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Raise Your Hands Against Racism, launched by a Burnaby-based radio station, today formally entered its fifth year.

Started by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. in January, 2015, this year’s campaign was flagged off by New Westminster City Councillor Chuck Puchmayr.

Puchmayr, a vocal activist for social justice, was instrumental behind a recent proclamation recognizing January 11 as Bhai Mewa Singh Day in commemoration of a Sikh political activist who was hanged in 1915.

Jonathan Cote, the Mayor of New Westminster where Singh was executed, created history by reading the proclamation on January 13 in the presence of members of the South Asian community.  

Mewa Singh was part of a radical movement launched by the Indian immigrants in North America against the British occupation of India and racism abroad.  

A devout Sikh, Singh assassinated controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson in Vancouver in 1914. The incident was the culmination of infamous Komagata Maru episode.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return under a discriminatory immigration law that was enacted to keep Canada as a “white man’s country”.  This had led to bloody clashes between the political activists and a pro-establishment faction of the community.  As a result, Bela Singh, a mole of the Canadian authorities within the Sikh community, went inside a gurdwara and shot to death a revolutionary community leader Bhaag Singh and his associate Badan Singh.

Since Bela Singh was patronised by Hopkinson, who had precipitated the conflict among the local South Asians through his spies, Mewa Singh murdered him and courted arrest soon after. Hopkinson had been keeping an eye on the activists and tried to weaken the movement to serve the interests of the British Empire.

Mewa Singh faced his trial with courage and conviction, and chanted prayers while being taken to the gallows in New Westminster jail. His testimony establishes that he had taken such an extreme step in response to racism and sacrilege of the temple.  

As a fitting tribute to Mewa Singh, who laid down his life fighting against racism, the City of New Westminster decided to proclaim January 11, 2020 as “Bhai Mewa Singh Day”.  

Puchmayr admitted that this was a difficult thing to do and the city had to face some backlash from those who see Singh as a killer without acknowledging the history of extreme racism.

Spice Radio had invited the entire city council to start this year’s campaign, to reciprocate this important gesture on behalf of the South Asian community. While Cote could not make it, Puchmayr along with his colleague Jaimie McEvoy came to Burnaby to participate in the campaign that encourages people to dip their hands in colour and leave behind their handprints on a white sheet with messages against bigotry.    

The city of New Westminster had earlier removed the statue of controversial colonial era Judge Mathew Begbie, who had ordered the execution of six Chilcotin Chiefs in 1864 for the murder of 14 white road construction workers who were harassing the indigenous peoples and their women. Likewise, the City had previously displayed leadership by apologizing to the Chinese Canadians for injustices of the past. 

 

***      

 

 

The City of New Westminster has officially declared January 11‬ as Bhai Mewa Singh Day in commemoration of a Sikh political activist who was hanged in 1915.

Right before the meeting of City Council on Monday evening, Mayor Jonathan Cote read out the proclamation that was later presented to officials of the Sukh Sagar Sahib Sikh temple, which has kept the history of Mewa Singh alive. Temple president Harbhajan Singh Atwal gave Cote the sword of honour as a token of gratitude on behalf of the Sikh community. Among those present was Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, whose constituency office had unveiled the portrait of Mewa Singh last year. Also in attendance were members of the East India Defence Committee which has launched a petition asking for the recognition of Mewa Singh as a hero, and playwright Paneet Singh, who has been raising awareness about Mewa Singh through theatre. The event followed a brief presentation on the relevance of Mewa Singh by Gurpreet Singh from Radical Desi magazine, which had made the request for a proclamation to the City Council. 

Mewa Singh was part of a radical movement launched by Indian immigrants in North America against British occupation of India and racism abroad. Singh was a devout Sikh, who had assassinated a controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson in Vancouver in 1914. The incident was the culmination of infamous Komagata Maru episode.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return under a discriminatory immigration law enacted to keep Canada as a “white man’s country”.  This had led to bloody clashes between the political activists and a pro-establishment faction of the community.  As a result of this, Bela Singh, a mole of the Canadian authorities within the Sikh community, went inside a gurdwara and shot to death a revolutionary community leader, Bhaag Singh, and his associate Badan Singh.

