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Gurpreet Singh  

When Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion to formally apologize for the infamous Komagata Maru episode on Wednesday, June 10, a section of the Indo Canadian politicians, ethnic media, and self-styled community gatekeepers were thrilled.

Before you make any assumption that the entire South Asian population in Greater Vancouver is delighted, it is important to recognize that not everyone is impressed.

After all, the City of Vancouver has let down those who have been raising their voices against the highly discriminatory and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CAA is a poor copy of the Continuous Journey Regulation, under which the Komagata Maru was forcibly returned from Vancouver harbour in July, 1914. The Japanese vessel with more than 300 South Asian passengers had remained stranded in Burrard Inlet for two months. This was done as part of the racist policy of the Canadian government to keep this country as a “white man’s land” and discourage immigrants from India from permanent settlement in BC.  

While Canada has repeatedly acknowledged its mistake, the Modi government has passed the CAA, which openly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries. 

CAA only allows non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

There have been angry protests in North America, as a result of which Seattle City Council has already passed a motion against CAA. 

However, a similar motion brought in Vancouver by city councillor Jean Swanson was withdrawn after a pushback from pro-India lobby groups. So much so, the officials of Khalsa Diwan Society, which runs the oldest Sikh temple in Vancouver and has a glorious history of defending the case of Komagata Maru passengers, shamelessly opposed the motion brought by Swanson. 

It is pertinent to mention that the current leadership of the Khalsa Diwan Society is completely aligned with Modi, and welcomed him with open arms when he came to Vancouver in 2015. This was despite the fact that Modi has a controversial past. Thousands of Muslims were murdered under his watch in 2002. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, was denied a US visa until he was elected Prime Minister in 2014. Since then, attacks on religious minorities have grown at an alarming rate across India. 

Even though Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party is known for its anti-minority stance and aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, Khalsa Diwan Society did not find anything wrong in entertaining him, even though the  organization was established in 1906 by Indian revolutionaries to fight back against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad, to form an egalitarian and secular republic.   

Ironically, the latest motion on Komagata Maru was moved by Swanson, who was left alone on the issue of CAA. Since she wasn’t getting support from others on the council, she decided to withdraw it. She was not the only city politician to face a ba cklash for taking a stand against what is happening in India. The City of New Westminster  also came under fire from Modi supporters when a lone city councillor, Chuck Puchmayr, brought a motion against CAA on Mach 9. That motion is yet to pass as the voting is delayed indefinitely due to public health emergency in the wake of COVID 19. 

If the City of Vancouver and those who claim to be passionate about the history of Komagata Maru really care, they should show courage to stand up against tyrants like Modi. Their silence is only strengthening the hands of Modi as anti-CAA protestors continue to be arrested and harassed back in India. 

It is always easy to talk about what happened in the distant past, but if you cannot challenge what is going wrong in the present, then there is no point in remembering our history which is being repeated with impunity.

In the meantime, no thanks to the City of Vancouver for buckling under pressure of a bigot who is governing the world’s so-called largest democracy and trampling the rights of minorities every day.

 

Gurpreet Singh 

This month marks two decades of the emergence of a Bollywood Diva.

Kareena Kapoor Khan’s debut, Refugee, was released in June, 2000.  Since then, she hasn’t looked back and continues to steal many hearts with her beauty and talent.

The span of her twenty-year-old-long film career speaks volumes about her capability to represent the reality of the changing cultural and political landscape of India.  

From her very first role in Refugee as Nazneen, a stateless Muslim looking for permanent home and settlement in Pakistan, to the last one as Naina, a tough British police officer hounding suspected illegal migrants in Angrezi Medium, released early this year, proves her strength as a versatile actor.

In between these two films, Kareena has completed a journey of showcasing characters, who could be anyone from an innocent sweetheart to a loyal wife, besides a villain to a historical figure.

Kareena has acted in more than 50 films. The list includes those in which she either made special appearances or played cameo roles. However, the variety of powerful roles she has played help in understanding India’s transformation from a tolerant to an illiberal society.   

To begin with, the story of Nazneen educates the audience about the plight of stateless Muslims from Bihar state of India.

