"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Canadian politicians remain insensitive to the sufferings of Kashmiris Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, has let down the people of Indian occupied Kashmir by remaining insensitive to the ongoing repression in the region under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Since August 5, Kashmir has virtually been turned into an open jail after the Indian government led by BJP abrogated special status given to the state, turning it into centrally governed union territory without any dialogue with the local leaders. This is despite the fact that India is internationally seen as the world’s largest democracy.

Phones and net service aren’t working, as the region remains cut off from the rest of the country that claims Kashmir to be its integral part. Kashmiri politicians have been detained, while physical violence continues to be applied on dissidents with impunity.

The ruling BJP and its supporters claim that the step was necessary to contain terrorism and violent struggle for an independent Kashmir. They have gone to the extent of labelling anyone who criticises such undemocratic move as anti-national.

The fact remains that the BJP government, which enjoys a brute majority in the parliament, had a long time agenda to revoke the special status to Kashmir - the only Muslim dominated state in India - to polarize the Hindu majority all over the country. Even months before the general election last May, the BJP had demonized Muslims. After a suicide attack left close to 40 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir, Kashmiris in other parts of India were roughed up and beaten by the mobs as the authorities remained mute spectators.   

The situation has turned volatile after the August 5 announcement. However, the Canadian government remains indifferent, despite many protests held coast to coast by Kashmiris and their supporters. Even as 3,000 postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked him to break his silence, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has come out with a very weak statement. She simply assures that Canada continues to closely follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of laying the blame at the doorstep of the Indian government, she has called on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control (international boundary dividing Indian and Pakistani Kashmir) and in the region.

The federal New Democrats, especially Svend Robinson, a former MP and a known advocate for human rights, came out with a very strong statement categorically condemning the action of the Indian state. But his party colleagues in BC have maintained a deafening silence. They not only remained away from the rallies held in support of the people of Kashmir, but abstained from making any statement citing this to be a federal matter. Nevertheless, they shamelessly participated in series of events sponsored by the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Among them are Minister Jinny Sims and Raj Chouhan, a Deputy speaker, who attended India’s Independence Day celebrations inside the consulate on August 15, but did not dare to come and join the protestors who had gathered outside. Notably, both are South Asians and come from labour movements that boast to be the defenders of international solidarity movement.

Not to be left behind, Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal and another BC Minister, Harry Bains, joined Sims and others for another event held in partnership with the Indian Consulate on August 31. Notably, Bains had flayed the suicide attack that left 40 soldiers dead in Kashmir, but never found it necessary to say a word against the Indian state’s highhandedness against its people. So much so, the NDP leaders have also failed to stand up against a local BJP supporter, Parshotam Goyal, who described Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as “mentally retarded” for raising his voice in support of the people of Kashmir. Goyal is associated with the Laxminarayan Hindu temple in Surrey that welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.  They even remained silent when Goyal ridiculed a Muslim TV reporter of Pakistani origin for asking an inconvenient question about human rights abuse in Kashmir, during a press conference organized by the officials of Laxminarayan Temple in support of the BJP government’s decision on Kashmir. Similarly, Dhaliwal never showed up at the rally held in Surrey for the people of Kashmir despite being invited by the organizers. For the record, these politicians have mostly ignored invitations for similar protest rallies against state repression in India over the past several years. The attacks on religious minorities continue to grow, but these politicians have always preferred to maintain cozy relations with the Indian officials instead of making time to listen to the grievances of those who have been holding demonstrations to highlight these issues in Canada. This may have to do with the fact that they have business and family ties with India and do not want to annoy the Indian agents who hold enough power to deny them visas. Notably, Dhaliwal was once denied a visa for raising the issue of 1984 Sikh Genocide in the parliament. Jagmeet Singh was denied Indian visa as well for the same reason. 

But there are a few exceptions, like Harpreet Singh, an independent TV broadcaster and Conservative Party candidate for Surrey Newton, who never shies from attending such rallies. He has been very vocal against ongoing repression of minorities and political dissidents in India, in spite of being a candidate of a right wing political party that is known for its fondness for the BJP. He has not only stood up against some of the hardline positions of his party, but has also provided the platform of his independent TV show to people who are critical of BJP government.

If Canadian politicians really care for social justice and human rights, they need to speak out very powerfully against the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian military forces.  By choosing to remain neutral they are siding with the oppressors. Either tell the Indian establishment to stop this barbarity, or stop wining and dining with their agents for selfish interests. Otherwise don’t pretend to be champions of the underdog.   

 

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