Since Bela Singh was patronised by Hopkinson, who had precipitated the conflict among the local South Asians through his spies, Mewa Singh murdered him and courted arrest soon after. Hopkinson was keeping an eye on the activists and tried to weaken their movement, to serve the interests of the British Empire.

Mewa Singh faced the trial with courage and conviction and chanted prayers while being taken to the gallows in New Westminster jail. His testimony establishes that he had taken such an extreme step in response to racism and sacrilege of the temple.  

City councillor Chuck Puchmayr was instrumental behind the proclamation. He had earlier moved a motion to remove the statue of controversial colonial era Judge Mathew Begbie, who had ordered the execution of six Tsilhqot'in Chiefs in 1864 for the murder of 14 white road construction workers who were harassing the Indigenous peoples including women.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh 

Today marks the 112th year of the passage of a racist law adopted by Canada to discourage permanent settlement of Indian immigrants.

The Continuous Journey Law, as it was called, required immigrants to come to Canada only through direct passage from the country of their birth or citizenship. It was aimed at keeping Canada as a "white man's land" and discourage Indians from making Canada their home. 

The Indians had started migrating to this part of the world for a better livelihood as their home country was under British occupation that had caused many economic hardships. Since BC was part of the British dominion, they came here as British subjects. However, many white workers saw them as a threat to their survival, since most of them worked for lesser wages. Buckling under the pressure of white supremacy, the Canadian government began applying measures to stop the immigration. As a result of this, the Indian immigrants began organizing against racism abroad and foreign occupation back home. The confrontation culminated into the Komagata Maru episode.   

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914. Under the Continuous Journey Law, the ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months. This injustice galvanized freedom movement and inspired many to join the struggle. They could see that this was done so blatantly because their homeland was not free and the world saw them as "slaves". 

The current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already apologized for the episode in the House of Commons. But more than a century later, the history is being repeated by the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, which wants to transform India into a majoritarian Hindu state, recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from neighbouring countries. Among these are Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The act is intended to ensure smooth immigration to India of non-Muslims, especially Hindus. The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, although it goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution, which is based on the principles of secularism and diversity. Being a secular democracy, India cannot discriminate so shamelessly and blatantly against any religious group.

It goes without saying that some Muslim groups, such as Shias, Ahemdiyas or even Mohajirs, face inequality in Pakistan, besides atheists. How can one deny refuge to them? Today's situation constantly brings climate refugees to India, irrespective of their religious beliefs, which nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess what the motivations of this government are. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as exporters of Islamic extremism to polarize Hindus against Muslims. 

It is worth mentioning that attacks on Muslims have grown under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014, and got re-elected last year with more seats. The state of Gujarat witnessed anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 under his watch. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of the state back then, had alleged Pakistan-based Islamic extremists were responsible for burning a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which was instantly blamed on Pakistan, following which thousands of Muslims were killed by mobs across Gujarat.  

It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru, and are not shy to stake claims in the story, while in their own home country they raise walls against refugees in the name of religion. Their attitude is no different than the British, who wanted to keep India divided on religious lines to prolong their rule. Ironically, Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru, shared in his memoir that the British were partly upset for giving space to everyone on the vessel, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, to practise their religions. The founding fathers of modern India tried to build an inclusive society, by taking everyone along in their fight against colonialism and racism, and yet the present day Indian leadership is bent upon destroying that dream. 

Maybe it's time to launch another liberation movement against Modi. It is worth mentioning that the very first rally against CAA in Vancouver was held right outside the Indian Consulate on December 20, the death anniversary of Sohan Singh Bhakna, a towering freedom fighter from Punjab. Bhakna had continued fighting against social injustice even after India became free from British rule in 1947. He was incarcerated for his participation in agitations in the post-British India, which left a bend in his back. He often said that this bend was caused by the native rulers. This shows that the struggle isn't over yet, We need to pursue it to rid India of the fascists. For the record, the founding fathers of BJP had no role in the freedom movement. On the contrary, they compromised with the British and kept a distance from the freedom movement. Their only aim was to create a Hindu state, where everyone except Hindus would be treated as second class citizens , in sharp contrast to the secularist vision of Bhakna and Gurdit Singh.   

