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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gurpreet Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Gurpreet Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

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

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

Most of them were visiting India when the pandemic struck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Canada-based Punjabi media fraternity has strongly condemned the recent arrests of towering Indian scholars and the criminal case filed against a female photojournalist in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

On April 14, well known Indian authors and activists Anand Teltumbde and Gauram Navlakha were forced to surrender under motivated charges filed against them to suppress the voices of dissent.

Through their writings, the two men have been raising issues of state violence and repression of minorities and marginalized communities in the name of security and development.

Both men are published authors. They are among many other scholars and human rights defenders being incarcerated in Indian jails under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime.

Not only has the Indian government refused to release political prisoners in the light of COVID 19, it has forced Teltumbde and Navlakha to surrender. The calls for the release of all prisoners on humanitarian grounds under such difficult circumstances have been completely overlooked by the Indian establishment.

Over the weekend, the Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC) issued a statement condemning the unwanted arrests of Teltumbe and Navlakha and sought their immediate release. 

Earlier, the club had denounced the arrest of TV journalist Bhupinder Singh Sajjan by the Punjab police, and the filing of a criminal case against senior journalist Sidharth Vardarajan by the police in Uttar Pradesh. Both men have received threats from the right wing activists in the past. The police actions seem to be politically motivated, as these journalist have been questioning the people in power.    

On Monday, the club came out with another statement against the slapping of charges against a Kashmiri photojournalist under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Masrat Zahra has been accused of spreading “anti-national” propaganda on social media. Zahra is a freelance journalist who has been contributing to the Washington Post, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian and The Caravan.

India-occupied Kashmir remains under lockdown since August 5. The journalists in that region are already finding it difficult to work freely and fearlessly. The PPCBC has been asking for the restoration of press freedom in the region since then, and has repeatedly expressed its concerns over challenges being faced by Kashmiri journalists.  

According to the club, these developments reflect very poorly on a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

In the meantime, the club has also asked for an inquiry into the recent media reports about an Indian journalist being used by Indian intelligence to influence Canadian politicians. An unidentified journalist, whose wife and son are Canadian citizens, had applied for Permanent Residency in Canada. His application was rejected on the basis of his relationship with India’s secret agencies. The club wants the Canadian government to reveal his identity and look into the depth of the whole issue to establish the extent to which Indian moles have penetrated into media circles to prevent foreign interference.

***

 

On the birth anniversary of a towering social justice activist and an architect of the Indian constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, members and supporters of Indians Abroad (IAPI) for Pluralist India took out a car rally outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 14.

Ambedkar was born in a so called untouchable family, and faced caste-based discrimination in the orthodox Hindu society.

Despite many challenges, he grew up as a scholar who co-authored the Indian constitution that guarantees democracy and secularism and protects the freedom of religious minorities.

However, under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have sharply grown since 2014, when the party came to power with a brute majority.  The BJP aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy and rewrite the constitution. 

Presently, under the garb of COVID 19 lockdown, minorities are being targeted aggressively by the police, while political dissidents are either being arrested or forced to remain in jail,  in spite of health concerns because of the global pandemic.  

Ironically, the Indian government has arrested the grandson-in law of Ambedkar on such an auspicious occasion. 

Anand Teltumbde is a well-known activist who is married to the granddaughter of Ambedkar.

He was forced to surrender under motivated charges for merely questioning the power through his critical writings. Demands for a delay in his arrest due to COVID 19 were ignored by the courts. This has outraged many within the Indian Diaspora. On one hand, the Prime Minister and the President paid tributes to Ambedkar, while on the other Teltumbde was sent into police custody. 

The Indian government has refused to release other political prisoners on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, including disabled Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was also thrown in jail for raising his voice for the oppressed communities. 

In the meantime, Muslims and Sikhs continue to be demonized. The right wing media has been trying to portray them as spreaders of COVID 19, citing huge gatherings in their religious places, even as Hindus and BJP leaders too had several big congregations during the past several days. 

The IAPI had deliberately planned to take out a car rally to ensure physical distancing in the light of guidelines against gatherings of more than 50 people and for keeping a distance of two meters. 

Each car had a single occupant, except one in which the driver had his son as a co-passenger.

The fleet of cars bearing posters and signs asking for the release of all political prisoners, including Teltumbde and Saibaba, and to stop violence against minorities, halted outside the consulate briefly and left. No speeches were made and public address system was avoided on purpose.

Among those who joined the rally were IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, and Spokesman Gurpreet Singh, besides progressive Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, Sikh activist Kulwinder Singh and a peace educator Susan Ruzic.

Two dedicated IAPI members Sandeep Modgil and Tejinder Sharma also participated.

IAPI was formed in response to attacks on religious minorities and political opponents in India under the current regime.

***

 

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