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Gurpreet Singh 

It was January 2010. I was visiting Calcutta for the first time. It’s a big Indian city located in the West Bengal state of India. I always wanted to see Comrade Jyoti Basu, the former Chief Minister of the state, who was at the time of my visit battling for life at a hospital. 

96-year-old Basu was the towering leader of India’s Communist Party (Marxist), and had led West Bengal state for many years before he retired. Though he was disliked by the Indian bourgeois for his land reforms,  he was equally disliked by the revolutionary communists who parted ways with him to launch an armed resistance that came to be known as Naxalite movement. The Naxals often accused Basu of not doing enough for the poor and marginalized and rather suppressing the rebels and voices of dissent. 

But there is one aspect of Basu that makes him a real hero for the minority Sikh community in that region. In fact, during my visit to Calcutta I stayed with Sohan Singh Aitiana, a Sikh political activist associated with Basu’s party. He has been a staunch supporter of Basu like many other Sikhs in Calcutta.

Basu had played a significant role during November 1984, when the country witnessed anti-Sikh massacres engineered by the Indian state following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in New Delhi. 

Gandhi was murdered in retaliation for the military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June that year. The army invasion was ordered by Gandhi to flush out religious extremists led by a fiery Sikh preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had fortified the place of worship. Bhindranwale was accused of running death squads from inside the temple. His supporters were behind many political murders, including that of Communists who were opposed to religious fanaticism. 

The army operation had left many innocent pilgrims dead and several important buildings inside the complex heavily destroyed. Bhindranwale also died fighting against the army during the attack. This had enraged the Sikh community, and under those circumstances Gandhi was murdered inside her official residence. The slain leader’s Congress party, which  claims to be secular, organized mass violence against innocent Sikhs all over India.

Sensing danger in West Bengal, Basu displayed an exceptional leadership in his territory. He ordered the deployment of the army and asked his party volunteers to come out in the open and protect the Sikh community. While  the entire country burnt leaving thousands of Sikhs dead, West Bengal remained largely peaceful with very few deaths. Since then the Sikhs in West Bengal always saw Basu as their saviour.

From Aitiana I learnt how the Sikh community of his generation felt indebted to Basu, who ensured that the Sikhs remained safe in his jurisdiction, whereas the community was hounded aggressively in Congress-ruled states where the police either sided with the mobs or looked the other way. Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded her as the next Prime Minister, drew maximum mileage from the bloodshed, using the slogan of National Unity to win the next election with a brute majority. Riding on the anti-Sikh wave, famous Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan also got elected as a Congress MP. Bachchan was close to the Gandhi family, and had remained with Rajiv Gandhi throughout the funeral of his mother.

While in Calcutta, I kept trying to meet Basu at the hospital with the help of Aitiana but never succeeded. Nobody was allowed inside the Intensive Care Unit, except close family members. The local Sikh community also kept visiting the hospital and prayed for the speedy recovery of their beloved leader. Then one evening when we stopped by at the hospital, we saw a heavy deployment of police and a huge crowd outside the building. We were told that Bachchan was visiting the ailing leader. After some time when Bachchan appeared, to a big cheer from the crowd, which I realized had gathered not for Basu, but to have a glimpse of Bachchan. Many were eager to take his picture on their mobile phones. That was the first time I saw Bachchan in person as he walked past. 

There was a time when I too was a big fan of Big B, a term frequently used for Bachchan by media commentators. As a teenager I never missed a chance to watch his latest films. Supremo, a comic series based on him, was my favourite. I kept checking the bookstalls every month to get the newest edition of Supremo. I had sent a letter to Bachchan asking for his autograph on the mailing address I found either in Supremo or elsewhere. After some time when I got a postcard picture of him addressed to me with his autograph in the mail, I felt on top of the world. I loved to mimic his dialogues and sing his songs for my classmates and family. Collecting his posters also became my hobby. In 1982, when he got injured doing a stunt during shooting of the film Coolie, I too prayed for his long life. When he finally recovered I also thanked the almighty. I remember that when Coolie was released, Bachchan's fans rushed to theatres to watch the particular scene that led to his injury. I still remember watching the caption appearing on the screen during that scene, announcing it was here that Bachchan got injured.  