It’s also time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for the Komagata Maru, he should intervene and let Modi know that this is not going to be tolerated. If Modi doesn’t listen, then Trudeau must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government. 

***

Riya Talitha 

On October 6, 2019 in an auditorium at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a crowd of roughly 40 people gathered for four hours to watch the screening of Reason -an eight-part documentary - about the current political climate of India. This mammoth project took renowned filmmaker Anand Patwardhan almost four years to complete it.  

It may have been a small crowd, but they were expressive - gasping, flinching, laughing and during the post-movie hour-long discussion, asking incisive questions to Patwardhan, who had made the trip all the way from Mumbai, India where he is based, while it was also screened next day at Toronto International Film Festival.

Patwardhan, a member of the Oscar Academy, and an alumnus of McGill University, has an intimidating number of films under his belt - nearly all of which have faced censorship from the Indian government, and have been the nexus of controversy and even violence in many cases.

The most recent example being the protests at Jadavpur University, that were most likely kickstarted when students of the Department of film studies screened Ram ke Naam (trans. In the Name of God; an explosively truthful account of the demolition of the Babri Masjid). 

India is often proclaimed to be the “largest democracy in the world”, but for the past few years has been undergoing an undeniably tumultuous shift in its political and public spheres - some would argue for the worse. 

Ever since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) came into power in 2014, there has been an increase in mob lynching of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities, as well those of lower-caste communities (https://www.dotodatabase.com/?fbclid=IwAR30jEUY52_ZFi_EgJVyZa3dnN7J448Fcjmzf40TngpTuYejbiqNbm7UCT0).

This is what Reason attempts to showcase, and through a barrage of news headlines from papers big and small, heart-rending interviews of the families of victims of communal and casteist violence, and penetrating questions posed by Patwardhan to ideologues of various shades, it largely succeeds in putting together a coherent narrative that attempts to explain what many see as the chaotic state of Indian politics right now.

There has been an unprecedented surge of popular support for right-wing and capitalist policies that is strikingly similar to the rise of political right in many places around the world. 

According to Patwardhan, in an interview with The Ubyssey, "India is not a full-blown fascist state, but it's going towards that direction". 

Patwardhan hails from a family of Indian freedom fighters but his political awakening took place far from home. 

“I went to jail in America before I went to jail anywhere else, fighting the Vietnam War” said Patwardhan of his anti-war efforts as a student at Brandeis University in Boston. After completing an MA in Communication Studies at McGill, he went back to an India in the throes of the Emergency - a 21-month period from 1974 to 1975, of intense censorship, political repression, and curtailment of democracy. His 1975 documentary about this period Waves of Revolution was made in secret, smuggled abroad to raise awareness and sound the alarm internationally, and within India was screened at underground gatherings.

“People accuse me of being pro-Congress, but I spent most of my life fighting the Congress” says Patwardhan ruefully. 

The Congress is India’s centre-left party, akin to the Liberal Party of Canada, that spearheaded the Independence struggle, but it was under a Congress Prime Minister that the Emergency was declared. 

Now in India, the party whose structure and ideology that Patwardhan is focusing on in his work is the BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

According to Patwardhan, the RSS and its various affiliated organisations have either engineered or been the prime instigators of most instances of communalist violence in modern India. Graphic shots of the burnt and mutilated bodies of Muslim and Dalit victims of these groups are depicted throughout Reason. 

The RSS is a right-wing paramilitary Hindu-nationalist organisation that has been banned thrice in India, and whose top leadership has openly admitted to admiring and following Hitler’s ideologies and methods. 

The RSS heads multiple organisations collectively known as the Sangh Parivar. One of these, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, aims to organise and mobilize Hindus living abroad, ostensibly to collects funds for charity or social work operations both in India and abroad. HSS chapters or Vibhags also tend to function as centres of cultural and religious education and community. 

In British Columbia, there is a HSS B.C Vibhag (https://www.facebook.com/HSSBC/) that has in fact, hosted several semi-religious events with the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir or temple, in Surrey. 

