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Gurpreet Singh  

 

On the World Press Freedom Day, India has slipped on the global press freedom index.

Reporters Without Borders has ranked it at 142 out of 180 countries, in light of recent attacks on journalists and scholars under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi.

What could be more shameful for a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy than this?

The news follows the recent incidents of slapping criminal charges against several journalists in different parts of the country in an attempt to suppress the voice of dissent and right to question.  

Only last month, well-respected columnist Anand  Teltumbde was sent to jail on malicious charges for being critical of a government that wants to transform India into a Hindu theocracy and has given legitimacy to those involved in violence against religious minorities and other oppressed communities.

Teltumbde has joined a few more thinkers already rotting in prisons. Among them is disabled Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is suffering with 19 ailments. His only fault is that he has been raising his voice against repression of minorities and state violence. Not only have the Indian government and its courts refused to set them free on humanitarian grounds, in spite of a grave threat of COVID 19 in overcrowded jails, they have ordered the arrests of others, such as Teltumbde.  

Ironically, the Modi government had recently started the broadcasting of Ramayan – a tv serial based on the  epic of Lord Ram, a revered Hindu god - to entertain Indian masses locked in their homes because of COVID 19. It is believed that Ram was the King of Ayodhya. Episode 13 of the serial (posted on youtube) shows that when Ram was designated as the king, his father had advised him to be respectful of scholars and intellectuals as they are like “guiding lights” and accept their criticism with an open mid.

However, Modi's government is doing exactly the opposite, despite its advocacy for a Hindu nation. After all, the BJP has been campaigning for years to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The party supporters had razed an ancient mosque built in the city in 1992. They have been claiming that the mosque was forcibly built on the birthplace of Ram by the Islamic rulers after demolishing a Hindu temple. Ram has become a rallying point for BJP to polarize Hindu majority.  

In complete contradiction of its own politics that revolves around Ram, this government is throwing scholars in jails, let alone the question of listening to their concerns. It’s time for the Hindus to step forward and challenge this government which is bent upon using their religion for narrow political ends, and show Modi and his hypocritical cabinet colleagues the mirror. If they really care for Ram, then they must liberate scholars and save democracy; otherwise, history won’t ever forget Modi and those who voted him to power in the name of a faith that teaches everyone to see the entire world as one big family.

***

Gurpreet Singh 

The passing away of a well-known Hindi movie star when India is witnessing growing attacks on religious minorities has left a void that cannot be filled easily.

Rishi Kapoor, who was battling with cancer, died at the age of 67. 

The right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under whose watch Muslims in particular are being blatantly targeted with impunity, expressed his condolences over the loss of a Bollywood celebrity, but Kapoor was a die-hard secularist who believed in pluralist India. 

Apart from acting on the silver screen, he was a vocal critic of religious extremism and frequently battled with right wing trolls on social media.  

He once criticised the banning of beef in India and described himself as a beef eating Hindu on Twitter, much to the annoyance of Modi supporters. Many devout Hindus consider the cow as sacred and won’t eat beef. Ever since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, self-styled cow vigilantes have intensified violent activities against Muslims, accusing them of consuming beef.

Kapoor had also advised Modi and his cabinet colleagues to provide people with basic services rather than indulging in divisive politics.

He had come under attack for playing the role of a Muslim victim of police repression in Mulk, which was released in 2018. It was one of his last movies, worth watching to understand what India is going through under the current regime. Muslims are constantly intimidated by the police in the event of any bombing incident, and are treated as potential terrorists. In an eventuality of arrest they find it hard to get a lawyer to defend them in the courts.. Kapoor had played the role as a Muslim patriarch who is harassed and humiliated by the police and the prosecution, and by the wider society, because of the involvement of a family member in terrorist activities. Unsurprisingly, the film angered Modi loyalists, by exposing the existence of Islamophobia in India.

