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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi

 

A Metro Vancouver-based online magazine organized a demonstration to draw global attention to the ongoing suppression of press freedom in the world’s so-called largest democracy, in Surrey on Wednesday, May 3.  

Radical Desi had given the call for a protest rally outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center on World Press Freedom Day.  

The event was started with homage to the slain Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was allegedly assassinated in 2017 by supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.  

A prominent progressive Punjabi writer, Amrit Diwana, recited a poem dedicated to her. Slogans asking for justice to Lankesh were also raised on the occasion.  

Attacks on religious minorities and political critics, including journalists and activists, have grown under the BJP rule since 2014.  

The speakers unanimously held that the constant assaults on independent media in India cannot be delinked from the broader issue of human rights which are being trampled with impunity. They agreed that the space for free expression continues to shrink under Modi, which should alarm the international community.  

Among those who addressed the gathering were BC Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Hermender Singh Kailley, prominent Sikh activists Barjinder Singh and Kesar Singh Baghi, Dalit activist Rashpal Bhardawaj, renowned media personality Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal and Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh.   

The participants included another BC Federation of Labour member, Kassandra Felicia Martinez Cordero, Sikh activist Kuljinder Singh Gill and Ambedkarite activist Joginder Banger.   

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

The passing away of the former Chief Minister of Punjab is being seen as the end of an era, and rightfully so.  

Parkash Singh Badal, who died at the age of 95, leaves behind the legacy of one of the longest serving CMs in India. He was the towering leader of the Akali Dal, a regional Sikh party of Punjab, which has been in the forefront of many struggles, including the freedom movement in British India. 

Not only is he credited for leading many pro-people agitations, he will always be known as someone who made bridges between Punjab and the central government of India, especially under the regimes of  the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, which currently governs India with a brute majority. Badal was therefore despised by Sikh hardliners, who believe in religious and political autonomy, rather than living under the shackles of Hindu supremacy.  

Making compromises in electoral politics isn’t unusual. But in Badal’s case, he went to the extent of giving up on the core values of Akali Dal to share power with the BJP, which aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. So much so, he let down everyone on the contentious issue of human rights.  

Badal and his party got aligned with the BJP following the bloody events of the 1980s.  

Back then, Akali Dal was fighting peacefully for extra territorial and religious rights for the Sikh minority, while the then-ruling Congress party (which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP) adamantly used high-handed means to suppress their movement and polarize the Hindu majority.  

This culminated in the launching of a parallel armed struggle by Sikh militants, and the subsequent invasion  in June, 1984, of the Golden Temple complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar. The ill-conceived military operation, aimed at garnering Hindu votes in the impending general election, left many innocent worshippers dead. This galvanized the demand for an independent Sikh homeland of Khalistan. If this was not enough, the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, who were seeking revenge for the army attack on their spiritual center, was followed by the state sponsored massacre of Sikhs across India. 

These circumstances brought Akali Dal closer to the BJP, which was seen by many as an ally to challenge the Congress party. The fact that the BJP was a far more divisive and outright Hindu nationalist force was conveniently overlooked for the sake of short term gains, which the Akali Dal eventually made both in Punjab and in New Delhi by sharing power with them.  

For the record, BJP folks believe in  a Hindu India where all other minorities will be treated as second class citizens and cannot expect special rights. While they consider Islam and Christianity as foreign religions, they treat Sikhism and Buddhism, which were created to counter the discriminatory caste system within Hinduism, as part of the Hindu fold. This doctrine has been long opposed by the Sikh scholars. For them, Sikhism is not a branch of Hinduism but an independent faith.  

The undercurrent remained also because of the BJP’s doublespeak on the events of 1984. They had not only justified the attack on the Golden Temple Complex, but had been complicit in the anti-Sikh massacre that paid rich dividends to the Congress party in the election after Indira Gandhi’s death.  

