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A Vancouver-based online magazine has started another campaign for the jailed Indian scholar.

Radical Desi had previously initiated a petition for the release of Prof. G.N. Saibaba, who is being incarcerated under brutal conditions in spite of being disabled below the waist. Now it has begun an online petition asking for the Nobel prize in recognition of his advocacy for the poor and marginalized.(https://www.change.org/p/nobel-prize-for-gn-saibaba)      

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is suffering with multiple ailments, was first arrested in May 2014 and thrown into the jail after being slapped with trumped up charges for defending the rights of the Adivasis - the indigenous peoples of India who are being evicted from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state. In 2017, he was convicted for life by the courts after being labelled as a Maoist sympathizer.

Since then Saibaba has been repeatedly denied bail or parole on medical and compassionate grounds, even as his health continued to worsen during the pandemic. He was not even allowed to see his mother on her death bed or attend her funeral. The Indian government remains adamant, even after thousands of people in Canada signed a petition seeking his release. The matter has also been raised in the United Nations.

His situation is no different than the late Nelson Mandela, a towering leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, who was also denied an opportunity to attend the funerals of his mother and a son during his long detention. Mandela received the Nobel Prize in 1993, after his release, for standing up for the underdog. Following in Mandela's footsteps by constantly raising his voice against repression and injustice in the world’s so called largest democracy, Saibaba deserves similar honour by the international community.

South Asians came together to pay tributes to those who laid down their lives during a peaceful protest against the British occupation of India in 1919, at the annual commemorative event held in Surrey on Wednesday, April 13.  

Organized by Mehak Punjab Di TV in partnership with Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternative politics, the vigil is aimed at educating people about the massacre of supporters of the passive resistance movement against colonialism. Close to 1,000 people died when British troops opened fire on the demonstrators, who had gathered to oppose repressive laws at the Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar 103 years ago.  

The ugly episode was recognized on its centenary by the BC government in 2019, following a sustained campaign by the organizers of the vigil. While the vigil has been attended in the past by the current Chief Minister of Punjab Bhagwant Mann, the participants nevertheless condemned Mann and other Indian politicians for not only failing to protect human rights of the people in post-British India, but also denounced those indulging in blatant abuse of civil rights. They raised slogans against growing state violence and draconian laws under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime in New Delhi, and demanded the release of political prisoners and withdrawal of barbaric Acts being used to suppress the right to dissent. 

The event started with a moment of silence in memory of Ajit Singh Bains, a retired judge-turned human rights defender who passed away early this year, leaving behind a rich legacy of struggle for social justice. Bains was in the forefront of the fight for the rights of Sikh political prisoners in Punjab and was vocal against misuse of police power.  

The fliers drafted by a Gandhian activist, Vipin Kumar Tripathi, who is a strong advocate for secularism and diversity, were also distributed on the occasion. Tripathi has been raising his voice against growing attacks on religious minorities in India and had prepared a special message to promote harmony during Ramadan and Navratri; the two auspicious occasions for Muslims and Hindus.  

Those who spoke on the occasion included prominent Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, elderly Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi, well known broadcaster Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, anti-racism educators and activists Imtiaz Popat and Annie Ohana, besides retired trade unionist Larry Johnston. Kamaljit Singh Thind and Gurpreet Singh from Mehak Punjab Di TV and Radical Desi respectively also addressed the gathering.

 

In a historic move, the NDP government in Victoria has recognized April as Dalit History Month.  

Responding to an application moved by Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternative politics, the provincial Attorney General and the Lt. Governor signed the proclamation declaring April 2022 as “Dalit History Month”.   

Dalits, the oppressed community of India, are often treated as “untouchables” by the so-called upper castes of Indian society according to the brutal caste system practiced by orthodox Hindus.   

Since April is the birthday month of a towering Dalit leader and world renowned scholar, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, it has a special significance for Dalits across the globe.  

Also, the month of April is important because of the birthdays and death anniversaries of other Dalit icons, such Jyotirao Phule, Mangu Ram Mugowalia and Sant Ram Udasi.  

Both Ambedkar and Phule were born in Maharashtra. 

Ambedkar was the architect of the Indian constitution, and fought the caste-based discrimination against his community. Born in Maharashtra on April 14, 1891, he also stood up for the rights of women, and challenged Hindu supremacy.  

Phule, a well-respected social reformer who denounced untouchability, was born on April 11, 1827. He was known as an educator, who believed in scientific thinking and women empowerment.   

Mugowalia and Udasi, on the other hand, hailed from Punjab.  Mugowalia, who had participated in an armed resistance against the British occupation of India, was instrumental behind the Dalit emancipation movement in Punjab. He died on April 22, 1980.  

Udasi was a revolutionary poet, born on April 20, 1939. He was influenced by communist revolution and later became an inspiration for the poor working class and those resisting repression.  

The BC proclamation not only recognizes these individuals, but also acknowledges “the strength and resiliency of the Dalit community in overcoming hardships and advocating for social justice and equality for all”.   

Spice Radio’s initiative got a major boost from none other than the Former Green Party Leader on Tuesday, March 8.  

Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May described Hands Against Racism as “inspiring” in her tweet.  

May, who has previously served as the Leader of Green Party of Canada, has been vocal on environmental racism and climate justice. She was a dedicated activist before jumping into politics and has 326.6 K followers on Twitter.   

Started by Burnaby-based radio station on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015, the anti-racism campaign continues to grow as it enters its eighth year. The annual event coincides with Holi, an Indian festival of colours. Participants are encouraged to dip their hands in wet colours and leave their palm prints alongside a message against bigotry on a white sheet of paper.  Due to COVID 19 restrictions, the annual event is being held online since 2020. The campaign runs through January 15 to March 21, the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.     

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan have already endorsed it in the past, and New Democratic federal leader Jagmeet Singh has also participated.   

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

 

Premier John Horgan and opposition leader Kevin Falcon might disagree on number of issues, but the recent developments in faraway Ukraine have brought them on the same page.  

In light of the Russian attack on an Eastern European nation, Falcon asked for banning Russian vodka from BC liquor stores. Horgan did not waste his time and promptly agreed. The two political rivals were then happy to pat themselves on their backs for scoring a point by standing up for the rights of Ukrainians.  

Canadian politicians of all stripes are almost unanimous in their criticism of “tyrant” Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Rallies after rallies are being held across Canada in solidarity with the people facing a Russian onslaught on the ground.  

However, such massive outrage remains missing whenever Palestinians come under attack from Israel. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has continued for years, while Canadian politicians have largely looked away. BC politicians are no exception. Even the NDP government, which has many members from labour backgrounds and from trade unions that often preach international solidarity chose to ignore their cause.  

The ongoing demand to ban Israeli wines from BC liquor stores has been conveniently overlooked. In fact, Palestine activist Hanna Kawas, who has been picketing outside liquor stores for years as part of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, was told by someone in the government that it was a question of “free choice”. Wow. That unwritten rule appears to have been thrown out of window in support of Ukraine.  For the record, the then BC Liberal government did not ban US liquor back in 2003 when our neighbours next door attacked Iraq. 

In contrast to Ukrainians, who are portrayed as heroes while packing off from Canada and traveling back to defend their homeland, BDS has mostly received hostile press. Palestinians trying to rise up against repression remain potential terrorsists in the eyes of many Canadians, whereas Ukrainians' resistance is being romanticised.  

If this doesn’t display the double-speak, then what does?  

Nevertheless, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Most BC politicians of Indian origin have also remained silent on the repression of the Indian state against the people of Kashmir and other parts of that nation. Attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, have grown under a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi, but neither Horgan nor his Indo-Canadian colleagues have ever dared to stand up against brutes in India, The one exception was during the recently concluded farmers’ agitation, when thousands of farmers protested outside New Delhi against unjust farm laws which were finally revoked after their yearlong struggle in 2021.    

The only argument they offer is that it is a federal matter. Again, if that is the case, why jump the Ukrainian bandwagon when the federal government is already speaking about it? 

Why such selectivity? I have no answer. Is it racism as Ukrainians are Europeans, while Palestinians and India minorities are not? Or is it because Israel and India have well-oiled propaganda machines with tentacles spread in Canada? Only Horgan or Falcon can tell.  

 

 

Jennifer Sherif is among the two recipients of the annual Hands Against Racism campaign awards.   

Started by Burnaby-based Spice Radio, on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015, the anti-racism initiative has entered its eighth year.    

As part of this campaign, the radio station honours individuals who have done anti-racism work, at the annual event which is often organized close to Holi, an Indian festival of colours that binds together people of different ethnic backgrounds.     

This year, Sherif is being given an award for making special pins in memory of the victims of Indian Residential Schools (IRS). With the recent findings of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the former sites of IRS, the issue has come into the limelight internationally.  

Sherif’s pins represent the orange shirt taken away from Phyllis Webstad, an indigenous child who went to the IRS. Following the discoveries of unmarked graves, people in Canada began sporting orange shirts to show their solidarity with the First Nations.    

An indigenous educator, Sherif was also instrumental behind an online petition asking for a statutory holiday on the National Aboriginal Day.  It has received more than 36,000 signatures.  

In a virtual event to be held at 12 pm on Saturday, March 19, a day after Holi, Sherif will receive the award by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt.   (Those who want to watch the entire program can go to the radio station’s Facebook page.)   

Datt separately wore the pin and thanked Sherif’s community of Tsalagi Nation on social media.  

Sherry Duggal, a prominent performing artist, will read a poem dedicated to the children of IRS on the occasion.  

The second recipient is Annie Ohana, a renowned anti-racism educator and social justice activist.  

Ohana has been a part of many grassroots level movements and is a strong defender of human rights. She has been a tireless ally of indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, and other marginalised groups.  

Datt’s interviews with the two recipients will be major highlights of the annual event, which will be joined by several other distinguished personalities, such as BC Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives Rachna Singh, climate justice activist Donna Clark, Hijab-wearing Muslim feminist Dr. Nazia Niazi, and students associated with Ohana’s Mustang Justice movement. 