This is not to suggest that he was perfect. Like most of us, he also erred at times and history will judge him accordingly. He had applauded the former Punjab Police Chief KPS Gill on his death in 2017. Gill was a controversial police officer who was complicit in the repression of Sikhs in Punjab. In the name of the "war on terror" against insurgents struggling for a separate homeland for the Sikhs, the Punjab police had kidnapped many Sikh men, including political activists, and killed them through extra judicial means. Women were also subjected to custodial rapes during this period. Since the Sikh separatists were also involved in violent killings of Hindus and their political critics, many saw Gill as a saviour, and glossed over the power abuse by Punjab police. Perhaps, Kapoor was among those who believed in what most Indians were made to believe by the mainstream media in relation to Sikh separatism in Punjab and the state response to this challenge. Nevertheless, he never supported extremism of Hindu groups either, and the example of his tweets against cow policing is before us. 

It is pertinent to mention that Kapoor had questioned the naming of New Delhi Airport after Indira Gandhi, the late Prime Minister who had ordered the military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June, 1984. 

Aimed to rid the place of worship from Sikh militants, the ill conceived army operation left many innocent pilgrims dead, and important buildings inside heavily destroyed. This was done to whip up emotions against Sikhs to win the forthcoming general elections with the help of the Hindu majority. This outraged Sikhs all over the world and galvanized the movement for a separate state. As a result of this incident, Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi on October 31, 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, following which thousands of innocent Sikhs were targeted across India by mobs led by the slain leader’s so called secular Congress party activists.

Kapoor had asked on twitter why the New Delhi airport should not be named after more undisputed and respectable historical figures instead of Indira Gandhi.

Let’s not put him on pedestal, and be objective about his political positions and give credit where it belongs. His death isn’t just a loss to the film industry, but to a country that has gone to the dogs. Today when most Bollywood stars remain silent to the misdeeds of Modi and some are willing to please him, Kapoor will always be missed.  He was after all one of those rare individuals who can dare to stand up against majoritarianism. 

***

Amidst growing bigotry against people of Asian origin in the light of COVID 19, Shushma Datt has urged everyone to maintain calm and be kind.

Datt, who is the CEO of Burnaby-based Spice Radio, had started a campaign against racism on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. in January 2015.

#HandsAgainstRacism which has entered its sixth year is aimed to educate people against discrimination in any form.  

To mark the beginning of Asian Heritage Month, she called upon her listeners and the community at large not to indulge in scapegoating of people of Asian origin, especially those of Chinese descent, when the entire world needs to fight back against COVID 19 together.

Close to 250,000 human lives have been lost to the pandemic that originated in China. Since then, Canada has witnessed a spike in hateful incidents against people of Asian ancestry. Vancouver Police Department has already confirmed this.  The business of Chinese restaurants has also been affected.

Datt believes that this is both because of ignorance and the anti-Chinese rhetoric of right wing political figures like US President Donald Trump. Trump has been accusing China of spreading the disease and calling it “China virus”. She asked the audience of Spice Radio on Sunday morning to support Chinese restaurants and other local businesses to strengthen the Canadian economy.

Early this year, the BC Minister of State for Childcare went to Spice Radio to participate in the campaign and share her concerns over growing hostilities against Chinese people.

Katrina Chen, who is of Chinese origin, noted that there were attempts to polarise people in Canada by extreme right wing forces which are trying to take advantage of the current crisis.

Only recently, Conservative MP and leadership candidate Derek Sloan questioned the nationalism of Canada’s top doctor. Theresa Tam, who was born in Hong Kong. has been giving updates on COVID 19 in Canada and advising the government on necessary measures to contain the virus. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh denounced Sloan's statement.

Datt thinks that Trudeau has shown leadership by trying to take the Chinese community into his embrace. “Unlike Trump, he isn’t bashing any particular group of people”, she said.  Notably, Trudeau had gone to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate his daughter’s birthday to dispel fears. Years ago, Chinese people faced a similar situation in the aftermath of the deadly SARS virus that hit the country. The then-Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien also went to a Chinese restaurant to show his solidarity. 

