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

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi

 

Gurpreet Singh  

 

It was the fall of 2018, a year before the last federal election in 2019 which saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to power with a minority government.  

He was visiting Surrey, which has a sizable Indo-Canadian population. At least two MPs of Indian heritage from his Liberal Party, Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai, represent different ridings in Surrey and were at the event hosting Trudeau.  

During his speech, the Prime Minister brought up the conviction of two Myanmar journalists and emphasised about press freedom. However, the oddness of the facts that were conveniently overlooked did not go unnoticed.  

It was September 4, 2018, almost exactly a year after Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated in Bengaluru. She was highly critical of the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi under which attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown. She was murdered on September 5, 2017, yet there was no mention of that in Trudeau’s address on the eve of the first anniversary of the gruesome act that invited global outrage.  

Understandably, he wasn’t even told about that by his Indo-Canadian party colleagues, otherwise why would he not recognize such an important incident, in a setting within a predominantly South Asian community?  

Whatever may be the explanation, Trudeau’s silence on Lankesh's murder reflected very badly on his government, and on Canada which claims to be a human rights leader in the world.  

Today, when Trudeau is seeking another term, the situation has not changed. A number of Indian scholars and journalists are being incarcerated under inhuman conditions for questioning the power and challenging the policies of the BJP government.  

Among them is former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist and suffers from multiple ailments. He was arrested and convicted under trumped up charges for raising his voice for the Adivasis - the indigenous peoples of India who are facing eviction from their mineral-rich traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state.  

In spite of so many protests in Canada for Saibaba, Trudeau and others have chosen to remain quiet.  This is despite the fact that two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian from the ruling Liberal Party and the opposition NDP respectively, were given petitions signed by thousands of people. The petitions sought an immediate intervention of Canada to ensure Saibaba’s release on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but nothing came out of it. Nor did the two MPs make statements in the house.  So much so, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is otherwise very vocal on human rights, did not respond to many requests to take up the issue until he came under heavy criticism for his indifference, sometime in November 2017.   

If this was not enough, Liberal MP Carla Qualtrough was approached with a letter signed by 100 residents of her riding of Delta seeking intervention on this matter. Since she is known for her disability rights advocacy and had been a minister for disability inclusion, we had high hopes from her. Her staff told us at the end that their solidarity is there, but the government wants to remain neutral.  

All these efforts could not melt the hearts of our politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, for a physically challenged political prisoner.  

The story does not end here.  

Another jailed Indian scholar, Anand Teltumbde who had visited Canada in 2016, is also behind bars for his critical writings. The Indo-Canadian New Democratic BC legislators who met him during the visit refused to make a statement when he was arrested. They rather suggested that the matter be taken up with Federal NDP, since it was their jurisdiction. They couldn’t answer why, if that is the case, they go to events held by the Indian consulate, or why they have spoken out in support of India in the face of any terror attacks against Indian forces.  

These politicians need to be made accountable for passing the buck and doing nothing. If our MLAs cannot stand up for human rights in India because it’s a federal matter, while our MPs prefer to remain neutral, then where should we go? Why should we even vote for the people who are timid, either because of the fear of being denied Indian visa, or because of their loyalties with the government in New Delhi? What if we remain neutral as voters and elect none of them by staying away on Election Day? How are they going to take it?  

As of now, Canadian politicians should walk the talk. Instead of loving yourselves and making everyone believe that you really care for human rights, show some spine and speak out for all the beautiful minds whose place is not the jail or a graveyard, but outside, so that they can live with dignity and guide society through the crisis we are in. Lankesh is not going to come back, but at least make sure that those detained are released, while her killers are punished to send a strong message to those trampling free speech at the behest of a fascist regime.     

*** 

 

Members of the South Asian community came together to remember the slain Indian journalist at Surrey’s Holland Park on Sunday, September 5.  

Gauri Lankesh was a daring editor, who was allegedly murdered by right wing extremists in Bengaluru in 2017.  

On the fourth anniversary of her assassination, a vigil was organized by Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternative politics.    

Lankesh consistently wrote against superstition and growing fanaticism under the current Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi. Attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have spiked ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014.  

