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Gurpreet Singh
 

On August 15, the Indian consulates all across the globe will celebrate the 74th anniversary of liberation from the British occupation.  

On this occasion, the Indian establishment will be expecting the Indian Diaspora, as well as elected officials of Indian origin in places like Canada, to join the ceremonies.  

India gained its official independence after years of struggle by the freedom fighters on August 15, 1947. Already, the Indian state has started creating hype for next year's 75th anniversary of the transfer of power.    

But what is there to celebrate really? India going to the dogs?  

The attacks on religious minorities have grown under the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, which is determined to alter the constitution that guarantees religious freedom and equality.

Thanks to the pro-corporate agenda of the government, socio-economic disparities have also increased between the super rich and the poor and marginalized.  

Anyone questioning that faces charges of sedition, and can be treated as a potential terrorist. Chances are that they might get arrested and thrown into jail.  

This has happened to a number of scholars. Former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions after being arrested on trumped up charges, for merely raising his voice for the oppressed communities.  

Free speech is being trampled with impunity in the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

If this is not enough, more than 500 farmers have lost their lives during the ongoing agitation.  

The Indian farmers have been camping outside New Delhi since last November, asking for the repeal of controversial agricultural laws that threaten their livelihood, passed to favour corporates seeking control over the farming industry. The laws were adopted without transparency and debate.  

People familiar with India’s independence struggle know that the farmers had to fight for their rights under British rule as well. What’s the point of independence, if people still have to fight for similar reasons under a government of their own?  

Notably, the founding fathers of the BJP remained indifferent to the freedom movement, and kept their distance from those who fought against the British and envisioned a secular India.  

It has become necessary for Indo-Canadians to stand up against such barbaric rule and boycott the Independence Day celebrations. Especially in the light of recent developments in Canada, they owe a moral responsibility to shun the celebrations.  

This year, most Canada Day celebrations were cancelled, following the discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the former residential school sites. Thousands of Indigenous kids died because of disease, malnutrition and abuse at these schools, which were opened by the colonists and the churches to annihilate their cultural identity.  

Many Indo-Canadians avoided this year’s Canada Day celebrations to show their solidarity with the First Nations. Not to be left behind, elected officials from the community also expressed their sorrow and outrage over these discoveries.

However, a majority of the Indo-Canadian MPs and MLAs remain silent about what the minorities in India are facing under a Hindu nationalist regime. This is either because of their loyalties to the government back home, or fear of being denied visa by the Indian officials.  

This is despite the fact that the RSS, a Hindu supremacist group of which the BJP is a political wing, is repeating the history of residential schools. In seminaries run by them, indigenous or adivasi girls are sent to be indoctrinated into an extreme right wing ideology.  

It’s now a challenge before Indo-Canadians to boycott the Independence Day celebrations, to show support to the farmers and all those who have suffered under the BJP.

If we can skip this year’s Canada Day celebrations, what’s stopping us from refusing to be a part of the celebrations of Indian nationalism? Enough of hypocrisy and double speak. It’s time to act. Say no to patriotism, and observe August 15 as a black day.   

***

 

Gurpreet Singh  

 

July 5, 2021 will go down as another black day in the history of the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

It was then that an 84-year-old Roman Catholic priest, Stan Swamy, died in the custody of the Indian state while waiting for his bail. He was moved to a hospital after contracting COVID 19 and died of cardiac arrest.  

Swamy had worked among the tribals in Jharkhand, and was vocal against the repression of Adivasis, the indigenous peoples, facing eviction from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the government.  

He was arrested on trumped up charges after being accused of terrorism for merely standing up for the marginalised. His health had deteriorated in jail during the pandemic, and yet the authorities remained adamant not to release him on humanitarian grounds. He was one of those scholars who were arrested on malicious charges to suppress any voice of dissent at the behest of the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

Swamy’s demise coincides with the 51st anniversary of the extra-judicial killing of an 82-year-old former Indian freedom fighter, Bujha Singh, who died in police custody on July 28, 1970.  

Singh, who had participated in the struggle to rid India of British occupation, was murdered by the police for his association with the revolutionary communist movement sparked by an uprising of landless tillers who have been fighting against the rich and the elites since the 1960s. 