In fact, just this last year, Saumitra Gokhale, the global coordinator of the HSS and a former RSS pracharak was invited to be the speaker at an event titled “Know HSS.”

Patwardhan said “I've also lived in North America for a while when I was a student...and I know for sure that a lot of the damage is done by the NRIs (Non Resident Indians)...the Hindutva NRIs have sent money and stuff for militancy and for their own organizations like the RSS into India” (https://www.ofbjp.org/).

‘Hindutva’ is the term for describing the Hindu-nationalist ideology espoused by the Sangh Parivar and has a long history of being compared to nazism and fascism, in academia and media, both in India and abroad.

Although many might disagree with Patwardhan’s political opinions, his commitment and bravery are undeniable. 

Reason has many nerve-wracking scenes of him walking into violent situations and asking questions - police stations in dangerous areas, mobs yelling Islamaphobic slogans on streets, neighbourhoods under curfew - all for the sake of the documentary. 

“I do nothing to protect myself and so far, I haven't been beaten up” he said in response to an audience member inquiring about the risks he takes. 

“…if something happens to me I'm sure my films will be seen a lot more” said Patwardhan with a smile.

Riya Talitha is from New Delhi and is a political science major at University of British Columbia. 

Kulbir Singh Sidhu

We have one of the richest legacies in respect of our heritage, history and culture of our Guru Sahiban, martyrs and great patriots who have left behind unique traditions of selfless service and supreme sacrifice for the sake of humanity.

Our Gurus, saints and scholars have enunciated excellent covenants, high ideals and noble principles. Likewise, our great ancestors and soldiers have set the exemplary ways to serve the mankind. But it is a sad story that we have not been able to imbibe and follow their philosophy and teachings as a nation. Consequently, we seem to have lost the fine instincts and great virtues taught by our noble forefathers. Rather we have developed, unfortunately the insensitivities apropos the legacy of bravery and supreme sacrifices. We have apparently put our sense and sensibilities in hibernation to elude the high spirits, willpower and passion to pursue the traditions of customary courage and bravery of our illustrious Saint- Soldiers like Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Baba Dip Singh ji.

Due to our time old slavery, we developed a mentality with the perversions like deceit, hypocrisy and sycophancy. Further ungratefulness and an element of ignorance in our character has taken us to the dismal level where we stopped well neigh to see and recognize the footprints left by our national heroes and sons of the soil on the sands of time.

This whole sad scenario may find its elaboration in the history of Punjab itself.  Where the two most significant, but tragic events took place more particularly in second fortnight of the month of December though after 140 years from each other.

One is wonderstruck to mark the irony of Time & History that the first event occurred as the completion of Sarbans- Daan by Dasmesh-Pita Guru Gobind Singh between 20th to 27th December in 1705; whereas the Second event happened on 18th and 22nd December in 1845 with the beginning of two battles at Mudki and Ferushehar of the first Anglo-Sikh war.

Therefore, December is a month of most sanguine and ever unheard of “Sarbans-Daan” in the world history and also of unparalleled bravery and sacrifices of thousands of unsung heroes like S. Sham Singh Attariwala who attained martyrdom on February 10, 1846.

In the context of significance of December in our history, we must not ever forget that when the battle of Chamkaur was fought on Dec 22, 1705, it happened to be the 39th Birthday of Siri Guru Gobind Singh ji.

It is pertinent to mention here that on this day Sahibzada Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, besides beloved soldiers and again on December 27, Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh laid down their lives to present the most unique gift to Guru-Pita’s mission of bestowing upon honour, dignity and sovereignty to the downtrodden.  

Thus, a grand journey which started with Baba Nanak’s Kalam (pen) writing Babar-Bani against tyranny was completed by the Talwar (Sword) of Guru Gobind Singh.

In this connection at this point in time, we must hear the voice of our conscience and accordingly confess our ingratitude, indifference and insensitivity towards our supreme martyrs. More especially when we almost go berserk in a mood of festivities during this most tragic period of our history.

Of course, Christmas celebrations also chronologically come in these days which, admittedly, relate to the epoch-maker Yug-Purakh Jesus- the Massiah, ie The Savior of mankind. But at the same time forgetting about the supreme sacrifices of our own “Massiahs” in a total festive mood and bonhomie can never be justified.

