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Support in Canada continues to grow for a Delhi University Professor who is incarcerated in an Indian jail despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.  

After the World Sikh Organization (WSO), the Alliance Against Displacement joins the list of Canadian groups who have raised their voice for wheelchair bound GN Saibaba, who was given a life sentence last year.  

Saibaba has been advocating for the rights of the oppressed groups and indigenous communities in India. He was charged for being a supporter of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal areas.

Saibaba had mobilized public opinion against growing state repression of the indigenous peoples, who are being displaced from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian government, forcing many to join Maoist movement. His family and friends believe that he has been framed to silence any voice of dissent from civil society. They apprehend danger to his life as he has multiple health issues.

On Monday April 30, Alliance Against Displacement organized a conversation on the criminalization of indigenous people and racialized communities, in the Dr. Ambedkar room of Surrey Central Library. The organizers included anti-poverty activists Dave Diewert and Ivan Drury. Among the participants were members of visible minority groups who shared their experiences of racial profiling and police high handedness.

Incidentally, Dr. Ambedkar was a towering social justice activist of India, who had dedicated his entire life for the empowerment of depressed classes.  

During the event, the participants were told about the case of Saibaba, who has always stood for religious minorities and indigenous communities, following which they held out “FREE SAIBABA” signs to show their solidarity. Not long ago, seniors with disabilities at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services in Surrey also did the same by posing with “FREE SAIBABA” signs before the camera.

Earlier, WSO came out with a statement expressing its concerns over the deteriorating health condition of Saibaba. As one of the largest Sikh advocacy groups in Canada, WSO has been raising the issues of political prisoners in India even in the past.

Likewise, Khalra Mission, a human rights group established in memory of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a Sikh activist who was kidnapped and murdered by the Indian police in 1995, has also expressed its support to Saibaba. The slain activist’s son, Janmeent Singh Khalra, lives in Calgary and has been raising the issue of Saibaba through social media.    

A petition asking for the release of Saibaba on compassionate grounds has received 1,000 signatures in Canada. Most of these signatures were collected during the Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey last year. Members of the Sikh community enthusiastically signed the petition, which was launched by Radical Desi, and later submitted to at least two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian.  

Federal New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh and BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger also made statements in support of Saibaba.

Within the academic circles, Seema Ahluwalia, who teaches indigenous studies at Kwantlen College, and Anne Murphy who teaches at the University of British Columbia also helped in raising awareness about the situation of Saibaba. 

Canada-based World Sikh Organization (WSO) has raised its voice for the disabled Delhi University Professor, who continues to be incarcerated under inhuman conditions.

G.N. Saibaba - who is ninety percent disabled below his waist - is serving a life sentence after being convicted for being a supporter of the Maoist insurgents.

His family and supporters believe that he is being persecuted for standing up for religious minorities and the oppressed communities, and mobilizing public opinion against state violence in tribal areas where the government and the extraction industry are trying to evict indigenous communities to get access to natural resources. This situation has forced many tribal people to take up arms and join the Maoist ranks.

Wheelchair bound Saibaba was convicted under a draconian law in March, 2017. His health condition continues to deteriorate in the jail, while his wife fears for his life. 

Over 1,000 people in Canada signed a petition asking for international intervention to get him released. Launched by Radical Desi, the petition was submitted to the Canadian parliament by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian, while the Federal New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh made a statement on social media expressing his concern over the health of Saibaba.

BC Federation of Labour leader Irene Lanzinger also made a statement for Saibaba on International Human Rights Day.

The WSO, which is a powerful lobby group in Canada, has been consistently raising the issues of political prisoners and state repression in India. Its President Mukbir Singh said in a statement that Saibaba’s detention and treatment is “shocking”.  “Human rights organizations, including the WSO are concerned that Saibaba has been targeted based on his human rights advocacy work and convicted on false pretenses”.

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

Some self-styled Indian patriots settled in UK have launched a petition seeking action against those who tore the Indian national flag recently.

The incident happened during protests against visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The protests were mainly organized by groups representing religious minorities in India that feel threatened under the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Modi.

