned thrice in India, and whose top leadership has openly admitted to admiring and following Hitler’s ideologies and methods. 

The RSS heads multiple organisations collectively known as the Sangh Parivar. One of these, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, aims to organise and mobilize Hindus living abroad, ostensibly to collects funds for charity or social work operations both in India and abroad. HSS chapters or Vibhags also tend to function as centres of cultural and religious education and community. 

In British Columbia, there is a HSS B.C Vibhag (https://www.facebook.com/HSSBC/) that has in fact, hosted several semi-religious events with the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir or temple, in Surrey. 

In fact, just this last year, Saumitra Gokhale, the global coordinator of the HSS and a former RSS pracharak was invited to be the speaker at an event titled “Know HSS.”

Patwardhan said “I've also lived in North America for a while when I was a student...and I know for sure that a lot of the damage is done by the NRIs (Non Resident Indians)...the Hindutva NRIs have sent money and stuff for militancy and for their own organizations like the RSS into India” (https://www.ofbjp.org/).

‘Hindutva’ is the term for describing the Hindu-nationalist ideology espoused by the Sangh Parivar and has a long history of being compared to nazism and fascism, in academia and media, both in India and abroad.

Although many might disagree with Patwardhan’s political opinions, his commitment and bravery are undeniable. 

Reason has many nerve-wracking scenes of him walking into violent situations and asking questions - police stations in dangerous areas, mobs yelling Islamaphobic slogans on streets, neighbourhoods under curfew - all for the sake of the documentary. 

“I do nothing to protect myself and so far, I haven't been beaten up” he said in response to an audience member inquiring about the risks he takes. 

“…if something happens to me I'm sure my films will be seen a lot more” said Patwardhan with a smile.

Riya Talitha is from New Delhi and is a political science major at University of British Columbia. 

Kulbir Singh Sidhu

We have one of the richest legacies in respect of our heritage, history and culture of our Guru Sahiban, martyrs and great patriots who have left behind unique traditions of selfless service and supreme sacrifice for the sake of humanity.

Our Gurus, saints and scholars have enunciated excellent covenants, high ideals and noble principles. Likewise, our great ancestors and soldiers have set the exemplary ways to serve the mankind. But it is a sad story that we have not been able to imbibe and follow their philosophy and teachings as a nation. Consequently, we seem to have lost the fine instincts and great virtues taught by our noble forefathers. Rather we have developed, unfortunately the insensitivities apropos the legacy of bravery and supreme sacrifices. We have apparently put our sense and sensibilities in hibernation to elude the high spirits, willpower and passion to pursue the traditions of customary courage and bravery of our illustrious Saint- Soldiers like Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Baba Dip Singh ji.

Due to our time old slavery, we developed a mentality with the perversions like deceit, hypocrisy and sycophancy. Further ungratefulness and an element of ignorance in our character has taken us to the dismal level where we stopped well neigh to see and recognize the footprints left by our national heroes and sons of the soil on the sands of time.

This whole sad scenario may find its elaboration in the history of Punjab itself.  Where the two most significant, but tragic events took place more particularly in second fortnight of the month of December though after 140 years from each other.

One is wonderstruck to mark the irony of Time & History that the first event occurred as the completion of Sarbans- Daan by Dasmesh-Pita Guru Gobind Singh between 20th to 27th December in 1705; whereas the Second event happened on 18th and 22nd December in 1845 with the beginning of two battles at Mudki and Ferushehar of the first Anglo-Sikh war.

Therefore, December is a month of most sanguine and ever unheard of “Sarbans-Daan” in the world history and also of unparalleled bravery and sacrifices of thousands of unsung heroes like S. Sham Singh Attariwala who attained martyrdom on February 10, 1846.

In the context of significance of December in our history, we must not ever forget that when the battle of Chamkaur was fought on Dec 22, 1705, it happened to be the 39th Birthday of Siri Guru Gobind Singh ji.

It is pertinent to mention here that on this day Sahibzada Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, besides beloved soldiers and again on December 27, Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh laid down their lives to present the most unique gift to Guru-Pita’s mission of bestowing upon honour, dignity and sovereignty to the downtrodden.  