Nazneen’s parents were uprooted when India and Pakistan were divided on religious lines in 1947. This was following the liberation of the country from British occupation, forcing Bihari Muslims in Hindu-dominated India to migrate to East Pakistan. When East Pakistan was separated from Islamic Pakistan to become Bangladesh in 1971, they were forced to migrate again, as they weren’t accepted in a fledgling Bengali speaking nation. They had no choice but to go to Pakistan,  as it was difficult to return to their roots in Bihar. So they took an illegal route to travel to Pakistan, with the help of human traffickers. Nazneen, who falls in love with one of them, gives birth to a child on the no man’s land between India and Pakistan, symbolizing the hollowness of false border lines. This makes her role relevant not only for South Asian audiences, but for a global viewership in light of the ongoing refugee crisis everywhere.  

Refugee came in the wake of tensions between India and Pakistan. With India accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism within its territory, the film gave a message how humanity continues to prevail in the hearts of ordinary people on both sides of the border. It was a far better film than many others made during that time, to mainly bash Pakistan and evoke narrow nationalism. The currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power back then and much like now, there was no dearth of filmmakers who tried to outdo each other to please the government in New Delhi.

The BJP is known for its anti-Muslim prejudices and often portrays Muslims in India as terrorists and Pakistani agents.

Refugee was first in a series of films revolving around the ticklish subject of Indo-Pak relations done by Kareena in a highly polarized environment.   

In 2003, another movie LOC: Kargil was released. This time, Kareena played Simran, the fiancé of an Indian soldier who died during the fight between Indian and Pakistani troops deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LOC) in Kargil area of Kashmir.

The actual events took place in 1999.  The movie was certainly not like Refugee, and glorified the Indian soldiers, while vilifying their Pakistani counterparts.

Simran was the depiction of a courageous woman who is willing to marry and live with a soldier in spite of the war threat. Her story is similar to real life war widows, irrespective of being Indian or Pakistani, who know how to live with dignity.

Then came Agent Vinod in 2012. Kareena played as a spy of Pakistani origin. Iram Parveen wants to live a peaceful life, but circumstances land her in the espionage business. More than being a diehard nationalist, Iram is someone who cares for humanity and dies in pursuit of truth without taking sides, by helping Indians from a potential terror attack planned by international conspirators.

Her prominent role in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, released in 2015, gives hope for a better future between the two countries. As Rasika, a Hindu woman, she comes to the rescue of a Muslim girl from Pakistan who is separated from her mother during a train journey. Despite being born in a rigidly religious family that hate Muslims, she encourages her lover to locate and reunite her with her parents in Pakistan.

Moving beyond Indo-Pak ties, Kareena has to her credit some other significant roles that revealed Islamophobia in both Indian and western societies.

She played Aaliya, a survivor of anti-Muslim pogrom, in Dev (2004). Aaliya loses her family in the violence engineered by right wing Hindu politicians and testifies fearlessly against those involved. The film was produced two years after the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state when the violence broke out under his watch. The storyline of the film clearly suggested it was based on the ugly events of Gujarat.

In 2009, she played as Avantika in Kurbaan, which is about Jihadist terrorism, and how Muslims are being mistreated all over the world. In spite of the reservations of her Hindu family, Avantika marries a Muslim man and ends up facing betrayal from her husband, who is part of an Islamic extremist group.

In her real life too, Kareena has stood up against Islamophobia. Married to a Muslim, she comes from a Hindu family. Saif Ali Khan is also an established actor and has acted with her in number of films, including Kurbaan.  She had to face a backlash from BJP supporters for marrying Saif and adopting Khan as her last name. She later came under attack when the couple named their child after an Islamic historical figure, who Hindu right wing leaders accuse of being a tyrant.

In 2018, when she stood up in support of an eight-year-old-girl Asifa Bano, who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists, she was widely trolled on social media, risking the fate of her film Veere Dee Wedding.

Although she is not an activist, she has played as one in at least two films, which are worth watching to comprehend the problems being faced by Indians due to corruption. Both Gori Tere Pyaar Mein and Satyagrah came in 2013. She played as Diya and Yasmin respectively in the two movies, that came around the time when people were marching in the streets against corruption. Yasmin is a journalist-turned-activist who expresses her concern over the anti-corruption campaigners taking the support of right wing nationalist parties that are bent upon dividing society. Her role proved prophetic, as a year later Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, riding an anti-corruption wave that completely blinded the voters about his brand of divisive politics aimed at turning India into Hindu theocracy.