Her death was rejoiced by some supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Among those present at the vigil were Burnaby City Councillor Sav Dhaliwal, who was instrumental behind the recent proclamation made by the City of Burnaby to declare September 5 as Gauri Lankesh Day.  

He was presented with the Radical Desi medal on the occasion by anti-racism educator and social justice activist Annie Ohana.  

Ohana has previously received the Radical Desi medal for standing up against repression of political dissidents in India. 

Another medal was given to former Burnaby School Trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang, for being instrumental behind the Jaswant Singh Khalra Day proclamation made last year. Khalra was a towering human rights defender who was abducted and killed by the Indian Police in 1995. Since Monday, September 6 is the anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Khlara, he was also remembered at the vigil.    

The participants lit candles in memory of Lankesh and raised slogans against the ongoing state violence under Modi. They unanimously condemned her murder and sought speedy justice.  

The vigil began with a moment of silence for Danish Siddiqui, an Indian photojournalist who died recently in the line of duty in Afghanistan, and recitation of a Punjabi poem dedicated to Lankesh by Surrey-based writer Amrit Diwana.   

Those who addressed the rally included well known community activists Sahib Singh Thind, Rakesh Kumar, Tejinder Sharma, Kesar Singh and Radical Desi director Gurpreet Singh.  

The City of Burnaby has declared September 5 as a day to honour a slain Indian journalist.  

Daring editor Gauri Lankesh was allegedly murdered by right wing extremists in Bengaluru, on the ill-fated date in 2017.   

She consistently wrote against superstition and growing fanaticism under the current Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi. Attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have spiked ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014.  

Through her writings, Lankesh had also challenged and questioned those in power, and raised her voice against state violence.

Her death was rejoiced by some of the supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

On Friday, August 27, the City of Burnaby proclaimed September 5 as Gauri Lankesh Day.  

Mayor Mike Hurley made the proclamation, which describes Lankesh as a “courageous Indian journalist who stood up for truth and justice” and “laid down her life… in her fight against repression and for human rights”.  

Last year, the City of Burnaby had proclaimed a day to honour Jaswant Singh Khalra. The towering human rights activist was killed by the Indian police for documenting the cases of those kidnapped and eliminated in an extra-judicial manner in the name of ending Sikh militancy in Punjab.  

Khalra was abducted on September 6, 1995 from his home in Amritsar, and later murdered.   

Burnaby City Councillor Sav Dhaliwal and former Burnaby School Trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang have been instrumental behind these proclamations, which were requested by Radical Desi and other members of the South Asian community.  

 

 

Vancouver-based broadcaster Gurpreet Singh has tried to expose the growing polarization of Indian society and cinema through the story of one of the most popular movie stars.   

From Nazneen to Naina: 20 years of Kareena Kapoor Khan in Bollywood and what that means for India and the rest of the world is based on her film career so far, and what she has been facing at the hands of followers of the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government, under which attacks on religious minorities have grown.  

Published by Ludhiana-based Chetna Parkashan, the book will be out in the first week of September, the birthday month of Kareena, who has already turned forty. 

She has been under constant backlash for marrying a Muslim man, adopting Khan as her last name, and naming her two sons Taimur and Jeh, all of which has been interpreted as an affront by the self-styled defenders of Hindu religion.  

This is a reflection of the growing intolerance in a toxic political environment, created by those in power both within and outside the Indian film industry.    

The book talks about her work, going into the details of her performance as an actor and an activist and philanthropist, trying to make connections between the present political situation and its impact on the cinema. It looks deeply into the challenges before Kareena, for being a flag bearer of secularism which is despised by the religious bigots who have become emboldened at the behest of the BJP regime.  

Her significant role as someone who stands up against hate on the screen has been underlined in the book which also attempts to make a critical assessment of her position on issues, such as racism, feminism, environment and state violence. 

Gurpreet is a news caster and talk show host with Spice Radio in Greater Vancouver and writes for the Georgia Straight. This is his fifth book, which was edited by Kimball Cariou, the former Editor of People's Voice. 

To pre-order a copy, please contact Satish Gulati at +91 98152 98459 or Sumit Gulati at +91 98762 07774 or + 91 95011 45039.   


