"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.
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Gurpreet Singh

This past Sunday, the Sikhs in Canada celebrated Bandi Chhor Divas, which means Prisoners’ Liberation Day.

The occasion is held every year to mark the freedom of the sixth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Hargobind, from prison in 1619.

Guru Hargobind was arrested and detained for standing up against the tyranny of the then Islamist rulers of India. Sikhism since the time of its foundation by Guru Nanak teaches its followers to challenge the power and stand up against repression. As part of that mandate, the Sikh Gurus continued to fight against oppression. Earlier, Guru Hargobind’s father and the fifth master of the Sikh religion, Guru Arjan Dev, was executed by the authorities for similar reasons. 

Following mediations by those who understood that Guru Hargobind was a spiritual leader with a massive following, he was released.  But he ensured that 52 royal prisoners detained in the same jail should also be liberated.  So, the event became significant not only because of his release, but also the release of all political prisoners.   

Recognizing the importance of Bandi Chhor Divas, which coincides with Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan issued greetings to the Sikh community. 

While it is good that the two leaders care for diversity and have tried to take different cultures into their embrace, their silence over the ongoing state violence in India is highly problematic.

This year’s Bandi Chhor Divas came amidst the backdrop of a crackdown in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

In the name of peace and security, the Indian forces have detained thousands of Kashmiris. The whole disputed territory has been turned into an open jail. The Indian authorities claim that the step was necessary to deal with armed insurgents who have been fighting for the right to self-determination, but the real intention of the right wing Hindu nationalist government is to polarize the Hindu majority against the minority Muslim community that dominates in the Kashmir region.

The state of Kashmir has been turned into heavily militarized territory since August 5. There have been protests all over the world, including Canada, and yet Canadian leaders have remained silent and indifferent. Though Federal New Democrats have made a strong statement, the BC NDP government and Trudeau’s cabinet have each remained neutral.  

Notably, a vigil was held in Surrey on the night of Sunday, October 27. But none of the elected officials showed up. This is despite the fact that it’s a South Asian issue and Surrey has no dearth of South Asian MPs and MLAs. Even Surrey Center Liberal MP Randeep Singh Sarai, in whose riding the vigil was held, was conspicuous by his absence. The only political activist who came and spoke passionately was Annie Ohana, who recently ran as a New Democratic candidate for Fleetwood-Port Kells. None of the MPs from Trudeau’s Liberal Party joined the vigil. Likewise, none of the South Asia MLAs from Horgan’s NDP was present. They did not even find it necessary to send a message of solidarity to the organizers. 

The officials of Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey-Delta were busy because of prayers and festivities at gurdwara and couldn’t make it, but they spread the word about the vigil and had lent the sound system to the organizers. The temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar made a personal appeal to the Sikh community to go and join the protesters. He has participated in several other rallies held for Kashmir during the recent months. If a temple president and his associates can be so considerate, why can’t our MPs and MLAs?

Trudeau and Horgan should know that they are heading minority governments and shouldn’t be taking the support of progressive voters for granted. Apparently, Trudeau's team has not learnt anything from the recent election results. They lost their majority in the Commons only a week ago, but still they are not getting it.

Simply recognizing Bandi Chhor Divas won’t do. If you cannot speak up for the people of Kashmir or other political prisoners then these greetings mean nothing. The issue isn’t just confined to Kashmir. The case of disabled Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who is incarcerated under inhuman conditions for standing up for the oppressed groups and religious minorities in India, has also been ignored by the Trudeau government in spite of many protests for him in Canada. Then there are political prisoners who are fighting for freedom in Palestine and people fighting for democracy in China. Canada has also remained silent on these issues. It is better that these two leaders walk the talk rather than making such tokenistic statements.

Teenaa Kaur Pasricha was honoured in Surrey on Sunday, October 27.

Her documentary, When the Sun Didn’t Rise, is based on the sufferings of the victims of state sponsored massacre of the Sikhs following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India during the violence that was well-organized by the slain leader’s ruling Congress party with the help of the police.

The film is based on her interviews with survivors of the violence, and orphaned children who have grown into drug addicts because of a lack of support. It is the first serious effort to open a dialogue with those who continue to suffer long-term inter-generational effects of the bloodshed.

