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Gurpreet Singh

It was a rainy Monday morning.

Our guest from India, Deepika Singh Rajawat, wanted to go to a temple for prayers. I picked her up from a friend’s house where she was staying and drove her to Burnaby Hindu temple, one of the largest in North America.

Once we reached the temple, she greeted the priest respectfully, removed her shoes and went straight inside the prayer room. She then took several minutes to perform the holy ritual of bathing the idol of Lord Shiva with milk and water. With eyes closed in devotion and prayers on her lips she was completely immersed in paying obeisance to God.  After the prayers were over, she seemed completely relaxed with tears flowing from her eyes.

She had a hectic week as she was here to speak about her fight for justice on the invitation of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), a group I belong to. It was established in response to growing attacks on religious minorities under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

A human rights defender who I would prefer to call Deepika on purpose in the rest of the text, is a devout Hindu. She is a practising lawyer based in the Jammu region of India. She came into the limelight after she stepped forward to defend the family of an eight-year-old Muslin nomad girl Asifa Bano who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists. The perpetrators of the heinous crime wanted to terrorise and humiliate Muslims and used little child’s body as a battlefield.  

IAPI had decided to invite her and honour her for standing up for a minority community and share her story with the people in Canada. Talking about such an intensive subject again and again also becomes emotionally draining, and I could feel that pain in her.

After the prayers she reminded me what true Hindu values stand for, and how those using Hinduism as a political tool know nothing about their faith. She has repeatedly said that her brand of Hinduism is based on the philosophy of love and not bigotry.

Yet, her faith in Hinduism did not stop her from taking up the cause of Bano, even when Indian society is completely polarized under the BJP government that won another term in the recently concluded election. This is despite the fact that she is a Kashmiri Pundit, an ethnic group which has been persecuted by the Islamic fundamentalists for years.

Being a staunch believer of the law and the Indian constitution that is based on principles of secularism and inclusion, she did what she thought right. Notably, she has emphasised many times that she is a proud Indian and a proud Hindu. On the contrary, those in power stood in support of those involved in the conspiracy to rape and murder Bano.  So much so, the BJP men marched with the national flag to show solidarity with the suspects, and kept attacking Deepika on social media.

An undeterred Deepika continued to fight until the case was transferred outside Jammu to the neighbouring state of Punjab to ensure a fair trial. However, this fight has never been easy for Deepika. She had to face challenges even from within her own family and the fraternity of lawyers. The majoritarian sentiment had almost alienated her completely. Not only was she branded as anti-national, but anti-Hindu. The Indian establishment should have given her the highest civilian award she deserved for standing up for the values enshrined in the constitution, but instead she was labelled as unpatriotic.

Interestingly, the BJP supporters who want Bhagwad Geeta, a sacred Hindu text, to be declared as a national book, deviated from its teachings when they tried to malign Deepika who is a far better Hindu. Geeta teaches everyone to perform their assigned duty with dedication and without any prejudice. Well, she was exactly doing that as a lawyer, but the self-styled custodians of Hinduism threatened to rape and murder her for coming to the defence of a Muslim family.  

During her stay in Vancouver, one evening she cooked a dinner for everyone that included goat meat. This was despite the fact that she herself is vegetarian. This gesture, how small it may seem alone, shows her openness, something the BJP lacks. This is in sharp contrast to what self-styled cow vigilantes are doing in India. Since Hindus consider cow as a sacred animal, they have started going after Muslims and Christians suspected of carrying beef in their tiffin boxes.

Another instance of her faith in inclusion is her visit to the Abbotsford Heritage Gurdwara where she prayed before Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.  That the members of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, another gurdwara in Abbotsford, came to see her at a specially arranged meeting in Surrey to give her a small token of appreciation, shows the kind of respect she received from the Sikh community which has faced the worst forms of state sponsored violence in the past.   

Ironically, the day Deepika returned to India, the electorate of that country re-elected the BJP government with a brute majority, in spite of the fact that past five years saw repression of minorities. The verdict of the Indian voters was clearly in favour of hate and terror. While a person like myself hoped that what they did to Bano will bring a new awakening and the BJP will either be ousted or lose seats, it has actually increased its strength in the parliament. The voters who completely ignored the cries of Bano have let us down.