Thus, a grand journey which started with Baba Nanak’s Kalam (pen) writing Babar-Bani against tyranny was completed by the Talwar (Sword) of Guru Gobind Singh.

In this connection at this point in time, we must hear the voice of our conscience and accordingly confess our ingratitude, indifference and insensitivity towards our supreme martyrs. More especially when we almost go berserk in a mood of festivities during this most tragic period of our history.

Of course, Christmas celebrations also chronologically come in these days which, admittedly, relate to the epoch-maker Yug-Purakh Jesus- the Massiah, ie The Savior of mankind. But at the same time forgetting about the supreme sacrifices of our own “Massiahs” in a total festive mood and bonhomie can never be justified.

Rather during these particular days the wayward “Glassy” indulgence and fanfare with an attitude of “Begaani Shaadi mein Abdulla Diwana” on the Punjab soil is most regretful.

In continuity with the same ethos; another soulful stance may be cited here relating to our history of “The last sunset of first and last Sikh Empire".

It was in the year 2005-06 that I ventured with a sense of national pride as a Commissioner at Ferozepur to get back the Status of “National Monuments” to the battle fields of Mudki, Ferushehar, Aliwal and Sabhraon, those being the war theatres of first Anglo-Sikh war fought in Dec-Jan 1845-1846.

In the meanwhile, I thought of including the memorials of our bravest of brave soldiers of Saragarhi, martyrs and patriots to pay a humble homage. Therefore, with all the reverence and gratitude the following Samaraks were also inducted to be declared as national monuments. These were the Shaheedi Samaraks, like the Saragarhi Gurdwara, Shaheed- E -Azam S.Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev Memorial at Hussainiwala; Shelter Place of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Ferozepur city besides, railway line going to Kasur, especially the bridge at Hussainiwala which stands as an eye witness to the bravery of our officers like Major SPS Waraich and Capt. KJS Sandhu and other jawans of 1965 and 1971 wars.

In this running reference, it may be disheartening and very sad to know that national status of Anglo-Sikh war monuments; being no more of national importance was withdrawn actually in our Independent India Vide Notification—1962; with the logic and reasons best known to the then decision makers. Anyway, I could only have the copies of earlier notification of 1918 and de-notification of year 1962. But I could never reach out the hidden wisdom or truth on the deep-dumped papers.

It is pertinent to mention here that by the official patronage of then Chief Minister-Capt. Amrinder Singh, I could invite and host a very high-powered central team from departments of Cultural affairs, National Archives and National Museum under the supervision of Secretary General Sh. K. K. Chakravorty. The team visited and surveyed all the sites with relevant records to further recommend in principle the status of “National Monuments” to these historical sites in September 2006.

This “Pilgrim’s Progress” however ended for me at least with my retirement on August 31, 2006.

But in spite of the genuine handicap of retired life, I did try to continue for couple of months to follow and keep up the track of my passionate endeavour with the next government under S. Parkash Singh Badal, but all in vain.

Finally, on seeing and believing that “Love’s labour’s lost”; I tried to be at peace with myself by agreeing with the practical wisdom of Ustad Saqib Lakhnavi ; “Zamāna barhey shauq se sun rahā thā ; hameeñ so gaye dāstāñ kahte kahte”

Ultimately, I realised, that in our system of governmental functioning, more often, the files with the abstract issues of heritage and culture are branded obsolete and irrelevant and swept long under the carpet with cryptic “Seen & File” observation.

Anyhow, now a million dollar question remains there as to when the “fortunate one” will dig and do the dusting of such important files pertaining to the bravery and sacrifices of our ancestral generations. It is to be further seen that in official hierarchy who will come up with the instinctive aptitude, besides required will and skill to pursue this case to the logical end.

