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Vancouver-based Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has condemned the recent attack on Swami Agnivesh by supporters of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Agnivesh is a vocal critic of superstition and religious fundamentalism. He has been speaking out against growing intolerance and attacks on minorities under the BJP government in India. He was viciously beaten during his visit to Jharkhand by those affiliated with the BJP.

The attack was aimed at intimidating Agnivesh and muzzling a voice of reason. This follows a series of murders of rationalist scholars and activists by those who are seeking to turn India into a Hindu theocracy.

According to IAPI, the incident that left Agnivesh badly injured must be taken seriously in the light of the killings of Narendra Dahbolkar, Gobind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh by the Hindu extremists.

The IAPI statement issued to the press also deplored the recent attack on the office of senior Congress Party leader Shashi Tharoor who came under sharp criticism from BJP supporters for denouncing attempts to turn India into an exclusionist Hindu state.

"Though we don’t agree with the policies of the Congress party and will continue to question its secular credentials for its involvement in sectarian politics for opportunistic reasons, we believe that Tharoor should not be targeted for saying the right thing. Any act of violence to suppress the voice of those who believe in a diverse and pluralistic society must be condemned by everyone".

 
 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The biopic based on the hardships of Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt remains a crowd puller.  

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, Sanju is focused on Dutt's struggles with the justice system and a hostile press for possessing a gun, as well as his fight with drug addiction. 

The film is a good attempt to educate people about the sufferings of an actor who had to face police brutality and an unfair trial by media. This was for keeping a weapon for self-protection in the aftermath of an anti-Muslim pogrom in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and subsequent bomb blasts blamed on Islamic extremists.

However, Sanju fails to situate his story in the broader context of the persecution of minority communities under draconian antiterror laws in the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

Dutt was detained under the infamous Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) for possessing an unlicensed AK-56.

The law was passed in 1985 to deal with militancy in various states, including Punjab where Sikh extremists had launched an armed struggle for a separate homeland of Khalistan.

The TADA gave sweeping powers to the police, making people of minority communities, such as Sikhs and Muslims vulnerable to forced disappearances and arrests for indefinite periods of time. The law was taken back in 1995 following widespread criticism and tireless campaigning by human rights activists.

Sanju reveals that Dutt was forced to keep the gun due to threats from Hindu extremists. This was around the time when Hindu fanatics demolished an ancient mosque in the town of Ayodhya in December 1992.

These extremists continue to claim that the mosque was built by Moghal rulers at the birthplace of Lord Rama, a revered Hindu god. They wanted to build a huge Rama temple at the same spot.

This incident led to Hindu-Muslim violence in different parts of the country. Bombay also experienced violence against Muslims carried out by the Hindu fundamentalists with the backing of the police.

Dutt’s father, the late Sunil Dutt, was an actor turned political activist with strong secular credentials. A Hindu married to a Muslim actress, he tried to save Muslims during the violence.

This enraged Hindu extremists who threatened to kill the Dutt family and rape Sanjay Dutt’s sisters. Later, Bombay was rocked by serial bombings that left many people dead.

The blasts were blamed on the Islamic extremists. It was then that police came to know about the gun in the possession of Dutt.

Dutt was arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail by the police. The media also portrayed him as a terrorist without listening to his side of the story, mainly because of the hysteria created by the bombings.

The speculative media stories suggesting his complicity in the explosions not only ruined his career for some time, but also his social relationships.

This went on even after the court never found him guilty of terrorism or being involved in the bombings, and punished him with several years in prison for possessing a gun.

It became difficult for Dutt family to change the perception that was created by hawkish politicians and the media.

The whole affair also left Sunil Dutt in a pathetic situation as his own political colleagues turned their backs on him.

Though Sanju is worth watching to see how the Indian system works when dealing with people after a court judgement, it must be borne in mind that Dutt is not the only victim who deserves our sympathy.

He was still very privileged to have the film made and his story heard. On top of that he survived several years of difficulties.

Think about the many unknown Sanjus, who were kidnapped, tortured, or even killed by the police in staged shootouts under the TADA.

In Punjab, ordinary Sikhs became frequent targets of police violence.

Dutt still had a gun, whereas in Punjab, men and women whose only fault was their failure to refuse shelter to armed extremist—for fear of their lives—were detained and tortured by police with impunity.

Nobody in the mainstream was bothered as they were seen as “anti-nationals”.  The media too willingly obliged by publishing the police version of the events, branding them as “terrorists” without even waiting for a fair trial.  

Father objected to writer's question on the radio

Ironically, Sunil Dutt was associated with the then ruling Congress party that brought in the TADA in the first place in spite of many objections from the civil society.

I remember having made Sunil Dutt angry over this when he once visited Canada when I used to work for Radio India.

Dutt Senior was here to attend an event organized by the cancer foundation named after his late wife, Nargis Dutt. During a live interview, I asked him how he felt about ordinary people who suffered because of the TADA, while his film star son has got so much sympathy and support.

An agitated Dutt said that my line of questioning was unacceptable and "unfortunate".

He insisted that we let the courts decide whether his son did anything wrong or not. However, he later cooled down and asked me to join us for a group photo. 