Close to the 35th anniversary of the genocide, the members of Guru Nanak Singh Temple, Surrey-Delta presented her with the robe of honour in the presence of the huge congregation which had gathered to celebrate Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas. Speaking on the occasion, Pasricha appealed to the gathering to continue to raise voices against repression anywhere in the world according to the Sikh traditions.

Being a Sikh woman herself, Pasricha was personally affected by the violence. One of her uncles was attacked by the mob, and his hair was forcibly cut by the assailants. For a practising Sikh, keeping long hair is a sacred duty. She had learnt from her mother how her uncle remained depressed for some time because of the humiliation.

She went beyond making the film and has been trying to help people suffering long-term consequences of the massacre, especially those who have become drug users.

Pasricha is here for the screening of her film on Saturday, November 2 at Room 120, C.K. Choi Building in University of British Columbia, between 1 – 6 pm. The screening is part of the event titled "Patterns of Political Violence: 35 Years Since 1984" being organized by the Centre for India and South Asian Research.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The recently concluded federal election has proved to be was a mandate for an inclusive Canada.

Even though Liberals were not able win another majority, the defeat of right wing Conservatives and decimation of the far right People’s Party of Canada can be seen as a clear rejection of divisive politics by the electorate on October 21.

Out of 338 seats in the House of Commons, the Liberals have got 157 - way less than the 177 seats they held in the previous parliament - but they were able to crush the Conservatives’ hope for a majority government.

As the Conservatives lick their wounds with only 121 seats, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) lost their only riding, held by its leader Maxime Bernier, to the Conservatives. The two right wing parties were tough on immigration, with Bernier being more outspoken against multiculturalism. So much so, PPC had ties with white nationalists, in sharp contrast to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The two parties have been constantly attacking Trudeau for opening doors to Syrian refugees and foreign students. It is a separate matter that the New Democrats’ much more diverse team and platform could not make a huge impact. The party have got only 24 seats in the house, down from 39 under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh.

Singh is the first turbaned Sikh to become a leader of any national political party in Canada, and constantly faced racism from both within his own party and outside during the campaign that was partly vitiated by the anti-minority rhetoric of PPC. None of his other turbaned Sikh candidates were elected, while three of the turbaned Sikh Liberal MPs, Harjit Singh Sajjan, Randeep Singh Sarai and Navdeep Singh Bains got re-elected. Two turbaned Sikhs - Tim Uppal and Jasraj Singh Hallan - also got elected as Conservative MPs. Notably, some of these candidates also faced racist attacks during the campaign. It is pertinent to mention that such negativity wasn’t just directed at the male Sikh candidates. Female candidates such as Liberal MP Hedy Fry and others from various visible minority groups also encountered racism.

The election of Jody Wilson-Raybould as an independent MP from Vancouver Granville can also be seen as a symbolic defeat of structural racism against Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and a slap in the face of Justin Trudeau. She was the first Indigenous woman to become Justice Minister in Trudeau's government. Trudeau had kicked her out of Liberal caucus to protect the interests of a controversial company that was facing investigation. This widened a gulf between the First Nations and Trudeau, who came to power with a huge majority in 2015 on the promise of making bridges with Indigenous communities who have faced mistreatment ever since Canada was founded on their stolen lands. This was a time when minorities, including the indigenous peoples, were outraged by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government had become infamous for infringing on the rights of Muslims and other marginalized sections of the society.

Wilson-Raybould fought as an independent candidate this time, in the face of hostility and vicious propaganda. Her victory is definitely a big jolt for Trudeau whose poor showing can be attributed to his mishandling of the situation involving SNC Lavalin.

As if this was not enough, the old pictures and videos showing Trudeau having painted himself brown and black in the past dented his image internationally. However, former US President Barak Obama, the first black American President, gave Trudeau a major boost close to the final days of campaigning by endorsing him on twitter.

Another significant aspect of the election was that voters of Indian origin frustrated the attempts of the pro-India lobby to bring a Conservative government in Canada by using its influence in predominantly South Asian ridings. The right wing Hindu nationalist government, under which attacks on religious minorities have grown, was never fond of Trudeau or Singh, and always saw Conservatives as their real allies. Trudeau is often accused by the Indian government of patronising Sikh separatists who want to establish a homeland of their own to be carved out of northern India. Likewise, Singh has always been seen as a threat to India for being vocal against human rights abuse and repression of minorities in that country.

