"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.
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As the world grapples with growing bigotry, social inequalities and climate crisis, a Sikh businessman has raised some hopes for a better future.

Ludhiana-based bakery owner Harjinder Singh Kukreja has been crafting chocolate Ganesha for the past four years.

Ganesha is one of the most revered Hindu gods. Known for his elephant head, Ganesha’s festival falls this month. It is an auspicious occasion for Hindus who often build big idols of him and immerse them into the water. The practice has raised concerns over the years, as the paint and material used for making such statues is not good for the environment.

Kukreja came up with an idea of chocolate Ganesha to not only save water from pollutants, but also to bring smiles on the faces of poor and underprivileged kids. His Ganesha is immersed into milk and the kids are given free chocolate milk as a Prasad.  

The most inspiring part of the story is that this time, Kukreja involved a Muslim artist to craft Ganesha idols with 106 kgs. of Belgian chocolate. Thus he has set a great example of making cross cultural bridges when minorities, especially Muslims, continue to be targeted by Hindu extremists under a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.  

Both Kukreja and the Muslim artist involved in the project belong to minority communities which do not believe in idol worshipping. Yet they came together to give respect to a Hindu god in an unusual manner that goes a long way in saving the environment and embracing the poor, besides sending a strong message to those who are trying to divide people on religious lines to stay in power.

 

***

 

This month marks 24 years of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a towering human rights activist from Punjab.

Jaswant Singh Khalra was abducted by the Indian police from his home in Amritsar on September 6, 1995, and was never seen after that. While an eyewitness testified that he was murdered by the police in custody, his body wasn't recovered. 

Khalra was among thousands of Sikhs who were abducted and killed by Indian police and security forces in Punjab between the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these people remain untraced and presumed dead. There has been no accountability for senior police officers involved in illegal operations to deal with an armed insurgency by Sikh separatists who were seeking an independent homeland.

Sikh men were frequently kidnapped, tortured, and killed in faked encounters with impunity, as perpetrators in uniforms were rewarded with out-of-turn promotions and gallantry awards. In almost all cases, the victims' bodies were disposed of unceremoniously.

Khalra’s only fault was that he started an investigation into the enforced disappearances. At the time, he was collecting records of those who were cremated secretly in Amritsar.

Prior to being kidnapped and murdered, Khalra came to Canada in 1995 to raise international awareness about this issue. Even though he was offered a chance to apply for asylum, true to his convictions, he chose to return and continue his unfinished task in the face of threats coming from senior police officers. 

Interestingly, Khalra’s grandfather Harnam Singh was aboard the Komagata Maru, a Japanese vessel carrying more than 350 Indian passengers in 1914 who were forced to return from Vancouver under a racist immigration law. Singh later became involved in the struggle against British occupation of India.  

Khalra’s story remains relevant both in India and across the world as security forces continue to use enforced disappearances as a tool to create terror and suppress any voice of dissent with impunity. The federal NDP has already recognized Khalra as Human Rights Defender. It's time for Canada to recognize the day of his kidnapping as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, has let down the people of Indian occupied Kashmir by remaining insensitive to the ongoing repression in the region under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Since August 5, Kashmir has virtually been turned into an open jail after the Indian government led by BJP abrogated special status given to the state, turning it into centrally governed union territory without any dialogue with the local leaders. This is despite the fact that India is internationally seen as the world’s largest democracy.

Phones and net service aren’t working, as the region remains cut off from the rest of the country that claims Kashmir to be its integral part. Kashmiri politicians have been detained, while physical violence continues to be applied on dissidents with impunity.

The ruling BJP and its supporters claim that the step was necessary to contain terrorism and violent struggle for an independent Kashmir. They have gone to the extent of labelling anyone who criticises such undemocratic move as anti-national.

The fact remains that the BJP government, which enjoys a brute majority in the parliament, had a long time agenda to revoke the special status to Kashmir - the only Muslim dominated state in India - to polarize the Hindu majority all over the country. Even months before the general election last May, the BJP had demonized Muslims. After a suicide attack left close to 40 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir, Kashmiris in other parts of India were roughed up and beaten by the mobs as the authorities remained mute spectators.   