Sanju is not just a reminder of the past, but is relevant even today as some new draconian laws have replaced the TADA.

Activists, writers, and artists are frequently arrested under the right-wing Hindu nationalist government to suppress any voice of dissent. In most cases when these individuals stand up for the oppressed communities or raise voice against injustice, they are branded as “anti-nationals”. Or, in the worst scenario, as sympathizers of Muslim or Maoist insurgents, which creates animosity against them in the media.

Hopefully, someone like Hirani will look into their stories one day and bring to light many of these unheard tales before the mainstream that is consumed by majoritarianism and narrow nationalism. 

Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine.

Anand Teltumbde

Even in these times of growing sense of hopelessness in the country under the present regime, the arrests of the five activists by Maharashtra’s Pune Police had stunned people all over the world by the blatancy of misuse of power and impunity it reflects. The continuing spate of condemnation by scores of people within and outside India would not affect the unruly regime that parrots the law would take its course. And what law? The draconian law like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that gives Police an unaccountable authority to arrest anyone, torture, fabricate evidence, slap any number of charges they want and rot them for years in jail as the law charts its meandering course in the courts. And what courts, when the four senior judges of the highest court had to take a desperate step to hold a press conference to voice their concern to the people that all was not well with even the Supreme Court? It has been more than clear that these laws have been singularly misused against the people who took cudgels for oppressed people and in course, spoke against the elitist bias of the state. But the courts that proactively grudge the misuse of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act would refuse to see the misuse of UAPA and permit decimation of innocent people who may otherwise be seen as the model of selfless humanists dreaming to realize the constitutional promise of India as the secular, socialist, sovereign, democratic republic as dreamt by our founding fathers.  

The rot may be traced to the constitution itself of the post-colonial state that adopted entire apparatus of colonial governance including its draconian laws under the veneer of democracy. It has been used by all governments irrespective of parties in power paving the way for its motivated use by the present regime to decimate descent. The manner in which the arrests of Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, Advocate Surendra Gadling, Prof Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut from Nagpur and Rona Wilson from Delhi were carried out following raids on theirs and some other activists’ homes marks a new low in lawlessness under the garb of the rule of law.

The Context of Bhima-Koregaon

The rapid shifting of narratives of these arrests by the police could not hide the thick context of the violence at Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January 2018 by the Hindutva forces in which scores of Dalits were injured, their property was damaged and a youth lost his life. It had a backdrop of a conference called Elgar Parishad that took place the previous day. This parishad was convened by P B Sawant, retired justice of the Supreme Court and BG Kolshe Patil, ex-justice of the Bombay High Court and joined by 200 odd liberal and Dalit organizations in Maharashtra to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, believed by the Dalits to have been won by their ancestors to end the oppressive regime of Brahmin Peshawas. It gave a call to “Bury the New Peshwai” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seen by the Dalits and minorities as the revival of Brahmanic rule and to “never vote” for it. It naturally irked the Hindutva forces who decided to teach lesson to Dalits when they congregated in large numbers at the obelisk at Koregaon. They instigated Marathas against Dalits raking up the controversy over the samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad near that of Sambhaji Maharaj, son of Shiwaji, who was tortured and killed by Aurangzeb in 1689. The legend is that Gaikwad had gone against Aurangzeb to carry out the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj and built his Samadhi on his land. The tension ensued when on 29 December the board at his samadhi was removed and a canopy over it damaged. It is said that this was used as the immediate trigger for the attack on 1 January. A police complaint was filed by one Sushma Ovhal against 49 people, including village sarpanch Rekha Shivale, deputy sarpanch Sanjay Shivale, and former sarpanch Sunita Bhandare, under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for damaging the board, the canopy, desecration of the samadhi and for making “casteist comments”. The last line of her complaint also named Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote but the police FIR did not carry it. A counter-complaint also was filed by Shivale accusing Dalits of threatening them of retaliation on 1 January when they gathered in large number.

 

The riots on 1 January started as Hindutva activists led a procession to Bhima-Koregaon. On 2 January, an FIR was registered against Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide with Pimpri Police Station by one Anita Ravindra Savale under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, Arms Act, 307 (attempt to murder) of IPC and rioting, serious enough for the Police to act. Ekbote had worked as a BJP corporator in Pune between 1997 and 2002 and reportedly had 12 cases of rioting, trespassing, criminal intimidation, and attempts to spread enmity between two communities against him and had been convicted in five of these cases.  His entire family is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). After losing the corporation election in 2007, he formed the Hindu Ekta Aghadi. Sambhaji Bhide, a former RSS activist is the founder president of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan with a history of many Hindutva campaigns in Western Maharashtra. Narendra Modi, Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray are among his followers. Despite a continuing agitation by Dalits demanding their arrest, the Police would just not act. Over the full three months, Ekbote sought anticipatory bails from the lowest court to the Supreme Court that at the end it had exasperatedly rapped the State government and probe agencies for their tardy progress in their probe against Ekbote, and questioned the agencies’ claims that he was allegedly ‘untraceable’. Only when Ekbote’s anticipatory bail was rejected by the Supreme Court that the Police arrested him just to be bailed out after little over a month. About Bhide, none other than Fadnavis would summarily attest his innocence. 

