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Gurpreet Singh

The month of November, which brings back memories of the fallen heroes of World War I, has a special significance for two minority communities – the Jews and the Sikhs.

It triggers the ugly flashback of persecution of these two groups by the members of dominant communities with the backing of the state.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass" when violence against Jews broke out on November 9, 1938 following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a Polish Jew teenager.

This was in retaliation for the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. Since the assassin’s parents were among those expelled, he shot at Ernst vom Rath, a diplomat attached to the German embassy on November 7. Rath died two days later, after which the Nazis organized a pogrom against the Jewish people, accusing them of a wider conspiracy against Germany. Homes, businesses and places of worship were destroyed while dozens of Jews were killed. The night of broken glass is a reference to the glass littered on the streets following the bloodshed.

Likewise, the Sikhs were also targeted during the first week of November, 1984, after Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31 by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence. Her bodyguards were outraged by an army invasion on the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar in June that year. Gandhi had ordered a military attack to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation had left many innocent worshipers dead and some important buildings heavily destroyed. This had enraged the Sikhs all over the world. Gandhi’s murder was followed by well-organized anti Sikh massacres across India by the slain leader’s Congress party.  Although it claims to be secular, the Congress went the Nazi way, and attacked Sikh homes, businesses and gurdwaras, and raping Sikh women, to punish the entire community. About 3,000 people were killed in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Unlike in Germany, New Delhi streets were littered by more than broken glass. After all, tyres and kerosene were used to kill innocent Sikhs by way of necklacing.  

In both cases, the Nazis and the Congress party systematically scapegoated minority groups and consolidated their power by othering them in the eyes of the majority Germans and Hindus, while the police and fire fighters remained mute spectators.

This month, the two communities came together at Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Surrey to commemorate the victims of the two holocausts that took place in different parts of the world. Genocide Remembrance: Moving From Darkness To Light, mainly organized by Sikh activist and researcher Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning, was attended by award-winning social justice Jewish educator Annie Ohana. The two women never forget to acknowledge the cultural genocide of other groups, including the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and believe that remembrance is important to challenge the attempts to make people forget history and move on.

Indeed, one who forgets history is condemned to repeat it, yet bigotry continues to grow unchallenged. The November is not just an occasion to remember the past, but also an occasion to reflect on the present. Racism against Jews remains alive, considering the recent murders of 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by an anti-Semitic white supremacist; meanwhile, attacks on non-Hindus, especially Muslims, Christians and Dalits or so-called untouchables, have grown in India under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government which is clearly taking advantage of a culture of impunity started by the Congress in 1984. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely blamed for repeating 1984 in 2002 against Muslims in Gujarat, where he was the Chief Minister.  

The hypocritical privileged society keeps telling the minority communities to forgive and forget, but never fail to forget Remembrance Day or even the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Busloads of tourists are brought to the former residence of Indira Gandhi, which has now been turned into a museum, and yet the Sikhs are repeatedly lectured to bury the past. Those who are scared to discuss these dark chapters of history need to shed this fear and accept the reality of an unevenly divided world, living with selective memory and a false sense of belonging. To change this discourse we need to first recognize all the historical wrongs and fix them through reconciliation, and then make sure they are not allowed to be repeated by populist leaders such as Trump and Modi.

 

 

Jeff Shantz

Surrey is gripped by a crime panic, one that sees all public debate and discussion framed by calls for more police in the city. This crime panic is produced by and reinforces a fear politics that is promoted by law and order politicians, businesses that want public space to serve primarily business interests and, of course, by police themselves (and their promoters) as they seek even more funding and resources.

The recent municipal election in Surrey did nothing to tone down this raging crime panic. In fact the election only served to ratchet up fears as politicians, from mainstream coalitions to would-be progressives, tried to out-do each other in calls for more police, more funding for police, and more extensive policing. The only debate was over whether the city would continue to over-fund an already too pricey RCMP or to waste even more public money on a new municipal force.

The victorious Safe Surrey Coalition and their mayoral retread Doug McCallum have upped the stakes in Surrey by serving notice at their very first council meeting after being sworn in that they will end the RCMP contract (a good thing) and replace the RCMP with a new municipal force (a bad thing).

Over-Policed in Surrey: Layer Upon Layer of Policing

Despite the crime panic driven calls for more and more expansive policing powers in Surrey and the law and order agendas of various political groupings, the fact remains that Surrey is already over-policed. Even more, policing in Surrey is a model of layered and integrated surveillance, regulation, and control. This layered policing (of police forces and functions extending through streets, schools, malls, workplaces, sports) is a Surrey model that police are actively taking to other towns and cities in British Columbia.