At the time of COVID 19, when healthcare workers continue to face challenges, Kareena’s role as a doctor in Udta Punjab (2016) needs special recognition. Preet is a doctor at a rehabilitation centre in Punjab who loses her life at the hand of a drug addict. She also tries to expose those involved in the drug trade, putting her life in jeopardy and speaking passionately for those who struggle with their addiction. The movie faced censor cuts due to political pressure, as it showed an inconvenient truth about the complicity of police and politicians in drug trafficking.

There is a long list of her roles as a feminist and confident career woman, but her performance as a sex worker in Chameli (2004) and Talaash (2012) was outstanding. As Rosie in Talaash, she became a voice of thousands of sex trade workers who are killed with impunity all over the world. The story has a special significance for Canada, where thousands of women went missing and the police remained indifferent because of their involvement in the sex trade.  

Likewise, she has acted as a rebellion lover, who goes against the wishes of her family and rejects social and class boundaries to choose a husband or a life partner in Jeena Sirf Mere Liye (2002), Talaash (2003), Mein Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), Jab We Met (2007), Yuva (2004), Kyon Ki (2005) 3 Idiots (2009) and Heroine (2012).

It would be an injustice not to consider her roles as Kaurwaki in Asoka (2001) and Dolly Misra in Omkara (2006). Kaurwaki was a historical figure who was the second queen of King Asoka of India. Kareena amazed the audience with her acting skills while playing as Kaurwaki, who influenced Asoka to give up his lifestyle as a reckless warrior and become a Buddhist.

Omkara was the adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Dolly Misra was an equivalent of Desdemona, murdered by her husband, who is made to suspect her loyalties by his detractors, including her estranged father. Kareena’s performance in the context of Indian society strictly governed by patriarchy and a  brutal caste system left viewers completely overwhelmed. 

Her exceptional performances as a villain in Fida (2004) and a person with speech disability in Chup Chup Ke (2006) were equally commendable. 

As she completes 20 years in Bollywood, a lot has  changed. With the beginning of the 2020s, one can expect Kareena to bring us more knowledge and entertainment in the backdrop of new challenges.     

***

 

A Burnaby-based South Asian radio station that started its campaign against racism in 2015, has strongly denounced the killing of George Floyd, an African American who died in police custody recently.

Floyd’s death has sparked angry protests all over North America.

This is being seen as part of structural racism and violence against black people.

#HandsAgainstRacism, which has entered its sixth year, was launched on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt in January, 2015.

A veteran broadcaster, Datt, who was born and raised in Kenya, has been familiar with the racism endured by the black community.

On June 2, Spice Radio made a strong statement expressing its solidarity with “Black brothers and sisters”.

The statement read, “We send our condolences and prayers to George Floyd’s family and to the countless others, who have lost their loved ones to this senseless and systemic violence.”

Earlier, Datt had called for an end to growing hatred against people of Asian origin in Canada in the light of COVID 19.

The pandemic, which has its roots in China, has triggered racially motivated attacks against people of Asian descent in Vancouver.

Datt says that her campaign provides a platform to voices that need to be heard under such difficult circumstances.

***

 

To mark the martyrdom day of the fifth master of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev ji, South Asian community activists came together on Sunday, May 31, to raise voices for political prisoners being incarcerated in the Indian jails.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally against state violence was held at the Surrey-Delta Guru Nanak Sikh temple.

Guru Arjan Dev ji was tortured to death for standing for justice and human rights.

The temple held special prayers in memory of the guru.

The rally was called to draw attention of the world to the current state of affairs in India, where scholars and political dissidents are being arrested and tortured under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime. The minority groups are at the receiving end of both police brutality and state sponsored vigilante attacks.

The temple Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor said that the rally was a fitting tribute to Guru Arjan Dev ji, whose sacrifice remains relevant considering the ongoing repression everywhere in the world.