The situation has turned volatile after the August 5 announcement. However, the Canadian government remains indifferent, despite many protests held coast to coast by Kashmiris and their supporters. Even as 3,000 postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked him to break his silence, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has come out with a very weak statement. She simply assures that Canada continues to closely follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of laying the blame at the doorstep of the Indian government, she has called on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control (international boundary dividing Indian and Pakistani Kashmir) and in the region.

The federal New Democrats, especially Svend Robinson, a former MP and a known advocate for human rights, came out with a very strong statement categorically condemning the action of the Indian state. But his party colleagues in BC have maintained a deafening silence. They not only remained away from the rallies held in support of the people of Kashmir, but abstained from making any statement citing this to be a federal matter. Nevertheless, they shamelessly participated in series of events sponsored by the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Among them are Minister Jinny Sims and Raj Chouhan, a Deputy speaker, who attended India’s Independence Day celebrations inside the consulate on August 15, but did not dare to come and join the protestors who had gathered outside. Notably, both are South Asians and come from labour movements that boast to be the defenders of international solidarity movement.

Not to be left behind, Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal and another BC Minister, Harry Bains, joined Sims and others for another event held in partnership with the Indian Consulate on August 31. Notably, Bains had flayed the suicide attack that left 40 soldiers dead in Kashmir, but never found it necessary to say a word against the Indian state’s highhandedness against its people. So much so, the NDP leaders have also failed to stand up against a local BJP supporter, Parshotam Goyal, who described Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as “mentally retarded” for raising his voice in support of the people of Kashmir. Goyal is associated with the Laxminarayan Hindu temple in Surrey that welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.  They even remained silent when Goyal ridiculed a Muslim TV reporter of Pakistani origin for asking an inconvenient question about human rights abuse in Kashmir, during a press conference organized by the officials of Laxminarayan Temple in support of the BJP government’s decision on Kashmir. Similarly, Dhaliwal never showed up at the rally held in Surrey for the people of Kashmir despite being invited by the organizers. For the record, these politicians have mostly ignored invitations for similar protest rallies against state repression in India over the past several years. The attacks on religious minorities continue to grow, but these politicians have always preferred to maintain cozy relations with the Indian officials instead of making time to listen to the grievances of those who have been holding demonstrations to highlight these issues in Canada. This may have to do with the fact that they have business and family ties with India and do not want to annoy the Indian agents who hold enough power to deny them visas. Notably, Dhaliwal was once denied a visa for raising the issue of 1984 Sikh Genocide in the parliament. Jagmeet Singh was denied Indian visa as well for the same reason. 

But there are a few exceptions, like Harpreet Singh, an independent TV broadcaster and Conservative Party candidate for Surrey Newton, who never shies from attending such rallies. He has been very vocal against ongoing repression of minorities and political dissidents in India, in spite of being a candidate of a right wing political party that is known for its fondness for the BJP. He has not only stood up against some of the hardline positions of his party, but has also provided the platform of his independent TV show to people who are critical of BJP government.

If Canadian politicians really care for social justice and human rights, they need to speak out very powerfully against the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian military forces.  By choosing to remain neutral they are siding with the oppressors. Either tell the Indian establishment to stop this barbarity, or stop wining and dining with their agents for selfish interests. Otherwise don’t pretend to be champions of the underdog.   

 

***

 

Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt, who had started a campaign against racism, was honoured at a community festival on Sunday, August 4, organized in commemoration of the South Asian elders who had fought against colonialism.

#HandsAgainstRacism was launched by Datt on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. in January 2015.

At an annual community festival attended by thousands of people every year, the organizers of the event Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation honoured Datt in recognition of her popular initiative against growing bigotry and racism in North America.

The event coincided with the mass shooting in El Paso that left 20 people dead. The massacre was committed by a white supremacist who targeted Hispanic population at a store in Texas.

Datt, who is a veteran broadcaster, congratulated the organizers for keeping the history of resistance against racism and colonialism alive.

Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation is dedicated to the cause of celebrating the struggle of Indian revolutionaries who laid down their lives fighting against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad. They had founded the Ghadar Party in North America back in 1913. To honour those heroes, the organizers also hoisted the Ghadar Party flag on the occasion, while small Ghadar flags greeted visitors from different corners of the venue at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park.