In Surrey there are 835 formal RCMP officers. The city spends upwards of 30 percent of its budget on formal police functions to the tune of $151 million. In addition to the formal, full-paid RCMP officers, the RCMP also deploy auxiliary officers and networks of volunteers, including students in co-op work placements and practicum assignments. This is free labor, provided by public universities that should know, and do, better. It frees up regular RCMP officers from things like traffic control to do other “harder” policing tasks like hassling homeless people or scaring youth.

Beyond the RCMP are city bylaw enforcement officers. These are city workers who have targeted homeless people for harassment as on 135A Street, the Strip. They have also targeted poor residents, as in the trailer parks along King George Boulevard, for crime panic staples like alleged drug use or sex work. Bylaw and RCMP actions against poor residents have led to evictions of trailer parks, their closure, and sale. Thus increasing homelessness in Surrey and removing some of the few remaining sources of lower cost housing in the city. This has nothing to do with serving and protecting (except perhaps for gentrifying developers) and actually decreases public safety for people who have now lost their homes.

In addition to these city paid examples are the business funded police. These include so-called street ambassadors, paid by and serving Business Improvement Associations/Areas (BIAs) and private security for businesses. Despite having no jurisdiction or authority they often target visibly poor people on the streets for harassment and intimidation, forcing them to leave areas without cause. The Surrey Board of Trade (SBT) website actually provides information to businesses on how to “move homeless people along” and urges businesses to take aggressive stands against homeless people. The BIAs and the SBT have privileged access to council and public safety meetings.

In addition to the more obvious policing operations there are also the  “community” groups that pose as alternatives to policing but which are actually deeply connected to police. These include the police linked and oriented Yo Bro, Yo Girl, which pose as a community sports and leadership initiative but are geared toward recruitment for forces, and the Surrey Crime Prevention Society. The latter recruits youth to do policing work on the promise of community service and resume building. Crime Prevention Society members openly direct their attention toward low level, relatively harmless, activities, such as small drug use or trade and graffiti. This leads to criminalization of people for minor activities and brings them into the criminal justice system. Now they are “known to police” or face a criminal record for virtually nothing of consequence.

Surrey has worked recently to integrate police even further into social service agencies and activities. The SMART Program (Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table) brings together police and corrections with housing, health care, income assistance, education and other services. It allows the police to track people throughout a range of access to social needs. The SMART Program meets each week. They aim for 24 to 48 hour response to intervene on people in their purview.

We can also mention the integration of policing within our schools. Police liaison officers and so-called “zero tolerance” policies frame youthful activity through a crime panic lens as budding gang behavior, and mobilize stigmatizing control responses. Students are removed from their home schools, dispersed across the district, isolated, and highly surveilled, either by police or school authorities who report to police or by both. These penalized youth may struggle to finish school, take longer to finish, or drop out completely, separated as they are from home, friends, family. But the police will record that at least they did not join a gang—with no evidence that they ever would have anyway. 

Some Costs

Surrey already spends far too much money and resources on police. And this is so even as crime rates are both falling and lower than the promoters of crime panic would have it. The current RCMP detachment has a 2018 budget of $151 million, which is topped up by the federal government by another ten percent (for an amount over $15 million). That ten percent would be lost to the city and made up by local residents through taxes. While Vancouver residents now pay $422 per capita each year for police, Surrey residents pay $272, which is already too much.

None of this even yet speaks to the staggeringly large costs associated with the transition from the RCMP to a municipal force, which Safe Surrey and Doug McCallum have promised. Bruce Hayne, former Surrey First member and candidate for mayor with Integrity Surrey in 2018, has estimated the transition cost to be between $80-120 million. That is wasted money that would be better spent on just about any other more needed city service. Even Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill’s lowball figures put the transition costs at outrageous amounts of between $30-50 million.

Behind the Panic: Realities of Crime in Surrey

The much-discussed increase in crime in Surrey that politicians like to point to at every chance is, in fact, a myth. Politicians, media, and the Board of Trade insist that crime in Surrey is spiralling out of control—that is not the reality.

In 2017, Surrey recorded 12 homicides (Vancouver had 19). That number is 20 percent lower than the ten-year average of 15. In 2017, violent crime on the whole was down by 11 percent. Assault generally was down by four percent. There were three homicides in Quarter One (Q1) of 2018. That is down 25 percent from Q1 of 2017. The violent crime numbers are largely unchanged. In 2017 there were 59 shootings in Surrey, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.