The organizers also paid homage to Bhagwati Charan Vohra, an Indian revolutionary who died fighting against the British occupation of India, on May 28, 1930. 

Vohra was killed during an attempt to make a bomb to break the jail housing his comrades.

The demonstrators held signs and placards asking for the release of all political prisoners, including jailed Sikh activists, who were given life sentences for merely keeping books and literature that supports the idea of a separate Sikh nation. 

Some of the signs carried the pictures of disabled Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, and other intellectuals such as Telugu poet Varavara Rao and author Gautam Navlakha. All these men are currently imprisoned on motivated charges for standing up for the rights of the oppressed communities and religious minorities.  

Signs for George Floyd, an Afro-American who recently died at the hands of police in the US, were held out by some of the participants. A moment of silence was observed for Floyd at the beginning of the rally. Significantly, the Surrey Delta Gurdwara had witnessed the brutal murder of Nirmal Singh Gill by white supremacists in 1998. Gill was a temple keeper who was assaulted for stopping neo-Nazis from vandalizing inside the temple premises. 

Slogans against state repression were raised at the gathering, which was deliberately kept very low due to COVID 19 restrictions. Necessary physical distance was maintained by the participants.

Those who spoke on the occasion included IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, as well as two other IAPI members, Tejinder Sharma and Gurpreet Singh, and prominent Sikh activists Charajit Singh Sujjon and Kulwinder Singh.

***

Gurpreet Singh 

Saturday, May 30 marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the second term of Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India. 

Modi won with a huge majority in the May 2019 general election. 

Out of total 542 seats in the parliament, the BJP alone bagged 300. This was more than the total number of 272 seats required to get a clear majority. 

In 2014, BJP won 282 seats—10 more than the magic figure. The 2019 election result was therefore a spectacular win that no one anticipated. 

The most challenging part of this election was that it was considered a referendum on the sectarian politics of Modi. Attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, had grown under this government since he first came to power. 

Those opposed to Modi warned that if BJP got another chance, India will be transformed into a Hindu theocracy. Not surprisingly, the victory emboldened the Modi government to scrap special status given to the state of Kashmir- the only Muslim majority province in India - in the name of national security. An armed insurgency alongside peaceful agitation has been going on in the region for the right to self-determination. The BJP has always been threatening to take away special rights given to the people of Kashmir, to polarize the Hindu majority in the rest of the country. Not only have civil rights and freedom been suspended in the area, troops have been heavily deployed to suppress any voice of dissent. 

If that was not enough, the government has passed a controversial and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from the neighbouring countries, sparking angry protests, which have subsided due to lockdown following the outbreak of COVID 19.  

It's now a matter of time until India officially declares itself as a Hindu nation, as the country has made a choice. 

If the election of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur—a controversial Hindu ascetic who faces trial in the bombing conspiracy against Muslims - is any indication, Indians have not only sold their soul to Modi, but have let down an honest police officer who exposed the Hindutva terror network. 

The late Hemant Karkare had smashed the terror module involved in bombings targeting the Muslim community. Until then, the media and the intelligence blamed most terror incidents in India on Muslim extremists, without even considering the possibility of Hindu fanatics being involved. 

Karkare, a thoroughly professional officer associated with Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad, was completely detached from majoritarian prejudices. This was in spite of the fact that he was a practising Hindu. 

Notably, Modi and his party had started a smear campaign against him for arresting Hindus involved in terror activities. 

Thakur, who was nominated as a BJP candidate from Bhopal, was involved in the 2008 bomb blast in Malegaon. The incident  left 10 people dead and close to 100 injured. This was one of the many blasts triggered by a gang that wants to instill fear in the minds of Muslims and establish a Hindu state by overthrowing a democratic and secular republic of India. Her arrest had outraged Modi. 

Thakur wasn't the only Hindu extremist to be arrested for terrorism. Karkare's investigation culminated in the arrests of several more who had conspired bomb blasts in different parts of India. 

On November 26, 2008 when India’s financial capital of Mumbai came under attack from a Pakistan-based terror group, Karkare was shot to death under mysterious circumstances. Many, like former police officer S.M. Mushrif, believe that it was a set up to silence Karkare forever; in the garb of a terror attack, a shadow group took his life. His book, “Who killed Karkare? The real face of terrorism in India” raises too many questions.  Some of the arguments he has made are very convincing. 