The apologists of the Indian state in some of the targeted constituencies with sizable South Asian population worked hard to ensure a Conservative victory, and the defeat of Liberal and NDP candidates. This is not to suggest that the Conservative party is completely wedded to the cause of the pro India lobby, and the Liberal Party and NDP have also been penetrated by supporters of the Indian government.

While the South Asian Conservative candidates had a cakewalk in some of the ridings, thirteen Liberal candidates of Indian origin got elected this time, which doesn’t go in the interest of those who owe loyalties to their overseas masters in New Delhi. Certainly, few of them have a rapport with India, but that does not represent the whole picture.   

The election results may not be one hundred percent according to the wishes of those who care for a just society, but they give some solace to those were anxious about Canada going back to Conservatives and join the growing list of countries being taken over by populism and alt right movements. Hopefully, Trudeau will try to learn from his mistakes and fix them to be more careful for the next time.

 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

As the federal Election Day gets closer, the surge in popularity of New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh following political debates is giving anxiety to the Indian establishment and its apologists within the South Asian Diaspora in Canada.

The Indian state sees Singh - the first turbaned Sikh leader of any national party in Canada - as a threat to its sovereignty.

Ever since Singh ran for the leadership, the Indian agents in Canada have been trying hard to get him defeated. Now when the polls are suggesting that the election might result in a minority Liberal government with the balance of power coming into the hands of New Democrats, they will apply every tool in their tool box to bring Conservatives to power through their supporters in predominantly South Asian ridings.    

The reason for their hostility toward Singh is rooted in his campaign for justice to 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 in the first week of November 1984. The massacre was engineered by supporters of the slain leader with the help of police. For years, the Sikh Diaspora has been fighting for justice and closure. Because Singh had vehemently participated in the campaign as an MPP in Ontario, the Indian government declined to give him visa to visit the home country of his parents.

The matter did not end there, as Singh remains critical of human rights abuses in India. He refused to meet the current right wing Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Canada in 2015. 

Modi was complicit in the anti-Muslim massacre of Gujarat in 2002, when he was the Chief Minister of the state. The violence followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Over 50 people died in the incident, which was instantly blamed on Muslims by Modi,  even though one commission of inquiry found that it was an accident.  

Recently, Singh came out with a strong statement against repression of Muslims in Indian-occupied Kashmir.      

For this, the pro-India lobby has repeatedly branded him as a Sikh separatist. This may be partly because he endorses the right to self-determination by all minorities and oppressed groups anywhere in the world.  

Unfortunately, this narrative has not only been accepted by the right wing Hindu nationalists in Canada, but also by a section of pro-India leftists. They have decided not to support him in the election, which is obviously going to help Conservatives and to some extent the Liberals. It is a separate matter that the Indian government is also suspicious of the ruling Liberals, who have been often accused of pandering Sikh separatists in Canada by the Indian politicians.

For the record, Conservatives have a cozy relationship with Modi, who they see as a strong ideological ally in India.  

It’s a shame that the Indian establishment has stooped to such a level and isn’t willing to respect the mandate of Canadian citizens. At the same time, they are patronizing political figures like Tulsi Gabbard across the border, a Democrat who is seeking to run for US President. Many of her positions in terms of domestic politics are seen as progressive, but her allegiance to the Hindu Right in India has never come into question. 

A practising Hindu, Gabbard is a staunch supporter of Modi and has gone to the extent of justifying violence against Muslims in Gujarat. When Modi was denied visa by the US government because of his involvement in the pogrom, Gabbard came to his rescue. So much so, she has been supported both financially and politically by the followers of a powerful Hindu supremacist organization, the Rashtriya Sawayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of which Modi is a part. 

Recently, Gabbard had tried to rationalise the repression of Muslims in Kashmir. A senior RSS leader attended her wedding a few years ago and brought with him a personal message from Modi, with one Indian diplomat being present.

If the Indian government can give protocol and respect to such a divisive political figure in US, why is Singh being ostracised? Singh too is of Indian origin, and an elected official who could be a future leader of Canada. He has every right to see things differently. If Gabbard can be pardoned for being supportive of an ideology that is blatantly racist, why not forgive Singh who has only been asking for justice?     

