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An anti-racism campaigner and trailblazer in the South Asian media industry has now taken the lead to encourage her listeners to shop local, for boosting the provincial economy that is struggling to recover from the pandemic.  

Wearing a Buy BC apron in her video message to the public, Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt has urged them to avoid cross-border shopping during the holiday season, and rather buy goods and services locally to help Canadian business.  

Ravi Kahlon, the minister for jobs and economic recovery, applauded Datt on social media, calling her a “champion” for Buy BC, which is the provincial government initiative.  

In the video posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Datt can be seen laying out juices and dairy products and a bag of fruits grown in BC to make the point.  

“I was thinking we live in this country, work here and we spend all our money outside of Canada. Why do we do that and how does it affect us? If we shop locally, we would support the local businesses. If we shopped outside of Canada, we would be hurting our economy,” she can be heard saying in the footage.   

Datt also emphasised that it was important to save jobs that are going to be lost.  

Datt had previously launched a Hands Against Racism campaign in 2015 that continues to grow. She has also received a provincial award for that initiative. In order to the encourage local economy, she is currently offering special advertisement packages for small businesses that are fighting to recover from the financial crisis caused by COVID 19. 

 

In spite of rain and cold weather, South Asian activists gathered outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey on Friday, December 10 to raise their voices for political prisoners being incarcerated by the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

Organized by Radical Desi, the rally started with a moment of silence for 14 civilians killed by the Indian army in Nagaland on December 4, and renowned journalist Vinod Dua, who passed away recently.  

Dua was a known critic of the current right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi under which attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown sharply.   

The demonstrators held out signs asking for the release of jailed journalists and scholars, including former Delhi University Lecturer Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist, as well as prominent columnists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde. All these people were held under trumped up charges for standing up against repression and state violence.  

Teltumbde’s brother Milind, who was a Maoist insurgent, recently died in an alleged faked encounter with the police. He was not even allowed to visit his grief stricken mother on bereavement leave.  

Those in attendance raised slogans against draconian laws, and asked for the repeal of repressive acts that are being used to muzzle the voices of resistance.  

The speakers at the rally included prominent Punjabi writer Amrit Diwana, who recited a poem dedicated to Milind Teltumbde. Others who addressed the gathering were Sikh activists Kesar Singh Baghi and Kulwinder Singh, leftist activist Tejinder Sharma and cofounder of Radical Desi Gurpreet Singh.  

Among the politicians who came out to show their support were BC Liberal Party leadership candidate Ellis Ross, Liberal MLA John Rustad, and anti-racism campaigner and city councillor from Mission, Ken Herar.  

 

An event for the launch of “From Nazneen to Naina”, based on the work of the Bollywood diva, held in Surrey on Sunday, November 28 was an eye opener for many who are unaware of the spill over effect of right wing politics of New Delhi on the Indian cinema.  

Authored by Canada-based author Gurpreet Singh, the book tries to situate the story of Indian actress Kareena Kapoor Khan in the broader context of growing attacks on minorities, especially Muslims, in the world’s so called largest democracy since 2014, when the Hindu Right government under controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a brute majority.  

Khan has faced a constant backlash for marrying a Muslim man, adopting Khan as her last name, and naming her two sons Taimur and Jeh. These actions are being interpreted as an assault on the Hindu faith by the religious chauvinists, who have become emboldened under Modi.  

Most speakers at the Sunday event, who have already read the book, agreed that it helps in comprehending the current political environment in India and its effect on Bollywood. They were unanimous in their views that the Indian cinema, a cultural space that was once respected for its secularism, has become vitiated because of the trickledown effect of the policies and ideology of the present government.   

At least two prominent scholars, Puran Singh Gill and Raghbir Singh Sirjana, emphasized that the Punjabi Hindu family Kareena was born into has strong secular and progressive values, which have come under attack from the supporters of Modi, and that being a woman she remains highly vulnerable.  

Others who spoke on the occasion included the publisher Satish Gulati and Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh. The latter is the wife of the author. Gulati revealed that another publisher had refused to publish the book because of political references, which explains the atmosphere of fear in India; Singh acknowledged that the author has tried to highlight the ugly reality of Indian politics under Modi. Incidentally, her maternal grandfather, Tera Singh Chann, and the great grandfather of Kareena, Prithviraj Kapoor, were cofounders of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, which was established in British occupied India to educate working people of their rights.  