Shifting Police Narratives

The 29 December incident was warning enough for the Police to deploy adequate force to thwart impending trouble on 1 January but it let the miscreants have free run. They refused to act against the named culprits. Instead they began insinuating that the violence was caused by the inflammatory speeches made in the Elgar Parishad. On 2 January, a complaint was filed against Jignesh Mewani, Gujarat MLA and student leader Umar Khalid for allegedly inciting people through their provocative speeches. Their speeches could be easily examined within less than an hour to see that there was nothing. As protests against shielding of the culprits began getting louder, the police conducted raids on 17 April at the homes of activists of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), Rupali Jadhav, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe, Dhawala Dhengale in Pune and Republican Panther activist Sudhir Dhawale and Harshali Potdar in Mumbai and also at homes of Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson, who were not even remotely connected with Elgar Parishad.  While the search warrant clearly mentioned “Bhima-Koregaon”, the chief minister stated that they did not have anything to do with Bhima-Koregaon. On 6 June the police arrested four of them and Mahesh Raut, a noted social activists and a fellow of prime minister’s rural development (PMRD) who after passing out from TISS devoted his life to tribals of Gadchiroli. The police made out a story that the Elgar Parishad was organized and funded by the Maoists, duly publicized by media ignoring the repeated explanation of Justice Kolshe Patil that he along with justice Sawant was its convener, did not spend any money, and none of the arrestee had much to do with it.

On June 6, Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Kadam called a press conference where he explained the police investigation and the accusations against the five in minute detail. He maintained that the five were arrested in connection with an “Elgar Parishad” in Pune on December 31, which he claimed was funded by Maoist outfits and led to violent Dalit-Maratha clashes. The next day, even before the arrestees were produced before the court, two letters – purportedly recovered from Rona’s laptop – that discussed a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi made their way to media houses and television channels, where they were intensely debated. It was clearly in contravention to the Bombay High Court circular of 7 November 2014. Criminal lawyers saw it as the blatant violation of the law laid down by the Bombay High Court and the Maharashtra Police circular. Rahul Thakur, on whose petition the court had passed the binding directions in 2014 said, “Those arrested should file contempt petitions against the police officers and the public prosecutor for violating the High Court’s order”.

 

Most analysts including politicians and ex-police officers doubted the authenticity of these ‘fantastic’ letters purportedly written by a banned underground party and preserved by its sympathiser. The first letter revealed the plan of the party, with real names of people, and even their phone numbers. The pitch was escalated in another letter that spoke of “Rajiv Gandhi” like assassination of Narendra Modi. This drama of plotting Modi’s assassination was enacted in Gujarat several times to justify encounters of innocent people. Many people commented that whenever Modi’s popularity declined, the murder plot was released to garner public sympathy and as an image boosting tactics. Severally ludicrous, but it helped police to justify their arrests, support its theory of the Maoist urban network, slap UAPA, do media trial and amass sympathy for Modi, so necessary in the face of the increasing exposures of his performance deficit in the election year. The script writers obviously did not know that the Maoists had discarded such “annihilation of class enemy” line almost a half century ago and even then they would not do it with suicidal method.

Urban Maoists

Each of these five people has an exemplary record of selfless activism to protect democratic rights of people, particularly Dalits, Adivasis, women and minorities. They had excellent academic and professional credentials to live comfortable lives but their extension motivation impelled them to live modestly and serve people. They would obviously not agree with the rulers whose obsessive politics has been impoverishing this rich landmass and pushing majority people to bear its brunt. How could they endorse destruction of institutions, trampling of constitutional ethos, decimating dissent, othering of certain people and unleashing gangs to lynch them? The ‘urban Maoist’ is the figment of their imagination, sans contours or legality and is only meant to whip up baser instincts of people. Every thinking Indian is a potential ‘urban Maoist’; it is just the mercy of police that you are out! 

 

Dr Anand Teltumbde is writer, political analyst, and civil rights activist with CPDR, Maharashtra. 

 

 

If you really want to know how different real Hinduism is from political Hinduism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, Shashi Tharoor’s latest book has the answer.

Why I am a Hindu comes at a time when attacks on religious minorities continue to grow under the BJP government.

Hindu extremists who've been targeting Muslims and Christians—as well as Dalits, or so-called untouchables—with impunity want to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

Calls for a Hindu India are being made shamelessly under hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though it is still a matter of time before the Indian constitution can be amended to make that happen. 

Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when an anti-Muslim massacre was organized by the BJP supporters following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.

More than 50 people died in the train incident, which was blamed on Muslim extremists.

Human rights activists and survivors continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the violence against Muslims, though he's denied this.

Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, there has been a spike in religious violence.

Tharoor is a practising Hindu, former diplomat, and an MP with the opposition Congress party, which describes itself as the secular alternative to the BJP.

In his book he throws light on the history of Hinduism, a great religion that has always been liberal and tolerant.

He writes how Hinduism gave refuge to Jews and Parsis in India over the centuries and allowed Christianity and Islam to grow. Hinduism itself is very diverse and eclectic.