More precisely, again at the competent level in the government, who would have the courage or conviction and more importantly “time” to take appropriate decision with regard to the national pride and glory. Unfortunately, in our Vote-Raj, it seems all the more horrendous because of the fact that “Shaheedan diyan taan votan hi nahi hundian”

Will any government or organisation or else we as a nation ever offer an explanation in view of the soulful query that why our selfless supreme martyrs, great patriots and teeming soldiers made sacrifices for such ungrateful people? Perhaps only God knows!!  

Kulbir Singh Sidhu is a retired IAS officer, who currently lives in Brampton, Canada. 

 

Scores of people came together to denounce the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), at a rally organized in Surrey on Sunday, December 22.

CAA is a divisive law that welcomes only non-Muslim refugees from the Muslim-dominated countries neighbouring India. Aimed at polarizing the Hindu majority against Muslims by excluding Muslim refugees from these countries, CAA has sparked angry protests all over India, especially from those who feel that it violates the Indian constitution, which is based on the principle of secularism that does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion.

More than 20 people have died during violent demonstrations while many opponents have been arrested.  

The Surrey rally organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) began with a moment of silence for those who died during protests.

The participants raised slogans against CAA and the BJP government. They held signs in support of secularism and diversity.

None of the local elected officials showed up, despite it being a holiday, even though Surrey has two MPs and four MLAs of Indian origin.

Among the speakers was anti-racism activist and educator Annie Ohana, who has consistently been raising her voice against human rights violations anywhere in the world. She had also spoken at an anti-CAA rally held outside Indian consulate in Vancouver on Friday.

On this occasion, Ohana was presented with a medal of courage by the IAPI members, Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal, Sayyad Wajahat, Sandeep Modgil and Rakesh Kumar.

Others who spoke at the Surrey rally included Sikh activists Gian Singh Gill and Kulwinder Singh, besides Muslim activists Itrath Syed, Furuqan Gehllen and Dawood Ismail, and a Hindu Interfaith Chaplain Arun Chatterjee. Niovi Patsicakis from Global Peace Alliance and leftist activists Prabhjot Kaur Hundal, Joseph Theriault and Rawait Singh also addressed the gathering.

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh 

Even as Canada repents the racist Komagata Maru incident of 1914, the right wing Hindu nationalist government of India has taken a leaf from that history to deny refuge to Muslims coming from neighbouring countries.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914. Since British Columbia was part of the British dominion, they had come as British subjects to earn their livelihood in this part of the world. However, under a discriminatory immigration law aimed at keeping Canada as a "white man’s country", the Komagata Maru ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months.

The current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already apologized for the episode in the House of Commons.  More than a century later, the history is being repeated by the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, which wants to transform India into a majoritarian Hindu state, recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill that openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from neighbouring countries such as Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bill is intended to ensure smooth immigration to India of non-Muslims, especially Hindus from these countries.  The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, but creating such preferences and exclusions goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution, which is based on the principles of secularism and diversity. Being a secular democracy, India cannot discriminate so shamelessly and blatantly against any religious group.

It goes without saying that some Muslim groups, such as Shias, Ahemdiyas or even Mohajirs, face inequality in Pakistan. How can one deny refuge to them? India has growing numbers of climate refugees, irrespective of their religious beliefs, which has nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess the motivations of this government. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as alleged "exporters of Islamic extremism" to polarize Hindus against Muslims. It is worth mentioning that attacks on Muslims have grown under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014, and got re-elected this year with more seats. The state of Gujarat witnessed anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 under his watch. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of the state back then, alleged that Pakistan-based Islamic extremists had burnt a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which was instantly blamed on Pakistan following which thousands of Muslims were killed by the mobs across Gujarat.  

It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru, and aren't shy to stake claims in the story, while in their own home country they raise walls against refugees in the name of religion. Their attitude is no different than the British, who wanted to keep India divided on religious lines to prolong their rule. Ironically, Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru, shared in his memoir that the British were partly upset with him for giving space on the vessel for everyone to practise their religions, including Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs. This shows how the founding fathers of modern India tried to build an inclusive society by taking everyone along in their fight against colonialism and racism, and yet the present day Indian leadership is bent upon destroying that dream.  It’s time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for the Komagata Maru, he should let Modi know that this will not be tolerated, and if Modi doesn’t listen, then he must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government. 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India has organized a rally against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Bill on Sunday, December 22 at 3 pm at Holland Park in Surrey.