In the meantime, Spice Radio named Harsha Walia and Kal Dosanjh as this year’s recipients of their annual awards for fighting against racism. Walia is a published author and a social justice activist, whereas Dosanjh used to be with Vancouver Police and has a group called Kids Play that educate youngsters to keep away from violence and racism. The event was scheduled to be held in Surrey on March 21, but had to be postponed indefinitely due to the public health emergency. Nevertheless, the conversation on racism continues on Spice Radio airwaves.

***

 

A virtual protest was organized on Monday, April 27 to raise voices for journalists being harassed in India-occupied Kashmir.  

Attended by South Asian journalists and community activists from various parts of the globe, the rally was remotely held in North Delta in the light of the public health emergency because of COVID 19.

The speakers unanimously condemned the slapping of criminal charges against several journalists in Kashmir, which they believe is an attempt to suppress press freedom and any voice of dissent under a right wing Hindu nationalist government. They also felt that it was part of a smear campaign of the Indian state to terrorise and demonize minorities and any right thinking journalist or scholar who questions the power.  

Kashmir, the only Muslim dominated province in India, remains under lockdown since August 5. Special rights given to the state were scrapped and military has been heavily deployed in the name of national security to contain an ongoing struggle for the right to self-determination in the region. Not only  have political activists been indefinitely detained, but journalists in Kashmir are finding it difficult to work freely and fearlessly. If that was not enough, at least three Kashmiri journalists, including female photographer Masrat Zahra, were recently charged under draconian laws after being accused of spreading “anti-national” propaganda. Gowhar Geelani, another prominent journalist and a published author is among the three.

The rally was held by Radical Desi, an online publication that covers alternative politics in partnership with Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI).

Among the participants was the President of the Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC), Navjot Kaur Dhillon. She is the first female president of the club which has been consistently raising the issue of Kashmiri journalists since last summer.

Dhillon pointed out that the Indian authorities are going after Kashmiri Muslim journalists and doing nothing against right wing media commentators who are openly spewing venom against minorities.

Others who spoke on the occasion were the Editor of Chardikala Newspaper, Gurpreet Singh Sahota, and Punjabi Tribune editor Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal. Both are associated with the PPCBC.

The rally was started with a poem dedicated to the late Gauri Lankesh by Amrit Diwana. Lankesh was a journalist who was murdered by Hindu fanatics in 2017. She was a vocal critic of religious extremism.

Two social justice activists from India, Buta Singh and Satwant Singh, joined the rally online and threw light on the overall situation that exists in India under an “intolerant regime”.

IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, and other members of the group Sandip Modgil and Gurpreet Singh also spoke on the occasion.

The participants raised slogans and held out signs in support of Kashmiri journalists.

 

Annie Ohana, a well-known award winning social justice educator, has sent a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister urging him to stand up for an Indian scholar who is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions.  

Wheelchair-bound GN Saibaba used to teach at Delhi University before being convicted in 2017 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. Suffering with 19 ailments, his health continues to deteriorate.

The Indian government has refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, in spite of increasing COVID 19 threat in overcrowded jails.

Saibaba has been raising his voice against repression of Adivasis, or the indigenous peoples, who are being forcibly evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state in the name of development. Maoist insurgents have been active in these mineral rich areas that big industry is eyeing to acquire. The police brutality often forces Adivasis to join the insurgents who are fighting a class war. 

Saibaba was instrumental behind peaceful demonstrations against atrocities against Adivasis in the garb of police operations against Maoists, as a result of which he was arrested and thrown in jail as part of a conspiracy to suppress voice of dissent.

There has been an international outcry for Saibaba, and the UN had asked for his release.

Hundreds of people signed petitions in Canada and held rallies in his support. However, the Canadian government that claims to be a human rights leader in the world remains indifferent to the whole episode.  