Ever since Modi got elected as Prime Minister in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have grown. The BJP supporters frequently target Muslims and Christians, as well as so-called untouchables. Members of the Sikh minority fear assimilation, since the BJP considers Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold a claim that is  vehemently denied by the Sikh leaders). Despite this, the BJP and Hindu Right organizations have been directly or indirectly involved in attacks on Sikhs in the past and during recent times.

The Indian government also reacted sharply to the “act of sacrilege,” and the UK has apologized for the incident.

It is understandable that people can be sensitive about national flags, but considering some recent developments in India, one can argue that this reaction is completely hypocritical.

In fact, the Indian state and its apologists outside the country have no moral right to grumble over what happened in London.

Do we need to remind them that the biggest disgrace to the flag was committed by supporters of the BJP when they rallied in support of those accused of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua? Asifa Bano belonged to a nomadic community. Some Hindu fanatics conspired to rape and kill her to not only humiliate her community, but to force them to migrate. Clearly, sexual violence was used as a political weapon on an innocent child. 

Those who rallied in support of the perpetrators were seen waving the Indian national flag. We need to ask those shedding tears for a torn flag, wasn’t this shameful? Where were these patriots when the national flag was used in defence of the rapists and murderers?

This wasn’t the first time that BJP supporters used the national flag in defence of those involved in heinous crime. Earlier, the dead body of a Hindu extremist who was convicted for the murder of a Muslim and had died due to illness was draped in the national flag. Why was such outrage missing when the coffin of a Hindu bigot was covered with the national flag?

A nation is not defined by a land mass, its boundaries or its national icons, such as flags or emblems. It is represented by its people. These patriots should rather be upset over what the current government and its supporters are doing to the citizens, by denying them equal rights, raping them and killing them with impunity, in complete contradiction to what the Indian constitution stands for. The fashionable patriots who are carried away by a symbolic gesture of protesters in London should rather ask themselves whether or not the Indian constitution is based on the principles of religious freedom and equality? If that is true, then their anger must be directed at Modi and his cohorts, instead of those who only wanted to draw  international attention to the ongoing violence against minorities in India.

 

 

An eight-year-old who was raped and murdered in Kathua, India was remembered at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade on Saturday, April 21.

Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomad community, was kidnapped, held captive in a Hindu temple, sedated, raped and then brutally murdered in January this year. Although her relatives and activists followed the whole episode closely, the issue got international attention only recently. While angry protests were held all over the globe, including one in Surrey last Thursday, United Nations and International Monetary Fund also came out with strong statements.

What outraged most people was the support given to the accused in the case by the leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The police charge sheet has established that this was done as part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate the community members of the deceased child and force them to migrate. It is believed that rape was used as a weapon to shame the Muslims. The assailants kidnapped Asifa when she had taken family horses for grazing. Her body was later dumped in a jungle.  

On Thursday, hundreds of people assembled at Holland Park in Surrey to attend the vigil organized by Global Girl Power. The widespread anger was noticed across the Lower Mainland. Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt and her team took to social media to register their protest. Datt even tweeted in Hindi and questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party has either tried to shield the perpetrators or is trying to dilute the matter.

During Vaisakhi parade, where 500,000 people showed up, posters carrying pictures of the victim with the slogan “Justice for Asifa” could be seen on display at various corners along the route. Some floats, such as one belonging to Mamta Foundation, which tries to help abandoned girls and the destitute in India, also carried the poster.

Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple spokesperson Gian Singh Gill told the Radical Desi that the community here is distraught over what happened to Asifa, and these posters were manifestation of that anger. The Surrey Vaisakhi parade is held every year under the aegis of Dashmesh Darbar.

On Sunday, visiting human rights activists from India Teesta Setalvad and Buta Singh spoke about the case of Asifa at an event organized by Radical Desi, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, Seerat and Punjabi Sahit Sabha (Mudhli). Both speakers told the gathering at Surrey Newton Library that Asifa’s rape and murder is part of a pattern of using the bodies of women and young girls as battlefields. They insisted that any attempt to dilute the gravity of this case is helping the perpetrators and the BJP which is backing them.