Following an uprising in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal by poor farmers, who claimed a right to the land, there was a campaign of police repression. People like Singh joined the radical movement. All reports indicate that he died in a staged shootout by Punjab police under a different regime.  

Half century later, the history of Singh was repeated in the form of what many have called an “institutional murder” of Swamy. It is pertinent to mention here that an 81-year-old Telugu poet and political activist, Varavara Rao, continues to be incarcerated under brutal conditions even though he recently tested positive for COVID 19.  

Like Swamy and Singh, Rao had also dared to question the power and stand up for the Underdog.  

All this reflects poorly on India’s democracy and flies in the face of Modi, who had called for fighting Corona with Karuna (compassion). His government remained indifferent to a petition seeking unconditional release of political prisoners due to the spread of the pandemic in Indian jails.  

Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem of social unrest caused by systemic injustice and inequality, the state is going after veterans such as Singh, Swamy or Rao, to instil fear in the minds of political dissidents. To achieve that end, Indian officials can go to any length. 

It’s a shame that Indian society claims to be respectful of its seniors, but remains insensitive to these horrific stories. The tales of these two men shows that the Indian system’s brutal side remains unchanged, even as the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown over the past 50 years. There is no respite for the most underprivileged and underserved, despite tall claims of development and progress. 

 

Gurpreet Singh 

When I first visited Germany back in 2018, I expected to be greeted by memorials of Adolf Hitler. 

Call it my ignorance or stupidity, I didn’t see even one, leave aside the question of stumbling upon his grave.  

That’s what I learnt from the country that was once ruled by Nazis and had witnessed the Jewish holocaust. The mainstream has erased the memory of those who committed genocide and rightfully so.  

However, here in Canada, in spite of tall claims of diversity and tolerance we continue to celebrate the bigots who were responsible for the killings of Indigenous peoples of this land. That is one reason why so many indigenous activists have taken it upon themselves to spray paint or topple their busts.  

In retaliation, a Totem pole was burnt on Vancouver Island.  

Had Canada learnt from Germany and understood the anger which these political figures bring to the hearts of the First Nations, the issue could have been settled much earlier.  

The tears and apologies for the historical wrongs was never enough. The concrete action that was needed remained missing.  

Rare politicians, such as New Westminster City Councillor Chuck Puchmayar, did make a beginning by getting the statue of controversial judge Justice Mathew Begbie removed in 2019. Begbie was responsible for the wrongful execution of five Indigenous Chiefs in 1864.  

This should have forced the Canadian authorities to do some reflection and remove the statues of other problematic icons. But apparently, they continued to wait until the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of indigenous children who were killed by the racist residential school system.  

To add insult to injury, Pope Francis has refused to make an apology for the injustices committed by residential schools that were run by the Catholic church.  

No charges have been laid for the burning down and vandalism of churches in several provinces. But these acts are widely believed to be related to the pent-up anger in the indigenous communities. Both the Canadian establishment and the Churches need to take responsibility for the situation.  

That said, the attacks on churches cannot be justified. These are going to give legitimacy to anti-Christian violence in countries where Christians are in minority and being persecuted with impunity. India, where the right-wing Hindu nationalists are in power, is one example. They have already been accusing Christian missionaries of converting Hindus, and have been involved in violence against them. In 1999, they burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons.  

It is not surprising to see a section of Indian media owing allegiance to the Hindu Right having fun about what has happened in BC during the past several days. It has become important to measure our words before we try to defend the burning down of churches. Trying to speak for the First Nations might have consequences. When the residential school survivors themselves denounce such actions, why should anyone try to rationalize them? This will ignite more trouble for Christians in a place like India, where the Hindu supremacists are pressing for draconian anti-conversion laws.  

This is not to suggest that Germany is perfect, or that fixing the historical wrongs alone is the solution. Of course, these steps matter, but we need to go beyond and examine if we are giving respect to First Nations. The ongoing systemic racism against them needs to be challenged and stopped. Above all, the leadership of the Indigenous peoples, which was stripped through the doctrine of discovery and papal bulls, and then by the residential school system, needs to be restored. Under the current circumstances, when we are dealing with the climate emergency, we need to listen to the Indigenous peoples who are closely connected with nature and the earth, and have the key to fix the problem.