Ohana, who teaches at L.A. Matheson School in Surrey, has written a letter to Justin Trudeau on behalf of her students asking for his intervention. A copy has also been sent to the New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh who had raised the issue of Saiababa in the past.

On March 12, she had hosted a teach-in at the school to educate Grade 10 and 12 students about the situation of Saibaba as part of the indigenous week, following which the students submitted their thoughts on the issue.

She has put their feedback together in a letter that reads, “As a government, please show our students leadership, practice what you preach, dare to stand up for human rights and call for the release of Saibaba.”

According to Ohana, sixty students participated in the teach-in, following which some of them stuck “Free Saibaba” signs on their backs to show solidarity with the jailed teacher.

Some of the comments from students included in the letter are really strong and heart-warming.  One student wrote, “In a country that believes in freedom of speech, right in our Charter, shouldn’t they [Canadian MPs] stand up to protect people trying to do the same in other countries?”

Likewise, another student commented, “Dr. Saibaba is being hurt by being in jail, he did not commit any crimes as I see it. Why is Canada staying silent about calling for his release? I feel like he is being tortured, Canada should never stand for this type of treatment.”

Ohana had also spoken at the rally for Saibaba held in Surrey on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities last December.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in anxieties and mental health stress for many in an era of self-isolation in places like North America. But a group of oppressed people in the world’s so called largest democracy, has been enduring social ostracizing for centuries.

Dalits continue to face blatant discrimination under a brutal caste system practised by Indian society, in accordance with orthodox Hindu traditions, despite tall claims of the country’s progress.

April, which is celebrated as Dalit History Month, not only revives ugly memories of the past when the community was subjected to the most inhuman treatment, it brings into focus what has really changed over the years.

One of the most well respected Indian scholars and the architect of the Indian constitution, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, was born on April 14, 1891. A diehard Dalit activist, he faced caste-based oppression while growing up in Maharashtra and experienced humiliation on many occasions even after he started working.

Dalits are the lowest on the ladder of caste structure that puts the priest class on the top, followed by the rulers and traders. Those below in this hierarchy are considered as untouchables. They have been forced to survive on menial jobs, such as scavenging and cleaning gutters, removing human excreta and dead animals. Despite many constitutional safeguards, society hasn’t transformed, and these people are not  allowed to come out of this situation. So much so, they do not have access to drinking water from public wells, leave aside the question of letting them into temples in several parts of India. The strict laws against untouchability have not deterred the self-styled custodians of upper caste interests from denying them equal rights. They are still seen as “polluters” and discouraged from maintaining physical contact with upper caste people.

Ambedkar was frequently forced to sit separately from the upper caste kids at school. That was a long time back, but only last year, a school in Uttar Pradesh segregated Dalit students from others to serve them mid-day meal.  

This explains why they are usually forced to live on the peripheries of towns and villages, away from the mainstream.

While some affirmative action has helped Dalits to get into the parliament and top positions, many of them have been appropriated by the ruling parties of the day and hardly raise tough questions about these ugly realities.

Unlike Ambedkar, who had to take many challenges for talking back to power, these spineless Dalit leaders have succumbed to the current right wing Hindu nationalist government under which the attacks on Dalits and other minorities have spiked during past several years.

It is pertinent to mention that Ambedkar’s grandson-in-law, renowned author and activist Anand Teltumbde, was arrested on April 14, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Dalit President Ram Kumar Kovind were paying tokenistic tributes to Ambedkar. 

Teltumbde’s only fault was that he had raised his voice against growing attacks on minorities and political dissidents in an intolerant regime through his writings. A real Ambedkarite found himself in jail under malicious charges for merely standing up for the constitutional rights of the citizens of India.

Coming back to COVID 19, the present crisis has made the lives of Dalits even more difficult by not only further strengthening the walls of the caste system, but by increasing the dependency of the privileged society on them to work at the frontlines without proper equipment and getting exposed to the infection.