All this however changed in 1984 after the massacre of Sikhs. Though I became an atheist as I grew older, being born in a Sikh family, I was carried away by the repression of my community at the age of 14. I was religious at that time and could not bear the loss of my compatriots. Although my family did not suffer during anti-Sikh violence as we lived in Punjab, we were very shaken by what happened to the people of our community in other states. I somehow started getting disinterested in Bollywood because of the growing sense of alienation within the Sikh community. When I learnt from someone that Bachchan was among those Congress supporters who had incited the mobs, I couldn’t believe my ears. However, I do remember seeing him standing next to the body of Indira Gandhi lying in state on TV. During this time I remember having heard myself people chanting slogans, “Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (we will avenge blood with blood)” on TV, but not sure if Bachchan was present at that particular moment or if he also joined the chorus. There are some who claim that he did raise the slogan. US-based Sikhs For Justice had tried to get him summoned for inciting the anti-Sikh massacre. So much so, Bachchan had clarified to the Sikh clergy that he wasn’t involved in the violence. He continues to insist that he is proud of his partial Sikh heritage as his mother was a Sikh.

However, that does not help. Bachchan never uttered a word against the massacre and those who organized it.  He rather was privileged to get elected as a Congress MP. There is no doubt that the entire Congress machinery was involved in the massacre, and for that reason Bachchan will always be seen as a complicit in the crime by the history. By remaining silent to the massacre of the Sikhs he did a great disservice to humanity. His image as “an angry young man” who could fight single handed with goons on the silver screen gradually began receding in my memory. His actions on screen rather than his acting skills had influenced me at an impressionable age.  Even as I kept watching some of his films during later years mainly due to peer pressure, I was left with no particular liking for him. The memories of 1984 kept coming back in waves whenever I saw his image. I once thought of mailing back his autographed picture that I cherished so much, along with a protest letter. Nevertheless, I never bothered about it and if I vaguely remember I threw it away in the garbage. A few months ago, I tried to confront him on Facebook when he was doing live posting, but he never answered my questions and kept responding to the greetings of those who joined.  

The year 2002 became another watershed year for me. The state of Gujarat under Chief Minister Narendra Modi witnessed a well organized massacre of Muslims. Those involved were supporters of the Hindu nationalist Bharitya Janata Party (BJP). The violence followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Over 50 passengers had died in the incident that was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by the Modi government. The BJP supporters used similar techniques to target Muslims that were applied against Sikhs by the Congress in 1984. Following in the footsteps of Rajiv Gandhi, Modi too emerged victorious in the assembly election held after the violence.

Notably, Bachchan had acted in Dev, a powerful film based on the Gujarat massacre. He played a police officer who is determined to punish the guilty involved in the killings of Muslims. Yet, he chose to ignore all this in real life when he agreed to become a brand ambassador for Gujarat state at the request of Modi. So much so, he tried to project Modi in a positive light before 2014, when Modi became the Prime Minister of India with a brute majority in the national election held that year. Much like his deafening silence over the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, his quietness over the Gujarat massacre was very disheartening. This is despite the fact that he frequently tries to make statements on social issues. How can he therefore be so indifferent to such violent crimes against minorities in India?

His track record leaves little doubt that he isn’t the real hero we should be looking at with some hope. For one, being an elected politician in the past, he cannot claim to be politically naïve or neutral to distance himself from such episodes. Also, being a character of films like Dev, he cannot plead ignorance over such inconvenient truths.    

If I have to choose between Bachchan and Basu, I would pick the later as real hero. It was Basu who walked against the current by taking a strong position against violence against a minority community, while Bachchan was a beneficiary. He  lacked courage to stand up against majoritarianism, both in relation to the violence in 1984 and 2002. I don’t even recall if he ever took any position against similar violent incidents that happened in between 1984-2002 or later. When many actors and cultural activists have come out against recent attacks on minorities under Modi government, Bachchan has remained mum. On the contrary, Basu took great political risk for Sikhs who merely form two percent of the Indian population. He also acknowledged in his memoir that his party suffered heavy losses in the general election that followed the 1984 carnage, whereas the Congress gained by polarizing Hindu majority against the Sikhs by using Gandhi’s murder as a political weapon to get sympathy votes. He also pointed out that BJP supporters too had participated in the anti-Sikh violence. This isn’t surprising as the Congress supporters too had participated in the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat as foot soldiers. Both parties have indulged in majoritarianism. The difference lies only in the brands. The BJP is an outright sectarian party that wants to transform India into a Hindu state, the Congress on the other hand tries to please the Hindu majority under the garb of secularism. As against Basu, Bachchan failed to challenge both parties. 