Yet Badal and company looked away. So much so, they backtracked on the promise to punish the Punjab police officers, who had been instrumental behind crushing Sikh militancy by using extra judicial means and allowing large scale abuse of human rights, under pressure from the BJP that represented the interest of Hindu majority all over the country. In fact, Badal openly patronized several controversial police officers who were known for their ruthlessness.  

As a reporter with Indian Express during late 1990s, I had an opportunity to ask Badal when he was the Chief Minister about the growing demand for a people’s commission to look into the allegations of police barbarity. He curtly replied that no such commission was needed. The next day, the Indian Express displayed a front page headline quoting Badal saying exactly that.  

It was very disheartening, but not surprising, considering his previous record. 

During the late 1970s, when Badal was the Chief Minister, his government gave police a free hand to eliminate those associated with the revolutionary communist movement. Among them was 82-year-old Bujha Singh, who had previously participated in the freedom struggle. Badal had on his hand the blood of someone who deserved to be treated respectfully.  

In 2017, when a protester hurled a shoe at Badal, I was baffled to see many showing their solidarity with him and criticizing the demonstrator, rather than calling out Badal for his political opportunism. Even some moderate leftists called Badal a “gentleman”. I then took to Facebook to question, why does a leader who was responsible for the cold blooded murder of a senior like Bujha Singh remain unpunished and get undue attention and sympathy, and what’s the big deal if a protester hurled a shoe at a tyrant? I was severely criticized by many. Some people even tried to make a complaint against me to senior members of BC’s NDP, as my wife Rachna Singh was running as a party candidate in the provincial election that year. The incident only shows how far the apologists of the Indian state can go, to try to interfere in Canadian elections. Fortunately, the NDP folks ignored this, citing that those were my views and have nothing to do with the party.  

People who have a great respect for Badal for whatever reasons have every right to their opinion, but history will always judge him for his misdeeds.  

 

Gurpreet Singh  

As the world’s so-called largest democracy heads for a general election in May, 2024, overseas Indians need to mobilize to rid their home country of a Hindu supremacist leader.  

Narendra Modi first got elected as the Prime Minister of India in May, 2014. He has completed almost ten years in power.  

A diehard member of the RSS, a right wing and intolerant cultural organization that wants to transform India into an official Hindu state through social engineering, Modi is the leader of the ruling BJP, which is known for its anti-minority stance.   

Previously the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi was complicit in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms. Though he was never charged or convicted, he was denied visa by foreign governments until he got elected to the highest office. His nine years of rule coincides with the release of a BBC documentary that exposes his involvement in the Gujarat episode. Not surprisingly, Modi's government not only banned the documentary, but tried to browbeat the BBC office in India.  

However, that is not the only crime committed against humanity by Modi. Attacks on all religious minorities, including Muslims, have increased under his rule. As if this was not enough, Modi and his supporters have intensified their assaults on political critics and the opposition. The police and surveillance agencies are being used to terrorize dissidents. Independent media voices are being trampled with impunity.  

In short, Modi has turned the entire India into Gujarat, where political polarization made him the hero of majoritarianism. After all, Gujarat was the laboratory where his experiment with bigotry paid rich dividends, enabling him to sustain power for a very long time. Even today, his party continues to reap the benefits of the 2002 bloodshed. The last assembly election gave them another victory, after the BJP leaders shamelessly invoked the ghosts of the anti-Muslim massacre.   

Let’s face it that the RSS and the BJP never hid their designs, and yet the majority has voted them to power twice with huge mandates. Emboldened by such support, Modi has become more ruthless and arrogant.  

This is not to say that previous governments were perfect and never indulged in wrongdoings. What is unique about a BJP government is that it is being run by the mandate of the RSS that started its journey in 1925.  

Through public drills and assemblies across the country from the time of British India, RSS has been able to poison the minds of thousands of people to create an exclusionary Hindu nation. Ironically, they never participated in the freedom struggle, and rather remained disinterested in it. So much so, one of their supporters assassinated Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a towering leader of the passive resistance movement. Gandhi was murdered for advocating secularism and Hindu-Muslim unity, and for opposing the idea of a Hindu nation. The RSS was briefly banned after this incident.  