Rather during these particular days the wayward “Glassy” indulgence and fanfare with an attitude of “Begaani Shaadi mein Abdulla Diwana” on the Punjab soil is most regretful.

In continuity with the same ethos; another soulful stance may be cited here relating to our history of “The last sunset of first and last Sikh Empire".

It was in the year 2005-06 that I ventured with a sense of national pride as a Commissioner at Ferozepur to get back the Status of “National Monuments” to the battle fields of Mudki, Ferushehar, Aliwal and Sabhraon, those being the war theatres of first Anglo-Sikh war fought in Dec-Jan 1845-1846.

In the meanwhile, I thought of including the memorials of our bravest of brave soldiers of Saragarhi, martyrs and patriots to pay a humble homage. Therefore, with all the reverence and gratitude the following Samaraks were also inducted to be declared as national monuments. These were the Shaheedi Samaraks, like the Saragarhi Gurdwara, Shaheed- E -Azam S.Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev Memorial at Hussainiwala; Shelter Place of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Ferozepur city besides, railway line going to Kasur, especially the bridge at Hussainiwala which stands as an eye witness to the bravery of our officers like Major SPS Waraich and Capt. KJS Sandhu and other jawans of 1965 and 1971 wars.

In this running reference, it may be disheartening and very sad to know that national status of Anglo-Sikh war monuments; being no more of national importance was withdrawn actually in our Independent India Vide Notification—1962; with the logic and reasons best known to the then decision makers. Anyway, I could only have the copies of earlier notification of 1918 and de-notification of year 1962. But I could never reach out the hidden wisdom or truth on the deep-dumped papers.

It is pertinent to mention here that by the official patronage of then Chief Minister-Capt. Amrinder Singh, I could invite and host a very high-powered central team from departments of Cultural affairs, National Archives and National Museum under the supervision of Secretary General Sh. K. K. Chakravorty. The team visited and surveyed all the sites with relevant records to further recommend in principle the status of “National Monuments” to these historical sites in September 2006.

This “Pilgrim’s Progress” however ended for me at least with my retirement on August 31, 2006.

But in spite of the genuine handicap of retired life, I did try to continue for couple of months to follow and keep up the track of my passionate endeavour with the next government under S. Parkash Singh Badal, but all in vain.

Finally, on seeing and believing that “Love’s labour’s lost”; I tried to be at peace with myself by agreeing with the practical wisdom of Ustad Saqib Lakhnavi ; “Zamāna barhey shauq se sun rahā thā ; hameeñ so gaye dāstāñ kahte kahte”

Ultimately, I realised, that in our system of governmental functioning, more often, the files with the abstract issues of heritage and culture are branded obsolete and irrelevant and swept long under the carpet with cryptic “Seen & File” observation.

Anyhow, now a million dollar question remains there as to when the “fortunate one” will dig and do the dusting of such important files pertaining to the bravery and sacrifices of our ancestral generations. It is to be further seen that in official hierarchy who will come up with the instinctive aptitude, besides required will and skill to pursue this case to the logical end.

More precisely, again at the competent level in the government, who would have the courage or conviction and more importantly “time” to take appropriate decision with regard to the national pride and glory. Unfortunately, in our Vote-Raj, it seems all the more horrendous because of the fact that “Shaheedan diyan taan votan hi nahi hundian”

Will any government or organisation or else we as a nation ever offer an explanation in view of the soulful query that why our selfless supreme martyrs, great patriots and teeming soldiers made sacrifices for such ungrateful people? Perhaps only God knows!!  

Kulbir Singh Sidhu is a retired IAS officer, who currently lives in Brampton, Canada. 

 

Scores of people came together to denounce the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), at a rally organized in Surrey on Sunday, December 22.

CAA is a divisive law that welcomes only non-Muslim refugees from the Muslim-dominated countries neighbouring India. Aimed at polarizing the Hindu majority against Muslims by excluding Muslim refugees from these countries, CAA has sparked angry protests all over India, especially from those who feel that it violates the Indian constitution, which is based on the principle of secularism that does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion.