They also honoured an independent TV Producer Kamaljit Thind for keeping alive the history of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which left close to 1,000 people dead in British India. The troops had fired indiscriminately at a gathering of peaceful demonstrators who had assembled at a public park in Amritsar in 1919 to protest against draconian laws and the arrests of the leaders of passive resistance movement.

The key organizer Sahib Thind gave a call to the crowd to keep fighting against racism. Thind was expecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to attend, but he never came. However, two Liberal Cabinet Ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Carla Quoltrough, besides local Liberal MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal, Randeep Singh Sarai and Ken Hardie were in attendance. 

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP MLA Rachna Singh were also present on the occasion.   

 

The Punjabi community is anxious to thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for making an official apology for the racist incident that occurred more than a century ago, at a huge public gathering in Surrey this coming weekend.

The efforts of Surrey-based Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation culminated into a formal apology for Komagata Maru episode in the House of Commons in 2016.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return in July, 1914 from Vancouver under a discriminatory law that was aimed to discourage permanent settlement of immigrants from India.

Trudeau had officially acknowledged that it was a wrong thing to do, and made an apology that was received by many Indo-Canadians who traveled all the way to Ottawa to witness it.  

Trudeau had promised in July 2015, when he was running to become Prime Minister, to make a dignified closure through a formal apology at the annual community festival organized by Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park.

The Foundation had started a campaign seeking this apology way back in 2002, and received thousands of signatures on its petition since then. Foundation leader Sahib Singh Thind says that they have invited Trudeau to this year’s festival on Sunday, August 4, in commemoration of the Indian revolutionaries who had fought against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad. 

Thind is hopeful that Trudeau will make it, as the community is keen to honour him for keeping his promise.

Since Surrey has a sizable South Asian population with a few swing ridings, there is no reason why Trudeau won’t be in attendance. With the Federal election less than three months away, he would connect with thousands of Indo-Canadians who are likely to participate in the festival that remains extremely popular for the past two decades. 

 

Gurpreet Singh

In what can be seen as censorship of academic work by the representatives in Canada of the world’s so called largest democracy, the Indian consulate has removed a slide quoting Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy from a presentation on Dr. B.R Ambedkar.

Ambedkar was a towering Indian scholar and social justice activist. He was also an architect of the Indian constitution. On his birth anniversary in April, the Indian consulate in Vancouver had organized an event in partnership with a local Ambedkarite group.

A US based researcher was given a task to make a presentation on Ambedkar in the global context. She confirmed to this writer that one of the slides carrying a quote of Roy was removed from her presentation without her consent at the last minute. When she confronted the officials, she was only told that Roy is a disputed figure. Even the local Ambedkarite group chose to remain silent and did not intervene. The presentation was submitted to the consulate through this group.

Roy has always stood for the rights of the poor and marginalized people in India and has been vocal against any form of state violence against minorities, at her own personal risk.

This is especially so under the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, under whose rule intolerance has grown. Scholars and writers like Roy continue to face threats and harassment.

India is presently witnessing an era of McCarthyism in which left-wing activists and thinkers are frequently targeted both by the police and Hindu vigilante groups. Roy has been frequently branded as left wing extremist by them.

Roy, who shot into prominence with her novel The God of Small Things that got her the Booker Prize, is also an essayist who has travelled extensively and demonstrated her capability in challenging power anywhere in the world.

She has been facing threats for writing in defence of the people of Kashmir fighting for the right to self-determination, as well as for the Adivasis (Indigenous peoples of India) facing eviction due to the extraction industry, which is often backed by the Indian establishment. She has pulled no punches in her lectures, media interviews, or writings while criticizing supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who have been been terrorizing minorities.

Roy has always been consistent in her criticism of Indian forces who often kill civilians with impunity and use rape as a weapon in conflict zones.

Her recent novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is a sad story about marginalized sections of the Indian society forced to live under constant fear and insecurity.

The development follows closely on the denial of Honorary Canadian Citizenship to Roy by the Canadian parliament.

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) collected hundreds of signatures in Metro Vancouver on petitions to grant her honorary citizenship.

In a one-line response to the petition, Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, wrote: “The decision to bestow citizenship is a decision of Parliament not that of the Government”.