 

Radical Desi has declared a vocal critic against repression of Kashmiri people by the Indian state as Person of the Year 2019.

Nitasha Kaul is a London-based academic and author, who courageously testified in October before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia”, after the recent developments in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

On August 5, the Indian government unilaterally scrapped special rights given to the state of Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, arresting local leaders on the pretext of maintaining public safety.  

The right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government claims that the act was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim dominated state of India. Since then, Kashmir has been turned into an open jail, communication channels such as internet have been shut, and leaders fighting for freedom and autonomy have been detained indefinitely. These include political figures and activists who have been advocating for peaceful resolution of the problem of Kashmir, where people have been struggling for right to self-determination.

Kaul is an associate professor of politics at the University of Westminster, and a published author. She strongly advocated for the rights of the Kashmiri people in her testimony. Despite being Hindu herself, through her writings she has consistently raised her voice for the Muslims who are being persecuted in Kashmir by the Indian forces.

Here are the excerpts from her testimony:

I want to begin by saying that I’m mindful of the ironies of speaking here in non-communal terms, being someone who is a Kashmiri Pandit herself by birth, but also someone from Kashmir who grew up in India, lives in England and is speaking in the US today. There are multiple colonial transitions there that are important. 

The parallels with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust [made earlier] are very apt, because the RSS in India, about which concerns were raised in the morning as well, is a nationwide paramilitary that is the ideological parent of the current ruling party. The RSS avowedly has an idea of turning India into a Hindu nation, it also has this idea of an undivided India where everything else in the region will become part of a Hindu India.

Please remember also that the New York Times in 1922 profiled Hitler saying Mr Hitler’s anti-Semitism is neither as violent nor as genuine as it sounds. So things take time to unfold, and the proto-fascist trajectory that sadly the secular democracy of India is on, is very worrying for us all.

Let me also say that I’ve been to Kashmir every year, including this year during elections when the whole place was deserted… I don’t represent either Indian interests nor Pakistani interests, and in fact that is precisely the problem, that the people who speak about Kashmiri self interest and the rights of Kashmiris themselves are the ones most vulnerable, from any and every side.

Communal politics serves no one. It does not serve Indians and if Kashmir were a communal issue then Muslims in India would feel the same as Kashmiri Muslims, and they do not. So it is not a communal issue—it’s an issue that has been communalised.

I would also like to say that every other day for Kashmiris is the commemoration of a massacre, and when Indians (this is not personally against Indians or Pakistanis) when Indians expect acknowledgment of a massacre like Jallianwala Bagh, when under General Dyer fire was opened upon unarmed protesters, what about all the Kashmiri protesters?

What we are asking here is really very, very simple. We are asking for human rights and substantive democracy and for the question of freedom. The people who have been fired upon for just gathering non-violently over the years, in numerous massacres that I have listed in my statement—there should be an acknowledgment from the state to say, we are sorry.

Nothing can move on unless there is an acknowledgment of all the human rights violations that have gone on for this people, who have been an important site of early Buddhism, who have seen Hindu and Mughal and Afghan rulers, who were sold for the equivalent of $150,000 in 1846 by clauses of the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar without their consent!

And who then had an unrepresentative ruler. All through the 19th century it’s a story of absolute tragedy, and then when we come into the 20th Kashmir was one of the first interstate disputes that the UN was prominently involved in. There are several resolutions in those early years where the UN was trying under various people to demilitarise Kashmir…

This is a long and complex history which should not obfuscate from us a very simple fact: that there is a political problem here, which is compounded by human rights violations, and the international community has a role because it has implications not just for Kashmiris—who are currently under siege and under collective punishment, being deprived of their very basic rights—it also has regional and global implications. Because people travel across borders, and ideas when they are suffocated and dissent when suffocated becomes the hardest to handle.

The question here is really not so much about Article 370. The fundamental question here is about the consent of the people.