Tharoor points out that Hinduism has no one scripture or deity to follow and allows self-criticism and even agnosticism. In his book he takes a critical look at the brutal caste system that has been practised among Hindus for centuries, and emphasizes the importance of breaking these barriers.

In addition, Tharoor goes into great detail about the narrow brand of Hinduism practiced by BJP supporters in a section titled "Political Hinduism".

Based on his understanding of Hinduism he counters their divisive politics and misinterpretation of the religion. He repeatedly writes how political Hinduism or Hindutva—based on the idea of a Hindu theocracy—can divide the soul of India, which has always been known for its pluralism and diversity.

However, Tharoor glosses over the inconvenient truth of his party’s culpability in the growth of Hindutva forces. After all, it was Congress leader and former prime minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, who started hobnobbing with Hindutva forces during the mid 1980s.

Gandhi's party was responsible for the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 that followed the assassination of his mother and then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

The widespread attacks on Sikhs helped her son win the general election with a brute majority and set a precedent for future pogroms, including the one that happened in Gujarat in 2002.

Although Tharoor briefly mentions that, he does not show courage by going into details of the pogrom to reveal how Hindutva forces were used as foot soldiers in the crime.

On the contrary, he tries to rationalize Gandhi’s decision to allow the public broadcast of Hindu epics that actually helped the BJP. For instance, several stars in the TV serial of Ramayana ended up becoming BJP MPs.

Rajiv Gandhi was also responsible for opening the doors of a disputed site of Ayodhya to let Hindu priests perform rituals, which finds no mention in the book. Hindus claim that the ancient Babri mosque that stood at Ayodhya was built by a Muslim ruler after demolishing a temple originally built at the birthplace of Lord Rama, a revered Hindu god.

The BJP started a campaign to rebuild the Ram temple at the disputed site. Once access was granted, it emboldened the Hindutva brigade.

On December 6, 1992, when BJP supporters pulled down the structure, the late Congress leader P.V. Narsimha Rao was prime minister. Tharoor obviously knows all of this and yet he chose to overlook these facts in his book, which essentially deals with Hindutva politics.

By simply pointing fingers at the BJP, he cannot exonerate the Congress party that has to take blame for the majoritarian intolerant society that India has become. This only creates more doubts about the sincerity and honesty of the Congress in the eyes of those who are looking for an alternative to Modi in the 2019 elections.  

Despite all this, Tharoor has undoubtedly done an important work that helps people understand key difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. 

This gives hope to ordinary Hindus to reclaim their faith from the self-styled gatekeepers of their religion, who are giving it a bad name worldwide.

In a fight against such forces, we do need allies from within the Hindu community who can hold up a mirror to Modi and his supporters—and for that reason Tharoor’s narrative will come in handy in educating masses.

 

 

South Asian activists came together to protest against recent arrests of political activists in India on Saturday evening.

Organized by Radical Desi, the rally was held at Holland Park in Surrey.

Police had recently arrested five political activists across India for inciting violence and allegedly being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Among them are human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson. 

Most of these individuals have been raising their voices for political prisoners and the rights of marginalized sections of society. Their relatives and supporters believe that they have been framed to stifle the voice of dissent under a right wing Hindu nationalist government. Doubts have already been raised over the authenticity of the evidence of conspiracy to assassinate Modi. 

Notably, Gadling has been advocating for jailed Delhi University Professor, G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist. Saibaba is a political activist who was arrested after being branded as a supporter of Maoist insurgents. He has been raising his voice against the repression of Indigenous peoples in the name of war against Maoists by the Indian forces. He has also been vocal against attacks on religious minorities. The United Nations Rights’ experts recently urged his release on humanitarian grounds and questioned the validity of charges against him.

The rally was started with a moment of silence for Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa who committed suicide in March.  Khalsa was a Sikh activist who was campaigning for the release of Sikh political prisoners. He had jumped from a water tank during his fasting for the freedom of Sikh detainees. 

The organizers also expressed their solidarity with indigenous political prisoners languishing in North American jails. They demanded the release of Leonard Peltier, a 73-year-old indigenous leader who has already served 42 years in US jails. 

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for the release of the five political activists and strongly denounced ongoing state violence and draconian laws being used to suppress freedom of expression. They resolved to fight back together against growing attacks on religious minorities and oppressed communities in India. 

The participants, who included women and seniors, carried “Free Saibaba” and “Free Azad” signs and raised slogans against the high handedness of the Indian government. Azad is a radical Dalit activist who has been fighting for the rights of the so called untouchables. Much like Saibaba, he is also being incarcerated under repressive laws.

Those who addressed the gathering included: Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization leaders, Rashpal Singh Bhardawaj and Rattan Paul; Indian Rationalist Society leader Avtar Gill; Progressive Intercultural Community Services cofounder Charanpal Gill; veteran Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi; Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation leader Sahib Thind; and Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh.  

 

 

Prabhsharanbir Singh

 

 

In the world, where everyone with a conscience is fighting against the deportations of migrants and refugees, the Sikh representatives in Canada are threatening international Sikh students from Punjab with deportations because of some alleged minor violations of law. International students from Punjab are one of the most vulnerable groups in Canada. Most of them come from low-income families. Their parents often sell their property or take loans to send their children to study abroad. “Well-settled” Canadian Punjabis routinely exploit them. Female students often face sexual harassment by those who are living here for a longer time.