Renowned story writer Harpreet Sekha said that it takes some courage to write about such issues especially under a fascist regime.  

The editor of the book, Kimball Cariou, who is also associated with the Communist movement, said that it was an important read to understand the real challenges before the flag bearers of pluralism  in today’s India.  

Two other prominent speakers included progressive Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, and actress and poet Sherry Duggal. Diwana expressed his apprehensions over growing violence against minorities in India, while Duggal extended her solidarity with the author. 

Earlier, the book was unveiled by famous radio star Gaurav Shah, who has been following the Indian cinema very closely. He admitted that the book is written from a very different angle, and is not about movie gossip, and should be read by everyone.  

Well known media personality Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, who was the Master of Ceremonies, called the book a political statement that can’t be ignored in these challenging times.  

Later, Gurpreet Singh said that he wanted to draw the attention of the world to the problems faced by minorities and celebrities like Kareena, who try to stand up for them against majoritarian extremists in India. He added that his book is a small attempt to enlighten people in the diaspora about that.   

Held at the Punjabi book exhibition being run by Gulati at # 111-8312, 128 Surrey, BC (open from 10 am to 7 pm seven days a week until January 2022), the event started with a moment of silence for more than 700 famers who laid down their lives during a year-long agitation in India since November 26, 2020.  

A Canada-based online magazine that covers alternate politics unveiled its annual calendar in Surrey on Saturday, November 27.   

Dedicated to the year-long farmers’ protest in India, the 2022 calendar bears important dates related to the struggle that eventually forced the right wing government in New Delhi to roll back controversial farm laws that prompted the agitation.  

The event began with a moment of silence for more than 700 farmers who laid down their lives during the movement, besides dozens of workers who died in a recent coal mine disaster in Russia.  

Coinciding with the one year anniversary of the ongoing protest, the unveiling ceremony was held at Shahi Catering Restaurant, whose owner Kulwinder Singh has been openly supporting the farmers’ agitation. He was among those who released the calendar on the occasion. Others to join him were Sahib Singh Thind, Dupinder Kaur Saran, Imtiaz Popat, Tejinder Sharma, Harpreet Sekha and Parshotam Dosanjh. All these individuals are well known community activists who have been raising their voices for Indian farmers for the past year. Sekha is a story writer. The calendar has been designed by Vipin Kapoor, who had printed and distributed free car stickers for rallies that were held across BC in support of Indian farmers. 

Among the elected officials who spoke on the occasion were Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal and Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, besides former Burnaby School Trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang. Prominent Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana recited a poem dedicated to the famers before the speakers were invited on the dais.  Renowned media personality Noni Kaur also sung a song as a tribute to the protest. At least two scholars, Harsharan Singh Punia and Dr. Raghbir Singh Sirjana, shed light on the background of the farmers' agitation. Those present included prominent painter Jarnail Singh and movie actor B.K.S. Rakhra. 

Apart from Radical Desi, the representatives of other media partners including Spice Radio, People’s Voice, Mehak Punjab Di TV and Channel Punjabi were also present.  Among them were Kamaljit Singh Thind, Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal and Gurpreet Singh.  

 

Gurpreet Singh                  

 

It was Sunday, November 13 in 2016.  

We had gathered at Holland Park in Surrey to protest against the growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents in India under the current right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.  

The keynote speaker at the event held by Radical Desi was the visiting scholar from India, Anand Teltumbde.  

The occasion was the eve of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Nanak had preached his followers to stand up against state repression. As Master of Ceremonies, I opened the event, quoting from his verses that say how the rulers have become barbaric and at whose command their soldiers go after people and shake them out of their slumber. 

I wanted to emphasise that today’s rulers have become more tyrannical, as they kill people at will and put them behind bars under draconian laws.  

Five years later, close to this year’s birth anniversary of Nanak, Teltumbde is incarcerated in an Indian jail, while his brother has been killed by the Indian police under mysterious circumstances.  

Teltumbde happens to be the grand-son-in-law of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and an undisputed icon of Dalits or the so called untouchables.  

He is a published author, and has been writing columns on social justice for the past many years. His critical writings had bothered those in power. He was arrested last year under trumped up charges along with other scholars and activists. Ironically, he was taken in custody on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, whom the Indian Prime Minister reveres publicly. 