Deepika, which means lantern, continues to give us hope in these depressing times and we believe it will continue to flicker and remove this darkness one day. We need more true Indians and good Hindus like her to rescue that nation from the religious extremists who are bent upon ripping the secular fabric and turning that land of diversity into a Hindu theocracy.

 

A visiting human rights lawyer from India who fought for justice to the family of an eight-year-old victim of rape and murder was honoured at a well-attended public event in Surrey on Saturday (May 18). 

Deepika Singh Rajawat stepped forward at personal risk to defend the family of Asifa Bano—a Muslim nomad girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018.

Those involved in the conspiracy wanted to terrorize and humiliate Muslims in the area by and using rape as a weapon.  

Rajawat faced threats and intimidation in the deeply polarized society of India. The accused continue to enjoy the patronage of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power in India.

Rajawat was presented with the Radical Desi medal of courage at the Surrey City Centre Library by members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI).

IAPI president Parshotam Dosanjh presented her with the medal amid huge applause. 

Radical Desi is an online publication that covers alternative politics and last year it declared Rajawat as its Person of the Year. IAPI and Radical Desi have partnered on number of initiatives.

She was also given a certificate of appreciation by the Surrey–Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh.

Singh raised the murder of Bano in the B.C. legislature last year, and also introduced Rajawat to the B.C. legislature on May 16.

Labour Minister Harry Bains also attended the May 18 event in Surrey, as did two Conservative politicians, Harpreet Singh and Tina Bains, who are both running for the party in the October federal election.  

Rajawat spoke at length about the current situation in India where minorities continue to be under attack from BJP supporters who want to transform India into a Hindu theocracy. She also took questions from the audience.

The event was started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka.

May 18 marked the tenth anniversary of the repression of Tamils by the Sri Lankan army in the name of a war on Tamil separatists.

Others who spoke on the occasion were IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Sarabjt Singh Baaz. While Kumar shed light on the policy and mandate of the group, Baaz recited a poem about the empowerment of women.

 

A courageous lawyer who stood up for the family of an eight-year-old victim of brutal rape and murder in India received a warm reception at the BC Legislature on Thursday, May 16.

Deepika Singh Rajawat, who stepped forward to take up the case of Asifa Bano – a Muslim nomad girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018 - was introduced to the Legislature by Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh.

 

Rajawat came under vicious attack from supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for coming to the defence of the victim’s family. An undeterred Rajawat worked tirelessly to get the hearing of the case transferred outside the state to ensure a fair trial.  

 

The accused had allegedly conspired to use rape as a weapon to terrorise the Muslim community.  They were openly defended by the BJP supporters.

 

Rajawat took personal risk while taking up the issue. She has been invited to Canada by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), that was established in response to growing attacks on religious minorities under the BJP government that wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. IAPI is going to honour her with a medal of courage at a public event on Saturday, May 18 between 2-4 pm at Surrey Central Library. The brief ceremony will be followed by her speech on the current situation in India.

 

On Thursday, she was introduced to the Legislature by Singh, who had also raised the issue of Asifa Bano in the legislative assembly last year.

 

Singh is known for her advocacy against bigotry. The members of the house welcomed Rajawat with huge applause.  

 

Later, Rajawat met BC Premier John Horgan outside the legislature. Horgan welcomed her to the legislature on behalf of the people of the province.

 

 

 

Surrey Centre Member of Parliament Randeep Singh Sarai submitted a petition  in the House of Commons on Thursday, April 11, seeking Honorary Canadian Citizenship for world renowned author Arundhati Roy. 

Launched by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the petition had received hundreds of signatures in Greater Vancouver. Sponsored by Sarai, the petition demands that Canada's parliament give honourary citizenship to Roy, adding her name to the list of other honourary Canadian citizens, such as Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama and Pakistani woman Malala Yusafzai.