Modi hypocritically reveres Gandhi, while some of his party colleagues openly admire his killers. Nothing can be more contradictory than Modi’s admiration for a controversial figure, V.D. Savarkar, who was the instigator but acquitted for the lack of evidence.  

In spite of such baggage, the RSS and the BJP continue to challenge the patriotism of anyone who questions them for the ongoing repression in India. Whoever dares to criticise them can be easily branded as anti-national and thrown behind bars.  

The world largely remains ignorant to the ugly reality of the RSS, which drew inspiration from tyrants like Hitler. Its founders also justified the Jewish holocaust. But global leaders, especially in the western world, are obsessed with China and Russia. They are trying to pander to Modi against their traditional enemies by conveniently overlooking his misdeeds that actually call for sanctions. They need to be called out by the Indian Diaspora for being selective when it comes to the human rights situation in India.  

Indians abroad who are concerned with these developments have a time window of one year to work hard to rid India of Modi and the RSS.       

The 2024 election is not going to be an ordinary affair. A year later, the RSS will celebrate its birth centenary on a grand scale, and is likely to redefine India as "Hindu Rashtra" where non-Hindus are to be treated as second class citizens. It’s time that the global citizens of Indian heritage get organized and reclaim the country of the dreams of our freedom fighters, who had envisioned an egalitarian and humane society. Particularly for those living in North America - where the Ghadar Party was formed in 1913 - this should be a great cause of worry.  

The Ghadar movement was started by Indian immigrants to launch an armed uprising against British occupation and establish a secular republic. Let’s follow their example. Today, the ballot has replaced the bullet, and we can think of travelling back to India to strengthen the hands of those who are already fighting against the RSS at personal risk, and encourage our loved ones to defeat the BJP in the May 2024 election. Alternatively, you can remain here and do canvassing either online or through phone calls. Holding public rallies to raise awareness worldwide is another option to sensitize the western media and politicians about what’s happening in India, and to build international pressure to ensure that Modi does not precipitate another 2002-like violence to win the next election. Notably, Modi's government has failed to deliver on its promises of making India economically self-sufficient and strong. The lack of opportunities is one reason why most migrants are forced to come to Canada from India. This has given Modi a reason to indulge in the politics of religion even more aggressively. So far, he has kept his support base intact by delivering on the BJP's core promises to the Hindu voters over the years.  

We need to urge everyone vote strategically, to kick out Modi and bring in another alternative that is secular and tolerant. Nevertheless, we must not give a blank cheque to any non-BJP party. Make them accountable as well, for their past mistakes of either hobnobbing with the RSS, or playing majoritarian politics for short term gains that laid the ground work for Modi to ascend to power.  

Barring a few parties which have consistently opposed the RSS ideology, others have tried to outdo them by using the Hindu nationalism card out of sheer opportunism. We must identify honest candidates and grassroots level activists who can bring real change. People may not realize that the RSS has already done great harm to Indian society, through penetration in the administration, judiciary, the armed forces, the cinema, the media and the academia; any attempt to dismantle the power structures they have created might take years. Even if Modi and the RSS are ousted, it will still be a long way to go to wipe out the residue of their legacy of hatred.

 

Gurpreet Singh  

Kshama Sawant, who was declared as Radical Desi Person of the Year 2023 for being instrumental behind the historic ordinance to outlaw caste-based discrimination in Seattle, making it the first city outside India to do so, has carried forward the legacy of two great men.   

April being the birthday month of the Ghadar movement - cofounded by Sohan Singh Bhakna and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - it is important to recognize the Seattle City Councillor’s work as a continuation of what those giant leaders stood for.  

It might be a coincidence that Sawant was honoured in Surrey on the first day of Dalit History Month in April, but her activism and alternative politics cannot be delinked from the mission of Bhakna and Amebdkar. In fact, there are many striking similarities between her and those two icons of social justice.  