 

International students are alleged to engage in petty fights with each other and with permanent residents or citizens of Canada. In a recent incident, some international students were involved in an altercation with a businessman, who is probably a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada. After South Asian media in Canada sensationalized the incident, a young woman has come forward with another version of the story that the media preferred to ignore. According to her, the businessman involved harassed her by trying to take advantage of her vulnerable circumstances. As evidence, she presented screenshots of text messages by him asking her to meet him in private. Apparently, he was preying on a young female he thought to be all alone in a foreign land. However, he had to face the retaliation he did not expect after some male classmates of the female victim of harassment thrashed him. Although it would have been better if the students had reported the incident to the local police, the media has disproportionately blown the incident to vilify all international students.

 

In response to the incident, some local community leaders organized a town hall meeting in Brampton, Ontario. During the town hall meeting, Stephen Blom, the police superintendent of 22 Division was pointedly asked if he saw some difference between the nature of violence among the domestic and the international students. He replied, “I know that the incidents that were reported some have involved international students. We also know some have involved domestic students and youth that may even be in the workforce. So it is very difficult to target one group. I think it is a general problem.”

 

 In spite of the police officer’s explicit admission that it is wrong to target one group and the issue of violence is a general problem, the community leaders decided to allow their biases to determine the future government policies against the Sikh students. Four Sikh Members of Parliament: Raj Grewal, Ruby Sahota, Sonia Sidhu, and Kamal Khera have issued a joint statement threatening international students with deportation if they engage in any illegal activities in Canada. Their letter notes: “We understand that the perception in the community is that international students are the main instigators of these incidents. We have asked the Peel Regional Police to investigate and update us on their findings. It is important to note that, if anyone in Canada with temporary immigration status, including international students, is charged under the criminal code and convicted, they will be subject to deportation.” Why did these MPs take such a drastic step to address a minor fight when all they have is just community perception? Why did they threaten all Punjabi international students because of actions of some of them? Why wasn't the appropriate legal or judicial action enough in case of the international students? There are no numbers to back up the claim that such scuffles are happening on a daily basis. It is safe to assume that they did so to appease the community members who also happen to be registered voters in their respective constituencies. It is quite appalling that three women MPs have come forward in support of someone accused of sexual harassment. 

 

The larger question, however, is: why are so many Canadian Punjabis see international Punjabi students as a threat while the incidents of violence are neither too serious nor do they take place on a regular basis? On the other hand, some Canadian born Punjabis and non-Punjabis have been engaging in a gang war for a few decades, which had taken many lives on the streets of Surrey, Abbotsford, and Brampton. In 2015, there were 22 shootings and one homicide during a six-week period in the city of Surrey alone. The community leaders do not see the Canadian-born Punjabi young men as the problem. In this case, they always held the police, the politicians, and the community organizations accountable, which I do not disagree with; no doubt, the government has a responsibility to keep the youth on the right track. If the elected representatives and the community leaders who support the former on their position regarding the gang-related violence, then why such a disproportionate retaliation against the new migrants who are the hard-working taxpayers?

 

A closer look at the broader context would be helpful to make sense of the disproportionate reprisal on the part of the MPs. The incident is part of a large phenomenon; the self-racism rampant in the South Asian community in Canada, which is particularly noticeable in the section known as the moderate Sikhs. The moderates are known for their uncritical adaptation of the mainstream culture, who have developed a new racial hierarchy based on the arrival date or the place of birth of a person. People who migrated to Canada a few decades earlier and are financially well-settled as compared to the new immigrants often ridicule the latter and generally address them with slurs such as freshie, fob, and dipper etc. International students are the latest victims of this hate campaign. 

 

The issue, however, is neither new nor unique to the Sikhs. Frantz Fanon once said, "The colonized will believe the worst about themselves." What we are witnessing in Canada is a variation of this truth. These Canadian South Asians, too inarticulate to fight mainstream racism, are scapegoating international students to feel good about themselves. They are deflecting the racism they face in Canada onto the international Punjabi students. Internalized racism is quite prevalent among all racialized groups. But such scapegoating of the further marginalized group within the larger racialized group is not that common. It is a very shortsighted and counterproductive way to cope with the racism they experience. By scapegoating international students, they are betraying their complicity with the dominant racial order. They have not only accepted their inferiority but are also perpetuating it.

 

Most international students who come to Canada from Punjab are in their twenties. They were born during the 1990s, just after Punjab went through a very crucial period in its modern history; a few cycles of genocide that had left the community deeply shattered. During the early nineties, two phenomena intimately connected with each other: the fall of the Sikh struggle for freedom and the neoliberal globalization, initiated new transformations in Punjab. One was not possible without the other. A closer look at the larger context would provide pertinent insights into the developments during the early nineties.