More than 20 people have died during violent demonstrations while many opponents have been arrested.  

The Surrey rally organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) began with a moment of silence for those who died during protests.

The participants raised slogans against CAA and the BJP government. They held signs in support of secularism and diversity.

None of the local elected officials showed up, despite it being a holiday, even though Surrey has two MPs and four MLAs of Indian origin.

Among the speakers was anti-racism activist and educator Annie Ohana, who has consistently been raising her voice against human rights violations anywhere in the world. She had also spoken at an anti-CAA rally held outside Indian consulate in Vancouver on Friday.

On this occasion, Ohana was presented with a medal of courage by the IAPI members, Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal, Sayyad Wajahat, Sandeep Modgil and Rakesh Kumar.

Others who spoke at the Surrey rally included Sikh activists Gian Singh Gill and Kulwinder Singh, besides Muslim activists Itrath Syed, Furuqan Gehllen and Dawood Ismail, and a Hindu Interfaith Chaplain Arun Chatterjee. Niovi Patsicakis from Global Peace Alliance and leftist activists Prabhjot Kaur Hundal, Joseph Theriault and Rawait Singh also addressed the gathering.

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh 

Even as Canada repents the racist Komagata Maru incident of 1914, the right wing Hindu nationalist government of India has taken a leaf from that history to deny refuge to Muslims coming from neighbouring countries.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914. Since British Columbia was part of the British dominion, they had come as British subjects to earn their livelihood in this part of the world. However, under a discriminatory immigration law aimed at keeping Canada as a "white man’s country", the Komagata Maru ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months.

The current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already apologized for the episode in the House of Commons.  More than a century later, the history is being repeated by the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, which wants to transform India into a majoritarian Hindu state, recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill that openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from neighbouring countries such as Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bill is intended to ensure smooth immigration to India of non-Muslims, especially Hindus from these countries.  The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, but creating such preferences and exclusions goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution, which is based on the principles of secularism and diversity. Being a secular democracy, India cannot discriminate so shamelessly and blatantly against any religious group.

It goes without saying that some Muslim groups, such as Shias, Ahemdiyas or even Mohajirs, face inequality in Pakistan. How can one deny refuge to them? India has growing numbers of climate refugees, irrespective of their religious beliefs, which has nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess the motivations of this government. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as alleged "exporters of Islamic extremism" to polarize Hindus against Muslims. It is worth mentioning that attacks on Muslims have grown under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014, and got re-elected this year with more seats. The state of Gujarat witnessed anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 under his watch. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of the state back then, alleged that Pakistan-based Islamic extremists had burnt a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which was instantly blamed on Pakistan following which thousands of Muslims were killed by the mobs across Gujarat.  

It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru, and aren't shy to stake claims in the story, while in their own home country they raise walls against refugees in the name of religion. Their attitude is no different than the British, who wanted to keep India divided on religious lines to prolong their rule. Ironically, Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru, shared in his memoir that the British were partly upset with him for giving space on the vessel for everyone to practise their religions, including Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs. This shows how the founding fathers of modern India tried to build an inclusive society by taking everyone along in their fight against colonialism and racism, and yet the present day Indian leadership is bent upon destroying that dream.  It’s time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for the Komagata Maru, he should let Modi know that this will not be tolerated, and if Modi doesn’t listen, then he must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government. 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India has organized a rally against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Bill on Sunday, December 22 at 3 pm at Holland Park in Surrey.

 

Radical Desi has declared a vocal critic against repression of Kashmiri people by the Indian state as Person of the Year 2019.

Nitasha Kaul is a London-based academic and author, who courageously testified in October before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia”, after the recent developments in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

On August 5, the Indian government unilaterally scrapped special rights given to the state of Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, arresting local leaders on the pretext of maintaining public safety.  

The right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government claims that the act was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim dominated state of India. Since then, Kashmir has been turned into an open jail, communication channels such as internet have been shut, and leaders fighting for freedom and autonomy have been detained indefinitely. These include political figures and activists who have been advocating for peaceful resolution of the problem of Kashmir, where people have been struggling for right to self-determination.