The Maclean’s magazine report on “dangerous cities” uses the Statistics Canada Crime Severity Index (CSI), which accounts for both volume and seriousness of crime. In 2017, Surrey did not place in the top 30 most dangerous cities in Canada, ranking at 32nd place. Surrey was well behind North Battleford, Saskatchewan (#1, 353), Red Deer, Alberta (#5, 207), Prince George (#11, 154), Kamloops (#23, 128), and Victoria (#30, 119) to name only some examples. Accounting for only violent crime (leaving out non-violent crimes), Surrey was listed even lower, at 44th place. Rates for homicide in Surrey were about the Canadian average. Rates for sexual assault were well below the Canadian average.

Maclean’s released its 2019 listing of most dangerous places in Canada (based on 2018 numbers) on November 5, the very day that McCallum and Safe Surrey took office. Offering further evidence against the claims of the panic purveyors who call for more policing, Surrey has now fallen to 47th place, behind Belleville, Ontario, Brandon, Manitoba, Truro, Nova Scotia, and Courtenay. Surrey, in fact, showed a substantial drop in the CSI and, against the “crime is growing out of control in Surrey” rhetoric, the city has shown a change of -9.84, among the larger drops in Canada. The Violent Crime Severity Index has Surrey dropping again to 63rd place.  

Youth crime is an ongoing and central narrative of the crime panic in Surrey. This too has been greatly overstated. According to Maclean’s, in 2016 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses were 9.72 per 100,000, well below the Canadian average of 16.74. There were 50 actual incidents. Now, with 37 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses, the Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses rate for Surrey is down to 7.14, again well below the Canadian average.

Conclusion

Fear is being promoted by politicians and businesses for their own ends, out of proportion to the reality of crime in Surrey. People do have reasons to be afraid about aspects of urban life -- alienation, isolation, economic insecurity, political exclusion, etc. But police will not address or resolve the causes of fear or crime and will not stop the social forces that lead to crime as a manifestation.

We need to keep in mind that calls for increased spending on police occur in a climate of austerity, spending cuts to social services, and demands for “belt tightening” for working class residents. If there is no money, or too little money, for schools, community centres, and youth services, then why is there always more funding for cops? Even would-be progressive groups like Proudly Surrey have covetously eyed the city’s surplus—for a new municipal force, for more spending on cops.  

Divesting from police and investing in people will only come about through our collective organizing against expanding police power. We can’t rely on the state to make it happen; we need to build a grassroots campaign that agitates and mobilizes for the worlds we want. For more information about getting involved in Surrey, see: https://www.instagram.com/againstdisplacement/ and contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Already Over-Policed: Against Policing and Crime Panic Politics in Surrey

Jeff Shantz

Surrey is gripped by a crime panic, one that sees all public debate and discussion framed by calls for more police in the city. This crime panic is produced by and reinforces a fear politics that is promoted by law and order politicians, businesses that want public space to serve primarily business interests and, of course, by police themselves (and their promoters) as they seek even more funding and resources.

The recent municipal election in Surrey did nothing to tone down this raging crime panic. In fact the election only served to ratchet up fears as politicians, from mainstream coalitions to would-be progressives, tried to out-do each other in calls for more police, more funding for police, and more extensive policing. The only debate was over whether the city would continue to over-fund an already too pricey RCMP or to waste even more public money on a new municipal force.

The victorious Safe Surrey Coalition and their mayoral retread Doug McCallum have upped the stakes in Surrey by serving notice at their very first council meeting after being sworn in that they will end the RCMP contract (a good thing) and replace the RCMP with a new municipal force (a bad thing).

Over-Policed in Surrey: Layer Upon Layer of Policing

Despite the crime panic driven calls for more and more expansive policing powers in Surrey and the law and order agendas of various political groupings, the fact remains that Surrey is already over-policed. Even more, policing in Surrey is a model of layered and integrated surveillance, regulation, and control. This layered policing (of police forces and functions extending through streets, schools, malls, workplaces, sports) is a Surrey model that police are actively taking to other towns and cities in British Columbia.