 

The project of Sikhi as envisioned by the ten Guru Sahiban and eternally enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib is the creation of a new subjectivity, a new model of being human. The Sikh subjectivity submits only to the will of Akal Purakh. It is Nirbhau and Nirvair. Khalsa is the spiritual and corporeal epitome of this subjectivity. This subjectivity, in bowing only before Akal Purakh, naturally challenges all worldly authority. It realizes itself through Sarbat Da Bhala, Akal Purakh di Prema-Bhagti, and unalienated labor.

 

Neoliberalism aims to engender the exact opposite of the Sikh subjectivity. Neoliberalism teaches humans to be selfish, to be averse to the very idea of social justice and devoid of any spiritual connection with the divine. It turns people into the moneymaking machines. Alienating labor sucks every trace of humanity out of us. Neoliberalism puts us into the service of capitalism and imperialism and builds a world based on the idea of the racial hegemony of some over the others; an ideology that cannot coexist with authentic Sikh praxis.

 

When the brutal violence of the Indian regime was suppressing the Sikhs, it was not only physical violence the Sikhs had to bear; the real tragedy was supplanting the Sikh subjectivity with the neoliberal one. Within a span of a few years, Punjab was turned into a strange mix of tortured bodies and souls of the Sikhs and the heavily drugged dancing bodies of the Punjabis. The exclusionary ethnicity of Punjabiat, a fabricated notion, displaced the egalitarianism of Sikhi. Constructed during the colonial period, Punjabiat leads to ethnic chauvinism. It is no accident that the discourse of ethnic Punjabiat was accompanied by vulgar music that promoted misogyny, drugs, and senseless violence.

 

International students coming to Canada from Punjab are going through a dual tragedy. First, the brutality and propaganda of the Indian regime violently disunited them from their indigenous sources of inspiration. The music they listen to while growing up violently moulds them into the neoliberal consumers, the embodiments of an unlimited success signified by the consumer products. To some extent, they cannot escape internalizing the neoliberal logic of selfishness and staying aloof to the existential concerns both the planet earth and its inhabitants face. Despite all of these inescapable subjectivity formation processes, however, the youth could not dismiss the connection they had with their roots. New communication technologies played a crucial role in providing them with the access to information about their traditions and the recent Sikh struggle for sovereignty. Websites such as the www.NeverForget84.com, run by Bhai Jagtar Singh Jaggi who is currently incarcerated in Punjab on fabricated charges, played a significant role in reconnecting the youth with their roots via the traumatic events of the 1980s.

 

Secondly, after they step on a foreign soil, Canada in this case, attempts at alienation come from several expected and unexpected quarters. They get dehumanizing looks and insulting remarks at every turn from the Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. Instead of developing some support system, the Sikhs in Canada, including those who claim to fight for the Sikh sovereignty, have failed the newcomers on the student visas. Not a single Sikh Gurdwara has offered any support system or scholarships to the Sikh students from Punjab. Because the immense self-hate that has consumed the community members controlling the management committees occasionally spills over and starts stigmatizing an already vulnerable subsection of their own community. Instead of threatening them with deportations, we need to welcome them with open arms and hearts as our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters. We need to start the scholarships for bright students, set up job placement centers at Gurdwaras for them and help them in every way we can. Based on my experience as a teacher with some of these students, I can assure everyone concerned that our affective steps can cure every flaw and weakness they have. Don’t we remember that nothing good comes from hate, whether it is directed towards oneself or the other? Self-hate, just like the hate for the other, dehumanizes the hater first. In welcoming and embracing international students, Canadian Sikhs would be doing a great favor to themselves as well.

 

Prabhsharanbir Singh is Doctoral Candidate for Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program at University of British Columbia. Follow him on twitter @prabhsharanbir. 

The autobiography of a philanthropist who lost his wife and two children in the Air India bombing was released in Delta, British Columbia, on Sunday afternoon.

Ray of Hope is the memoir of Dr. Chandra Sankurathri whose wife Manjari, son Srikiran and daughter Sarada were aboard the ill-fated Air India Flight 182 that was bombed mid-air in June 1985, killing all 329 people aboard.

This was the worst attack in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11. Widely blamed on the Sikh separatists seeking revenge for the repression of Sikhs in 1984, the attack had turned the life of Sankurathri upside down. Yet, turning his grief into strength, Sankurathri established a foundation in memory of his wife in her native city of Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh in India.

The Manjarai Sankurathri Memorial Foundation currently runs a free school and an eye hospital for poor and needy. Whereas, the school is named after his daughter whose dream of going to school was shattered as she was only four. He named the hospital after his son.
 
The memoir was released at George Mackie Library in his absence by other Air India victims’ families and friends and two prominent journalists Charlie Smith and Robert Matas. However, his message was read out at the beginning of the event that was organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) in commemoration of the Air India bombing anniversary that falls on June 23. A day before the book launch, the victims’ families had gathered at the Air India memorial in Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada, to remember their loved ones.
 
Among those who unveiled the book were Major Singh Sidhu – who lost his sister, a nephew and a niece and Mandeep Grewal who lost his father. Bahama, a close friend of Dr. Sankurathri joined the unveiling ceremony on his behalf.