Even as the campaign for his release continues, his brother Milind, who was a Maoist insurgent, was killed in an alleged exchange of fire with the police on November 14. He was among 26 killed in the incident, with no police deaths, raising suspicions of this being a staged shoot out. The members of civil society are asking for an independent judicial enquiry. However, it is not surprising to see the police killing political activists belonging to the minority groups or the Maoist movement in fake encounters, or locking them up under black laws, while looking away when it comes to dealing with Hindu extremists. Notably, Modi brought Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a controversial female ascetic involved in the bombing of a Muslim community, into politics in 2019. She now sits in the parliament.  

Putting one brother in jail and killing the other reflects very poorly on the world's so-called largest democracy. It only shows that the Indian state, especially under Modi, not only remains intolerant to armed uprisings, which in most cases are the outcome of uneven growth and development, and oppression - but also to any peaceful dissent. His national security adviser, Ajit Doval, has recently declared war with civil society. Make no mistake. This isn’t the India of Gandhi anymore, when the state itself shamelessly indulges in cover up and violence to suppress opposition, against his principles of Truth and Peace.  

This year’s birth anniversary of Guru Nanak reminds us all of our obligation to raise our voices against such brutality. Let’s make our politicians, including Modi, accountable for paying lip service to Nanak. We honestly must not let such brutes even utter the name of Nanak, who dared to challenge the power without fear.     

 

Thanks to a Vancouver-based body of literary awards, the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature, Balbir Madhopuri’s Mitti Bol Peye has received this year’s award in the "novel" category.   

Based on the Dalit resistance movement in Punjab, the novel is a powerful commentary on the oppression of the so-called untouchables in a caste-based Indian society. The story of Gora, a Dalit youth, gives voice to the underdog in one of the most progressive societies, where discrimination is deeply entrenched in spite of the fact that such brutality was rejected by the Sikh Gurus.   

The novel revolves around Gora’s relationship with his grandfather Sangti, who is a part of the Aadi Dharam movement that was started to encourage Dalit assertion for equality and to resist oppression in British India.  

Sangti is closely associated with the towering leader of the movement, Manguram Muggowal, who was earlier involved with the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian revolutionaries in North America, who wanted to free India through an armed uprising. Muggowal later left the Ghadar Party, which taught him to stand up for social equality, to dedicate his life for the emancipation of his Dalit community from the clutches of the barbaric caste-system practiced by the Hindus.  

Muggowal, like other members of the Ghadar Party, immigrated to the U.S. for economic reasons and became involved in the freedom struggle following a realization of racism and discrimination in the foreign land.  

People like him endured double discrimination, for being a person of colour and a Dalit. Born in a so-called low caste “untouchable” family, he began facing caste-based discrimination during childhood. He witnessed segregation at school and suffered physical abuse for defying caste laws. Thankfully, the Ghadar Party believed in secularism and kept religion and politics apart, yet he faced such prejudice even in the U.S.

Muggowal not only worked for the Ghadar newsletter, but also went to Java to help in collecting and sending arms to India. He narrowly escaped a death sentence at the hands of the British allies.  

On coming back to India, he was disillusioned by the continued oppression of the Dalits, who were considered untouchables by the orthodox Hindus and Sikhs. He was partly upset with the popular leaders of the freedom struggle who failed to address the issue of casteism. He resigned from the Ghadar Party in order to mobilize Dalits against systemic caste-based discrimination, and eventually launched the Aadi Dharam movement in Punjab. He believed that without bringing social revolution first it was impossible to bring real freedom in India.

But since his movement was in conflict with the interest of the freedom struggle, his cause was not dear to the popular leadership of India. Rather, Muggowal was branded as a tool of the British Empire that was playing a divide and rule game to prolong its rule. Incidentally, Muggowal’s descendants live in Greater Vancouver. 

The novel can be described as a historical document that helps in understanding not only the inconvenient past of the caste system, but also the Dalit resistance movement and its relevance even today.    

Notably, Dalits continue to suffer caste-based discrimination in India in spite of tall claims of progress. Untouchability is still practised in many parts of India in accordance with orthodox principles of Hinduism despite India being a secular country. The problem has only aggravated under the current-right wing Hindu nationalist government. Besides, thousands of Dalits are forced to indulge in manual scavenging for livelihood.  

Madhopuri’s novel makes all that visible.  