In Surrey there are 835 formal RCMP officers. The city spends upwards of 30 percent of its budget on formal police functions to the tune of $151 million. In addition to the formal, full-paid RCMP officers, the RCMP also deploy auxiliary officers and networks of volunteers, including students in co-op work placements and practicum assignments. This is free labor, provided by public universities that should know, and do, better. It frees up regular RCMP officers from things like traffic control to do other “harder” policing tasks like hassling homeless people or scaring youth.

Beyond the RCMP are city bylaw enforcement officers. These are city workers who have targeted homeless people for harassment as on 135A Street, the Strip. They have also targeted poor residents, as in the trailer parks along King George Boulevard, for crime panic staples like alleged drug use or sex work. Bylaw and RCMP actions against poor residents have led to evictions of trailer parks, their closure, and sale. Thus increasing homelessness in Surrey and removing some of the few remaining sources of lower cost housing in the city. This has nothing to do with serving and protecting (except perhaps for gentrifying developers) and actually decreases public safety for people who have now lost their homes.

In addition to these city paid examples are the business funded police. These include so-called street ambassadors, paid by and serving Business Improvement Associations/Areas (BIAs) and private security for businesses. Despite having no jurisdiction or authority they often target visibly poor people on the streets for harassment and intimidation, forcing them to leave areas without cause. The Surrey Board of Trade (SBT) website actually provides information to businesses on how to “move homeless people along” and urges businesses to take aggressive stands against homeless people. The BIAs and the SBT have privileged access to council and public safety meetings.

In addition to the more obvious policing operations there are also the  “community” groups that pose as alternatives to policing but which are actually deeply connected to police. These include the police linked and oriented Yo Bro, Yo Girl, which pose as a community sports and leadership initiative but are geared toward recruitment for forces, and the Surrey Crime Prevention Society. The latter recruits youth to do policing work on the promise of community service and resume building. Crime Prevention Society members openly direct their attention toward low level, relatively harmless, activities, such as small drug use or trade and graffiti. This leads to criminalization of people for minor activities and brings them into the criminal justice system. Now they are “known to police” or face a criminal record for virtually nothing of consequence.

Surrey has worked recently to integrate police even further into social service agencies and activities. The SMART Program (Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table) brings together police and corrections with housing, health care, income assistance, education and other services. It allows the police to track people throughout a range of access to social needs. The SMART Program meets each week. They aim for 24 to 48 hour response to intervene on people in their purview.

We can also mention the integration of policing within our schools. Police liaison officers and so-called “zero tolerance” policies frame youthful activity through a crime panic lens as budding gang behavior, and mobilize stigmatizing control responses. Students are removed from their home schools, dispersed across the district, isolated, and highly surveilled, either by police or school authorities who report to police or by both. These penalized youth may struggle to finish school, take longer to finish, or drop out completely, separated as they are from home, friends, family. But the police will record that at least they did not join a gang—with no evidence that they ever would have anyway. 

Some Costs

Surrey already spends far too much money and resources on police. And this is so even as crime rates are both falling and lower than the promoters of crime panic would have it. The current RCMP detachment has a 2018 budget of $151 million, which is topped up by the federal government by another ten percent (for an amount over $15 million). That ten percent would be lost to the city and made up by local residents through taxes. While Vancouver residents now pay $422 per capita each year for police, Surrey residents pay $272, which is already too much.

None of this even yet speaks to the staggeringly large costs associated with the transition from the RCMP to a municipal force, which Safe Surrey and Doug McCallum have promised. Bruce Hayne, former Surrey First member and candidate for mayor with Integrity Surrey in 2018, has estimated the transition cost to be between $80-120 million. That is wasted money that would be better spent on just about any other more needed city service. Even Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill’s lowball figures put the transition costs at outrageous amounts of between $30-50 million.

Behind the Panic: Realities of Crime in Surrey

The much-discussed increase in crime in Surrey that politicians like to point to at every chance is, in fact, a myth. Politicians, media, and the Board of Trade insist that crime in Surrey is spiralling out of control—that is not the reality.

In 2017, Surrey recorded 12 homicides (Vancouver had 19). That number is 20 percent lower than the ten-year average of 15. In 2017, violent crime on the whole was down by 11 percent. Assault generally was down by four percent. There were three homicides in Quarter One (Q1) of 2018. That is down 25 percent from Q1 of 2017. The violent crime numbers are largely unchanged. In 2017 there were 59 shootings in Surrey, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.