A short documentary on Dr. Sankurathri’s work was shown at the event that was opened with a Punjabi poem dedicated to the Air India victims by Amrit Diwana. Both Smith and Matas spoke at length about the Air India tragedy and encouraged people to read Ray of Hope that inspires everyone to fight hatred with love.

Describing the Air India disaster as an attack on the Indian diversity, the IAPI cofounder Gurpreet Singh threw light on the ugly political events of 1984 that led to the bombing and cautioned the gathering about growing attacks on religious minorities in India from Hindu Right and its impending consequences. He pointed out that the Air India bombing was the culmination of similar violence against Sikhs.
 
Among those in attendance were former British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, World Sikh Organization founder Gian Singh Sandhu and University of British Columbia researcher and an activist Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning. Others present included the IAPI cofounder Parshotam Dosanjh and visiting Punjabi leftist activist from India Sardara Mahil.

 

Gurpreet Singh 

As National Indigenous Peoples Day draws closer, the demand for a statutory holiday on June 21 continues to grow. If an online petition on Change.org launched by Coquitlam-based indigenous educator and activist Jennifer Sherif is any indication, thousands of people support this demand. Already the number of signatures it has received so far has surpassed 19,500 and is likely to spike.  

The Canadian government first announced June 21 as National Aboriginal Day in 1996, to recognize indigenous communities and their culture. Last year, the Prime Minister announced his decision to rename it as National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Such recognition is symbolic in nature and a very small step towards decolonization and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples, the real inhabitants of Canada which was built on their stolen lands. Yet it works as a constant reminder to every Canadian that we are all on the traditional lands of the First Nations.  

It is unfortunate and disturbing to see that not many Canadians, especially new Canadians, are aware of this fact or remain indifferent when it comes to acknowledging the history of occupation, racism and genocide of the indigenous peoples through brutal institutions, such as the Indian Residential School system. Systemic racism continues to exist in the everyday lives of the indigenous peoples, who are a minority in their own homeland.

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day may not be sufficient to address these issues, yet it provides non indigenous people of Canada an opportunity to learn more about this inconvenient history. In that sense, the absence of a statutory holiday makes things more difficult. It’s a shame that Canada Day, which is a statutory holiday that represents the colonization of indigenous lands, is celebrated with enthusiasm by most Canadians, including the immigrants, but June 21 is mostly passed as another day on calendar without much interest. The events organized on this occasion are largely remain ignored or poorly attended. Therefore, it becomes important to give Canadians a day off on National Indigenous Peoples Day, so that they have time to go to these events and learn more about the history of colonialism, make more indigenous allies and respect their concerns and grievances. The current Canadian establishment has let them down by failing to have nation-to-nation consultations over controversial projects such as Kinder Morgan or the Site C Dam, or to provide drinkable water in many First Nation communities, overcome poverty and impoverishment, and punish those responsible for structural violence against indigenous women and state repression against indigenous men,  who over-represent their population in prisons.

 

Chandrasekhar Sankurathri is one of those rare human beings who know how to turn one’s grief into strength.

After he lost his wife and two children in the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June, 23 1985, Sankurathri quit his comfortable life in Ottawa and moved back to India, the country of his birth.

He decided to open a free school and free eye hospital for the poor and needy in memory of his loved ones.

The Air India bombing, which has been blamed on Canadian-based Sikh separatists seeking revenge for state repression of Sikhs in India, turned Sankurathri’s life upside down.

His wife Manjari, seven-year-old son Srikiran, and four-year-old daughter Sarada were among the 329 passengers on the ill-fated flight.

They were heading to India for summer vacation, while Sankurathri—who worked as a scientist for the federal government—was supposed to join them a month later. Their bodies were never found.  

After remaining in shock for some time, he finally decided to move back to Kakinada, the native city of his wife in Andhra Pradesh, in 1988. He launched a charity in her name, the Manjari Sankurathri Memorial Foundation, which runs the school and  hospital.

Initially, he bought land in Kakinada in 1987 to open an orphanage. Sankurathri later chose to name the hospital after his son, and he was very particular about naming the school after his daughter.

In his autobiography, A Ray of Hope, he gives a detailed account of his loss and how this marked the beginning of his journey as a philanthropist.

Sankurathri wanted to create a foundation under the name of his wife, whom he loved to the core, and this is one reason why he chose to make her native city its base. He describes her as an “exceptional woman” in his book and writes how empathetic she was toward poor people.

Manjari was greatly disturbed by the events of 1984 that culminated in the Air India tragedy.

In June that year, then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, had ordered a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of Sikhs in Amritsar, to flush out religious extremists who had stockpiled arms in the place of worship.

The army attack had left many innocent pilgrims dead and the buildings inside the shrine heavily destroyed. This led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

In the ensuing days, thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered by mobs who were led by supporters of Indira Gandhi.

Sankurathri writes that his wife had a nightmare about facing bullets of armed Sikh men. To this, he responded by saying that this must have been induced by the repetition of new stories about those unfortunate incidents. 

He also believes that this dream was like a premonition of the tragedy that took her life, along with the lives of her children.

In her dream, she only saw herself and the kids facing bullets, while Sankurathri wasn’t around. Incidentally, he wasn’t traveling with them when the bombing occurred.