These individuals have received the honour for standing up for human rights and democracy in their own countries. Copies of the petition were presented to Sarai at his constituency office in February. 

A Booker Prize winner, Roy has always stood for the rights of the poor and marginalized people in India and has been vocal against any form of state violence against minorities at personal risk.  Especially under the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime where intolerance has grown, scholars like Roy continue to face threats and harassment.

India is presently witnessing an era of McCarthyism, where left wing activists and thinkers are frequently targeted both by the police and the Hindu vigilante groups. Apart from several high profile murders of progressive writers by Hindu extremists who enjoy the patronage of the ruling BJP, the police are being increasingly used to detain political critics of the state in the name of war against left wing extremists.

Roy shot into prominence with her novel The God of Small Things, which got her the Booker Prize. She is also an essayist who has traveled extensively and has proved her capability to challenge the power anywhere in the world. She has been facing threats for writing in defence of the people of Kashmir fighting for the right to self-determination, and the Adivasis or the indigenous peoples of India facing eviction from the extraction industry, often backed by the Indian establishment. She has pulled no punches in her lectures, media interviews or writings while criticising the supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who have been been terrorising minorities. She has always been consistent in her criticism of the Indian forces that often kill civilians with impunity and use rape as a weapon in the conflict zones.

Her recent novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a sad story of the marginalized sections of Indian society that are forced to live under constant fear and insecurity. Roy has been in the forefront of many grassroots level campaigns for social justice and is never shy of speaking at public demonstrations and rallies against the government.  

 

Premier John Horgan presented the Jallianwala Bagh massacre proclamation to well-known South Asian community activists at the BC Legislature on Thursday, April 11.  

Following sustained efforts of Mehak Punjab Dee TV, Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the BC government has proclaimed April 13, 2019 as “The Commemoration of the Centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Day”. 

Close to 1,000 peaceful protestors were killed in firing by the British troops at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar, India on April 13, 1919.

The demonstrators had gathered in protest against repressive laws and arrests of the leaders of the passive resistance movement against British occupation of India.

The bloody episode galvanized the freedom movement that culminated into the end of British rule in 1947.

The proclamation, signed by the Lt. Governor and Attorney General, was presented to Kamaljit Singh Thind of Mehak Punjab Dee TV, Sahib Thind of Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, and Parshottam Dosanjh of IAPI by Horgan at the Premier’s office in Victoria.

Sahib Thind had recently visited England to lobby the British parliament for an apology for the massacre. While British Prime Minister Theresa May has only regretted the incident, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked for a full apology. Thind had met Corbyn personally to make him understand the importance of an apology. Likewise, Kamaljit Singh Thind had started an online petition seeking British apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He is also instrumental behind annual vigils that are organized in Surrey every year in memory of the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh incident, and has been organizing exhibitions depicting the tragedy at Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey.  

Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh was also present on the occasion.

Earlier in the day, Singh made a statement in the house in commemoration of the tragedy.  She noted, “While we must keep our history alive, we also need to stand up against state-sponsored brutality anywhere in the world”.  She emphasized that the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, reminds us of “our collective responsibility to carry forward the struggle for a just and humane world”.

 

 

The Burnaby municipality made a proclamation in recognition of 100 years of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Monday, April 8.

The proclamation was read out by City Councillor Sav Dhaliwal on behalf of Mayor Mike Hurley, in the presence of several members of the Indo Canadian community at a public meeting held at Edmonds Community Centre.

On April 13, 1919 close to 1,000 people were killed at Jallianwala Bagh, a public park in Amritsar in British India when the troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators who had gathered in protest against repressive laws and the arrests of the leader of passive resistance movement against foreign occupation.

Dhaliwal himself is of Indian origin and was instrumental behind the proclamation. Burnaby is the first municipality in BC to make such a proclamation. Notably, Dhaliwal was also instrumental behind similar proclamations in recognition of the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh in 2007 and 100 years of the Ghadar Party in 2013. Bhagat Singh was a towering Indian revolutionary who was executed for assassinating a British police officer, while the Ghadar Party was a group of radical activists who believed in an armed rebellion against the British Empire.