Next time you hear about polls and surveys suggesting that some of us are suffering because of loneliness and boredom, think about how those Dalits have been living for so long with such pain, caused by the structures of society. It’s time to use our privileges to lend a voice to their ongoing fight against this barbarity.

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

The COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in anxieties and mental health stress for many in an era of self-isolation in places like North America But a group of oppressed people in the world’s so called largest democracy, has been enduring social ostracizing for centuries.

Dalits continue to face blatant discrimination under a brutal caste system practised by Indian society, in accordance with orthodox Hindu traditions, despite tall claims of the country’s progress.

April, which is celebrated as Dalit History Month, not only revives ugly memories of the past when the community was subjected to the most inhuman treatment, it brings into focus what has really changed over the years.

One of the most well respected Indian scholars and the architect of the Indian constitution, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, was born on April 14, 1891. A diehard Dalit activist, he faced caste-based oppression while growing up in Maharashtra and experienced humiliation on many occasions even after he started working.

Dalits are the lowest on the ladder of caste structure that puts the priest class on the top, followed by the rulers and traders. Those below in this hierarchy are considered as untouchables. They have been forced to survive on menial jobs, such as scavenging and cleaning gutters, removing human excreta and dead animals. Despite many constitutional safeguards, society hasn’t transformed, and these people are not  allowed to come out of this situation. So much so, they do not have access to drinking water from public wells, leave aside the question of letting them into temples in several parts of India. The strict laws against untouchability have not deterred the self-styled custodians of upper caste interests from denying them equal rights. They are still seen as “polluters” and discouraged from maintaining physical contact with upper caste people.

Ambedkar was frequently forced to sit separately from the upper caste kids at school. That was a long time back, but only last year, a school in Uttar Pradesh segregated Dalit students from others to serve them mid-day meal.  

This explains why they are usually forced to live on the peripheries of towns and villages, away from the mainstream.

While some affirmative action has helped Dalits to get into the parliament and top positions, many of them have been appropriated by the ruling parties of the day and hardly raise tough questions about these ugly realities.

Unlike Ambedkar, who had to take many challenges for talking back to power, these spineless Dalit leaders have succumbed to the current right wing Hindu nationalist government under which the attacks on Dalits and other minorities have spiked during past several years.

It is pertinent to mention that Ambedkar’s grandson-in-law, renowned author and activist Anand Teltumbde, was arrested on April 14, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Dalit President Ram Kumar Kovind were paying tokenistic tributes to Ambedkar. 

Teltumbde’s only fault was that he had raised his voice against growing attacks on minorities and political dissidents in an intolerant regime through his writings. A real Ambedkarite found himself in jail under malicious charges for merely standing up for the constitutional rights of the citizens of India.

Coming back to COVID 19, the present crisis has made the lives of Dalits even more difficult by not only further strengthening the walls of the caste system, but by increasing the dependency of the privileged society on them to work at the frontlines without proper equipment and getting exposed to the infection.

Next time you hear about polls and surveys suggesting that some of us are suffering because of loneliness and boredom, think about how those Dalits have been living for so long with such pain, caused by the structures of society. It’s time to use our privileges to lend a voice to their ongoing fight against this barbarity.

***

Gurpreet Singh

The post-pandemic situation we all are living in demands that we must start reading Canadian author Naomi Klein’s much publicized book to understand how the corporate world and powerful nations are using the current crisis to pursue their agendas.

Published in 2007, The Shock Doctrine will help us understand the dynamics of what is happening across the border in the US under Donald Trump. The way his right wing supporters are trying to brush aside science and oppose a shutdown in the light of COVID 19 is a part of the ideology Trump and others like him believe in.

Right from Trump, to a Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, almost all pro-business leaders support a free market economy that does not want to work in a regulated environment, and wants to break itself free from government control. What they have in common is their determination to privatize public services and put profits before people.