 

Even though the year end is still far off, the Vancouver-based online magazine has already picked its Person of the Year 2021 to show support to the ongoing farmers’ struggle.  

Jazzy B is a Canadian Punjabi rapper who stood up for the Indian farmers who have been agitating since November, 2020 against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.  

The farmers camping in the national capital believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood. In addition, they think they have been adopted without transparency and consultation, only to benefit big corporates seeking to increase their control over the agro-industry. 

Jazzy B, being a Sikh and from a farming family, was among those deeply disturbed by these events. He not only showed his solidarity through tweets, he also visited the agitating farmers and spent several days with them. 

Because the Indian government blocked his Twitter account, his followers in India weren’t able to see his tweets. 

Apart from that, Jazzy B probably made the Indian government upset by commemorating the anniversary of the infamous June 1984 military invasion on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. The ill-conceived army operation aimed to deal with a handful of militants, but left scores of innocent pilgrims dead and historical buildings inside heavily damaged, which outraged Sikhs across the globe. 

The operation was done to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. The BJP, which was in the opposition back then, celebrated the bloody event. 

 

For years without a break, the Burnaby-based IT Productions has celebrated Canada Day with the rest of Canadians.  

This year however, due to the pall of gloom that has descended over Indigenous communities following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves on the sites of residential schools, the CEO of the company has decided to abandon its annual ritual of making greetings.  

Shushma Datt, who is an award-winning seasoned broadcaster, in a brief message that goes on air July 1 says, “On this Canada Day, the staff and the management of IT Productions, IT Media Broadcasting, Spice Radio and Radio Rim Jhim (all part of the same group) stand in solidarity with the indigenous peoples.” 

Although the audio message that runs in English, Hindi and Punjabi ends with customary Happy Canada Day greetings, it is in line with the growing demands for cancelling Canada Day events across the country.  

Close to 1,000 graves of Indigenous children have been found recently, sparking the campaign.  Already, the City of Victoria and a few other municipalities have cancelled online July 1 events to show their respect to the First Nations. 

The residential schools were established to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into the European and Christian ways to build a nation state on their stolen lands.  

Datt, who had started the Hands Against Racism campaign in January, 2015 from her radio stations, has been vocal against systemic racism being faced by Aboriginal peoples and other visible minority groups in Canada. That campaign, coinciding with Holi, an Indian festival of colours, encourages participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on white sheet alongside a message against bigotry, and has been recognized both by the federal and the provincial governments.  As part of that commitment, the other on air hosts of IT Productions will also be sharing their messages of support to the Indigenous peoples on July 1 and 2.

  

 

 

The provincial government has honoured an anti-racist activist and scholar, who exposed the conspiracy to relocate Indian immigrants to British Honduras.  

A proclamation has been signed to declare July 1, 2021 as “Sant Teja Singh Day” by the Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing and the Lieutenant Governor.  

Sant Teja Singh was a towering spiritual leader of the Sikh community who fought for the equal rights to the immigrants, especially those who began coming to BC from India during the end of the nineteenth century. This was the time when India was under British occupation, and most immigrants started arriving to this part of the world as British subjects in hopes of a better livelihood. However, they had to endure blatant racism, not allowed to bring in their families, or the right to vote. The authorities who wanted to keep Canada as a “white man’s land” adopted several policies that were aimed at discouraging permanent settlement of Indian immigrants in BC.  

As part of these measures, a conspiracy was hatched to relocate Indian immigrants to Honduras.  

Sant Teja Singh came to know about such plans. He alerted his community and helped in mobilizing people against it.  

The community’s resistance forced the government to abandon the idea.   

Every year, the Sikhs commemorate Sant Teja Singh Day on July 1. Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib, Khalsa Diwan Society in New Westminster has been in the forefront of this tradition.  

Recognizing these efforts of the community, the BC government has officially proclaimed July 1 as Sant Teja Singh Day.  

Significantly, the proclamation describes Singh as “a humanitarian, scholar and tireless advocate for Sikhs in Canada who dedicated his life to challenging inequality, fighting for a just society and serving without discrimination in accordance with the tenets of Sikhism”.  

The development comes when the BC government is already on the way to bring anti-racism legislation in the light of growing bigotry and hate.  