The Maclean’s magazine report on “dangerous cities” uses the Statistics Canada Crime Severity Index (CSI), which accounts for both volume and seriousness of crime. In 2017, Surrey did not place in the top 30 most dangerous cities in Canada, ranking at 32nd place. Surrey was well behind North Battleford, Saskatchewan (#1, 353), Red Deer, Alberta (#5, 207), Prince George (#11, 154), Kamloops (#23, 128), and Victoria (#30, 119) to name only some examples. Accounting for only violent crime (leaving out non-violent crimes), Surrey was listed even lower, at 44th place. Rates for homicide in Surrey were about the Canadian average. Rates for sexual assault were well below the Canadian average.

Maclean’s released its 2019 listing of most dangerous places in Canada (based on 2018 numbers) on November 5, the very day that McCallum and Safe Surrey took office. Offering further evidence against the claims of the panic purveyors who call for more policing, Surrey has now fallen to 47th place, behind Belleville, Ontario, Brandon, Manitoba, Truro, Nova Scotia, and Courtenay. Surrey, in fact, showed a substantial drop in the CSI and, against the “crime is growing out of control in Surrey” rhetoric, the city has shown a change of -9.84, among the larger drops in Canada. The Violent Crime Severity Index has Surrey dropping again to 63rd place.  

Youth crime is an ongoing and central narrative of the crime panic in Surrey. This too has been greatly overstated. According to Maclean’s, in 2016 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses were 9.72 per 100,000, well below the Canadian average of 16.74. There were 50 actual incidents. Now, with 37 Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses, the Youth Criminal Justice Act offenses rate for Surrey is down to 7.14, again well below the Canadian average.

Conclusion

Fear is being promoted by politicians and businesses for their own ends, out of proportion to the reality of crime in Surrey. People do have reasons to be afraid about aspects of urban life -- alienation, isolation, economic insecurity, political exclusion, etc. But police will not address or resolve the causes of fear or crime and will not stop the social forces that lead to crime as a manifestation.

We need to keep in mind that calls for increased spending on police occur in a climate of austerity, spending cuts to social services, and demands for “belt tightening” for working class residents. If there is no money, or too little money, for schools, community centres, and youth services, then why is there always more funding for cops? Even would-be progressive groups like Proudly Surrey have covetously eyed the city’s surplus—for a new municipal force, for more spending on cops.  

Divesting from police and investing in people will only come about through our collective organizing against expanding police power. We can’t rely on the state to make it happen; we need to build a grassroots campaign that agitates and mobilizes for the worlds we want. For more information about getting involved in Surrey, see: https://www.instagram.com/againstdisplacement/ and contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre were remembered at a justice rally held in Surrey on Sunday, November 4.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) at Holland Park, the rally was well attended by South Asian activists who came together to denounce the pogrom aided and abetted by the Indian state following the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.  

The rally was started with a moment of silence for the victims of the recent attack on a Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 Jewish worshippers dead. 

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for justice to the victims’ families and punishments against those involved in the conspiracy. They also agreed that the massacre had set a precedent for violence against other minorities, especially Muslims under the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government. 

Among those who addressed the rally was Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Singh Sarai, who had also raised the issue of the Sikh massacre in the House of Commons. Sarai assured that he and his colleagues will continue to raise their voices for justice to those who suffered.  

Others who spoke at the event included Conservative Party supporter and TV broadcaster Harpreet Singh, New Democratic supporter and human rights lawyer Amandeep Singh and Joseph from Communist Party of Canada (Marxist Leninist). 

Barjinder Singh, who has been instrumental in organizing an  annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984, also spoke on the occasion. The drive has saved 130,000 lives since it began in 1999. 

Muslim activist Sayed Wajahat also spoke in solidarity with the Sikhs who continue to fight for justice.

Prominent poets, Amrit Diwana, Preet Manpreet and Sarabjit Baaz recited poems dedicated to victims of the 1984 violence.

Among those present were Guru Nanak Sikh temple, Surrey President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, anti-racism activist Avtar Singh Dhillon,  and IAPI members Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal and Gurpreet Singh.

 

 

 

 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has honoured a world-renowned Sikh philanthropist who has made headlines for organizing relief camps in various conflict zones—including Syria and at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border—with a Radical Desi medal for standing up for human rights and needy without discrimination.

The medal was presented to him at the Surrey Arts Center following a conference organized by Spark Within Youth (SWY) on Sunday, October 28. Ravi Singh was a keynote speaker at the event.    

He is the founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid, which was created in 1999 to help people in humanitarian crises due to wars and calamities.

He had also refused to accept a nomination for an “Indian of the Year” award from a British Indian group because of the anti-Sikh massacre in November 1984.

Thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed across India following the assassination of then-Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

They were outraged by an Indian army attack on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of Sikhs, in June that year.

The army operation was launched to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled arms inside the place of worship.

The ill-conceived military operation left hundreds of innocent worshippers dead, and many important buildings were destroyed.

This enraged the Sikh community, who believed that the army attack could have been avoided by using other means to deal with the situation.

The November 1984 massacre was organized by the members of the slain leader’s Congress party with the help of police, but subsequent non-Congress governments also failed to punish the guilty, even as Sikhs continued to campaign for justice and closure all over the globe.

None of the senior Congress leaders who were seen instigating the mobs have been convicted.

Singh believes that such action was important as the ugly events of 1984 encouraged an era of impunity, which has led to other minorities in India continuing to face persecution.

Under a right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India, attacks on all minority communities have grown.

Singh and his group have received a harsh backlash on social media from Hindu fanatics for standing up for Rohingya Muslims, who came under attack from Buddhist extremists and the army of Myanmar.

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has launched an online petition asking Canadian Parliament to give Indian author Arundhati Roy Honorary Citizenship.

A Booker Prize winner and an author of international fame, Roy is known for her strong stand on human rights, social equality and democracy.

Based in India, Roy has been facing death threats and intimidation for questioning the power and standing up for the underdog. She has been consistently raising her voice through writings and public lectures for religious minorities and oppressed communities at personal risk. Not only has she tirelessly tried to raise awareness on these issues through her essays and storytelling, she has time and again showed up at the grassroots level movements against displacement and state repression of poor and tribal peoples.    

She has a big following not only in India, but all over the world. She visited Vancouver at least twice, once during Indian Summer Festival and once to promote her latest novel Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

IAPI was established in 2017 by members of the Indian Diaspora in BC in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and social justice activists under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government in New Delhi.

IAPI believes that Roy deserves such an honour, which has earlier been given to several well-respected individuals, such as Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai for standing up for human rights. Early in October, Aung San Suu Kyi was stripped of Honorary Citizenship under international and domestic pressure for her silence over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.    

Surrey Centre Member Parliament Randeep Singh Sarai has sponsored the petition numbered E-1896 which can be found on the Canadian House of Commons website by going on the link petitions.ourcommons.ca

If the petition succeeds, Roy will be the first person of Indian origin to be given Honorary Canadian Citizenship in recognition of her work on human rights in the world’s so called largest democracy.

Gurpreet Singh

The Nobel Peace Prize committee should immediately intervene and strip a children’s rights activist of the prize given to him in 2014.

Kailash Satyarthi not only attended the annual event of Hindu supremacist group Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) at its headquarters in Nagpur, India, but went to the extent of praising the organization. He even suggested that the RSS branches all over India could serve as a “firewall” to protect children, particularly girls.  

The RSS, of which the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part, aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. The organization was banned in the past following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a world renowned leader of the passive resistance movement in 1948. Gandhi was opposed to the religious partition of India in 1947 and was targeted for standing up against violence against Muslims by the Hindu fanatics. His assassin Nathuram Godse previously belonged to the RSS.

The RSS is also known for its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian stance. Its cadre have been involved in violence, not only during partition but also in post independent India.

Ironically, Satyarthi is a known Gandhian, and was given the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work to save children from exploitation. In complete contradiction to what Satyarthi claims to stand for, the RSS through its drills poisons young minds and has reportedly transported tribal girls to far away schools in order to Hinduise them, on the pattern of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 

That Satyarthi spoke as a Chief Guest at the RSS event has shocked many, including myself. Being a publisher of Radical Desi magazine, I had put him on the cover of its November, 2014 edition, which was dedicated to 30 years of the anti-Sikh massacre. Satyarthi had saved many Sikhs during the violence that followed the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards on October 31, 1984. The mobs, instigated by activists of the slain leader’s Congress party, lynched innocent Sikhs with police connivance. However, the mainstream overlooked this important aspect of Satyarthi’s story, and Radical Desibelieved that it was necessary to amplify it, so that people should know that many Hindus also tried to save the Sikhs from bloodshed. Some activist friends had expressed their outrage over this decision, citing that Satyarthi is a corporate media creation, but I tried to defend myself, saying that the choice was made only because the Radical Desi edition was dedicated to the anti-Sikh pogrom, and by putting Satyarthi on cover, we were only trying to showcase an act of humanity and compassion in the time of crisis.