Those in attendance included MLA Rachna Singh, prominent media broadcasters Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, Imtiaz Popat and Balli Kaur Deol (who was one of the organizers of the Thursday vigil), Makhan Tutt of Mamta Foundation, film actor BKS Rakhra, Sikh activist Barjinder Singh, social justice activist Sunil Kumar, Indian rationalist society leader Avtar Gill, East Indian Defence Committee members Harbhajan Cheema and Parminder Kaur Swaich, communist activists Shahnaz Nighat and Navtej Johal, and the publisher of Alameen Post newspaper Jaffer Bhamji – who also organized an event for Asifa at Riverside Signature Banquet Hall in Surrey on Monday, April 23.   

Later, the participants rallied outside the library carrying placards asking for justice for Asifa and raised slogans against the forces that are trying to shield the accused.

 

 

Visiting social justice activist from India Teesta Setalvad was honoured with a medal of courage by Radical Desipublications and Indians Abroad For Pluralist India, at an event organized in commemoration of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Friday, April 13.

Held at the Surrey Central Library, the event was organized to launch the Punjabi edition of Foot Soldier of the Constitution. Originally authored by Setalvad in English, it was translated by Buta Singh into Punjabi. The book is a memoir of Setalvad, based on her journey as a journalist and an activist who has been fighting for justice to the victims of state repression. The Indian establishment tried to prevent her from travelling abroad by slapping malicious charges against her. However, she was finally allowed by the Indian Supreme Court to leave for Canada.

Setalvad spoke at length about the current situation in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist government and growing attacks on religious minorities. She pointed out that the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre has become more relevant today as the police and security forces continue to target people by using repressive laws.

Scores of peaceful protesters were killed in an indiscriminate firing by the troops on an assembly of people at Jallinwala Bagh in Amritsar on April 13, 1919. The demonstrators had gathered to denounce stringent laws that were passed to suppress the liberation movement under British India. Setalvad’s great-grandfather Chimanlal Setalvad was among those who cross-examined the British army general who was involved in the massacre.   

Buta Singh, a dedicated activist himself and the editor ofLok Kafila – a Punjabi magazine that covers alternative politics - also spoke on the occasion, and emphasized the need to stand up against ongoing state repression in India.

The event was started with a moment of silence for Asifa, an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was murdered and raped in Kathua, and whose killers were being defended by members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party.

The members of Ambedkar International Social Reform Organisation (AISRO) also came to welcome Setalvad, who was shown the library room named after Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar – the co-author of the Indian constitution and a towering leader of the Dalit emancipation movement. Notably, the Friday event was held on the eve of the birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Chimanlal Setalvad was a close associate of Ambedkar and helped him in his struggle against oppression of the so-called untouchables in a caste ridden society.

Later, a candle light vigil was held at Holland Park, where speakers paid tributes to the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and demanded the release of political prisoners, such as Prof GN Saibaba and Chander Shekhar Azad. Saibaba is ninety percent disabled below the waist. Both Saibaba and Azad are currently imprisoned for raising their voices for the oppressed groups.

Those who spoke on the occasion included, Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians leader Shahzad Nazir Khan, AISRO cofounder Rashpal Bhardawaj, independent Ambedkarite activist Kamlesh Aheer, veteran communist leader Harjit Daudhria, besides Setalvad and Buta Singh.

The candle light vigil, organized every year by Mehak Punjab Dee TV, was started with a moment of silence for the Palestinian protesters who were recently killed by Israeli forces. It is pertinent to mention that Mehak Punjab Dee TV Producer Kamaljit Thind has also launched an online petition seeking a formal apology from the British government. He also organizes an exhibition of pictures related to the Jallianwala Bagh history during annual Vaisakhi parades both in Vancouver and Surrey. 

South Asian seniors residing at Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Assisted Living care home in Surrey have joined the chorus in support of physically challenged Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba. 

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, continues to serve a life term in the Maharashtra jail in India.

Convicted for being an alleged supporter of Maoist insurgents, Saibaba has been in the forefront of campaigns against repression of tribal people. His supporters believe that he is being punished for standing up for the underdog and raising his voice against the extraction industry and the Indian government, who are determined to evict tribal people from their traditional lands to take control over natural resources.

Almost 1,000 people in Canada have already signed a petition seeking his release on compassionate grounds.

On Monday, April 9, dozens of seniors with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, were apprised by the team of Radical Desi about the situation of Saibaba, whose health continues to deteriorate in jail. 