Mushrif’s second book, “Brahminists bombed, Muslims hanged: The Brahminist game of blast and blame Muslims” maps out all the terror incidents involving Hindu extremists and gives a detailed account of how these cases have been diluted and weakened by the government under Modi, and police and courts have enabled individuals such as Thakur to go unpunished. Thakur was given bail to run for office, while others like her were acquitted for lack of evidence. The Modi administration has indicated that it's not going to pursue these cases, and the courts have said that not enough evidence was presented to corroborate the claims against suspects. Modi has publicly gone on record to discredit investigations against Hindu extremists by accusing previous governments of deliberately maligning Hindu groups. 

This is in sharp contrast to what Muslim and Sikh extremists face at the hands of the police, who have frequently killed political activists and suspects through extra judicial means with impunity. 

It is pertinent to mention that Karkare, who became a national hero overnight for the BJP after getting killed in the Mumbai terror attack, was defamed posthumously by Thakur and her supporters. 

Whether or not Karkare was killed by Hindutva forces is difficult to establish, but the way his investigation has been botched after his death and his image is being tarnished by the apologists of Modi is shameful. 

One needs to read a book by his daughter Jui Karkara Navare to understand the commitment of the slain officer, who had dedicated his life to the country. ‘Hemant Karkare: A Daughter’s Memoir” reveals how fair this exceptional policeman was. He was just doing his duty without any discrimination. His faith in Hinduism and his love for the country did not blind him while dealing with Hindu extremists or extremists of any other shade alike.  

It was indeed painful to see the nation turning a blind eye to the actions of Thakur and others like her in the BJP and giving Modi another chance. 

For now, Indians need to do some introspection and hang their heads in shame, rather than rejoicing over the second win of someone who is patronizing terrorism and hatred. 

 

Gurpreet Singh

When Balbir Singh Sr, breathed his last on Monday, May 25, Indian Prime Minister Naendra Modi left no opportunity to go on twitter to offer his condolences to the family of the deceased and his well-wishers.

After all, Singh was a towering field hockey icon. A triple Olympic gold medallist, he was awarded with Padma Shree, the fourth highest civilian award of the Indian republic for his contribution to the field of sports.

Singh died at a Mohali hospital in Punjab. Some of his close relatives live in BC, and he had a huge following in Canada. Singh had a home in Burnaby. North Delta MLA Ravi Kahlon, a former field hockey player, is one of those in the Sikh diaspora who were influenced by him.

What was ironic about Modi’s message was that Singh had faced discrimination for being a member of a minority community in Hindu-dominated India. This was despite the fact that he brought many laurels to the country.

His supporters have always believed that he deserved the highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna considering his performance, but he was neglected because of his religious background in a country where polarization has grown ever since Modi came to power in 2014.

Modi is the leader of the currently ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is known for its anti-minority prejudices. A book on Singh, authored by Canadian journalist Patrick Blennerhassett looks much deeper into this question.

Titled “A Forgotten Legend: Balbir Singh Sr, Triple Olympic Gold and Modi’s New India”, the biography goes into the history of India and links it with the present, where attacks on religious minorities have grown under the BJP government.

Published in 2016, the book reveals how Singh also felt the pain of being constantly ignored.

Although Modi cannot be singled out for what happened with Singh, as the country was long ruled by the Congress party that claims to be secular, Modi had enough time to at least get him the highest civilian honour during the past six years. This can be partly blamed on Shiromani Akali Dal, the mainstream Sikh regional party of Punjab, which is an alliance partner of the BJP.

In contrast, last year the Modi establishment conferred Bharat Ratna on Nanaji Deshmukh. A highly controversial political figure, Deshmukh was the leader of a Hindu supremacist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, of which the BJP is a political wing. He had justified the Sikh Genocide in one of his writings.  