 

 

Close to the birthday of George Orwell and the 46th anniversary of Emergency in the world’s so called largest democracy, activists came together in Surrey on Sunday, June 27, to raise their voices against the incarceration of thinkers by the Indian authorities.

Organized by Radical Desi publications, the rally was held right outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center. The participants carried placards with pictures of jailed scholars who are being detained under trumped up charges for merely questioning the power and standing up for the poor and marginalized. Among them are former Delhi University Prof. G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist; towering columnist and author Anand Teltumbde, who is the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, an architect of the Indian constitution; elderly revolutionary poet Varavara Rao; and renowned human rights lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj. The health of Saibaba, who is suffering with multiple ailments, continues to deteriorate. 

Attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime. This is despite the fact that the present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had disguised himself as a Sikh to go into hiding during the emergency and press censorship imposed by the then Congress government on June 25, 1975. Modi is accused of repeating the history through an undeclared emergency and throwing his critics in jail. 

Incidentally, June 25 is also the birthday of George Orwell, who was born in British India. Orwell made a prophecy about a totalitarian regime in his famous novel 1984. The actions of successive governments in New Delhi have proved his imagination right. 

A moment of silence was observed at the beginning of the rally in memory of two journalists, Jarnail Singh and Raj Kumar Keswani, who died last month due to COVID 19 complications. While Singh kept fighting to make the Indian government accountable for the Sikh Genocide, Keswani has been trying to expose Indian officials for shielding those involved in the gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal. Both the tragedies rocked India in 1984, leaving thousands of people dead . Those complicit at the highest level of the government remain unpunished for all these years. 

The speakers unanimously demanded the scrapping of draconian laws under which the journalists and scholars are being targeted, and sought the unconditional release of political prisoners. They also condemned the growing foreign interference from Indian diplomats in Canada, and attempts to silence activists and media outlets daring to challenge the policies of the government in New Delhi. Those who spoke on the occasion included Telugu Church leader John Yajala, prominent Sikh activist Dupinder Kaur Saran, anti-racism and social justice educator Susan Ruzic, and cofounder of Radical Desi Gurpreet Singh. Ruzic was presented at the event with a Radical Desi medal of courage for standing up for Saibaba and all scholars at risk in India and elsewheret. Saran presented her the medal on behalf of Radical Desi. 

Those in attendance also raised slogans against black laws and in support of the freedom of Saibaba and others.  

*** 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

June 24 marks the birth anniversary of a revolutionary poet and saint whose rebellious rhymes will always remain relevant. 

Kabir was born to a Muslim family of weavers in Varanasi, India in 1398.  

He denounced orthodoxy of both Islam and Hinduism, and was highly critical of blind faith and the brutal caste system within Hindu society.  

He grew up as a poet, whose body of work inspired Sikh gurus who included his verses in their holy scriptures of Guru Granth Sahib.  

Some of his poems were no less than a war cry that inspired many radicals to take up arms to fight against injustice and repression. 

He mainly stood for the poor and marginalized, which incited the Hindu and Muslim clergy to team up against him, and provoked the then-Delhi emperor Sikandar Lodi to punish him. However, Kabir survived several attempts by Lodi to get him executed. This was primarily because he had a huge following even among those who worked for the king.  

Ironically, his birthplace is now the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose actions are the mirror image of Lodi. 

Not only have attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents grown under his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government, the Hindu orthodoxy that Kabir challenged has captured the centre stage of Indian politics.  

Yet Modi has been trying to appropriate Kabir. On Thursday, while paying tribute to the saint on his birth anniversary, Modi said that the path shown by Kabir will continue to inspire generations to move ahead with brotherhood and goodwill.  

What could be more contradictory than someone like Modi saying this, when his government has locked up scholars who stand up for the underdog, following in the footsteps of Kabir. The list is long, but just a few instances are enough to suggest that he has no moral right to even talk about Kabir.  

Anand Teltumbde, the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a towering social justice activist and the architect of the Indian constitution, whose family is believed to have been influenced by Kabir, has been incarcerated for the past one year on trumped up charges for merely questioning the power. Teltumbde is a renowned writer and columnist who exactly practiced what Kabir had preached.    

Likewise, Prof. G.N. Saibaba, a former Delhi University who is disabled below the waist, continues to be jailed under inhuman conditions for raising his voice against repression of minorities and the poor. 