Basu was not a perfect politician, and he may have many limitations, but when he passed away on January 17 after I left without seeing him even once, he left behind a legacy of real secularism. This is the reason why the Sikhs in particular and minorities in general will always remember him as a statesman who continued to denounce religious intolerance. One striking thing I noticed during my trip to Calcutta was that a Sikh man who drove me around had a big sticker of Bhindranwale on the rear window of his car. In spite of his liking for Bhindranwale, whose followers continue to hate communists for being agnostic, this man said that he has always voted for Basu and his party and will continue to do so. I felt pity for those ordinary people who had gathered to see Bachchan at the hospital where Basu was admitted, without realising that the actual hero was the one fighting for life inside, and not the one they see in action on celluloid. Today when the minorities feel insecure under Modi government and the opposition lacks a strong leadership, Basu is even more relevant to get India out of the turmoil. 

Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. 

The recent decision of numerous North American gurdwaras (Sikh temples) to ban Indian government officials from speaking has not only angered the Indian establishment, but also its local apologists.

As many as 96 gurdwaras in the U.S. and 16 in Canada have prohibited Indian officials from addressing their congregations.

The decision follows growing harassment of Sikh activists in Punjab at the hands of the police and constant attacks on religious minorities in India under a right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Officials of these gurdwaras have clearly announced that anyone can come to the temple as a devotee. But Indian officials, both diplomats and elected politicians, won’t be given special treatment.

Yet right wing and hawkish politicians in India, in addition to a section of the media, are trying to project the announcement as a radical act that, according to them, goes against tenets of Sikh faith, which is open to everyone.

What these commentators have conveniently overlooked is that temple officials have not banned anyone’s entry to the gurdwaras. Their act of resistance is being wrongly portrayed to create a false fear of Sikh separatism in an era of majoritarian politics.

Both the BJP and the so-called secularist opposition Congress party have criticized gurdwara leaders. This is despite the fact that attacks on religious minorities have spiked ever since the BJP came to power in New Delhi in 2014.

So much so that the Congress government in Punjab has failed to contain the threat of Hindu extremists. In order to please the BJP vote bank it is squarely accusing Sikh extremists of creating disturbances in the state.

Recently, Punjab police arrested some Sikh activists, including Jagtar Johal of London, for the murders of right wing political activists in the state.

Johal’s family and his supporters have alleged state use of torture to obtain false confessions from him.

Johal is among those who have been campaigning for justice for actions in 1984,. That's when an anti-Sikh massacre was engineered by the then Congress government in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

He and others like him have also been critical of the BJP’s rhetoric against minorities.  

Since then, there has been an outcry among the South Asian diaspora against the situation in India. There has been a feeling that Indian agents in the U.S. and Canada have also been spying on the political activists.

In order to suppress any voice of dissent, they allegedly blacklist people living abroad and often deny them visas.

Activists are also maligned by Indian politicians as separatists and extremists.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh even went to the extent of tarnishing the image of Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Captain Arminder Singh accused these Canadian political leaders of inciting subversive elements in Punjab. Sajjan’s father was formerly a Sikh activist associated with the World Sikh Organization, while Jagmeet Singh has been raising the issue of anti-Sikh violence in India in 1984.

Under these circumstances, numerous gurdwaras came together to make a statement against the interference of the Indian state in the community's affairs and its high-handedness at the behest of its political masters in India.

First, their decision cannot be simply brushed aside by branding them as separatists. Even if they are, they did the right thing in a democratic sense.

That’s what community elders used to do in the past in Vancouver against the British Empire when India was under occupation. They boycotted the visit of King George V.

Several former Sikh soldiers even burned their medals and certificates inside the gurdwara to sever ties with the Empire after deciding to fight back against colonialism and racism.

A Canadian immigration Inspector, William Hopkinson, was spying on these activists until he was assassinated by Bhai Mewa Singh, one of the cofounders of the oldest gurdwara of Vancouver.

In fact, that gurdwara was built to provide a space for political activism against racism and colonialism. So we do have a history of resistance by gurdwaras.

Even otherwise, the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, denounced state repression by the Mogal Empire.   

Lastly, those critical of the decision of these gurdwaras to deny special treatment to Indian officials are being selective. Last year, when famous Indian journalist Rana Ayyub came to Vancouver, the oldest Sikh religious body run and managed by the pro-India moderate Sikh leaders did not allow her to address the congregation, citing her “controversial background”.

In her best-selling book Gujarat Files: The Anatomy of a Cover Up, Ayyub exposed violence against Muslims by the BJP in the state of Gujarat.

It is the same temple that welcomed Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in 2015 in spite of his controversial past.

Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when the anti-Muslim massacre was orchestrated in that state by the BJP.

Where were these people, who are now telling everyone that denying entry to Indian officials at gurdwaras is against Sikhism?

Was the act of the Vancouver Sikh temple against Ayyub justified?

Wasn’t that decision against the Sikh ethos?

Just because these particular temple officials chose to side with the Indian government, barring Ayuub from speaking became acceptable to all of these self-styled community gatekeepers.