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India in the first week of November 1984, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards who were seeking revenge for the military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar in June that year. The ill-conceived army operation had left many pilgrims dead and historical buildings heavily destroyed. This act of sacrilege, which the government boasted was aimed to deal with armed militants, who had stockpiled arms inside the shrine that was used as a hideout for an insurgency which saw the murders of innocent Hindus in Punjab, enraged Sikhs across the globe. For many in the community, it was designed to attract majority Hindu votes in the impending general election while other reasonable measures could have been adopted to prevent the conflict. 

Mobs led by the slain leader’s Congress party, with the help of police, targeted Sikhs in different parts of India. BJP supporters also participated in the killings, to avenge the murders of Hindus in Punjab that were blamed on Sikh extremists. This explains why the BJP lost heavily in the election that followed, and Congress got a huge mandate. It was a clear indication of the shift of the BJP's hardcore Hindu vote bank to Congress in the aftermath of the Sikh massacre. 

Singh himself survived the 1984 violence, as he was in Delhi at that time. In his book, Blennerhassett mentions in detail about this whole episode and its impact on the sensitive mind of Singh, who felt as an alien in his own home country.

While we celebrate Singh’s legacy, we must also recognize the challenges faced by our heroes from minority groups and marginalized sections in a society that is unevenly divided, with some more equal than others.  

 

 

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

On May 21, Twitter was flooded with tributes to the slain former Indian Prime Minister.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber on May 21, 1991.

Since Gandhi was the towering leader of the opposition Congress party, which claims to be a secular alternative to the currently ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), many liberals in India took to social media to pay homage to him. Some of them went to the extent of contrasting him against the present right wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as “compassionate” and “visionary”. This may be partly because of growing attacks on religious minorities under Modi. After all, the BJP aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy. 

Paying respect to someone who had died is one thing, but to completely gloss over the atrocities committed by any national leader is sheer dishonesty.

How can anyone forget that Gandhi was directly complicit in the 1984 Sikh Genocide that followed the murder of his mother and then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards? She was murdered for ordering a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, in June that year, in order to deal with a handful of militants who had stockpiled arms inside the place of worship. The government justified the attack by accusing Sikh radicals of killing Hindus in Punjab. The ill-conceived army operation left many pilgrims dead, and historical buildings inside heavily destroyed, causing outrage among the Sikhs across the world.

In the first week of November, 1984, mobs led by Congress party activists slaughtered thousands of Sikhs all over India, with the help of police. Rajiv Gandhi had not only remained indifferent to the cries for help coming from the Sikhs, he did not even intervene when Congress supporters chanted “blood for blood” slogans in his presence at the venue where his mother lay in state.

So much so, he used the personal tragedy during the election that followed to polarize the Hindu majority against Sikhs, and won with a heavy mandate. Unsurprisingly, the BJP vote bank shifted to the Congress, reducing the BJP to only two seats in the parliament. It is well documented that BJP supporters also had participated in the anti-Sikh violence, to teach Sikhs a lesson for the killings of Hindus by Sikh extremists in Punjab. The late Nanaji Deshmukh, a controversial leader of the Hindu supremacist organization Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of which the BJP is a part, had even justified the pogrom in one of his articles.

Adding insult to the injury, Rajiv Gandhi awarded those Congress leaders directly involved in the massacre with ministerial posts in his government.

Leave aside the question of punishing the guilty, he tried to rationalise the massacre by publicly saying, ‘When a big tree falls, earth shakes a bit”. The metaphor was clearly aimed at covering up the crime, and to project it as a natural reaction of the people upset with the killing of the Prime Minister. However, Tamils were not punished in a similar fashion when he himself was blown into pieces.

I still remember how Sikhs became anxious following initial reports of his murder, and feared another state sponsored bloodshed. They heaved a sigh of relief when it emerged that this was a handiwork of Tamil separatists, who were seeking revenge on the Indian government for sending forces to Sri Lanka to help in suppressing their resistance for independence.

It would be wrong to assume that the Sikh Genocide was the only crime against humanity committed under Gandhi’s watch. He was also instrumental behind allowing Hindus to pray at the disputed site of the ancient Babri mosque in Ayodhya. The mosque was later demolished by BJP supporters in 1992. The BJP continues to claim that the mosque was built by the Islamic rulers after razing the temple of Lord Ram, one of the revered Hindu gods, that once stood there.