This year’s campaign went global, as well known participants from faraway places like England and India sent in pictures with their hands up in the air. Among them were Ravi Singh, the CEO of Khalsa Aid, an international humanitarian organization, award winning Punjabi author Balbir Madhopuri, filmmaker Rajeev Kumar, and much acclaimed differently-abled youth role model and champions in various fields Yashveer Goyal.  

 

India-based social justice activist Ranjit Kaur has lent her support to the anti-racism initiative started by Spice Radio.  

Launched in 2015 on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. by a Burnaby-based radio station, Hands Against Racism has entered its eighth year.   

The campaign went global when Kaur stepped forward to post her picture on social media, with a hand up in the air, holding a “Stop Racism” sign in the other.   

Kaur had lost her father in a racist attack on the Guru Nanak Singh Gurdwara in Surrey in January, 1998.  

Nirmal Singh Gill was a caretaker, who died in the line of duty when white supremacists invaded the temple.  

Kaur was in India when the incident happened and has been living there since.  

She is socially active in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Punjab and has been vocal against injustice and repression of women and marginalized people.  

On the birth anniversary of King Jr. on Saturday, she took to social media to show support to Hands Against Racism, which has been widely endorsed in Canada by people including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan, besides many prominent anti-racist activists.  

 

 

On the night of Sunday, January 16, members of the Indian Diaspora came together to denounce draconian laws of the world’s so-called largest democracy.   

To mark the 93rd birth anniversary of the towering US civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., they burnt copies of the contentious Indian laws, such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) right outside the Indian visa and passport office in Surrey. These laws give police and security forces sweeping powers to suppress any voice of dissent.  

Since King had advocated for defying unjust laws while fighting against racial segregation, Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternate politics, gave a call to the public to come and burn copies of the UAPA and AFSPA that are widely being used to silence political opponents and torment religious minorities under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime.  

The participants raised slogans against the Indian government and asked for the release of political prisoners and rolling back of the repressive acts.   

They also held out signs bearing the pictures of prominent scholars being incarcerated in the Indian jails.  

Those in attendance were Radical Desi director Gurpret Singh, a renowned Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, and independent social justice activist Tejinder Sharma.  

 

Close to the 24th anniversary of the murder of a temple keeper who died in the line of duty while defending the place of worship, his portrait was installed during a brief ceremony held on Saturday, January 8.

Nirmal Singh Gill was killed in a violent attack by white supremacists on January 4, 1998 at the Surrey-Delta Gurdwara.

On Saturday, anti racist activists came together for the unveiling of his picture right inside the senior centre located in the temple premises.

Among those present were former Neo Nazi and anti-hate educator Tony McAleer, and the first turbaned Sikh RCMP officer Baltej Singh Dhillon. Dhillon not only endured racism both within and outside the force, but had also investigated Gill’s murder.

Imtiaz Popat, the cofounder of Coalition Against Bigotry, who has made a documentary on Gill, was also in attendance. All three individuals paid tributes to Gill and emphasized that it was important to keep his story alive to fight back against racism that refuses to die. They also urged the senior centre to be renamed after Gill, who laid down his life while resisting a racist attack on the temple.

The Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who did the unveiling amidst Sikh religious slogans of victory, also spoke on the occasion. The ceremony took place on the sidelines of celebrations of the birth anniversary of the tenth master of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh, who had denounced bigotry and called for the entire humankind to be treated as one race. The picture was sent from Toronto by Gill’s grandson, Paramjit Singh Sandhu, who couldn’t make it to the event due to a death in his family.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

As soon as the news came of an Indian model bagging the Miss Universe title, many of my media colleagues and Facebook friends of Indian origin began congratulating her.  

Being born in India and deeply attached to that country, I too would have been happy for 21-year-old Harnaaz Sandhu who won the title on December 13, but preferred to remain indifferent.  

Though I have nothing against her, as she must be a deserving candidate, the very fact that she was crowned at a beauty pageant in Israel was too difficult to ignore.  

The event was held in a country known for occupying Palestine and committing grave atrocities against the original inhabitants of the land. Even so, the calls for a boycott against the pageant for this reason were completely overlooked. This was in sharp contrast to the recent decision of a few nations, such as Canada, to have a "diplomatic boycott" of the upcoming Olympics in China for its "dismal human rights record". What can be more illustrating to see the selectivity and double standards of the big powers when it comes to social justice? While China continues to be portrayed as a villain, the crimes of Israel were conveniently pushed under the rug.  

So much so, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under whose watch the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have spiked, congratulated Sandhu. Notably, the repression of non-Hindus under his right wing Hindu nationalist government rarely raises red flags in the western democracies who are obsessed with China.  

It’s a pity that India, which remained under British occupation for years until 1947 and traditionally supported Palestine in its liberation movement, is now celebrating its growing cozy relations with Israel. Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017. Ironically, he belongs to the ultra Hindu supremacist group RSS, whose founders glorified Hitler and justified the Jewish holocaust, and yet the state of Israel was happy to take him into its embrace.  

Welcome to the new world order, where human rights have taken a back seat. Sorry Harnaaz Sandhu, I cannot be happy for your achievement in these circumstances. Maybe another time. 

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