Like Bhakna, who first came to Seattle in 1909, Sawant made this city her home after migrating from India.  

Bhakna, who started his career as a sawmill worker in Portland, was the first President of the Ghadar Party which was created in the US on April 21, 1913, by those seeking to liberate India from British occupation through armed revolution to establish a casteless and classless society. Later, he returned to India and spent many years in jails during the freedom struggle. At one point he went on a hunger strike against the practice of serving separate meals to the so-called untouchable or Dalit prisoners as part of the brutal caste system within Hindu society. Early this year, Sawant did something significant to bring an end to similar discrimination against Dalits abroad. 

Sawant, who grew up in Maharashtra before coming to the US, had learnt a lot from the inspiring story of Ambedkar, an undisputed Dalit leader and thinker.  After all, Amebdkar was from Maharashtra, where the Dalit emancipation movement has always been very strong.   

Born on April 14, 1891, Amebdkar had to face caste-based discrimination from a very early age. In spite of many challenges, he grew up as a scholar and also came to the US for studies. He was the architect of the Indian constitution. But he never gave up on his crusade against the caste system, which he challenged until his last breath. Sawant’s anti-caste initiative was the culmination of his battle.   

It is equally important to see that Sawant has an intersectional lens, much as Bhakna and Ambedkar had. Neither Bhakna nor Ambedkar limited themselves to the fight against  the caste system; both also raised their voices for the women, the toiling masses and other minority groups. Likewise, Sawant has been in the forefront of the campaign for raising the minimum wage, and is known for her advocacy for gender equality and the rights of the underprivileged and marginalized.  

It is not surprising to see Sawant under constant attack from groups owing allegiance to the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP in New Delhi. Instead of seeing her as  an enemy of India, she should rather be seen as a daughter of the soil who has done India proud by upholding true secularism that was deeply cherished by Bhakna and Ambedkar.  

*** 

 

Gurpreet Singh   

Often portrayed as a trigger happy radical, the towering Indian revolutionary should be remembered as a book lover, who continues to inspire many to read even today.  

Bhagat Singh was executed for waging war against the British occupation of India in 1931. He believed in an armed resistance for not only a liberated homeland, but to establish a classless and egalitarian society free of human exploitation.  

Born in 1907 into a family of dedicated nationalists who were in the forefront of the freedom movement, he was fond of books from a very early age, and gradually acquired knowledge on many issues, such as Communism, atheism and social justice. As one thing leads to another, his reading habit turned him into a sharp essayist. 

Moments before being taken to the scaffold to hang for assassinating a police officer, he was reading Reminiscences of Lenin, a memoir of Clara Zetkin, a German political activist, based on her interactions with an icon of the Bolshevik revolution.   

Lenin had greatly inspired many other activists who died fighting for India’s freedom. Bhagat Singh therefore wasn’t an exception. What was exceptional in this story though was that he was reading a book before embracing death with conviction and courage. That should be considered as his true legacy.  

We have seen enough imaginary paintings with a gun in his hand, but there is a need to show more of his pictures with books. Several attempts have been made by a few artists, but a lot needs to be done to make people see that he was a thinker, and encourage them to read his written work, besides the books he read during his struggle to truly understand his philosophy.  

Testimonies from his contemporaries suggest that he spent hours reading, and maintained a library with his comrades. So much so, they fought for the right to be given books and newspapers in jails, setting a stage for the international convention for such services for political prisoners.  

This is also necessary to encourage a reading habit among the masses, to defeat ignorance which is the mother of many ills, such as racism and hate. Bhagat Singh has shown us that it is never too late to learn through reading, even in the face of death, to keep our hopes alive and remain in high spirits.   

On World Book Day, April 23, let’s remember our hero as a book lover, who is even more relevant in an era of growing censorship and bigotry, shrinking space for dialogue and free thinking, under a growing threat of right wing politics worldwide, especially in his birthplace.  

 

Radical Desi gave the visiting Indian journalist its second human rights journalism award, at a public rally held in Surrey on Thursday, April 13.  