Today, when I look back I feel ashamed and let down by Satyarthi, who has failed to stand up against the forces of bigotry. He may have done a great job by saving the lives of Sikhs in 1984, but Muslim and Christian lives are also important. For the record, RSS considers Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold, something strongly resisted by the Sikh activists, who maintain that RSS has an agenda to assimilate them. That the BJP-RSS supporters were also complicit in anti-Sikh massacres has been well documented.  

If Satyarthi has any shame, he must apologize for attending an event organized by those who are bent upon destroying humanity and  the  secular fabric of India. In the meantime, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee must take away the prize given to someone who has tried to give legitimacy to a group whose founders saw men like Hitler and Mussolini as their role models and supported the holocaust.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

The United Nations needs to do to Indian Prime Minister what Canada did to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Narendra Modi was given a Champions of the Earth Award last Wednesday in Delhi by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, a day after Canada stripped Suu Kyi of her Honorary Citizenship.

Suu Kyi is the Myanmar leader accused of remaining indifferent to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of military officials and Buddhist extremists. The Canadian Senate unanimously passed a motion to revoke her Honorary Citizenship, given in recognition of her long struggle against dictatorship.

While human rights advocacy groups rejoiced at this victory in Canada, the United Nations chose to honour someone whose track record on both human rights and environment is problematic.

Modi is the leader of a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, which is determined to turn the world’s so-called largest secular democracy into a Hindu theocracy. Ever since his party came to power with a brute majority in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have grown. In fact, Modi, who was formerly the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is often held responsible for the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002 in that state. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered across the state by his party men following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. That incident, which left more than 50 dead, was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by Modi. He was never convicted for the bloodshed, though survivors of the violence and human rights activists believe that he was complicit in the crime.

To be fair, Modi was given the Champions of the Earth award by the UN for taking some initiatives to deal with climate change, such as elimination of the use of plastic bags and promoting solar technology. Undoubtedly those steps are important, but his government has been protecting companies that are responsible for causing pollution and targeting environmental activists and land defenders.

Global Witness report noted that being an environmental activist is as dangerous as it is important, including in India, where the situation has reportedly turned as bad as in Colombia and Congo. The report revealed that 16 activists and members of indigenous communities were killed in 2016 alone. 

Much like in Canada, indigenous groups in India continue to fight for their right to land and against extraction industries that are trying to evict them in the name of development and progress with the backing of the Indian state.

The recent arrests of political activists and intellectuals who have been raising concerns over the rights of indigenous communities in mineral rich tribal areas of India only show how intolerant the Modi government is towards any voice of dissent, even if it is meant to defend the climate and livelihood of the poor and marginalized. These individuals were not only branded as sympathizers of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal belt, but also accused of being involved in conspiracy to murder Modi, a charge that has been refuted by Maoists. Ironically, the United Nations had also raised the issue of jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was given a life sentence despite being 90 percent disabled below the waist. Like others, he was also dubbed as a Maoist supporter. It is widely believed that Saibaba was framed for standing up for the rights of indigenous communities.

This year, 13 protesters were killed in a police action in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, where they were demonstrating against water and air contamination caused by the Sterlite copper factory, owned by the Vedanta group, which has donated money to the BJP and other big parties. Vedanta is a resource industry which is also in direct conflict with indigenous communities in other parts of India.

For the record, Modi is also a climate change denier. He has been arguing that the Mother Earth has become older and thus has lost its resistance power. That is his explanation of climate change and global warming, which has obviously nothing to do with science. Both Modi and his party continue to confuse people by mixing science with Hindu mythology.  

In the light of these facts, the UN has not only given legitimacy to the political right which is embroiled in fights with environmentalists and human rights activists all over the world, it has also set a bad example by picking someone who could be described as anything but a champion of the earth.

 

 

 

 

Yoga and Ahimsa aren’t the only elements of the world’s so-called largest democracy. It’s time for those enamoured by India’s tolerance and diversity to open their eyes and get familiar with the growing religious bigotry under a right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
 
Illiberal India: Gauri Lankesh and the Age of Unreason by Chidanand Rajghatta can help in understanding this ugly reality. Based on the life and murder of a Kannada journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017, by Hindu extremists, the book is authored by none other than the deceased’s ex-husband.
 
Rajghatta, who himself is a journalist reveals that though the couple had divorced they remained good friends. So much so, his current wife Mary Breeding and their children also adored her. That Mary chose to write an obituary for Gauri that is included in the postscript of the book shows how open and generous she was.