This is despite the fact that the petition was addressed to the House of Commons and sponsored by none other than Member of Parliament from Surrey Centre, Randeep Singh Sarai Sarai.

The petition was first launched online in October 2018, through House of Commons website and was examined by the House Clerk of Petitions. Later, the IAPI members gathered signatures on hard copies as well. These were submitted to Sarai at his constituency office in February.

 

South Asian activists came together to raise their voices for a senior Indian police officer who is being persecuted for standing up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Sunday,  July 21 at Holland Park in Surrey.

Bhatt was recently given a life sentence for the custodial death of a man arrested in connection with sectarian violence in 1989.

Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) who organized the rally believe that Bhatt has been implicated in a false case at the behest of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Since Bhatt testified against Modi for the latter’s complicity in the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002, he has been framed to instil fears in the minds of those who continue to fight for justice to the victims of the pogrom engineered by the BJP.

Bhatt had testified that Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, had directed the police to look the other way and let Hindu mobs target Muslims. The carnage followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims leaving more than 50 people dead. Modi had instantly blamed Islamic fundamentalists for the incident, which according to one commission of enquiry was an accident.

The participants at the Sunday demonstration carried the placards that read, “Justice for Sanjiv Bhatt.” The speakers unanimously condemned the sentencing and asked for his immediate release. They also questioned why he was being singled out when many other police officers involved in extra judicial killings of Muslims, Sikhs and members of other minority communities continue to enjoy the backing of the state. They also demanded freedom of other political prisoners. Slogans against ongoing state repression and draconian laws in India under a fascist regime were also raised on the occasion.

Notably, the Sikh activists came out to show their wholehearted support to Bhatt, who had also stood up for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all across India by the mobs following the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister by Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Bhatt had refused to accept an award from a group that had invited a controversial politician, Jagdish Tytler, who was involved in the Sikh massacre.

Barjinder Singh of Sikh Nation spoke passionately in support of Bhatt at the rally. Sikh Nation organizes an annual blood drive in memory of those who were murdered during the 1984 violence. 

Other Sikh activists who spoke were Guru Nanak Singh Temple Surrey-Delta Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor and Kesar Singh Baghi.

Among others who spoke at the rally was Conservative Party candidate for Surrey-Newton and prominent TV host Harpreet Singh. Singh was the only political figure to show up. He has consistently spoken against human rights abuses in India both as a TV broadcaster and a political activist.

Muslim activist Sayed Wajahat, leftist activists Rawait Singh and Joseph Theriault, besides IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh also spoke at the rally.  

 

 

 

 

Rising above political considerations and calculations, prominent Punjabi TV broadcaster and Conservative Party candidate Harpreet Singh has rejected a controversial statement of former Prime Minister and towering Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

In a letter to the media, Singh, who is running for parliament in Surrey-Newton, has expressed his disagreement with Harper who had recently denounced those seeking to create a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan in India.

Harper was speaking at a pro-India lobby group Canada India Foundation gala in Toronto where he accused Khalistanis of bringing the battles of the past to Canada, and assured to assist current Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and Indian Prime Minister and the leader of ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Narendra Modi, to make the Canada-India relationship stronger.

This has enraged the supporters of Khalistan who have a significant presence in Surrey and some other ridings with a sizable South Asian population.

Interestingly, Harper as Prime Minister in the past had categorically said that though he disagrees with Khalistan, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows people to have their political views. He had nearly defended those who want Khalistan through peaceful means, but pulled no punches while criticising violent extremism.

Many wonder if Harper has made the statement for strategic reasons, as Canada is heading for a federal election in October this year. Both current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh have been repeatedly accused of being soft on the Khalistan movement by Indian politicians and their supporters in Canada. In recent months, the anti-Khalistan rhetoric has grown in India under the BJP government. This coincides with recent reports suggesting growing foreign interference in Canadian politics by the Indian and Chinese governments.

Singh writes that Harper’s statement has come as a surprise, as he had in 2012 only denounced violent extremism and never tried to entirely reject the campaign for Khalistan. 

He acknowledged that he has been receiving calls and messages from the Sikhs in his riding about the statement given by Harper.  He has clarified, “The former PM’s statement does not reflect my views. While the Conservatives believe in united India, we also believe in freedom of speech and Sikhs have the right to articulate their views in a democratic manner”.