A crisis of any nature gives them a perfect opportunity to downsize government and adopt tough measures in the name of safety. The insecurity of masses makes the task easier, as they willingly surrender their consent for any change, blindly trusting the recipe being offered by those in power.    

Taking advantage of COVID 19, Trump has begun his crackdown on immigrants. Not only are undocumented migrants being forced to leave US, he has announced his decision to suspend new immigration to save jobs. Notably, he has been purposely referring to the pandemic as the "Chinese" virus to rile up people against those of Asian origin, as the disease had originated from that country.

Similarly, in India, Modi supporters are picking on minorities who are being falsely accused of spreading the coronavirus. Among those at the receiving end are Muslims and people from north eastern states who are taken as Chinese due to their oriental facial features.

The mindset behind such ugly developments has been best explained in Klein’s book, which remains relevant for all times. She goes into the details of similar or worse consequences of many such catastrophes in the past, including the 9/11 terror attack, the Iraq war, tsunamis, or the power transfer at the end of Apartheid. A reader will quickly understand how these tragedies were exploited by heartless politicians and business leaders worldwide. They were no less than the vultures who survive on corpses.

If you haven’t read it, then begin reading it on April 23 and make this year’s World Book Day special, at a time when many of us are confined to our homes with ample time to reflect.

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

The hawkish approach of India’s right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Narendra Modi has left many Canadians stranded in Punjab.

Due to the outbreak of COVID 19 and the cancellation of a number of flights, the fate of Canadian citizens of Punjabi descent is hanging in the balance.

Most of them were visiting India when the pandemic struck.

Though Canada has been trying to get all its citizens back home through special flights, many within the Indo-Canadian community were not pleased.  They believe that not only are the flights insufficient; the passengers are being charged heavily. As a result a few community activists stepped forward to charter a flight on their own.

However, the flight that was to leave with more than 250 passengers on board from Amritsar a few days ago was cancelled at last minute. This is despite the fact that $2,850 for each passenger was deposited with the sponsors as part of what the organizers call a “citizenship initiative”.

The President of Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey-Delta, Hardeep Singh Nijjar confirmed that they were helping to raise funds through a special bank account created for this purpose. About $ 450,000 was raised, but the money is now being returned due to cancellation.

One of the organizers, Sukhi Sandhu, blames it on local politics and thinks that Liberal government MPs, feeling threatened by people’s efforts, used their influence to have it cancelled. But sources say that the cancellation has to do with the ideology of Nijjar and his group.

The unofficial reason given to Canadian government representatives is that the Indian government is not keen to give any logistical aid to an initiative involving Guru Nanak Sikh temple.

After all, Nijjar supports Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a group that is campaigning for a referendum for a separate Sikh homeland in Punjab. The group was recently banned by the Modi government.  This is in sharp contrast to the impunity being enjoyed by Hindu extremist organizations in India. Even as they are involved in violent activities and determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, they are not being outlawed.

Not very long ago, the Punjab police had also charged SFJ leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannu with sedition for announcing monetary help to the patients of COVID 19 in India. Again, the right wing Hindu groups based in US and Canada were never charged with sedition for sending money to those involved in violence against Muslims.

Even otherwise, Nijjar was criminally charged in India in connection with terror incidents and the Indian government is trying to get him extradited.  Nijjar is not convicted in those cases.

Nijjar is not surprised if that is the case. He says that he had anticipated such a possibility and cautioned those who approached him to help in raising funds as the temple has a charitable status.

Notably, the Guru Nanak Sikh temple is a public body which has been helping foreign students from India and people from all walks of life in the time of crisis. Its volunteers and management have been consistently raising issues of human rights, not only in India, but other parts of the world. They had also asked the Canadian government to help Sikhs and Hindus who are being persecuted in Afghanistan following the March 25 terror attack on a Gurdwara in Kabul that left 25 people dead.