Gurpreet Singh
 

On August 15, the Indian consulates all across the globe will celebrate the 74th anniversary of liberation from the British occupation.  

On this occasion, the Indian establishment will be expecting the Indian Diaspora, as well as elected officials of Indian origin in places like Canada, to join the ceremonies.  

India gained its official independence after years of struggle by the freedom fighters on August 15, 1947. Already, the Indian state has started creating hype for next year's 75th anniversary of the transfer of power.    

But what is there to celebrate really? India going to the dogs?  

The attacks on religious minorities have grown under the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, which is determined to alter the constitution that guarantees religious freedom and equality.

Thanks to the pro-corporate agenda of the government, socio-economic disparities have also increased between the super rich and the poor and marginalized.  

Anyone questioning that faces charges of sedition, and can be treated as a potential terrorist. Chances are that they might get arrested and thrown into jail.  

This has happened to a number of scholars. Former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions after being arrested on trumped up charges, for merely raising his voice for the oppressed communities.  

Free speech is being trampled with impunity in the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

If this is not enough, more than 500 farmers have lost their lives during the ongoing agitation.  

The Indian farmers have been camping outside New Delhi since last November, asking for the repeal of controversial agricultural laws that threaten their livelihood, passed to favour corporates seeking control over the farming industry. The laws were adopted without transparency and debate.  

People familiar with India’s independence struggle know that the farmers had to fight for their rights under British rule as well. What’s the point of independence, if people still have to fight for similar reasons under a government of their own?  

Notably, the founding fathers of the BJP remained indifferent to the freedom movement, and kept their distance from those who fought against the British and envisioned a secular India.  

It has become necessary for Indo-Canadians to stand up against such barbaric rule and boycott the Independence Day celebrations. Especially in the light of recent developments in Canada, they owe a moral responsibility to shun the celebrations.  

This year, most Canada Day celebrations were cancelled, following the discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the former residential school sites. Thousands of Indigenous kids died because of disease, malnutrition and abuse at these schools, which were opened by the colonists and the churches to annihilate their cultural identity.  

Many Indo-Canadians avoided this year’s Canada Day celebrations to show their solidarity with the First Nations. Not to be left behind, elected officials from the community also expressed their sorrow and outrage over these discoveries.

However, a majority of the Indo-Canadian MPs and MLAs remain silent about what the minorities in India are facing under a Hindu nationalist regime. This is either because of their loyalties to the government back home, or fear of being denied visa by the Indian officials.  

This is despite the fact that the RSS, a Hindu supremacist group of which the BJP is a political wing, is repeating the history of residential schools. In seminaries run by them, indigenous or adivasi girls are sent to be indoctrinated into an extreme right wing ideology.  

It’s now a challenge before Indo-Canadians to boycott the Independence Day celebrations, to show support to the farmers and all those who have suffered under the BJP.

If we can skip this year’s Canada Day celebrations, what’s stopping us from refusing to be a part of the celebrations of Indian nationalism? Enough of hypocrisy and double speak. It’s time to act. Say no to patriotism, and observe August 15 as a black day.   

***

 

Gurpreet Singh  

 

July 5, 2021 will go down as another black day in the history of the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

It was then that an 84-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Stan Swamy, died in the custody of the Indian state while waiting for his bail. He was moved to a hospital after contracting COVID 19 and died of cardiac arrest.  

Swamy had worked among the tribals in Jharkhand, and was vocal against the repression of Adivasis, the indigenous peoples, facing eviction from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the government.  

He was arrested on trumped up charges after being accused of terrorism for merely standing up for the marginalised. His health had deteriorated in jail during the pandemic, and yet the authorities remained adamant not to release him on humanitarian grounds. He was one of those scholars who were arrested on malicious charges to suppress any voice of dissent at the behest of the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

Swamy’s demise coincides with the 51st anniversary of the extra-judicial killing of an 82-year-old former Indian freedom fighter, Bujha Singh, who died in police custody on July 28, 1970.  

Singh, who had participated in the struggle to rid India of British occupation, was murdered by the police for his association with the revolutionary communist movement sparked by an uprising of landless tillers who have been fighting against the rich and the elites since the 1960s. 