Consider some of these contrasting headlines from the Indian press used for the two leaders to understand this hypocrisy:  

Jagmeet Singh’s rise in Canadian politics could be of concern in India;  Jagmeet Singh faces criticism for pushing Canada’s parliament to give ‘genocide’ tag to 1984 riots etc. versus Tulsi Gabbard could be first Hindu to run for US presidency in 2020; Tulsi Gabbard, 1st Hindu-American to run for US president. 

Like it or not, this prejudice has a lot to do with the fact that Singh belongs to a merely two percent minority community of India, whereas Gabbard is the poster girl of the Hindu Right. This showcases how India remains a majoritarian Hindu state under the garb of secularism and democracy. It’s time to defeat the nefarious designs of RSS and its followers in Canada on election day by giving Singh every support he deserves. This is not to suggest to support him blindly, but at least be considerate about the inconvenient truth of him being a marked man. It remains important to recognize that he is a victim of foreign interference because of his identity and political beliefs. 

 

As someone who has come to believe that all political parties have some great ideas and we can all learn from each other's political views, it is rare for me to actually take out a membership and vote for a potential leader of a party.

However, many years ago I was inspired by Jagmeet Singh, as a proud Sikh and wearing a turban, speaking passionately about the rights of LGBTQ people and the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion and creating a country where all are welcome and have opportunities.

I felt I could relate to him and I felt he was speaking directly to issues that mattered directly to me especially as a gay South Asian that has often been marginalized and excluded.

I was asked by someone on his campaign team to support him for the federal NDP leadership. I took out a membership and voted for him.

We will find out on Monday if Canadians feel the same way about giving Jagmeet a chance as myself. Jagmeet is proving he has got what it takes to be PM. We will wait and watch it all unfold.

 

Alex Sangha

Registered Clinical Social Worker and Registered Clinical Counsellor

Founder of Sher Vancouver

Recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada   

11548 84 Avenue Delta BC V4C 2M1

--

 In Gratitude,

I acknowledge that I live, work and play on the unceded traditional homelands of the Semiahmoo, Musqueam, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt and Tsawwassen people. 

 

The Surrey-based Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC) has passed a condolence motion for veteran Indian journalist Gobind Thukral, who passed away on September 29 at the age of 79, after losing his battle with cancer.

He had worked with various reputed dailies and magazines, including Indian Express, India Today, The Hindustan Times and The Tribune.

The motion was unanimously passed by the PPCBC members at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, October 8.  

Thukral had extensively covered Punjab, which witnessed a decade long Sikh militancy from 1980s-1990s. This was a time when the Sikh militants were fighting an armed insurgency for a separate homeland. He had covered all aspects of the movement, including the police repression of Sikhs during the conflict. He pulled no punches while criticising both sides, even as journalists faced death threats from both the police and the extremists.

Thukral also wrote in great detail about the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre of Gujarat in his book Troubled Reflections: Reporting Violence, which takes a critical look at the way media functioned during the bloodshed and gave legitimacy to those involved. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then and is widely believed to be complicit in the genocide. 

The book also takes into account the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. Engineered by then-ruling Congress Party, the massacre of innocent Sikhs fuelled more militancy in Punjab.

Thukral had visited Canada on several occasions. He strongly believed in equality, social justice and international solidarity. He remained critical of religious fanaticism and ultra-nationalism of all stripes.  

The members of PPCBC feel that today, when India is witnessing growing attacks on religious minorities, political dissent and free press under a right wing Hindu nationalist government, the death of Gobind Thukral is a major blow to secularism, and to fair and fearless journalism.

The PPCBC also paid tributes to Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was tortured and murdered inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey on October 2, 2018. Khashoggi was critical of the Saudi government. On his first death anniversary, the members of PPCBC denounced growing attacks on free expression all over the world and demanded justice for the slain journalist. 

The members also passed a motion to condemn the suppression of press freedom in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which remains under lockdown since August 5. They unanimously expressed their solidarity with Kashmiri journalists who had recently protested against censorship and media blockade by the Indian forces in the region.      

***

 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) honoured renowned documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan in Vancouver on Monday, October 7.

Patwardhan was presented with the Radical Desi medal of courage for making powerful documentaries challenging the state power and reactionary forces.