This was followed by a question and answer session, after which the majority of participants agreed that Saibaba is being persecuted and should be released on humanitarian grounds. They held together signs with letters, “FREE SAIBABA” to show their support to the family of the interned professor.     

Saroj Sood, the president of the group of seniors living at the PICS care home, said that the Indian government must listen to those who want Saibaba to be released, and stop torturing a helpless man. She expressed her outrage at the fact that people like Saibaba are being forced to suffer such inhuman conditions.

A visiting social justice activist from India, Buta Singh, who has been consistently raising the issue of Saibaba, and veteran communist activist Harjit Daudhria were also in attendance. 

 

 

Dalit activists held a demonstration in solidarity with the organizers of an April 2 Bharat Bandh in India, at Holland Park in Surrey on Sunday afternoon, April 1.  

Braving cold weather, more than two dozen people showed up at the rally, held under the aegis of Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization (AISRO) of Canada.

AISRO has intensified its activities over the past several months against the growing atrocities on Dalits or so-called untouchables under the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in India. The Sunday rally was against the latest attempts to scrap the laws that were adopted to prevent violence against Dalits.

The participants carried placards and raised slogans against the BJP and the RSS.  They also announced their unconditional support to the organizers of Bharat Bandh in India and resolved to send funds to strengthen the movement back home. They were unanimous in their criticism of spiralling attacks on other minority communities in India under the BJP rule. 

Among the speakers were the AISRO cofounders Ratan Paul, Surinder Singh Sandhu and Rashpal Singh Bhardwaj, besides former Ravidas Gurdwara President Amarjit Leahl and Indian Rationalist Society leader Avtar Gill. Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, Parshotam Dosanjh and Gurpreet Singh, also attended the rally to show their support.  

 

 

If recent developments in Canada are any indication, white supremacy is on the rise in this country.

 

Members of the alt-right group Soldiers of Odin disrupted the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination March, held on Saturday at Thornton Park in Vancouver. 

 

This was the second year in a row that the white nationalists disrupted the annual march in the presence of the police.

 

The Coalition Against Bigotry, one of the organizers of the annual march, has complained that laxity of the police is giving legitimacy to such groups. Last year, the same group tried to take over the center stage of the event while the police looked on.

 

Some witnesses claim that at least 14 members of the Soldiers of Odin came to disrupt the march this year.

 

The organizers feel that Canadian politicians and the police have failed to check the growing activities of white supremacists ever since the election of Donald Trump as US President.

 

Statistics Canada has already noticed a spike in hate crimes across BC.  

 

If this was not enough, a Sikh man was attacked in Ottawa last Friday. The two white men involved in the incident stole his turban and hurled racial abuses at him. The attackers also stole his wallet and bus pass.

 

In the meantime, the suspect in last year’s Quebec mosque shooting that left six people dead has pleaded not guilty. Alexandre Bissonnette, who was a supporter of far right leaders, including Trump is facing six first degree murder charges. 

 

 

 

Facebook has blocked Punjab-based Suhi Sahver, a website that covers alternative politics, allegedly under pressure from supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Its publisher and editor, Shiv Inder Singh, is a critic of religious fanaticism and is known for his progressive and secular views.

He earlier used to give daily updates to a Vancouver-based Punjabi radio station, which also terminated his services, reportedly under pressure from the pro-BJP lobby.

A few days ago, Singh noticed that Facebook had stopped displaying posts from Suhi Saver. The provocation appears to be the publication of a Punjabi translation of an article by Vancouver-based journalist Gurpreet Singh.

The article was critical of the growing media censorship under the BJP government. Though it was posted by two English-language websites, Suhi Saver was the first Punjabi website to publish its Punjabi version. After Singh was unable to share it on Facebook, he noticed that many other Suhi Saver articles had also disappeared from the social media platform. He later found that this was done following complaints against his website, possibly from BJP supporters who have a very powerful IT cell. Singh says that he was falsely accused of spreading hatred, and wasn’t given an opportunity to explain his side of the story.  

Many of his followers on social media have condemned Facebook's action and have shown their solidarity with him.

 

 

The exoneration by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of six Indigenous Chiefs executed by the colonial government more than 150 years ago, should be followed by a similar move to right the historical wrong of hanging South Asian political activist Mewa Singh. 