Singh goes on to write in the letter that the Sikhs have a history to stand up against injustice, and there is a tendency to brand everyone as a separatist even if some of them are only asking for justice for the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Sikh activists continue to fight for closure as several top political leaders involved in the massacre remain unpunished, according to Singh.

Singh has asked for an enquiry into a series of incidents leading to Harper’s statement. He points out that the last time Trudeau visited India, the issue of Khalistan was repeatedly raised by the Indian government, and shortly after that the Sikhs were bracketed with Khalistani extremism in the Public Safety Report on terrorism prepared by the Canadian government. He wants to know why such rhetoric has increased during the election year.

Singh has been vocal on human rights and social justice, despite being a candidate of a right wing political party. He has consistently attended rallies and demonstrations against growing attacks on religious minorities in India under Modi and has also provided the platform of his independent TV show to people who are critical of not only his party but the Modi government.

Singh is one of the rare South Asian political activists who do not shy from speaking his mind when it comes to human rights abuse or racism.

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

The banning of New York-based advocacy group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) by the Indian state has once again revealed the discriminatory and anti-minority mindset of the government of the world’s so called largest democracy.

On July 10, the Indian Home Ministry declared SFJ as an unlawful organization and banned it for five years.

SFJ is being accused of spreading terrorism not only by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Delhi, but also by the Congress government in Punjab, where Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has welcomed the move. Thus, the two parties that are ideologically opposed to each other have come under one tent to isolate SFJ, which has been campaigning for a referendum on a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan in 2020.

Many of their activists have been arrested in the past by the Punjab police for merely propagating in support of the referendum that Captain Amarinder Singh and the BJP claim to be secessionist in nature. 

A violent insurgency for Khalistan in Punjab left thousands of people dead between the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, but that movement is long dead, partly because of police repression and partly because it lost popular support from the Sikh community due to excesses committed by the militants. Only some fringe groups, such as SFJ, are asking for Khalistan through democratic means and yet the Indian government chose to ban them. 

The SFJ was founded in 2007. Initially, the group was campaigning for justice to the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide.

In the first week of November 1984, Sikhs were slaughtered by the mobs all over India, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards in retaliation for the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June that year. The ill-conceived army operation, planned and executed to deal with a handful of militants inside the temple, left many pilgrims dead and important buildings heavily destroyed. The attack that was preventable had alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream and galvanized the movement for Khalistan.

Activists of the slain leader’s self-proclaimed secularist Congress party were seen instigating the murderous mobs that targeted innocent Sikhs. SFJ has been trying to embarrass all those political figures involved by trying to block their visits to North America. Some of these individuals were served with summons by the courts following sustained efforts of SFJ. 

Notably, the SFJ did not just confine itself to Sikh issues; it also opposed the visits of the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US and Canada for his complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre.

Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were murdered in the state following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Modi had blamed the Muslim extremists for the incident that claimed more than 50 lives.

However, SFJ went a step further when a far right Hindu nationalist group,  Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), announced in 2015 that India will become a Hindu state by 2020. The statement came from the VHP leader Ashok Singhal, after Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. VHP was involved in the Gujarat massacre and is known to be closely associated with the BJP. The two groups are determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. This gave SFJ an excuse to raise the issue of 2020 referendum.

Under Modi, the government of India, despite the secular constitution, remained a mute spectator to the vicious statement of Singhal. The SFJ continues to receive backlash and bad press since then. Nobody talks about Singhal being a troublemaker.  

Leave aside the question of banning VHP for spreading hate and violence, when Singhal died the same year, he was given last respects by the ministers in the BJP government. Modi also paid tributes to this leader, who was known for spewing venom against Muslims.

Since 2014, the minorities continue to be attacked with impunity by Hindu extremist groups, including VHP. In the recently concluded general election, BJP fielded Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur – a controversial female ascetic involved in a bombing incident that left six people dead and 100 injured in a predominantly Muslim locality in 2008 - as its candidate. Now an elected MP, she was openly supported by Modi, despite the fact that she is still facing trial and hasn’t been acquitted.