Elderly revolutionary poet Vara Vara Rao is also detained, to silence any voice of reason and dissent. 

Maybe, we need to remind Modi, that it was Kabir who said; “The brave is the one who fights for the oppressed.” By persecuting Teltumbde, Saibaba, Rao and many more like them, Modi is simply repeating what Lodi did centuries ago.  

 

 

Deepak Sharma has been found guilty by the North Vancouver provincial court.  The former President of the Abbotsford Hindu temple was charged for sexual assault of a woman in his cab in January, 2019.

Following a trial, Judge Patricia Bond delivered her verdict on Friday. The date for sentencing is yet to be set.

Sharma had been driving for North Shore Taxi when the incident happened. The episode was partly captured by the cab’s onboard security cameras.

Sharma has been close to the Indian consulate in Vancouver and has been hosting public events to celebrate Indian nationalism, inviting Indian officials, including former Counsel Generals of India, Ashok Das and Abhilasha Joshi, besides former acting counsel general Amarjit Singh.

He had established a group called India Canada Association, that took into its embrace pro-India moderate Sikhs. One of its posters carried the pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Kumar Kovind.

His pictures from the programs designed to promote India-Canada friendship are available on social media. In one of these pictures, he can also be seen in the company of a visiting minister of the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, Prakash Javadekar.

It is interesting that the Indian consulate often accuses anyone raising questions against the government of the day for its repressive policies of being anti-India, whereas individuals like Sharma have always been in their good books.

The situation has turned from bad to worse under an intolerant regime led by the BJP, where anyone from a minority community can conveniently be labeled as a traitor for trying to hold the government accountable. Not only can such a person be denied visa, in all likelihood their social media accounts will come under scrutiny. If that is what nationalism means, then it is better to be called antinational instead of being blue eyed boys of Hindu nationalist rulers.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

While most Bollywood stars have been busy defending the Indian government which faces international criticism for mistreating agitating farmers, a famous Punjabi actress has stood up for the underdog.

Undeterred by threats, sexism or fear of losing her film career, Sonia Mann has been helping the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since last November in protest against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.

The critics believe that these laws, which have been adopted without due consultations, will hurt the livelihood of farmers and increase the corporate control over the agro-based economy. Scores of farmers have laid down their lives during the struggle as they face police brutality.

Sonia, who comes from a family involved in farming, has been acting in both Bollywood and Punjabi film industry.

Not only has she been giving monetary support to the female protestors at the camp site of the ongoing agitation, she has been sitting with them to raise her voice against repression. This has led to a backlash from supporters of the ruling BJP, while also being warned that she might lose some film offers.

This is in sharp contrast to what many Bollywood stars did when the BJP government came under global condemnation for ignoring and humiliating the farmers. They rather sided with the government and described the international criticism as propaganda.

For doing so, Sonia had to also endure sexism from both the right wing trolls, and a section of the agitating farmers, who are mostly aligned with reactionary elements and agent provocateurs.

Notably, her father, the late Baldev Singh Mann, was a revolutionary communist, who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists in 1986.

Sonia was merely 16 days old when he was murdered. Since she was away with her mother, her father had written her a highly emotional letter which became an important document of literature. 

The father had warned his daughter against patriarchy within Indian society. He honestly acknowledged that some within the family were also unhappy at her birth, and prepared her to face many barriers for being a girl in a male-dominated world. 

He advised his daughter to grow up as a good human being, rather than with any religious identity. Although born in the Sikh faith, he wasn’t a die-hard religious person, and being a communist strictly practiced pluralism in his real life. He was killed for challenging the ideology of the Sikh militants who were fighting for a separate homeland and targeting their political critics, as well as Hindus in Punjab. This was despite the fact that he had also denounced state violence against Sikhs in the name of war on terror and the Hindu Right. He was also in the forefront of farmers’ agitations of his times. 

Years later, Sonia is facing similar challenges. Having been raised single-handed by her mother, who often took her to political and cultural events, she preferred to choose film line. The farmers’ agitation has given her an opportunity to carry forward the mission of her father. She has confessed on several occasions that the letter from her father became a guiding light for her life, and today she feels great by standing up for his values, such as social justice and secularism.

 

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