If something is being carried out for people’s welfare, for their development, then why does it need tens of thousands of troops being brought in, why must it happen overnight without absolutely any consultation of the people? With placing even the pro-India politicians in prison and then depriving the populace of the right to say anything? If it’s for their own good, why won’t any of them be allowed to say anything about it?

This is an egregious human rights violation, it goes against consent, against fundamental principles of dissent as it relates to democracy. And as people who are being claimed in the name of democracy, as rights bearing individuals, it’s something they should fundamentally be allowed to do. This is arbitrary use of power with no accountability. 

 

Dear Santa, 

I have heard that you are a kind soul who listens to the people and tries to make their dreams come true by bringing them gifts on every Christmas.

I am writing you for the very first time and I hope you won’t disappoint me.

Fortunately, I am going to make your job a bit easier. I am not asking for material gifts, so you don’t have to worry about making anything for me. All I ask is for you to write a letter to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  and CC it to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on my behalf, requesting him to show some compassion for the people of Kashmir who continue to face lockdown since August 5, 2019. Alternatively, you can just copy and paste the content of my letter and forward it to him to save your time, as you must be busy responding to thousands of letters around this time of the year.

Kashmir is a disputed region where people have been fighting for the right to self-determination. The Indian forces continue to suppress their struggle, with a heavy deployment of troops. But ever since August 5, Indian-occupied Kashmir has been turned into an open jail. More than 5,000 people are under arrest, while civil liberties have been suspended. In the name of national security, the Indian state has scrapped the special status given to Kashmir, and disintegrated the state into two territories without any consultation with local leadership. This is done to humiliate the minority Muslim community, as Kashmir is the only Muslim dominated province in predominantly Hindu India. This reflects very poorly on a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.  

Even otherwise, attacks on religious minorities, including Christians, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. He is the leader of a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party which is bent upon turning India into a Hindu theocracy, where the rights of all minorities will be reduced. On the auspicious occasion of Christmas, it is important to remind that Christians are finding it difficult to practice their faith under these circumstances. They are the target of constant attacks in different parts of India at the hands of Hindu extremists.   

So just write to Modi, and tell him to be compassionate, and lift the blockade of Kashmir, restore all the rights that have been suspended without further delay. During the holiday season, urge him to give up hate and start to embrace everyone. I am sure that a bigot like him won’t listen to you, but if you choose to write a letter to him it will give moral support to the people of Kashmir and other minorities in India. And please don’t forget to CC it to Trudeau, who has failed to address this issue despite many protests across Canada. Please remind Trudeau that since Canada claims to be a human rights leader in the world, it has an obligation to raise its voice against injustice anywhere on the globe. Maybe you can also remind him that this year marks the birth centenary of his father, the late Prime Minister who had the courage to stand up for Cuba and look into the eyes of US. He should follow in his father's footsteps if he really cares for his legacy, and tell Modi to do the right thing. 

Looking forward to your reply.

Gurpreet Singh  

Delta, BC 

 

Braving cold weather and rain on a weekday afternoon, social justice activists came together on Tuesday, December 3, to raise their voices for a physically challenged Delhi University Professor incarcerated in an Indian jail.

Wheelchair-bound G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is serving a life sentence under inhuman conditions. His health continues to deteriorate because of 19 ailments.

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a demonstration at Surrey’s Holland Park, where the speakers unanimously demanded the immediate release of Saibaba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. They felt that the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is indulging in double standards by openly shielding Hindu extremists who spread violence and terror, while punishing a scholar like Saibaba who is facing persecution for standing up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed communities, particularly Adivasis or the indigenous peoples of India who are being forcibly evicted by the Indian state from their traditional lands in the name of development. The attacks on minorities and Adivasis have grown ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014.  

Saibaba was charged and convicted after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. Since Maoists are fighting a class war in the tribal belt, not only Saibaba, but others like him have been frequently labelled as ultra-leftists to suppress any voice of dissent.