It is pertinent to mention here that one moderate Sikh leader once announced on TV that Vancouver Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops-based mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, who were acquitted in the Air India case in 2005, won’t be welcome to their gurdwara.

The Air India bombings left 331 people dead in 1985. The incident was blamed on Sikh extremists seeking revenge for the events of 1984.

Those who are making a big fuss about the decision of these gurdwaras against the Indian state should look at themselves in the mirror before throwing mud at others.

It is time to raise a voice against the state repression in India where under an extreme right wing dispensation, the situation has turned from bad to worse. We need to contextualize the decision of these gurdwaras instead of being judgmental.

You don’t have to necessarily agree with the politics of these gurdwaras, but their action must be seen as a significant step to mobilize global opinion against what is going on in the world’s so-called largest democracy.

 

Rather, we should expect these gurdwaras to go a step further and start challenging U.S. and Canadian officials too for ongoing structural violence against Indigenous communities, their soft approach toward Israel that continues to occupy Palestinian lands, and growing white supremacy in North America. 

A day after B.C.'s ruling New Democrats and their allies in labour groups made statements to mark the UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10, the Indigenous peoples of the province were given a rude shock with the announcement of the provincial government’s green light for the controversial Site C dam project.

The proposed dam is going to flood Indigenous communities and destroy farmland in the Peace River valley. This won't just displace many people, but it will also destroy their sustainable livelihood and submerge the burial grounds of their elders and their cultural connection with the land.

Amnesty International has issued a statement pointing out that this decision violates the human rights of the Indigenous peoples in that region. Indigenous groups, ranchers, and environmentalists have been opposing Site C for years.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs feels completely betrayed by the NDP’s announcement. He says Premier John Horgan, who came to power last summer ending 16 years of rule by the BC Liberals, had previously supported their demand to scrap the project. “I’m totally convinced Horgan has inflicted irreparable harm on the NDP brand in British Columbia,” Phillip told the Vancouver Courier.

Many others who opposed Site C and believed the new government would bury it also feel deceived. Many in the NDP caucus claim that they too were opposed to the project but had to make a hard choice partly because they need to generate revenue for social spending and partly because the previous government had reached a “point of no return” with Site C, meaning that scrapping the mega-project completely would cost them too much. The NDP caucus unanimously approved the decision.

This was all allowed to happen despite claims by the government that it’s starting a fresh era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Not only did the Dec. 11 Site C announcement eclipse the reconciliation message, it brought back ugly memories of the Gustafsen Lake episode of 1995 — when the NDP government of the day sent a massive police contingent to suppress resistance by Indigenous land defenders.

The Site C decision once again brings the NDP in conflict with First Nations. The mega-project will take away the right to a traditional livelihood from the region’s Indigenous peoples who are going to lose a food basket and fishing ground.

Unfortunately, the current government's understanding of Indigenous issues now appears no different from the previous government's. Both governments have sold the idea of Site C by pointing to economic considerations. One difference is that, under the NDP, big labour unions who have the government’s ear are now pitted against the interests of Indigenous communities.

A discourse of jobs versus environment, or development versus forests, is often created and spread without recognizing the perspective of Indigenous peoples and their sustainable model of progress that is well suited to save the planet from destruction in the long run. Those blinded by urban and corporate models of development, despite now-universal concern about climate change and global warming, will never appreciate the realistic alternatives provided by the Indigenous communities.

 

The NDP leadership has proven it is no exception. It is time that the NDP and the entire labour movement start respecting the human rights of Indigenous peoples and think about other alternatives for job creation and a booming economy. For starters, they could prioritize investing in renewable energy and technology, and transit and social housing, instead of buckling under pressure from big business and their bottomless corporate greed.

Gurpreet Singh 

What binds together royalty in Windsor with Indian government officials and municipal authorities in B.C.? In answer to that question, I would say it's their disgust for the poor.


Already, the news has stirred controversy in London and even British prime minister Theresa May has expressed her disagreement.
As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting ready for their royal wedding in May, officials are planning to clear the streets of Windsor of beggars, with the help of police. The reason given is that their “detritus” is presenting the town in a poor light.

This follows a similar crackdown on beggars in the Indian city of Hyderabad city of India before the November Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka was among the delegates who attended.

Close to 500 panhandlers were rounded up to turn Hyderabad into a “beggar-free” city. So much so, those providing information about beggars were given 500 rupees ($10 Canadian) each as a cash prize.

In 2013, the City of Abbotsford had to apologize after municipal officials dumped chicken manure at a gathering place of homeless to drive them out.