Following an uprising in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal by poor farmers, who claimed a right to the land, there was a campaign of police repression. People like Singh joined the radical movement. All reports indicate that he died in a staged shootout by Punjab police under a different regime.  

Half century later, the history of Singh was repeated in the form of what many have called an “institutional murder” of Swamy. It is pertinent to mention here that an 81-year-old Telugu poet and political activist, Varavara Rao, continues to be incarcerated under brutal conditions even though he recently tested positive for COVID 19.  

Like Swamy and Singh, Rao had also dared to question the power and stand up for the Underdog.  

All this reflects poorly on India’s democracy and flies in the face of Modi, who had called for fighting Corona with Karuna (compassion). His government remained indifferent to a petition seeking unconditional release of political prisoners due to the spread of the pandemic in Indian jails.  

Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem of social unrest caused by systemic injustice and inequality, the state is going after veterans such as Singh, Swamy or Rao, to instil fear in the minds of political dissidents. To achieve that end, Indian officials can go to any length. 

It’s a shame that Indian society claims to be respectful of its seniors, but remains insensitive to these horrific stories. The tales of these two men shows that the Indian system’s brutal side remains unchanged, even as the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown over the past 50 years. There is no respite for the most underprivileged and underserved, despite tall claims of development and progress. 

 

Gurpreet Singh 

When I first visited Germany back in 2018, I expected to be greeted by memorials of Adolf Hitler. 

Call it my ignorance or stupidity, I didn’t see even one, leave aside the question of stumbling upon his grave.  

That’s what I learnt from the country that was once ruled by Nazis and had witnessed the Jewish holocaust. The mainstream has erased the memory of those who committed genocide and rightfully so.  

However, here in Canada, in spite of tall claims of diversity and tolerance we continue to celebrate the bigots who were responsible for the killings of Indigenous peoples of this land. That is one reason why so many indigenous activists have taken it upon themselves to spray paint or topple their busts.  

In retaliation, a Totem pole was burnt on Vancouver Island.  

Had Canada learnt from Germany and understood the anger which these political figures bring to the hearts of the First Nations, the issue could have been settled much earlier.  

The tears and apologies for the historical wrongs was never enough. The concrete action that was needed remained missing.  

Rare politicians, such as New Westminster City Councillor Chuck Puchmayar, did make a beginning by getting the statue of controversial judge Justice Mathew Begbie removed in 2019. Begbie was responsible for the wrongful execution of five Indigenous Chiefs in 1864.  

This should have forced the Canadian authorities to do some reflection and remove the statues of other problematic icons. But apparently, they continued to wait until the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of indigenous children who were killed by the racist residential school system.  

To add insult to injury, Pope Francis has refused to make an apology for the injustices committed by residential schools that were run by the Catholic church.  

No charges have been laid for the burning down and vandalism of churches in several provinces. But these acts are widely believed to be related to the pent-up anger in the indigenous communities. Both the Canadian establishment and the Churches need to take responsibility for the situation.  

That said, the attacks on churches cannot be justified. These are going to give legitimacy to anti-Christian violence in countries where Christians are in minority and being persecuted with impunity. India, where the right-wing Hindu nationalists are in power, is one example. They have already been accusing Christian missionaries of converting Hindus, and have been involved in violence against them. In 1999, they burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons.  

It is not surprising to see a section of Indian media owing allegiance to the Hindu Right having fun about what has happened in BC during the past several days. It has become important to measure our words before we try to defend the burning down of churches. Trying to speak for the First Nations might have consequences. When the residential school survivors themselves denounce such actions, why should anyone try to rationalize them? This will ignite more trouble for Christians in a place like India, where the Hindu supremacists are pressing for draconian anti-conversion laws.  

This is not to suggest that Germany is perfect, or that fixing the historical wrongs alone is the solution. Of course, these steps matter, but we need to go beyond and examine if we are giving respect to First Nations. The ongoing systemic racism against them needs to be challenged and stopped. Above all, the leadership of the Indigenous peoples, which was stripped through the doctrine of discovery and papal bulls, and then by the residential school system, needs to be restored. Under the current circumstances, when we are dealing with the climate emergency, we need to listen to the Indigenous peoples who are closely connected with nature and the earth, and have the key to fix the problem.