Singh was executed in 1915 for assassinating controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson. He was the first Sikh activist to be hanged on Canadian soil for a political murder.

On Monday, Trudeau made a statement in the House of Commons absolving the Tsilhqot’in chiefs, who were hanged for the killings of fourteen white road construction workers during the Chilcotin War of 1864, which was precipitated by the settlers who came in for gold and gave no consideration to the rights of the Chilcotin people.

During this time, not only did the settlers try to build a road into their traditional territory without consent, they also raped indigenous women.

Following the killings, five Indigenous Chiefs were tricked into peace talks, but were arrested and hanged, despite their legal argument that as a sovereign nation, they were engaged in a war against invaders. The sixth chief was executed much later.    

Trudeau acknowledged that these Chiefs had acted as leaders of a proud and independent nation facing the threat of another nation.

So much so, Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who is the opposition critic for Indigenous affairs, admitted that the six chiefs did what anyone would have done under similar circumstances to defend their rights.

In the light of Monday’s development, Canada should think of absolving Singh and recognize that what he did wasn’t a crime motivated by any personal motive or greed.

Singh was one of those South Asians who had started arriving to British Columbia by the late 1800s to earn a better livelihood. This was a time when India and British Columbia shared a history of British colonialism.

The British occupation of India had made lives of ordinary people in that part of the world miserable. Since the British Empire claimed that it treated its subjects fairly, many Punjabi Sikh immigrants emigrated to British Columbia in search of greener pastures. However, upon reaching here they had to face racial hostilities. They were not allowed to bring their families and were disfranchised in 1907. All this was done to discourage them from permanent settlement as the government wanted to keep Canada as a "white man’s country". 

The South Asian community elders realized that they were being treated with contempt only because their home country wasn’t free. Thus began struggles against colonialism back home, and racism abroad. Under these circumstances, the South Asian political activists started getting organized. Since a majority of them were the Sikhs, they built a gurdwara under the aegis of Khalsa Diwan Society. The temple provided a religious space, but also became a centre of political activism. Singh, who was a devout Sikh, was among those who collected donations for the first gurdwara in Vancouver. He later became involved in political actions.   

The turning point came in 1914 when the Komagata Maru was forcibly returned by the Canadian government under a discriminatory immigration law. The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to leave under the shadow of guns on July 23, 1914, after remaining stranded at sea in the Vancouver harbour for two months. This incident had galvanized the freedom movement in India.

Trudeau has already made an official apology for the Komagata Maru episode in the House of Commons.

The incident had started a bloody fight within the South Asian community, which was divided in two camps, one led by the radical activists and the other patronized by Hopkinson. The latter camp was a group of spies who often intimidated activists in the South Asian community. Through this network of moles in the community, Hopkinson was gathering secret information about political activists and sending it to the British Indian government. He had previously served in India and was sent here on purpose. 

In the month of September, 1914, Hopkinson’s agent Bela Singh went into the gurdwara and shot two political activists to death - Bhaag Singh and Badan Singh. This act of sacrilege and blatant racism turned Singh into an assassin. He fatally shot Hopkinson at the Vancouver courthouse where the latter had gone to testify for Bela Singh who faced jury trial. Singh did not escape from the scene and courted arrest. He also decided against pleading not guilty in the court and took sole responsibility of the murder. His statement gives us an idea that he was willing to face death with courage and had no regret for his action, which was the result of racism and mistreatment of the South Asian immigrants in Vancouver. He chanted prayers when he was being taken to the gallows on the morning of January 11, 1915.

Undoubtedly, the murder of Hopkinson was the culmination of British colonialism and systemic racism. If Canada really cares for reconciliation then it must accept this reality and absolve Singh of criminal charges. But what is more important than these symbolic gestures is that Canada should address real issues, like growing white supremacy in our communities, honest nation to nation consultations with the indigenous groups before making any decision about pushing controversial projects, such as Kinder Morgan pipelines or Site C Dam into their territories, a meaningful investigation into the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women, and making environment safe for refugees and immigrants. 

In the meantime, Radical Desi has launched an online petition seeking exoneration of Mewa Singh. Anyone interested to sign can go to “Hey Canada Exonerate Bhai Mewa Singh" at Change.org.

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