This only suggests that policymakers across the world only know how to displace poor and relocate the poor, rather than looking into the mirror and finding root causes of socioeconomic inequality that leads to homelessness and begging.

If they are really fearful of the poor, all they need to do is remove poverty by ensuring fair redistribution of wealth. They should try to see the problem through a poor man’s lens to understand what forces them to live like that.

Such brutal and inhuman quick-fix solutions are only aimed at hiding the reality that cannot be covered under slogans such as “Shining India” or, in the case of British Columbia, the “Best Place on Earth” motto often used to promote a false image of the province.

If there is a need for a crackdown, it must be aimed at those who have accumulated too much wealth rather than those who cannot even earn a decent living due to lack of opportunities, not to mention social conditions that landed them in penury.

Real development is not confined to protecting the interests of the corporates, but to embrace the weakest segment of the society, which unfortunately remain ignored.

This explains why more social housing is needed in addition to sustainable jobs. But as the free-market enterprise continues to grow, a more heartless system of governance with the single objective of making profits is taking over, only making matters worse.

 
Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine.

This weekend the Sikhs will be celebrating the 351st birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.

The tenth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh was born in Patna, Bihar in 1666. His father Teg Bahadar was the ninth Guru of the Sikh religion that was founded by Guru Nanak to challenge the caste based oppression in Hinduism, ritualism and blind faith besides, the tyranny of the Mughal Empire.

All ten Gurus taught their followers the principles of equality and justice and encouraged them to raise their voice against repression.

Guru Teg Bahadar was executed in 1675 when his son born as Gobind Rai was only nine. Guru Teg Bahadar had laid down his life in defence of the Hindus who were being forced to embrace Islam.

Young Gobind Rai followed him as the next Guru and established the Khalsa – a force of dedicated Sikh warriors who were expected to keep unshorn hair and be ready to fight against injustice.  He raised his army from among the oppressed caste groups who were never allowed to keep weapons or worship by the Hindu priests and rulers. The idea was to not only end caste barriers once and for all, but also to empower those considered as weak and untouchables. From then onwards the Khalsa was directed to use Singh that means lion as a common last name and shun using casteist surnames. Gobind Rai himself came to be known as Guru Gobind Singh with the foundation of the Khalsa in 1699.

This had enraged the caste bigots who saw the Khalsa as direct threat to their supremacy. They started instigated the Mughal Empire against him as a result of which Guru Gobind Singh had to fight both against the Hindu kings and the Mughal rulers. He had to face many hardships because of this. Two of his sons Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh died in the battlefield, while two of his young sons Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh were bricked alive after being arrested.

Since Guru Gobind Singh’s fight wasn’t against Islam, many Muslims helped him in his struggle against state violence, while many Hindus sided with the Mughal Empire and one of them had deceived his younger sons and his mother Mata Gujri and got them arrested.  Mata Gujri died in prison after hearing about the execution of her younger grandsons. After all, the Sikh Gurus had a big following in both the communities. While in Bihar, young Gobind Rai was admired by the Hindus and Sikhs alike. In fact, some Muslims helped Guru Gobind Singh in his escape from the dragnet of the Mughal soldiers who wanted to capture him alive. 

Whereas, Guru Gobind Singh’s tumultuous life remained full of difficulties, he had devoted peaceful moments to compile literature and more importantly the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs that contain hymns of both Hindu and Muslim saints. Some of the saints whose verses were included in the Granth Sahib were treated as untouchables by the Hindu clergy.

He had spent final years of his life in Maharashtra where he discovered a guerrilla fighter Banda Singh Bahadar who was sent to Punjab to reorganize Sikhs and fulfill the uncompleted mission of the Guru. Banda Singh Bahadar established a Sikh kingdom that introduced land reforms. In accordance with the Sikh traditions, this kingdom remained secular in character.

In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh died after succumbing to his injuries sustained in an attack by the mercenaries sent to assassinate him by a Mughal governor who was responsible for the killings of his younger sons. Near the end of his life, he had ordered the Sikhs to follow the Guru Granth Sahib as their guiding light in future and never follow any living guru. 