The Sikh activists came out in big numbers to show their solidarity. Among them were members of the Banda Singh Bahadur Society, Ranjit Singh Khalsa and Inderjit Singh Bains, and members of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta were also present. Notably, the Sikh community in Vancouver had enthusiastically supported a petition asking for the Canadian government to intervene by calling to get Saibaba released.

Those who spoke on the occasion included anti-racism educator Annie Ohana, anti-poverty activist Dave Diewert, independent Sikh activist Gurmukh Singh Deol, Sikh Nation volunteer Sunil Kumar, besides IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh. No elected official showed up.

The participants held placards asking for freedom of Saibaba and raised slogans against the high handedness of the Indian government, which continues to ignore the international outcry over its mistreatment of Saibaba.

The rally was started with a moment of silence in memory of another scholar and activist, SAR Geelani, who passed away recently. Geelani, who also taught at Delhi University, was close to Saibaba and had been tirelessly campaigning for the release of all political prisoners. He himself was falsely implicated by the police in connection with a terror attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 and was thrown into jail. After being acquitted by the court, he began advocacy for political prisoners.

 

Radical Desi in partnership with Mehak Punjab Dee TV, People’s Voice and Spice Radio released its annual calendar in Surrey on Sunday, December 1.

Dedicated to the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, the calendar was unveiled by the Editor of the Georgia Straight, Charlie Smith. Others who joined him in the ceremony included Surrey Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal and Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, besides the members of Guru Nanak Free Kitchen and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI).

The painting of Nanak ploughing fields like an ordinary and hardworking farmer printed on the calendar was made by Jarnail Singh. It has several important dates related to the radical history of South Asian elders alongside significant days, such as International Human Rights Day and International Women’s Day.

Smith was also honoured on the occasion with Radical Desi medal of courage for standing up against bigotry by anti-racism activists, Annie Ohana and Avtar Singh Dhillon. Ohana is an anti-racism educator, while Dhillon has been fighting for the right to wear turbans at workplaces in Canada.

The event was started with a moment of silence for Zofia Cisowski, a Polish woman from Kamloops who passed away recently. Her son Robert Dziekanski was tasered to death by the RCMP at Vancouver Airport in 2007. She had fought for justice and became an icon of human rights struggles in Canada.

Guru Nanak himself was a human rights defender and a revolutionary who had challenged the barbarity of the state. The speakers were unanimous in their views that the legacy of Nanak has become even more relevant today with the rise in racism and hate all over the world. They emphasized that repressive governments across the globe need to be made accountable as a fitting tribute to Nanak in these difficult times.

Smith was honoured for refusing to interview Peoples’ Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier for his racist views.He noted that Nanak was way ahead of his times, and by teaching his followers to respect the Mother Earth and denouncing discrimination on basis of caste, colour and gender, had laid the foundation for a just society.

Others who spoke on the occasion were Sukh Dhaliwal, Annie Ohana, Rachna Singh, Sikh activist Kulwinder Singh, Omni TV Reporter Haroon Gaffar, Independent Broadcaster Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, IAPI member Sayyad Wajahat and Pakistani activist  Furquan Gehlen.

Gehlen brought with him postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to break his silence on Indian occupied Kashmir, which has been under lockdown since August 5. The participants signed the post cards at the event that coincided with the martyrdom day of the ninth master of the Sikhs, Guru Teg Bahadur, who had laid down his life for Kashmiri Hindus. Charlie Smith also signed one post card to show his solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims who are being persecuted by the Indian forces.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government has come to the defence of a terror accused who is now sitting in the parliament of the world’s so called largest democracy.

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who was elected as a BJP lawmaker in the recent general election, had described the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi as patriot.

Nathuram Godse was a member of a group that wanted to establish a Hindu theocracy in post-independent India. Since Gandhi was opposed to the idea, he was murdered by Godse on January 30, 1948. As a result, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist group of which BJP is a part, was banned for some time. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an RSS man. It is not surprising that the BJP has many supporters who continue to glorify Godse and despise Gandhi. This is despite the fact that Modi claims to be an admirer of Gandhi, who remains an indisputable icon of India’s freedom movement.