Jasvir Samar is associated with the Chandigarh-based Punjabi Tribune. He has extensively written on human rights and social justice.  

He was presented with the award by its first recipient, Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, at the vigil in memory of the victims of Jallianwala Bagh massacre,  

Close to 1,000 people died when British-Indian troops opened fire on the gathering of peaceful demonstrators, who had gathered at a public park in Amritsar on April 13, 1919, to protest against draconian laws and the arrests of leaders of the freedom movement.      

The annual memorial vigil was jointly organized by Mehak Punjab Di TV and Radical Desi.  

Samar also spoke on the occasion, and tried to draw parallels between the state violence of India under British occupation, and the current right wing regime.  

For the award presentation of the award, previous recipients of Radical Desi medals Annie Ohana and Imtiaz Popat briefly joined Radical Desi Director and cofounder Gurpreet Singh, besides the supporter of the group Tejinder Sharma 

The participants later lit candles in memory of the victims of the massacre, and paid homage to the Indian martyrs whose pictures were displayed at the site of the vigil. They also raised slogans against the ongoing repression and for the release of political prisoners.  

 

  

 

  

 

On the eve of the birthday of the towering Indian scholar and undisputed Dalit leader, South Asian activists gathered in Surrey to light the pyre of a racist text that sanctions the brutal case system.  

Manusmriti is an orthodox Hindu doctrine that divides society in four caste groups, and discriminates against the so called untouchables or Dalits.  

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who later joined Buddhism and rejected Hinduism because of caste-based oppression, had mobilised his supporters to burn this controversial book back in 1927.  

On the eve of his birth anniversary on April 14, members of the newly founded Anti-Manuwaad Front (AMF) re-enacted that historic event at Holland Park in Surrey. 

Not only were copies of the script burnt, the participants also raised slogans denouncing the caste system.  

AMF was formally launched in Surrey on April 1, the first day of Dalit History Month.  

The launching was held in the presence of visiting Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant, who was instrumental behind the ordinance against caste-based discrimination. Sawnat and her supporters in Metro Vancouver have now started a petition asking for a similar law in BC.  

April 13 was purposely chosen to kick start its upcoming activities by burning the copies of Manusmriti. The event coincided with the birth anniversary of the Khalsa, an army raised by the tenth master of the Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh ji to end the caste system.  

Those who addressed the gathering included the cofounders of AMF Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal and Gurpreet Singh, besides well-known Ambedkarites Kamlesh Ahir and Rashpal Bhardhawaj.     

The speakers unanimously called for removal of statues of the writer of Manusmriti in India, and abolition of the caste system. They urged the people to organize and agitate like Ambedkar against those who still follow his hateful ideology, and yet continue to govern the country in the name of Hindu nationalism under the garb of secularism and democracy. They also warned the participants against the ongoing repression of women, Dalits and other minorities in India by the ruling Manuwaadis.      

 

Radical Desi has given its very first human rights journalism award to a senior Punjabi journalist.   

On Friday, March 31, at the commemorative event held for Bhai Balwant Singh Khurdpur at the New Westminster Gurdwara, Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, who has also done his PhD on Punjabi journalism in Canada, was presented with the award.    

Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternative politics, has honoured numerous individuals with medals of courage and appreciation certificates in the past.  

Dhaliwal is known for his strong stance on human rights and social justice. He has also kept the legacy of revolutionary history alive through his writings, as well as radio and TV shows.   

The March 31 program was dedicated to Khurdpur, who laid down his life in 1917, while fighting against the British occupation of India and racism in Canada.  

Khurdpur was a Sikh preacher and community activist who believed in socialism. He was part of the uprising that aimed to establish an egalitarian regime in post-British India. His efforts led to the right of South Asian immigrants to bring in their families in BC. Earlier they had been barred from bringing their wives and children, to discourage them from permanent settlement.  

The gurdwara officials briefly joined Radical Desi Director and cofounder Gurpreet Singh for the presentation of the award.  