Guru Gobind Singh’s story will always be relevant in the contemporary world where oppression on religious minorities and those marginalized continues.  It’s a shame that the Hindutva forces that currently rule India and desire to turn it into an exclusionist Hindu theocracy have been trying to appropriate Guru Gobind Singh for their narrow ends. They frequently portray him as a defender of the Hindu religion and an opponent of Muslims which is a complete distortion of the historical facts. So much so, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), an ultra-Hindu nationalist body of which the governing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part continues to misguide the younger generation about Guru Gobind Singh’s participation in the efforts to liberate Ram temple in Ayodhya. It is the same place where at the behest of the BJP, Hindu fanatics had demolished an ancient Babri Mosque in 1992. The BJP claims that the Islamist king Babur had built the mosque after destroying a temple built at the birthplace of Hindu God Lord Ram. If this was not enough, their apologists within the Sikh community tried to misguide their own people by announcing December 25 as the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh keeping in with a conservative Hindu calendar. The Sikhs have by and large rejected this and have vowed to celebrate his birth anniversary on January 5 -a date on which there is a general consensus on the basis of a calendar designed by using scientific method. Although it seems symbolic, yet it reflects an ideological conflict between the RSS and the Sikhs.  Even as the RSS consider Islam and Christianity as foreign religions and Sikhism and Buddhism as part of the Hindu fold, the Sikh and Buddhist activists have always resisted such assimilationist thoughts.  

The Sikh fundamentalists too have deviated from the path shown by Guru Gobind Singh. They have been targeting migratory labourers coming to Punjab from Bihar for their livelihood by insisting that Punjab remains a Sikh dominated state. How can one be so hateful toward people among whom Guru Gobind Singh had spent his childhood? The Sikh leadership also need to look into the mirror and address caste system that is also practiced by many within the Sikh community. On this important occasion, when violence against minorities has grown and there are attempts to divide the Sikhs and the Muslims by the BJP, we need to be vigilant about such divisive politics and defeat the nefarious designs of the Hindutva think tanks. If Guru Gobind Singh were to be born again he would rather fight against the present day government for the very reasons he had established the Khalsa, especially in the light of constant attacks on Dalits.

Marion Kawas


The narrative of Ahed Tamimi, who has recently become the face of Palestinian child prisoners, reached a new low on the first day of 2018; Israel insisted that they will be charging the teenager and given the record of “Israeli justice”, that means she will almost certainly serve jail time. Ahed’s fate is the same as that of all the young Palestinian detainees, born into occupation and tyranny, having lived through a “butchered childhood”.

The story of Ahed reminds me of the young girl, perhaps 12 or 13, who narrated a lot of the movie “Jenin, Jenin” and faces the camera at the end of the movie to tell us in the most chilling terms, that she plans to fight for her people and will never forget nor surrender. She also adds: “I saw dead bodies, I saw houses destroyed, I saw sights which cannot be described…and now, after they ruined all my dreams and hopes-I have no life left!” That sequence of the movie has stayed with me since I first saw it in 2003.

And this really is the most crucial point surrounding Ahed Tamimi’s case and what it represents. These kids, forced to be mature beyond their years, never had a choice in being under Israeli occupation or colonization. They have had their childhood stolen, their lives brutalized since day one by Israeli soldiers, their families decimated and harassed by the Israeli state. So, the question of how and why a young girl would stand up to her Israeli oppressors is redundant, we might only marvel that she still has hope that communicating with the world is worthwhile. That she still has hope that the world has a conscience.

Because up to this point, the international community has been worse than negligent in calling Israel to account for any of its abuses against political prisoners, but especially child prisoners. And in Ahed’s case there is ample evidence that her jailors wish her harm, from the Israeli Minister of “Education” who wants her to serve a life sentence to thinly veiled suggestions of sexual assault from an Israeli journalist. With very few exceptions, the countries that could exert influence on Israel have either been openly complicit (like Canada and the U.S.) or engage in the worst form of hypocrisy like the EU nations, with nice-sounding platitudes while carrying on business as usual.

 

I remember the infamous quote by former Israeli PM Golda Meir, where she stated: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

What a profound level of arrogance, and racism! Its almost impossible to comprehend the implied level of supremacy in this sentiment. And now of course, with the full backing of the U.S. government, this arrogance is matched with impunity.

We could more correctly ask: When will Israeli parents stop sending their children to be cannon fodder for a militaristic state gone berserk, forcing them to commit war crimes against other children even younger? And when will Israel value their children more than they fear the supposed demographic and existential threat of the Palestinian people and nation?

The words of the young girl in the movie Jenin, Jenin were said to “damn the continued occupation and its inhumanity” more than the devastating physical damage to the Jenin refugee camp. And this is the real impact of Ahed Tamimi as well. Her words, her story, her harassment by the Israeli military are an indictment of everything that is wrong with what Israel represents. The world did not listen well in 2002 to the young girl from Jenin; will they pay attention this time to the teenager from Nabi Saleh?

Marion Kawas is a pro-Palestinian writer and activist, and a member of BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish and Canada Palestine Association.

 

Courtesy: Palestine Chronicle

                                             

The demand for official status for the Mi'kmaq language has received support from the Punjabi community in BC. 