Kaul is an associate professor of politics at the University of Westminster, and a published author. She strongly advocated for the rights of the Kashmiri people in her testimony. Despite being Hindu herself, through her writings she has consistently raised her voice for the Muslims who are being persecuted in Kashmir by the Indian forces.

Here are the excerpts from her testimony:

I want to begin by saying that I’m mindful of the ironies of speaking here in non-communal terms, being someone who is a Kashmiri Pandit herself by birth, but also someone from Kashmir who grew up in India, lives in England and is speaking in the US today. There are multiple colonial transitions there that are important. 

The parallels with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust [made earlier] are very apt, because the RSS in India, about which concerns were raised in the morning as well, is a nationwide paramilitary that is the ideological parent of the current ruling party. The RSS avowedly has an idea of turning India into a Hindu nation, it also has this idea of an undivided India where everything else in the region will become part of a Hindu India.

Please remember also that the New York Times in 1922 profiled Hitler saying Mr Hitler’s anti-Semitism is neither as violent nor as genuine as it sounds. So things take time to unfold, and the proto-fascist trajectory that sadly the secular democracy of India is on, is very worrying for us all.

Let me also say that I’ve been to Kashmir every year, including this year during elections when the whole place was deserted… I don’t represent either Indian interests nor Pakistani interests, and in fact that is precisely the problem, that the people who speak about Kashmiri self interest and the rights of Kashmiris themselves are the ones most vulnerable, from any and every side.

Communal politics serves no one. It does not serve Indians and if Kashmir were a communal issue then Muslims in India would feel the same as Kashmiri Muslims, and they do not. So it is not a communal issue—it’s an issue that has been communalised.

I would also like to say that every other day for Kashmiris is the commemoration of a massacre, and when Indians (this is not personally against Indians or Pakistanis) when Indians expect acknowledgment of a massacre like Jallianwala Bagh, when under General Dyer fire was opened upon unarmed protesters, what about all the Kashmiri protesters?

What we are asking here is really very, very simple. We are asking for human rights and substantive democracy and for the question of freedom. The people who have been fired upon for just gathering non-violently over the years, in numerous massacres that I have listed in my statement—there should be an acknowledgment from the state to say, we are sorry.

Nothing can move on unless there is an acknowledgment of all the human rights violations that have gone on for this people, who have been an important site of early Buddhism, who have seen Hindu and Mughal and Afghan rulers, who were sold for the equivalent of $150,000 in 1846 by clauses of the treaties of Lahore and Amritsar without their consent!

And who then had an unrepresentative ruler. All through the 19th century it’s a story of absolute tragedy, and then when we come into the 20th Kashmir was one of the first interstate disputes that the UN was prominently involved in. There are several resolutions in those early years where the UN was trying under various people to demilitarise Kashmir…

This is a long and complex history which should not obfuscate from us a very simple fact: that there is a political problem here, which is compounded by human rights violations, and the international community has a role because it has implications not just for Kashmiris—who are currently under siege and under collective punishment, being deprived of their very basic rights—it also has regional and global implications. Because people travel across borders, and ideas when they are suffocated and dissent when suffocated becomes the hardest to handle.

The question here is really not so much about Article 370. The fundamental question here is about the consent of the people.

If something is being carried out for people’s welfare, for their development, then why does it need tens of thousands of troops being brought in, why must it happen overnight without absolutely any consultation of the people? With placing even the pro-India politicians in prison and then depriving the populace of the right to say anything? If it’s for their own good, why won’t any of them be allowed to say anything about it?

This is an egregious human rights violation, it goes against consent, against fundamental principles of dissent as it relates to democracy. And as people who are being claimed in the name of democracy, as rights bearing individuals, it’s something they should fundamentally be allowed to do. This is arbitrary use of power with no accountability. 

 

Dear Santa, 

I have heard that you are a kind soul who listens to the people and tries to make their dreams come true by bringing them gifts on every Christmas.

I am writing you for the very first time and I hope you won’t disappoint me.