It is pertinent to mention that Madhopuri has previously published an authentic biography of Muggowal, and a powerful novel on caste-based discrimination, “Changeya Rukh”. He received the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature through a virtual event on Saturday, November 13.    

The other two recipients of this year’s awards were Nain Sukh from Lahore, Pakistan and Sarghi from Amritsar, India.

 

Gurpreet Singh  

The Wednesday, November 3 proclamation made by the provincial government in Victoria to acknowledge the annual blood drive launched by the Sikh Nation has missed a point. 

While it has been widely welcomed by the Sikh community, the ruling NDP and those behind the drive will be at pains to explain what prevented them from recognizing the cause that prompted the drive, which has saved more than 160,000 lives since 1999. 

According to the proclamation, the BC government has declared November as “Sikh Nation Blood Donation Month.” 

However, the proclamation is completely silent about the history of the drive that was started in commemoration of the Sikh Genocide.  

In the first week of November, 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered all across India by state sponsored mobs. 

The massacre was engineered by leaders of the ruling Congress party, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Years have passed, but Sikhs continue to wait for justice and closure. One senior Congress leader, Sajjan Kumar, was convicted and given a life sentence 34 years later, but senior politicians and officials who were complicit in the crime remain unpunished. 

Sikh Nation began its annual “Campaign Against Genocide” blood drive in 1999, to raise awareness about the carnage. The signs displayed by the group annually around this time of the year clearly mention that. Since then, Sikhs come out in large numbers to donate blood in the month of November, both in BC and other parts of North America. 

During the massacre, the political goons chanted the infamous slogan of “We will avenge blood with blood” to scare Sikhs, but here the Sikhs chose to give blood to save human lives, in an attempt to conquer hatred with love.  

Notably, their efforts have been slammed by the Indian officials several times. It is pertinent to mention that any reference to the 1984 Sikh massacre as Genocide has irked the Indian state. Pro-India lobby groups continue to oppose Sikh Genocide motions being brought in the Canadian parliament and legislative assemblies. 

So much so, the New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh was denied visa by the Indian government for supporting a similar motion in the Ontario legislature.    

It is pertinent to mention that the BC government remained silent about this aspect of the drive even in April last year, while thanking the Sikh Nation for heeding its call for more donations to overcome the shortage of blood during the pandemic.  

It raises too many questions, and the only possible explanation is that the BC government does not want to make powerful people in New Delhi and their agents in Canada unhappy. If the BC NDP government really cares for human rights and social justice, it should stand up against repression anywhere in the world; and if it truly believes that the Sikh community is an important part of our social fabric, it must call a spade a spade and send a strong message to the Indian establishment, rather than getting into such meek balancing acts.  

On the 37th anniversary of the 1984 Sikh Genocide, South Asian activists gathered in Surrey to raise their voices for a jailed Indian scholar, who was behind documenting the tragedy and exposing those involved.   

Gautam Navlakha was arrested on trumped up charges in April 2020, and is currently lodged in jail near Mumbai. His only crime is daring to question the powerful, and always standing up for the minorities and the oppressed.   

In spite of health issues and the danger of the pandemic in prisons, he is not being released on compassionate grounds.   

On the call given by Radical Desi, the activists gathered outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey on Sunday, October 31 to protest against his continued incarceration under brutal conditions. They held out signs reading “Free Gautam Navlakha”, and another one commemorating the Sikh Genocide.  

Among those in attendance were Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi; freelance columnist Kanwal Gill, who has been consistently writing on the Sikh massacre; the cofounder of Coalition Against Bigotry, Imtiaz Popat; Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh and secularist activists Parshotam Dosanjh and Tejinder Sharma.  

Navlakha is associated with People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which published a report on the Sikh Genocide in partnership with People’s Union for Civil Liberties shortly after the pogroms.  

Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India by political goons following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Who are the guilty? was probably the first authenticated field report revealing the complicity of the Indian state in the anti-Sikh violence.  

Navlakha, who is a journalist and author, remained steadfast in his position to name the influential political figures involved, even as others expressed their reservations. He has always maintained that though it was the then-self-proclaimed secular Congress government which was directly responsible for the massacre, members of the currently ruling Hindu nationalist BJP cannot be vindicated either, because of their silence or direct support to the mob violence targeting a particular minority group.  

For years, he has exposed the pattern behind othering minorities in India, and has never failed to remind people through his writings how 1984 had set a precedent. Today, the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under an outright Hindu supremacist government.          