A campaign has been going in Nova Scotia for official status for Mi'kmaq as an important indigenous language. Those in the forefront of the campaign want it to be used on street signs. 

BC-based Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA), which has been struggling for the recognition of Punjabi language for more than a decade, has extended support to the campaign for Mi'kmaq. 

Established in 1993, PLEA has been instrumental in getting Punjabi introduced in BC schools. It also organizes the annual Mother Language Day every year in the month of February to promote the Punjabi language. 

Balwant Sanghera, one of the cofounders of PLEA, says that it is important to acknowledge that Canada was built on the traditional lands of the indigenous peoples. "We must remember that there were attempts to kill indigenous languages and culture through Indian Residential School system during colonization," Sanghera told Radical Desi. For this reason he finds it necessary to support any demand that can help in rejuvenating a native language. 

"I understand that Mi'kmaq language has survived for 10,000 years and it is important to give it an official status." He also insisted that since Punjabis share a history of racism and colonialism with the First Nations, the South Asians must support this demand. He further pointed out that there was a need to break stereotypes about First Nations among the immigrants too. "What they (immigrants) need to be told is that aboriginals have been facing structural racism for centuries. They over represent their population in jails, which is unacceptable." 

 

 

At a time when the world is grappling with growing threats of bigotry and alt right movements, a white man stepped forward to defend a Muslim woman who was attacked by a racist on transit in Vancouver in December 2017.

Jake Taylor is being hailed as a hero for standing up for Noor Fadel, who was targeted for being Muslim and wearing hijab. The man who attacked Fadel had shouted that he would kill Muslims, and had raised his hand.

Taylor was the only passenger who mustered the courage to confront the man who was later arrested.

This happened as Statistics Canada noted a spike in hate crimes in BC. Many observers believe that the attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims, have increased in North America ever since Donald Trump became the US President. Trump had used his anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric to win the election, giving legitimacy to white supremacy both in US and Canada.

Taylor virtually risked his life by standing up for Fadel. The man who attacked her could have been armed and might have harmed him. In 2017, two men died under similar circumstances in Portland. They were stabbed to death by a white supremacist as they tried to save two Muslim women on transit from a hate attack.

We need to amplify the story of Taylor to encourage others to stand up in such difficult circumstances for the weak, and break stereotypes about both the majority and minority communities. It is our humanity that matters, and those who show compassion and courage in the face of hatred must be appreciated by all of us.

November 8 marked the first anniversary of the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. Thanks to his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and misogynist rhetoric, white supremacy has gained a stronger foothold across North America since the time of his campaign.

 

To understand and challenge the emergence of bigotry across the border—and its impact on Canada where alt right movement has grown over the past year—it is important to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir on the presidential election.

What Happened makes one understand what contributed to Trump's victory over a much more seasoned political figure like Clinton—a former secretary of state and the wife of former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Of course, Clinton tries to explain the reality from her standpoint and her own biases and prejudices.

This cannot be ignored but those concerned with the changing political landscape of North America under Trump and increased hatred against Muslims and other minority groups must still try to hear her out.

Despite all the limitations of Clinton’s own politics, she raises very valid questions about what prompted people to vote for a right-wing Republican candidate, ignoring his racially charged statements against minorities and immigrants, as well as his sexist remarks about women. In so doing, she also admits to some of the mistakes made by her campaign.

Even though Clinton made history by becoming the first female presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party, she failed to defeat Trump for a number of reasons mentioned in her book. Back in 2008 she was also defeated in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination by Barack Obama, who became the first black oresident of the U.S.

While she acknowledges that she still won more popular votes than Trump, she could not win enough Electoral College electors to become president.

This was partly because Obama, the Democrat, had already served two terms and it was unlikely that the American people would give Clinton, another Democratic presidential candidate, a chance.

However, Clinton came under sharp criticism for routing her personal email through a private server while serving as the secretary of state. Even as she was cleared by investigative agencies of any serious wrongdoing or compromising national security, a section of the media did not let the issue die.

Clinton writes that this issue was blown out of proportion in comparison to Trump’s divisive politics.

In her book, she also accuses Russia of interfering in U.S. elections by using hackers and social media to spread fake news stories about her as Trump remained indifferent to this.

She argues that the Russian government under Vladimir Putin patronized alt-right forces in the U.S. and other western democracies, which only helped Trump.

Clinton also writes that Trump polarized the white middle class against racialized communities, taking advantage of their anger over the opioid crisis and growing unemployment.

In addition, she points out how businesses played a large role in socioeconomic inequalities, yet they became a refuge for Trump and voters who could not understand this.