Alex Sangha 

I was raised by a single mother.  She raised three boys with the help of her two brothers and their families.  My childhood, therefore, may be very different from other Punjabi Sikh families.  I have observed, however, the sacrifice of “some” Punjabi Sikh women in my life throughout different phases of their lives.  I have watched how girls, daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers are forced to put their needs second to the needs of a culture, tradition, and society that values men and boys.

PARENTS

During the first 20 to 30 years of life, the woman is under the protection and care of her parents. Times are changing, many parents provide every possible opportunity for their daughters.  It is important to note, however, that even though Sikhism espouses gender equality across the board, there is a strong preference for boys in practice.  One father explained to me that having a daughter is like watering the neighbor’s garden. This is because the daughter leaves the family to live with her in-laws when she gets married. Punjab also historically has the highest rate of female infanticide in all of India.  Girls are gaining more opportunities while in their maternal homes, but boys still benefit from more flexibility and freedom.  In addition, inheritance and property usually pass to the male children.

MARRIAGE

After a woman graduates from university, she is expected to quickly get married.  Her biological clock and desirability are ticking away.  This may even be an arranged marriage, although this is less likely.  The new bride usually moves out of her maternal home and lives with her husband’s family.  You can imagine, how difficult this would be and what limited power she would have in the new home.  In a way, the new bride gains her status in the family after having a male child.  She has done her duty.  If she fails to have children, she is constantly reminded and pressured to start a family.  Furthermore, God forbid, a new bride living with her in-laws is a victim of domestic violence. 

LIFE AFTER CHILDREN

You would think, a mother could settle down and relax after her children are raised.  This is a half-truth.  Many immigrant women from Punjab work in labor-intensive jobs and then come home to a full day of domestic work.  Basically, until her children are married, the mother is still doing a lot of chores like daily cooking and cleaning.  Having a job and grown children do provide the mother with some earned freedom but not all mothers are in this situation.  They are dependent on their husband and in-laws.

BECOMING A GRANDMOTHER

Once their children are married with kids, then these new grandmothers often find themselves as lifetime babysitters.  And since they get a pension from the government, they are often not compensated for their labor. 

PEER SUPPORT

My mother started a group for South Asian senior women in North Delta.  It made me so happy to see the friendship, laughter, and joy they are finding in their elder years together.  They understand and appreciate each other because they have all struggled and sacrificed so much for their families and are finally now finding some time for themselves in their golden years.

WOMEN FORMING SOLUTIONS

I feel women in our community need to propose their own solutions with the support of their children, including men.  I think it’s a good idea for women in our community to gather and find peer support, where they can talk, and discuss their issues and concerns with other women.  They can identify their own solutions.  Hopefully, this will be the first step toward more gender equity and equality for women.  The second and more difficult step would be the men in their lives to support them.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Alex Sangha is a Registered Clinical Social Worker and Registered Clinical Counsellor.  He is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada

 

Recognizing the historic move of banning caste-based discrimination by a Seattle City Councillor, Vancouver-based online magazine has decided to pick her as person of the year.  

Kshama Sawant, the lone Indian-American member of the Seattle City Council, has been known for her unwavering dedication to social justice. She has consistently stood up for the underdog, including the poor working class and minorities in the past, often inviting the ire of right wing groups and the corporates. Her proposed ordinance to ban caste-based discrimination was passed on February 21, 2023, making Seattle the first US City to do so.  

The Dalits, or the so-called untouchables , continue to face oppression under a brutal caste system practiced by orthodox Hindus in India for centuries. The problem has spilled over to  the Indian Diaspora, and Dalits often complain of persecution at the hands of fellow Indians belonging to self-styled upper castes, even in US and Canada. The demand to ban caste-based discrimination, like racism, has been growing for the last several years.  

Sawant was part of the movement to raise  the US minimum wage, and had been instrumental behind a resolution opposing India’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act in 2020. The Act, passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi, openly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from the neighbouring countries.