This clearly shows that the Indian state under Modi is shamelessly patronizing those involved in majoritarian terrorism and has given them enough legitimacy. To punish Hindu fanatical groups is one thing, the Indian state lacks will to ban them. So the question is why and on what basis SFJ has been banned.

These simple facts are sufficient to understand that the Indian state is being selective. Its definition of terrorism remains flawed, as it arbitrarily decides who is a terrorist and who isn’t. Not a single Hindu extremist organization has been added to its growing list of banned terror groups.

People in North America need to raise their voice in defence of SFJ and press upon the Indian government to lift the ban which is aimed at polarizing Hindu majority and scapegoat minority Sikh community to gain political mileage. Both the BJP and the Congress are aiming to pocket the constituency of Hindu majority by othering non-Hindus, be they Muslims or the Sikhs. If a democracy like India has an appetite to accept the rhetoric of Hindu Right then it must also show respect to the demand for a referendum on Khalistan, or else India should honestly admit that it was always a Hindu nation where minorities hold second class citizenship.

 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

For the past several weeks, the followers of Bollywood diva are celebrating her 19 years in the Indian movie industry.  The twitter is flooded with greetings and best wishes to her from all over the world.

Kareena Kapoor Khan made her entry into films in June 2000, with her acting debut in Refugee.

Though her parents and the Kapoor clan are long associated with Bollywood, Kareena made an independent place for herself in the film industry with her talent and beauty. It goes without saying that her father Randhir Kapoor and mother Babita, besides sister Karishma, had dominated the movie industry for years, but Kareena remains one of the most sought after movie stars.

Undoubtedly Kareena is gorgeous and many people, including me, would like to date her. I never miss an opportunity to like her pictures on Twitter and Facebook and remain one of her followers on Instagram. I felt on top of the world when I got myself pictured with her wax statue at Madam Tussaud’s museum in London, but some other elements of her powerful story are much less discussed.

That she chose to marry a Muslim actor Saif Ali Khan, who is ten years older than her and was previously married, says lot about Kareena. It shows that she thinks independently and will make a choice that is close to her heart. She could have easily found someone younger and richer and also from her own Hindu community to marry, but she fell for Khan.

The story doesn’t stop there. She chose to adopt Khan as her last name and invited the wrath of Hindu fundamentalists who accused Saif Ali Khan of luring her and convert her to Islam. But Kareena never buckled down. Another reason why the Hindu fanatics were up in arms against her was when she chose to name her son Taimur, after a Mughal emperor who is often accused of tyranny by the Hindu historians. She and her husband were viciously attacked by the troll army on social media.

Today, she openly goes by the name Kareena Kapoor Khan, when most Bollywood stars prefer to align themselves with the Muslim haters in power, including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Most Bollywood stars have remained silent to growing attacks on religious minorities under Modi. It goes to the credit of Kareena for standing for eight-year-old Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu extremists in Jammu in January 2018. They did that to terrorist Muslims and force them to migrate. Thus, Asifa’s body was used as a battlefield. Kareena was one of those few actresses who posed themselves with a placard that condemned this gruesome act taking place inside a temple on social media.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. She went to cast her ballot at the polling station in the recently concluded general election along with her son whose name had generated an unwanted controversy. This action itself was strong enough to send a message to the Hindu fanatics that she hasn't forgotten what they did to her family. This election was a mandate on the performance of the BJP. It is a separate matter that the BJP won again with a brute majority. While Kareena never revealed whom she voted for, I have reasons to believe that she wouldn't have voted for the BJP. She had admitted in one TV interview that she wanted to date Rahul Gandhi, who recently stepped down as opposition Congress Party President after losing the election to BJP. Rahul Gandhi is a vocal critic of the sectarian politics of BJP. Kareena’s liking for Rahul sets her apart from other prominent stars who are enamoured by the popularity of Modi. Notably, BJP supporters have frequently mocked Rahul. This is not to suggest that Rahul Gandhi is a perfect politician or that his party is a great alternative to the BJP, but Kareena’s admiration for someone who is despised by BJP says something about her.                           

We need more role models like Kareena in today’s world to challenge growing bigotry and Islamophobia. Love you Kareena and I wish I get an opportunity to meet you one day to tell you how much hope you give in these depressing times.

 

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