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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. 

 

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.

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