As if this was not enough, to capitalize on Hindu nationalist sentiments, Rajiv Gandhi also started the broadcast of Ramayan – the epic of Lord Ram - on national TV. Most characters of the serial later joined the BJP. This was a time when the campaign for building the Ram temple in Ayodhya was picking up, which explains the intentions of Rajiv Gandhi.

It can be safely said that he contributed to an ultra-nationalist Hindu movement that eventually changed the socio-political environment of the country. 

In 2002, when some BJP supporters and Hindu devotees were returning by train to Gujarat from their pilgrimage to Ayodhya, it caught fire under mysterious circumstances. This was followed by reports of several skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims on railway stations because of hostilities created by these trips.

Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, blamed it on Muslims, even though one commission of enquiry found that it was an accident caused by a cooking fire inside one of its cabins. Taking a leaf out of the Congress party’s history, the BJP government organized a 1984-like massacre against Muslims in the state. Much like Rajiv Gandhi, Modi also took advantage of an anti-minority frenzy to win the impending assembly election.

Human Rights activists believe that the Sikh massacre set the precedent for such state-sponsored violence. Had the state punished those guilty of 1984, the 2002 wouldn’t have happened.

Modi was first elected as Prime Minister in 2014 with heavy mandate, despite this baggage. Five years later, to the dismay of his opponents, he got another majority, in spite of a spike in mob lynching of Muslims.

One can understand the frustration of helpless secularists and liberals in a regime where the attacks on minorities have become a norm, but let’s not deceive ourselves about what Rajiv Gandhi really was. If we are really concerned about bigotry and intolerance, we need to look back at the history critically to see how people like him laid the foundation of hate politics. Instead of just grumbling over what Modi and his party stand for, it’s time for Congress and its apologists to take some responsibility for the mess India is in.     

Expectedly, Modi also tweeted on May 21 to pay his respect to Gandhi. Interestingly, what binds Modi and Gandhi together in terms of what happened in 1984 is that in 2019, the Modi government gave Bharat Ratna, a highest civilian award, to Nanaji Deshmukh - despite the fact that the Sikhs have been asking for revocation of Bharat Ratna to Rajiv Gandhi. With Deshmukh getting a similar award, the hopes of withdrawing Bharat Ratna to Rajiv Gandhi have died completely. But what can one expect from a system where one mass killer praises the other unapologetically, as people continue to make a choice between the bad and the worse?

 

 

 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a Mother’s Day car rally for Safoora Zargar in Surrey on the afternoon of Sunday, May 10.

The student activist who is an expectant mother is being held under draconian laws for opposing the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government in India.

Zargar is being falsely accused of inciting violence in Delhi during protests against CAA, which is unfair to Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries.

The car rally was held outside the Indian passport and visa application center, to maintain physical distancing due to restrictions because of COVID 19. Chanting of slogans and speeches were deliberately avoided. The participants honked while driving past the building. The cars bore signs saying “No CAA”, and asking for the release of Zargar. 

There were also signs for more than a dozen labourers who were crushed to death by a freight train in India recently. The poor people who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic were walking back to their native villages when the tragedy happened. They had fallen asleep on the rail track, as they were trying to avoid being harassed by the police that patrol the streets of India, using excessive force to impose curfews.  

The May 10 rally coincided with the anniversary of first major uprising against British occupation of India in 1857. The rebellion brought together people of different faith groups against colonialism. Formed in response to growing attacks on minorities in India, IAPI believes that this recognition is important to keep the spirit of secularism alive as the current government is bent upon turning the country into a Hindu theocracy.

The leading car in the fleet carried a flag of the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian revolutionaries who were influenced by the 1857 revolt. The Ghadar Party was established in the US by Indian immigrants in 1913 to liberate India from the British and form an egalitarian republic. Among those who participated were IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, prominent Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, besides, other IAPI members Tejinder Sharma, Harbeer Rathi and Gurpreet Singh. 

Zargar joins many other activists incarcerated under inhuman conditions for raising their voices against repression of religious minorities and state violence. Amnesty International had called for urgent action for Zargar on the occasion of Mother’s Day. The Indian government refuses to release her on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and its supporters have been attacking and demonizing her on social media.

 

 

 

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. 

***

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