The proclamation made by Mike Hurley declared April 13 as “Commemoration Day”.

It was later presented to community activists who have been trying to keep the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre alive in Canada. Among them were Mehak Punjab Dee TV producer Kamaljit Singh Thind and Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation Sahib Thind. Both individuals had started a campaign to put pressure on the British government to make a formal apology for the bloody incident.

Others present on the occasion were Dr. Raghbir Singh Sirjana, who is an authority on the history of Ghadar Party, former Burnaby School Trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang, and the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India which had lobbied for the proclamation.

 

Following sustained efforts of Mehak Punjab Dee TV, Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the BC government has proclaimed April 13, 2019 as “The Commemoration of the Centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Day”.  

Scores of peaceful protestors were killed in an unprovoked firing by the British troops at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar, India on April 13, 1919.

The demonstrators had gathered in protest against the repressive laws and arrests of the leaders of the passive resistance movement against British occupation of India.

The bloody episode galvanized the freedom movement that culminated in the end of British rule in 1947.

One hundred years later, the BC government has recognized the tragedy, with the Lt. Governor and Attorney General issuing a proclamation, an e-copy of which has been received by IAPI, which initiated the demand on behalf of two other groups, including one led by prominent community activist Sahib Thind who had successfully campaigned for the apology for Komagata Maru.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return by the Canadian government in 1914 under a discriminatory immigration law that was aimed at keeping Canada a "white man’s country". Thind had started a campaign for a formal apology for that incident, which led to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making an official apology in the House of Commons in 2016.

Encouraged by the results, Thind has now started efforts to get a similar apology from the British parliament. He recently visited England to lobby for an apology. He has already succeeded in getting a unanimous motion passed in the Punjab state assembly asking the British government for an official apology for Jallianwala Bagh episode.

Likewise, Mehak Punjab Dee TV producer Kamaljit Singh Thind (no relationship with Sahib Thind) had started an online petition seeking  a British apology for Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He is also instrumental behind annual vigils that are organized in Surrey in memory of the victims of Jallianwala Bagh incident, and has been organizing exhibitions depicting the tragedy at Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey.  

Significantly, the proclamation reads, “Whereas, the Government of British Columbia, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, invites the citizens of British Columbia to reflect on this tragedy and learn more about the history and contributions of India Canadians”.   

 

Teachers and students came together at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 3 to raise their voices for the jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba.   

A well-known human rights defender, Saibaba is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions, despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.

Saibaba was convicted for life after being accused of being a sympathizer of the Maoist insurgents who are fighting a class war in the tribal areas of India. He has been raising his voice against the repression of indigenous peoples, who are being forcibly evicted by the big mining companies with the backing of the Indian state, that are eyeing their traditional lands to extract rich minerals without informed consent. The police become a ready tool in the hands of these companies and frequently target any voice of resistance. Often the state repression forces the indigenous peoples to join the Maoist ranks to escape police brutality.

Since Saibaba was instrumental in mobilizing public opinion against the exploitation of the tribal communities, he was first arrested in 2014 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. He was convicted in March, 2017 under draconian laws. 

Recently, his family applied for a bail plea on medical grounds, as wheelchair bound Saibaba suffer 19 ailments.

However, the Nagpur court not only rejected his bail application, but refused to show any leniency, stating that he is mentally fit and is working as a think tank for Maoists.

The Scholars at Risk that organized the UBC event to raise awareness about Saibaba’s case in Canada was formed to highlight the plight of scholars, who are being hounded by different governments all over the world for standing up for the oppressed. The event was held at the C.K. Choi Building in partnership with Centre for India and South Asia Research.  

The poems written by Saibaba to his wife from inside the jail were read out on the occasion as a tribute to the imprisoned professor. The speakers shed light on his contributions to social justice and international solidarity movements.

Among the speakers were Associate Professor of Punjabi Language, Literature and Sikh Studies Anne Murphy, Instructor at Political Science and Vantage College Jenny Peterson, student of Political Science and International Relations Zeus Shroff, and an independent journalist and co-founder of Radical Desi magazine, Gurpreet Singh. 