Fortunately, I am going to make your job a bit easier. I am not asking for material gifts, so you don’t have to worry about making anything for me. All I ask is for you to write a letter to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  and CC it to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on my behalf, requesting him to show some compassion for the people of Kashmir who continue to face lockdown since August 5, 2019. Alternatively, you can just copy and paste the content of my letter and forward it to him to save your time, as you must be busy responding to thousands of letters around this time of the year.

Kashmir is a disputed region where people have been fighting for the right to self-determination. The Indian forces continue to suppress their struggle, with a heavy deployment of troops. But ever since August 5, Indian-occupied Kashmir has been turned into an open jail. More than 5,000 people are under arrest, while civil liberties have been suspended. In the name of national security, the Indian state has scrapped the special status given to Kashmir, and disintegrated the state into two territories without any consultation with local leadership. This is done to humiliate the minority Muslim community, as Kashmir is the only Muslim dominated province in predominantly Hindu India. This reflects very poorly on a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.  

Even otherwise, attacks on religious minorities, including Christians, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. He is the leader of a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party which is bent upon turning India into a Hindu theocracy, where the rights of all minorities will be reduced. On the auspicious occasion of Christmas, it is important to remind that Christians are finding it difficult to practice their faith under these circumstances. They are the target of constant attacks in different parts of India at the hands of Hindu extremists.   

So just write to Modi, and tell him to be compassionate, and lift the blockade of Kashmir, restore all the rights that have been suspended without further delay. During the holiday season, urge him to give up hate and start to embrace everyone. I am sure that a bigot like him won’t listen to you, but if you choose to write a letter to him it will give moral support to the people of Kashmir and other minorities in India. And please don’t forget to CC it to Trudeau, who has failed to address this issue despite many protests across Canada. Please remind Trudeau that since Canada claims to be a human rights leader in the world, it has an obligation to raise its voice against injustice anywhere on the globe. Maybe you can also remind him that this year marks the birth centenary of his father, the late Prime Minister who had the courage to stand up for Cuba and look into the eyes of US. He should follow in his father's footsteps if he really cares for his legacy, and tell Modi to do the right thing. 

Looking forward to your reply.

Gurpreet Singh  

Delta, BC 

 

Braving cold weather and rain on a weekday afternoon, social justice activists came together on Tuesday, December 3, to raise their voices for a physically challenged Delhi University Professor incarcerated in an Indian jail.

Wheelchair-bound G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is serving a life sentence under inhuman conditions. His health continues to deteriorate because of 19 ailments.

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a demonstration at Surrey’s Holland Park, where the speakers unanimously demanded the immediate release of Saibaba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. They felt that the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is indulging in double standards by openly shielding Hindu extremists who spread violence and terror, while punishing a scholar like Saibaba who is facing persecution for standing up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed communities, particularly Adivasis or the indigenous peoples of India who are being forcibly evicted by the Indian state from their traditional lands in the name of development. The attacks on minorities and Adivasis have grown ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014.  

Saibaba was charged and convicted after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. Since Maoists are fighting a class war in the tribal belt, not only Saibaba, but others like him have been frequently labelled as ultra-leftists to suppress any voice of dissent.

The Sikh activists came out in big numbers to show their solidarity. Among them were members of the Banda Singh Bahadur Society, Ranjit Singh Khalsa and Inderjit Singh Bains, and members of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta were also present. Notably, the Sikh community in Vancouver had enthusiastically supported a petition asking for the Canadian government to intervene by calling to get Saibaba released.

Those who spoke on the occasion included anti-racism educator Annie Ohana, anti-poverty activist Dave Diewert, independent Sikh activist Gurmukh Singh Deol, Sikh Nation volunteer Sunil Kumar, besides IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh. No elected official showed up.

The participants held placards asking for freedom of Saibaba and raised slogans against the high handedness of the Indian government, which continues to ignore the international outcry over its mistreatment of Saibaba.

The rally was started with a moment of silence in memory of another scholar and activist, SAR Geelani, who passed away recently. Geelani, who also taught at Delhi University, was close to Saibaba and had been tirelessly campaigning for the release of all political prisoners. He himself was falsely implicated by the police in connection with a terror attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 and was thrown into jail. After being acquitted by the court, he began advocacy for political prisoners.

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