Sankurathri decided to name the school after Sarada because her dream of going to school along with her elder brother ended abruptly with her death. He writes how the little girl was fond of keeping a school bag and was very keen to join her brother.

“When I see hundreds of children go to the school that’s named after her, I feel a great sense of satisfaction,” he writes.

He also shares the memory of his son, who was fond of playing piano, and wonders “how proficient a piano player he would have turned out to be had he been alive today”.

In addition, Sankurathri mentions A.V. Anantaraman, who also lost his wife and two children in the bombing. Like Sankurathri, he too moved from Canada back to India to open a school for needy children in Tamil Nadu.

Going back to India to do humanitarian work was not easy for Sankurathri. He had to face many hardships in a country that is so different from Canada.

He had to cajole parents of the poor children to send them to school. Since these children came from families that lacked resources and relied on child labour as helping hands to earn their livelihood, it was not easy to convince them.

Yet he stood his ground and encouraged the children to start attending classes in the evening while continuing to work in the morning. He began by teaching them for free how to read and write.

By doing this work, Sankurathri felt at ease.

“I am thankful to God for giving me a goal to achieve at a time when I might have turned to despair or rage,” he writes.

Referring to those involved in the bombing, Sankurathri reveals that he was able to forgive them.

“I realized that no amount of anger will get my wife and children back. The court case against the terrorists went on for years. People often asked me why I was not following the judicial process. But I was not interested in seeing those responsible get punished for it.” 

Rather, he writes that it is important to know what led to such acts of violence, so that they are not repeated.

Sankurathri draws inspiration from Hinduism and believes that those involved in violence are caught in a cycle of vengeance. He encourages everyone to curb “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth attitude” that has resulted in bloodshed and misery across the world.  

Published by Westland Publications in Chennai, the book also reveals Sankurathri's difficult childhood. He came from a very modest family background in Andhra Pradesh with limited means.

This firsthand experience of hardship, including poverty and natural calamities, gave him an early understanding of the importance of humanitarian work.

His autobiography also conveys the challenges immigrants of his generation faced when they first came to Canada.

Sankurathri moved here for studies in 1967, but eventually made Canada home. He married Manjari in India and brought her as a bride to begin a happy life with his two kids before that was devastated by ugly political events beyond his control. 

A recent episode of the U.S. TV series Quantico has made many Indians upset.


This had led to a backlash in India, with Hindu right-wing activists dubbing Chopra a “traitor”,
 forcing her to apologize.It showed Hindu extremists plotting a terror attack in the U.S. that was to be blamed on Pakistan. One of the investigators, played by Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, thwarts the conspiracy.

Let's get real. Chopra did not do anything wrong, so neither she nor the producers of Quantico should have been apologetic.

There is no question that Pakistan has been a breeding ground of Islamic terrorists who have been active on Indian soil for the past many years.

For this reason, Indian audiences have an appetite for films and TV serials that show Pakistan or Islamic extremists in a negative light.

But the reaction was so strong when Quantico touched the prickly issue of Hindu extremists being involved in terror plots. This is nothing but hypocrisy and a perfect example of a double standard.

Terrorism in the name of Hinduism isn’t just a myth or fiction. It is another ugly reality that needs worldwide recognition, much as Islamic State or any other form of jihadi extremist movement deserves.

It was Hindu extremists, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi—a world-renowned leader of the passive resistance movement—in 1948. Gandhi was murdered by those seeking to turn India into a Hindu theocracy after the country gained official independence from British in 1947.

They embraced the ideology of "Hindutva", which is based on the belief that India belongs to Hindus and that all minorities should not be given any concessions.

Gandhi was opposed to the creation of a Hindu state and denounced violence against Muslims during partition of India, which led to the separation of Muslim-dominated Pakistan. So the Hindu extremists got together to eliminate him physically.

The story did not end there. In post-independence India they became much more organized and have indulged in many horrific acts of violence against religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians.

In recent years, they have killed several secularist activists and thinkers, using death squads who are generally armed with guns and carry out targeted killings. On other occasions, they have targeted Muslim shrines using explosives.

The plotline of controversial Quantico episode could be based on imagination, but the truth is that those who were involved in these blasts tried to disguise themselves as Muslims to mislead the police and make it appear that these acts of violence were the handiwork of Pakistan.

The anti-Muslim or anti-Pakistan prejudices that exist within India's security circles make their task easier.

Thanks to the professional investigation done by few honest officers, a network of Hindu extremists involved in terrorism was smashed several years ago.

It is a different matter that the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India is trying to help those arrested through a back-door amnesty or by using its power to weaken the charges against them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi once publicly defended those arrested in connection with the bombings.

People in this government are die-hard followers of Hindutva. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Modi considers one of the former suspects in Gandhi assassination as his role model, while others see the man who pulled the trigger as a patriot.

Instead of venting on Chopra or the producers of Quantico, the Indian establishment should be forced to deal with Hindutva terrorism firmly and honestly.

 

You cannot squarely pick on just the Muslim community or Pakistanis or for that matter any other minority community, for terrorism which has no religion. Those who are using Hinduism as a shield to carry on terror activities also need to be exposed and punished.

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