Thakur, a fiery ascetic, faces criminal charges for the 2008 bomb blasts that left 10 people dead and close to 100 injured. The conspiracy was hatched by those who want to transform India into a Hindu state. The blasts were targeted at the minority Muslim community. Thakur was given bail on medical grounds, after which she fought and won the election. Notably, the trial isn’t over yet. Modi personally endorsed her candidacy, blaming the previous Congress government of implicating her in a “false case” to “malign Hindus”.

Following her remarks on Godse, there was an uproar in the parliament. The opposition was up in arms against the government for shielding a terror accused, to which the BJP government has responded by saying that she isn’t convicted.

Well, if Thakur isn’t convicted and deserves to be an MP, then what about others who were not given fair trials, and were killed illegally in the name of war on terror? Why these double standards on terrorism?

A case in point is Talwinder Singh Parmar, who was a suspect in the Air India bombing of June 23, 1985. Parmar was killed by the Indian Police in 1992. Flight 182 was bombed mid-air above the Irish Sea. The incident killed all 329 people aboard. The crime was blamed on Parmar and his militant organization that was fighting for a separate Sikh homeland. Parmar, who was a Canadian citizen, was arrested on unrelated charges, but released. While he still remained a suspect, he went back to India to pursue his struggle for a Sikh homeland.

The police claimed that he was killed in an exchange of fire, although ground realities suggested that he was killed using extra judicial means that were blatantly used against Sikh militants to suppress armed insurgency. So Parmar never got a fair trial, and yet the Indian agents in Canada continue to raise objections to commemorative prayers organized in his memory every year in local Sikh temples. They miss no opportunity to criticise Canadian politicians who visit the temples that glorify Parmar.  Sikh MPs are often forced to take a stand against Parmar to silence their pro-India critics and the Indian diplomats.

Considering that Modi and his government have been shamelessly backing people like Thakur, Canadian MPs need to ask, what moral right do they have to question their intentions? If Parmar was a terrorist, even if he was never convicted by the courts, why shouldn't Thakur be described as such? Also, Canadian politicians who respect Gandhi need to ask Modi to clarify his position on terrorism, especially in relation to his party’s ideological ties with Godse. It also raises questions about the integrity of the Indian police and legal justice system. How come the state allowed its police to kill Sikh militants at will in the name of peace, but is not using similar methods to liquidate Hindu extremists who terrorise minorities with impunity? Haven’t they ruined the peace and harmony in India? This only suggests that India has actually become a majoritarian Hindu state that openly discriminates against minorities, and treats majoritarian extremists more leniently than extremists from minority communities. If this pattern is allowed to prevail, nothing can stop the revival of Sikh separatism and Balkanisation of India. 

The Editor of the Georgia Straight will be given Radical Desi's medal of courage on Sunday, December 1.

Charlie Smith had recently refused to interview Maxime Bernier, the leader of far right People’s Party of Canada, because of his anti-immigrant views.  This was in sharp contrast to many editors of mainstream media outlets who provided Bernier with a platform to air his opinions that fuelled racism during the federal election.

Smith has frequently faced backlashes for his advocacy of diversity.  

Radical Desi, which covers alternative politics, will honour him at a public event being held at Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey on Sunday afternoon between 1-3 pm.  Not only will Smith be presented with a medal, he will also be unveiling the annual calendar of Radical Desi on the occasion.

The year 2020 calendar of Radical Desi is dedicated to the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Devji, who had denounced discrimination on basis of caste, colour and gender.

Smith believes that Nanak was ahead of his time and had taught his disciples about the values that are even more relevant today, when bigotry and inequality continue to grow. He has a deep understanding of the Indian society and history, besides the progressive aspect of Sikh religion.

Smith had openly asked for a street in Vancouver to be named after Gurdit Singh, a Sikh activist who had chartered the Komagata Maru. The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers aboard was forced to return in 1914 under then-discriminatory immigration laws passed by the Canadian government, to keep Canada as a white man’s country. Singh’s act of resistance was against racism, but his image has often been distorted by Eurocentric historians. Smith came under online attack for suggesting this.

 

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