He was here in connection with the screening of his latest documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

Reason is based on the murders of at least four rationalists and thinkers who were assassinated by Hindu extremists in India. The perpetrators of these crimes enjoy the political patronage of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The documentary reveals how the Indian government, led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shielded those involved in terror activities targeting Muslims.

Reason also looks into the broader issue of growing attacks on religious minorities, oppressed communities and political dissidents under the Modi government. There were attempts to stop the public screening of the film in India. So much so, some Hindu fanatics openly called for physical violence against Patwardhan during a press conference right in his presence. The footage of this incident was part of the film.

Patwardhan has made similar documentaries in the past, including In Memory of Friends which was based on the murders of Communist revolutionaries who were systematically killed by the Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab during 1980s.

IAPI was formed in response to the growing violence against minorities and efforts to turn India into a Hindu theocracy ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics and has been raising these issues in the Indian Diaspora in partnership with IAPI.

Patwardhan was presented with the medal right at the beginning of the screening by the members of IAPI, including its President Parshotam Dosanjh. Others present on behalf of IAPI at the event were Rakesh Kumar and Tejinder Sharma. The IAPI spokesman Gurpreet Singh told the audience that they wanted to honour Patwardhan for keeping the idea of India alive under these difficult times. He also congratulated the organizers of VIFF for bringing such a film to the festival to make Canadians aware of what is happening in India.

 

South Asian activists came together to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir at a rally organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) in Surrey on Saturday, October 5.

The Indian-occupied Kashmir remains under siege since August 5. This week marks two months of the blockade.

The participants at the rally carried placards in support of the people of Kashmir, and raised slogans against the Indian government for ongoing human rights abuse in the state in the name of national security and the so- called war on terror. The demonstration ended peacefully as nobody came to disrupt it. The supporters of pro-India groups had earlier tried to interrupt at least two events in support of Kashmir in Surrey and University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The speakers unanimously condemned human rights violations in Kashmir and demanded that the two-month-long siege be lifted immediately and all political prisoners be released.

The speakers included Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, who was the only elected official to show up. Two South Asian Members of Parliament from the governing Liberal Party, Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai, remained absent despite being invited by the organizers. However, the Conservative Party candidate for Surrey-Newton, Harpreet Singh, sent his message of solidarity and support. He had spoken at the previous rally organized by IAPI on Kashmir in August.  

Singh told the gathering that she and her colleague Ravi Kahlon, an MLA from North Delta, are in the process of writing a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Commission on Kashmir, on behalf of their Kashmiri constituents.

Three Kashmiri activists, Humaayun Lone, Mujeeb Rashid and Sajjid also spoke on the occasion, to explain how difficult it has been for them to get in touch with their families back home because of the blockade and suspension of net services.

Notably, Sikh activists came out in big numbers to show their support. Among them was Barjinder Singh, who is part of a group that organizes the annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide, Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and an independent author and thinker, Charanjit Singh Sujjon. They spoke in one voice to denounce repression of Kashmiris.

A revolutionary communist activist, Rawait Singh, said that by standing up for Kashmiris, the Sikhs have paid real tribute to Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, who taught us to stand up against oppression.

Others who spoke on the occasion included Sayed Wajahat, Sunil Kumar and Bhupinder Malih.

 

 

 

 

The 20th annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide officially kicked off in Surrey this past Sunday, September 29.

Launched in 1999 by the Sikh Nation, the campaign has saved 140,000 human lives since then.

Every year, donors line up outside the blood donation camps all across BC, organized by the Sikh Nation in the first week of November. This is done to mark the anniversary of the anti-Sikh massacre that followed the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. 

The supporters of Indira Gandhi's so-called secular Congress party led mobs who murdered Sikhs across India. Close to 3,000 people were murdered in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Prominent Congress leaders, including Indira’s son and the succeeding Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were involved in the mass murders. 

The state-sponsored mobs chanted, “Blood for Blood” slogans to incite hatred against the Sikhs, but the Sikh Nation has tried to conquer hate with love by encouraging people to save lives through blood donation.

This year’s blood drive coincides with growing attacks on religious minorities under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The BJP and its affiliates engineered similar violence against Muslims and Christians in 2002 and 2008 respectively. Ever since the BJP government under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, violence against minorities has increased significantly. Notably, the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre happened in Gujarat under Modi’s watch who was the Chief Minister of the state back then.