Its time for the Canadian MPs and those who have been pursuing humanitarian aid for Canadians stuck in India to raise this issue with the Modi government, rather than leaving Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara out in the cold.  They must not sit silent to such selectivity of the Indian state. The gurdwara does not just represent SFJ, which is only asking for a referendum, which is a democratic demand, and is represented by its congregation who do not necessarily agree with the temple management on everything. 

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

It was the summer of 2018 when I was vacationing in Moscow with my family.   

One of the most memorable parts of our trip was a tour of Red Square, especially the tomb where the towering leader of the communist revolution rests permanently.

Lenin, who led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 that changed the course of world history, was never buried. His mummified body lies in state at the mausoleum that we were all so eager to visit.  

After all, my father-in-law who is a Marxist, always wanted to have a glimpse of the global icon of the communist movement. He was a source of inspiration to many Indian communists of my father-in-law’s generation.

Though language was a great barrier, through the internet we were able to find information about the Metro line that took us from the Airbnb where we were staying, to Red Square on the day we chose to visit the tomb.

The wait was very long as the line-up seemed almost endless. We picked our spot. The crowd was diverse. People who waited patiently both in the front and in the back came from different parts of the world speaking among themselves in different languages.

Somebody had warned us that it might take us anywhere between 1-2 hours to finally reach Lenin. However, we remained determined. As we waited, there was a sudden downpour and people who anticipated the rain came out with umbrellas and raincoats and kept themselves glued to the ground while others ran below tree shades. As the rain stopped, they quickly returned to their previously held positions. At least I did not notice anyone getting fatigued and leaving early.

We were able to get in within one and a half hours. Unfortunately, photography of Lenin was not allowed. One of the guards at the gate gestured people to remove their hats as a mark of respect before going into the room housing Lenin. Using hand language, he assured my father-in-law that it was okay for him to keep wearing his turban. Russians know who Sikhs are, and how the turban is important for them. The relations between Indians and Russians go back to the time of the revolution, when Lenin became a guiding light for Indians, including radical Sikhs who were fighting against British occupation of their homeland. Many Sikh activists and leftists had travelled to Russia to learn more from the October revolution. Although my father-in-law is not a religious man, he sports long hair and wears a turban which is very common for practicing Sikhs.

Once inside, we kept our eyes wide open to register each and every detail of the man lying under a big bright light, with eyes closed and eternal glow on his face. We went around slowly. having a look at him from both sides before venturing out. The pin drop silence inside can be partly attributed to the strict environment, and partly to people’s reverence for Lenin.

The whole experience left us totally enthralled. It belied claims of the corporate media that Lenin and his ideology have lost their relevance. If the general mood at Red Square was any indication, Lenin still remains popular. It is a separate matter that the communist movement has weakened in Russia, which has ushered in the free market era. Big food chains such as MacDonald’s and Subway greet visitors in different parts of Moscow.

The story does not end there. I had noticed similar enthusiasm of international visitors at a house where Lenin once lived in Zurich. It was sometime in 2014 when we were visiting Switzerland. Located in an obscure area, the house has a plaque outside recognizing the time period of his stay in the city. We were able to find it easily by asking people in the neighbourhood; to our amazement the visitors who were already there taking pictures were from the US.

Lenin had advocated for the right to self-determination in the colonized world, giving hope to the people of India when they were fighting against foreign occupation. Apart from that, he had spoken out against white supremacy and emphasised international solidarity.

Today in India, religious minorities are being targeted under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime, and Hindu supremacists, who had never supported the freedom movement and rather sided with the British, are being glorified as national heroes. Lenin needs to be kept alive in the collective memory of Indian citizens. Being a Canadian of Indian origin, I am definitely indebted to him for standing up for my elders.

Also in the light of growing bigotry and repression in other parts of the world, be it the US or Palestine, Lenin’s legacy will always be pertinent. The people’s love for him shows that he is not dead and will continue to live in our hearts. On his 150th birth anniversary on April 22, let’s resolve to carry forward his struggle for a just society.

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