It was this liberalism both in her personal and journalistic life that led to her assassination.
 
Gauri was the Editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike that gave voice to the minorities and the oppressed communities. She remained a vocal critic of the Hindu Right that has gained currency ever since the BJP came to power in India with a brute majority in 2014. The attacks on Muslims and other minority communities by those who wish to turn India into Hindu theocracy have intensified.
 
Gauri who was also an activist was agitated by the rapid growth of Hindu fanaticism in her home state of Karnataka that has always been known for its pluralism. She was influenced by her late father who was a progressive journalist and writer and denounced superstition and sectarianism. Though she had begun her journalistic career in the mainstream English press, she gave it up to join her father’s publication Lankesh Patrike that mastered in Kannada journalism. Only after she fell apart with her brother for ideological reasons, she started a publication under her name. 

Gauri who had no inclination towards religion and had scientific temperament ensured that no rituals were observed at the funeral of her father.
 
She was a defender of the Indian constitution that is based on the principles of secularism and democracy and guarantees religious freedom. She remained a staunch opponent of the caste system that stratifies Indian society and supports untouchability and therefore openly challenged Hindu orthodoxy for practising it. Though she was equally critical of the opposition Congress party for pandering religious groups and fanaticism of every shade, she had come under constant attack from the supporters of BJP and Hindu right-wing groups during the months preceding her death. Some active on social media had rejoiced her murder. 

In private gatherings too, nothing stopped her from challenging those, including family friends who blinded by majoritarianism said nasty things about Muslims or the depressed classes. Rajghatta mentions how she once recommended him to hire a single mother as domestic help and take care of her daughters. 

The author offers so many details that a reader can take away not only the memories of Gauri as a hero of the underdog but a deeper understanding of how India is heading to become a monolithic and closed society. 
 
The book isn’t just the story of Gauri, it rather situates her story in the broader context of the current situation of India where freethinkers and rationalists are being targeted for questioning the power and challenging the myths with impunity.

 

The Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) released its policy document at an event organized in memory of Comrade Darshan Singh Canadian at North Delta George Mackie Library on Sunday, September 30.

Canadian was a towering communist leader of Punjab who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists on September 25, 1986. 

At an event organized in commemoration of his 32nd death anniversary, the members of IAPI, which was established in July, 2017 in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and rationalists under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, released their policy document that explains what the group stands for.

The document was formally released by the IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, Organizing Secretary Rakesh Kumar, Treasurer Navtej Johal, Spokesman Gurpreet Singh and other IAPI members Sandeep Samalsar and Sarabjit Singh Baaz.  

Gurpreet Singh explained that since Canada has witnessed the devastating impact of residential schools that were opened to Christianise indigenous peoples by the state and the church, it is necessary for Indians based in Canada to raise their voices against any kind of theocracy and attempts to turn India into a Hindu state.

Navtej Johal linked the ongoing violence against rationalists in India by Hindu extremists with the murders of communists like Canadian by Sikh separatists during the 1980s. He pointed out that September also marks the martyrdom anniversary of rationalist scholar Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered by Hindu fanatics last year, and called upon all secularists to join hands and fight back against communalism.

People’s Voice Editor Kimball Cariou gave a keynote speech on Canadian and explained how his legacy of secularism remains relevant in the light of growing bigotry all over the world. He also spoke about his contribution to the labour movement and international solidarity. He was later honoured with a medal by Parshotam Dosanjh.

Others who spoke on the occasion included Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh. She reminded the gathering that Canadian had fought for the right to vote during his decade long stay in Canada from 1937-1947. She mentioned that fight for electoral reforms still continues and urged the gathering to vote in support of upcoming referendum on proportional representation.

Amrit Diwana recited a poem dedicated to Gauri Lankesh, while Sarabjit Singh Baaz recited a poem dedicated to Paash, a revolutionary communist poet who was also murdered by Sikh extremists. Minaxi Sidhu sang a revolutionary song dedicated to all the communist revolutionaries. 

Those present in the gathering included Canadian’s daughter Amardeep Kaur and the son of the late Indian Marxist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Paramjit Basi. In the meantime, IAPI also condemned the recent attack on Punjabi poet Surjit Gag by Sikh fundamentalists, who accused him of hurting their religious sentiments in one of his poems. Gag has been receiving threats from both Hindu and Sikh extremists for his poems that are critical of religious orthodoxy and intolerance. 

 

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