Because Navlakha has been vocal against ongoing repression of Muslims and marginalised communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, he has faced assaults and backlash from the supporters of BJP.  

 

Gurpreet Singh 

As we head into the first week of November, which marks 37 years of the Sikh massacre, a scholar who was behind documenting the tragedy is struggling for his release from an Indian jail.  

Gautam Navlakha was arrested on trumped up charges along with other prominent scholars and social justice activists in April 2020. He is currently lodged in jail near Mumbai. His only crime is daring to question the power and always standing up for the minorities and the oppressed.   

In spite of health issues and the danger of the pandemic in prisons, he is not being released on compassionate grounds. He hasn’t got any respite from the courts either.  

Navlakha is associated with People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), which published a report on the Sikh Genocide in partnership with People’s Union for Civil Liberties shortly after the pogroms.  

Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India by political goons following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Who are the guilty? was probably the first authentic field report revealing the complicity of the Indian state in the anti-Sikh violence.  

Navlakha, a journalist and author, remained steadfast in his position to name the influential political figures involved, even as others expressed their reservations. He has always maintained that while the then-self proclaimed secular Congress government was directly responsible for the massacre, members of the currently ruling Hindu nationalist BJP cannot be vindicated, either because of their silence or direct support to the mob violence targeting a particular minority group.  Notably, the Congress won the general election following the massacre with a brute majority by polarizing Hindu majority and riding on anti-Sikh wave. The BJP was routed in that election, as its vote share shifted to the Congress with Sikh blood on its hands. Thus, an era of impunity for mass murderers had begun. 

The story did not end there. For years, Navlakha has exposed the pattern behind othering minorities in India, and has never failed to remind people through his writings how 1984 had set a precedent. In 2002, the state of Gujarat witnessed similar violence against Muslims under the watch of then-BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whose rise to power as Prime Minister in 2014 can only be understood through an analysis of the Sikh massacre. Navlakha is a published author and has been writing hard hitting columns for Newsclick and Economic and Political Weekly. Today, the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under an outright Hindu supremacist government.         

Since Navlakha has been vocal against ongoing repression of Muslims and marginalised communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, he has been facing assaults and backlash from the supporters of BJP.  

Hopefully, Canadian politicians, especially those of Sikh heritage who do not fail to remember 1984, will pay attention and raise their voices for the release of Navlakha and other jailed scholars who have been thrown behind bars by the world’s so called largest democracy.   

 

 

South Asians came together in British Columbia on Friday, October 8, to protest against the recent brutal deaths of four peasants who were run over by vehicles belonging to the convoy of an Indian Union minister, Ajay Mishra.  

Organized by Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternate politics, the rally was held right outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey.  

The participants demanded justice for the victims’ families, the arrests of those involved, and the suspension of Mishra.  

The Indian farmers have been holding peaceful protests against unjust farm laws that were passed by the right wing BJP government without much consultation and debate. They strongly believe that these laws threaten their livelihood, and have been camping outside New Delhi since November 2020.    

On October 3, the farmers had gathered to protest against Mishra, who was visiting Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Video footage reveals that the vehicles in his convoy mowed down the farmers, killing four of them and leaving several others injured.  

Following this episode, another farmer in Punjab committed suicide, leaving behind a note saying that he was disturbed by the events of Lakhimpur Kheri.  

Eyewitnesses claim that Mishra’s son Ashish was in one of the vehicles involved.  

The ruling BJP in UP is trying to shield the accused, while Mishra continues to perform his duties as a minister in the central government.  

The participants at the Surrey rally demanded immediate action against the father and son and the repeal of the farm laws. They also asked for the two men to be charged for terrorism.  

A moment of silence was held at the start of the rally for the four farmers who died in Lakhimpur Kheri and the one who committed suicide in Punjab. Their names were read out on the occasion. Raman Kashyap, a freelance journalist who died during the violence that followed the killings of the four farmers, was also remembered. A thorough enquiry was demanded into the circumstances leading to his mysterious death. 

Those in attendance held out signs asking for justice to the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri and raised slogans against the BJP government.  

Among the speakers were renowned community activists, Rakesh Kumar, Imtiaz Popat, Kulwinder Singh, Kesar Singh Baghi, and media personalities Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, Navjot Dhillon and Radical Desi director Gurpreet Singh. A prominent story writer, Harpreet Sekha, was also present.  

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