Instead, Trump and many voters vented their anger over inequality on people of colour and women, blaming them for taking away their jobs.

Clinton also takes a stand on behalf of people of colour in the U.S. She notes that they continue to endure racial violence both at the hands of police and vigilantes, and she insists on moving forward through “radical empathy”.

She blames the negative media coverage of her candidacy for the lack of interest among voters of colour in her campaign. And that helped Trump win the election by keeping her supporters away from polling stations.

Moreover, she points out how in certain states, voters from minority communities who were inclined to support her were disfranchised on flimsy grounds.  

Nevertheless she is also critical of the left, in particular those supporters of Bernie Sanders, whom she defeated for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton makes a case that they did not do enough to make her win.

The book acknowledges that the gun lobby remains powerful in the U.S. because political parties find it difficult to challenge them. The same lobby group, she claims, worked hard to defeat her due to her advocacy for strong background checks against criminals wanting to purchase guns.

In What Happened, Clinton also offers insights into prejudices against women in politics. Her own experiences with sexism during her school days and early years of her legal profession and political life find a mention, too.  

Canada is not immune to racism and in this country white supremacists have become active.

This is why those who have been working hard to keep the political right out of power need to give up some of their cynicism about Clinton and go through some of the important issues she has raised.

This will help them learn to decode the narratives of people like Trump, which can ultimately help defeat their designs. 

This Christmas, world leaders need to wake up and recognize growing violence against the Christian minority in the world’s so-called largest secular democracy.

Ever since a Hindu right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, the country's social environment has become toxic for all religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians.

Modi himself belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist group of which the BJP is a political wing. It wants to transform India into Hindu theocracy.

The RSS believes that India, which in its terminology is Hindustan, truly belongs to Hindus, while Islam and Christianity are viewed as alien religions. RSS leaders consider Sikhism and Buddhism as part of the Hindu fold, an idea that is vehemently denounced by Sikhs and Buddhists.

Then there are other oppressed communities, like Dalits (considered untouchables by the orthodox Hindus) and Adivasis, or tribal people, who have their distinct identities. Yet the RSS tries to project them as part of the Hindu mainstream.

Much like Sikhs and Buddhists, these groups have also been trying to resist attempts of assimilation either through religious conversions or mere false propaganda, by claiming that anyone whose ancestors were born in India is Hindu.

Tensions between all these groups and the BJP government have grown rapidly.

Meanwhile, the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

In addition to the lynching of Muslims following accusations of eating beef—Hindus consider the cow a sacred animal—Christians are being frequently targeted by BJP supporters. More than 700 cases of attacks on Christians were reported on the United Christians Forum helpline since 2014.

Only recently, those out singing Christmas carols in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) were attacked by the Hindu fundamentalists. Not only were their cars burned but a criminal case was filed against them, accusing them of forced religious conversions, an allegation often made by BJP supporters against Christian missionaries.

As if this was not enough, threatening letters were sent to various schools in another state, Uttar Pradesh (UP), asking them not to allow Christmas celebrations.

Both MP and UP are governed by the BJP and it is not surprising that the surveillance of churches has increased under the Modi government in the name of checking religious conversions, a practice also done freely by Hindu groups to bring Muslims and Christians into Hindu faith.

The situation is no different in other BJP-ruled states where anticonversion laws targeting Christians have been enforced even as the Indian constitution guarantees religious freedom.  

The RSS has a track record of being involved in anti-Christian violence. In 2008, an anti-Christian pogrom was organized by the RSS in the state of Odisha following the assassination of a Hindu preacher by Maoist insurgents.

Even though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder as they considered the slain preacher a class enemy creating fear among tribal Christians, the RSS goons went after innocent Christians to settle a score for the killing.

It is the same state where in 1999 an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons, aged 10 and six, were burned to death by Hindu extremists.

Staines’s murder followed well organized anti-Christian violence in the state of Gujarat in 1998. Gujarat has been under BJP rule since then.

In 2002 when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, an anti-Muslim massacre was organized after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 Hindu passengers dead.

The BJP government at the time blamed Muslim fundamentalists for torching the train, after which innocent Muslims were targeted across Gujarat. Human rights activists continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the bloodshed though he was never charged.

Global leaders celebrating Christmas and sending out greetings to everyone on such an auspicious occasion must take a moment to find more about what is happening in India, which is becoming a favoured destination of many countries, like Canada and the U.S., for future investments and business transactions.

If world leaders are really concerned about the growing threat of terrorism, they must also keep on Hindu extremists in India on their radar. They are trying to create a Taliban like regime in a land that has always been known for its pluralism and diversity.

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