A documentary linking all these tragedies was also shown on the occasion. One of the volunteers of Sikh Nation, Sukdheep Singh, told the gathering how all these stories are connected. In his presentation, Singh explained how the 1984 Sikh Genocide was a catalyst in the history of majoritarian violence; the experiment helped the political leadership of India in polarizing the dominant Hindu society by scapegoating minorities to ensure electoral victories.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The passing away of a veteran Indian journalist and one of my mentors, Gobind Thukral, has come as a big shock under such difficult times.

79-year-old Thukral died after he lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, September 29.

I had not only a long professional relationship with him, but also a personal bonding. His son Naveen Thukral is a fellow journalist and a close friend. Naveen and I worked together as budding reporters with Indian Express years ago. He currently works with Reuters in Singapore. But that’s not how I came to know his dad.

As a student of journalism and much before I joined the media industry I used to read Gobind Thukral’s stories. He had worked with various reputed dailies and magazines, including Indian Express, India Today, The Hindustan Times and The Tribune.

I enjoyed reading his stories, particularly those published in India Today and The Hindustan Times in which he extensively covered Punjab, which witnessed a decade-long Sikh militancy from 1980s-1990s. This was a time when the Sikh militants were fighting an armed insurgency for a separate homeland. Thukral covered all aspects of the movement, including the police repression of Sikhs during the conflict. He pulled no punches while criticising both sides, even as journalists faced death threats from both the police and the extremists.

I never imagined back then that one day I would meet him while working as a reporter. As luck would have it, I developed an interest in writing and began working as a small time reporter with a local weekly in Chandigarh. This gave me an opportunity to meet Gobind Thukral on different occasions. After doing my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism I joined Indian Express where I met Naveen. Through this association I came close to his dad.  

Eventually, Gobind Thukral, who had started working as Punjab and Haryana Bureau Chief with The Tribune, encouraged me to join the paper.  I then quit Indian Express to work directly under him. I was sent to Ferozepore, a district of Punjab close to the Indo-Pak border. This gave me an opportunity to work on many challenging stories, involving smugglers and criminals who enjoyed political patronage. Often my stories invited threats and hate phone calls, but Gobind Thukral stood behind me like a rock and kept giving me valuable guidance. A much bigger challenge came when I began reporting on the growing activities of the right wing Hindu nationalist cultural outfit Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, of which the currently ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part, was trying to make inroads in rural Punjab by organizing camps and brainwashing simple hearted villagers against Muslims and Christians, and trying to assimilate Sikhs into the Hindu fold. Wanting to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, the RSS considers Islam and Christianity as alien faiths, while Sikhism as part of Hinduism. This had created a lot of anxiety among the Sikhs, who have always feared assimilation in the Hindu dominated India.

All through this Gobind Thukral was very supportive, although I was told that RSS supporters had tried to approach my office to put some kind of pressure on me.

In 2001, I had moved to Canada. But my association with Gobind Thukral continued. As a radio broadcaster here in BC, I had him on air a number of times to talk about current issues back home. During these interviews he was consistently critical of the establishment. He also visited Canada on several occasions. Together we started a website on which we covered issues related to South Asia, and the Indian and Pakistani Diaspora. When I started Radical Desi, Gobind Thukral used to write for it occasionally. Under his leadership I learned much more as the years progressed. I now came to see him as someone who believed in equality, social justice, secularism and Indo-Pak friendship.

In May 2014, when the BJP came to power with a brute majority, Gobind Thukral wrote an article that was highly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his narrow-minded and sectarian politics. Modi is closely associated with RSS, under whose watch the anti-Muslim massacre broke out in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the Chief Minister of the state back then, and is held complicit in the violence by many survivors and human rights activists. Thukral’s article was published in Radical Desi.

Not only that, he also wrote in great detail about the 2002 massacre in his book Troubled Reflections: Reporting Violence, which takes a critical look at the way media functioned during the bloodshed and gave legitimacy to those involved.

I still remember that both during radio interviews and personal interactions, he remained critical of religious fanaticism and ultra-nationalism of all stripes.  

Today when India is witnessing growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissent, and ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, the death of Gobind Thukral is an irreparable loss. His voice will always be missed under these difficult times. As the space for secularism and diversity continues to shrink in Modi’s India, Thukral’s legacy has become even more relevant.

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