 

Even though the year end is still far off, the Vancouver-based online magazine has already picked its Person of the Year 2021 to show support to the ongoing farmers’ struggle.  

Jazzy B is a Canadian Punjabi rapper who stood up for the Indian farmers who have been agitating since November, 2020 against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.  

The farmers camping in the national capital believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood. In addition, they think they have been adopted without transparency and consultation, only to benefit big corporates seeking to increase their control over the agro-industry. 

Jazzy B, being a Sikh and from a farming family, was among those deeply disturbed by these events. He not only showed his solidarity through tweets, he also visited the agitating farmers and spent several days with them. 

Because the Indian government blocked his Twitter account, his followers in India weren’t able to see his tweets. 

Apart from that, Jazzy B probably made the Indian government upset by commemorating the anniversary of the infamous June 1984 military invasion on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. The ill-conceived army operation aimed to deal with a handful of militants, but left scores of innocent pilgrims dead and historical buildings inside heavily damaged, which outraged Sikhs across the globe. 

The operation was done to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. The BJP, which was in the opposition back then, celebrated the bloody event. 

 

For years without a break, the Burnaby-based IT Productions has celebrated Canada Day with the rest of Canadians.  

This year however, due to the pall of gloom that has descended over Indigenous communities following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves on the sites of residential schools, the CEO of the company has decided to abandon its annual ritual of making greetings.  

Shushma Datt, who is an award-winning seasoned broadcaster, in a brief message that goes on air July 1 says, “On this Canada Day, the staff and the management of IT Productions, IT Media Broadcasting, Spice Radio and Radio Rim Jhim (all part of the same group) stand in solidarity with the indigenous peoples.” 

Although the audio message that runs in English, Hindi and Punjabi ends with customary Happy Canada Day greetings, it is in line with the growing demands for cancelling Canada Day events across the country.  

Close to 1,000 graves of Indigenous children have been found recently, sparking the campaign.  Already, the City of Victoria and a few other municipalities have cancelled online July 1 events to show their respect to the First Nations. 

The residential schools were established to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into the European and Christian ways to build a nation state on their stolen lands.  

Datt, who had started the Hands Against Racism campaign in January, 2015 from her radio stations, has been vocal against systemic racism being faced by Aboriginal peoples and other visible minority groups in Canada. That campaign, coinciding with Holi, an Indian festival of colours, encourages participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on white sheet alongside a message against bigotry, and has been recognized both by the federal and the provincial governments.  As part of that commitment, the other on air hosts of IT Productions will also be sharing their messages of support to the Indigenous peoples on July 1 and 2.

  

 

 

The provincial government has honoured an anti-racist activist and scholar, who exposed the conspiracy to relocate Indian immigrants to British Honduras.  

A proclamation has been signed to declare July 1, 2021 as “Sant Teja Singh Day” by the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing and the Lieutenant Governor.  

Sant Teja Singh was a towering spiritual leader of the Sikh community who fought for the equal rights to the immigrants, especially those who began coming to BC from India during the end of the nineteenth century. This was the time when India was under British occupation, and most immigrants started arriving to this part of the world as British subjects in hopes of a better livelihood. However, they had to endure blatant racism, not allowed to bring in their families, or the right to vote. The authorities who wanted to keep Canada as a “white man’s land” adopted several policies that were aimed at discouraging permanent settlement of Indian immigrants in BC.  

As part of these measures, a conspiracy was hatched to relocate Indian immigrants to Honduras.  

Sant Teja Singh came to know about such plans. He alerted his community and helped in mobilizing people against it.  

The community’s resistance forced the government to abandon the idea.   

Every year, the Sikhs commemorate Sant Teja Singh Day on July 1. Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib, Khalsa Diwan Society in New Westminster has been in the forefront of this tradition.  

Recognizing these efforts of the community, the BC government has officially proclaimed July 1 as Sant Teja Singh Day.  

Significantly, the proclamation describes Singh as “a humanitarian, scholar and tireless advocate for Sikhs in Canada who dedicated his life to challenging inequality, fighting for a just society and serving without discrimination in accordance with the tenets of Sikhism”.  

The development comes when the BC government is already on the way to bring anti-racism legislation in the light of growing bigotry and hate.  

 

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