The speakers were unanimous in their observation that more needs to be done to educate Canadians about this important issue and to pressure the Canadian government to intervene urgently.   

Those present included human rights lawyer Amandeep Singh, who had drafted a petition on behalf of Radical Desi, seeking Canadian intervention into the matter. More than 1,000 people signed the petition concerning Saibaba, which was submitted to the House of Commons by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian. Singh is the former New Democratic Party candidate in Richmond Queensborough. 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) Rakesh Kumar, Sandeep Modgil and Sarabjit Singh were also in attendance. IAPI has been instrumental behind several demonstrations organized in support of Saibaba and other political prisoners in India. 

 

Punjabi journalist Shiv Inder Singh, who was sacked as a field reporter by a Canada-based prominent South Asian radio station for being critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has received the Jagjit Singh Anand Award.

Singh used to give daily news updates to a radio station in Surrey. His services were terminated abruptly in 2016 following complaints over his critical reporting of the right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Modi. Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown.

Singh runs Suhi Saver, a website that covers alternative politics . He was given the Jagjiit Singh Anand Award along with RS. 51,000 at a special public event held in Amritsar. 

The late Jagjit Singh Anand was a prominent Punjabi journalist and a veteran Communist who had established Nawan Zamana newspaper.

The Award was established to recognize the efforts of individuals who have contributed to the growth of Punjabi journalism, language and culture.

Through his writings and an independent TV channel, Singh has been raising the issues affecting the marginalized sections of society. He has also been honouring journalists from all over India who have dared to question the power by taking personal risks.

 

Gurpreet Singh

A huge congregation was held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey this past Sunday, March 24 to show solidarity with three Sikh men who were recently convicted in the world’s so called largest democracy for merely keeping literature perceived as “seditious” by the Indian state.

Arwinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Ranjit Singh were criminally charged in 2016 under draconian laws. In February, a Nawanshehar court awarded them life sentences, which has been strongly denounced by various human rights groups in India.

The speakers at the congregation were unanimous in their demand for the release of these three men and other political prisoners. They pointed out that the crackdown on political dissidents and state repression of religious minorities has grown under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime. The speakers also agreed that the families of the three Sikh men should be given financial aid for legal help. To show their support with the three men, the temple officials also distributed the copies of the literature that has been used as an evidence to convict them under colonial laws.  

Those who spoke on the occasion, included myself and my journalist colleague from Chardikala newsgroup Gurpreet Singh Sahota, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Gurdwara Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor, a volunteer with Sikh Nation Sunil Kumar, two independent Sikh activists Gurmukh Singh Deol and Dharam Singh, a veteran leader of Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib New Westminster Harbhajan Singh Atwal, Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara President Moninder Singh and Ranjit Singh Khalsa from Banda Singh Bahadur Gurdwara, Abbotsford.

The event coincided with the first death anniversary of Gurbax Singh Khalsa, a Sikh activist who jumped to his death from a water tank in Haryana, India on March 20, 2018 in protest against the continued incarceration of many Sikh political prisoners. Atwal, who had come from New Westminster to participate in the congregation, had also joined many Sikh activists for public fasting in support of Khalsa at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

I emphasized that this struggle isn’t just confined to the minority Sikh community, as other minorities and leftists are also being unfairly targeted by the Indian state for questioning the power, while Hindu extremists continue to intimidate minorities with impunity. While repressive laws and excessive force are frequently used to muzzle any voice of dissent from the minority groups or left wing political activists, the Hindu fundamentalists enjoy the backing of the state.

The Sunday congregation was followed by a demonstration held at Holland Park in Surrey on March 10 for the three Sikh men by the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), which was established in response to growing attacks on minorities in India.The IAPI wants the Canadian government to intervene into the matter urgently. 

Among those who participated in the March 10 demonstration was Federal Liberal MP from Surrey Center Randeep Singh Sarai. Sarai had assured the organizers of the rally to raise this issue at the highest level. 

Gurpreet Singh is an independent journalist and a cofounder of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.  

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