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The Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC) has come out with a strong statement against assaults on three reporters by the supporters of ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.  

The August 11 incident happened in New Delhi, the national capital of the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

Three journalists, including one Sikh, one Muslim and an unidentified woman were harassed and physically attacked by a mob after they had gone to do a follow up story in the area hit by sectarian violence in February.  

It is the same place that saw an organized attack on Muslims by BJP supporters. The pogrom was planned to terrorise Muslims and secularist activists who were demonstrating against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed by the BJP government. The law discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries, and gives amnesty only to non-Muslims. This had enraged people across India and evoked sharp reaction in other parts of the globe. Delhi witnessed many peaceful demonstrations.  

On Tuesday, The Caravan magazine had sent three journalists, Prabhjit Singh, Shahid Tantray and an anonymous female, who did not want to be identified, to do a story.  

Those who came to attack the three included a BJP official. The assailants made lewd remarks and obscene gestures toward the female journalist, while Singh and Tantray were beaten and kicked. They also made hateful remarks about the Muslim identity of Tantray.  

The members of PPCBC unanimously denounced the incident, and called for action against those involved and protection to journalists who continue to face threats and intimidation under the current political environment of India.  

 

 

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh made history on Wednesday, August 12, by raising the demand to overturn the conviction of a political activist, who was executed for fighting against racism back in 1915.  

Mewa Singh was the first Sikh dissident to be hanged in Canada, for assassinating a controversial Immigration Inspector. He was one of the Indian revolutionaries who fought against the British occupation of India and racism abroad.   

Calling him Shaheed (Martyr) in the legislature, Rachna Singh presented a petition asking the Canadian government to overturn his conviction.   

Signed by 10,000 people, the petition was launched by the Ghadar Party Centenary Celebrations Committee. Singh stated in the assembly, “as this house has condemned racism in all forms before, I am pleased to present this petition on behalf of my constituents”.  Due to COVID 19 restrictions, the petitioners could not attend.  

Last year, Singh had unveiled Mewa Singh’s portrait in her constituency office on his death anniversary.    

Hopkinson had precipitated a conflict within the South Asian immigrant community, and was responsible for the murders of two Sikh activists inside a gurdwara days after the Komagata Maru ship was forcibly returned.   

The Japanese vessel carried more than 300 South Asian immigrants, who were compelled to leave under discriminatory immigration laws aimed at keeping Canada a so-called "white man’s land". The current Canadian government has already apologized for the episode that had culminated into the violence leading to the murder of Hopkinson. 

Mewa Singh was deeply enraged by the killings of his comrades inside a place of worship, and wanted to avenge this act of sacrilege. He was a religious man who went to the scaffold with prayers on his lips. In his testimony, he owned up the assassination and never appealed for mercy. His testimony also shows how much he was pained by blatant racism against his community. 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

Close to the first anniversary of the scrapping of special constitutional rights given to Indian-occupied Kashmir, a North Delta legislator is seeking global intervention into the matter.   

Ravi Kahlon, who is known for his strong advocacy for human rights and social justice, has written to the United Nations on behalf of his constituents, who had raised concerns about the plight of their relatives in Kashmir asking for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the disputed region.  

On August 5, 2019, 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-majority 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.  

Kahlon has directly written to the office of United Nations’ Human Rights Council Branch, for the second time after October 2019. He hasn’t heard back yet from them, and reminded the UN High Commissioner about the concerns raised by his constituents.  

Kahlon shot off his first letter to the UN after meeting with a delegation of the people of Kashmiri origin, who were having difficulty in connecting with their relatives back home, and remain deeply concerned about human rights abuses under highly militarized zone.  

“It has been 10 months since my office wrote to you with those concerns,” Kahlon stated in a letter sent on August 7 asking for a reply.  

In 2017, Kahlon had read out a statement in the BC legislature asking for justice to the victims of Sikh Genocide. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India during the first week of November, 1984 in a state sponsored massacre following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.   

He is also vocal about systemic racism in Canada, and recently concluded his BC-wide tour to learn about the first hand experiences of the people of colour with bigotry and prejudices. He was instrumental behind the restoration of the BC Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded by the previous Liberal government.  

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

In the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police, supporters of the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India are trying to create a false narrative around the history of imperialism and racism to justify their crimes.  

The killing of Floyd, an African American who became the victim of systemic racism, has sparked civil unrest, including the vandalizing and breaking of statues of slave owners.  

Taking advantage of the widespread outrage over mistreatment of Blacks and Indigenous Peoples in North America, those owing allegiance to the BJP have started drawing parallels between the action of anti-racism protestors and those who razed the Babari Masjid, an ancient mosque, in Ayodhya in 1992.  

The BJP supporters claim that the mosque was built by the Mughals after destroying a Hindu temple built on the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods. They had launched a movement to reclaim the disputed site during the 1980s, which culminated in the falling of the mosque by a mob instigated by the BJP leadership. This was done with the active support of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, the province where Ayodhya is located.  

Under the current BJP regime in New Delhi, the Indian Supreme Court gave its verdict in support of building a Ram temple. On August 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of the proposed temple. This has dampened the spirits of grassroots level secularists who have been asking for restoration of the site to Muslims.  

The right wing media commentators and the supporters are now trying to discredit the secularists, accusing them of double speak. Their prime argument is that the 1992 Babari Masjid episode was the result of “awakening among the Hindus about slavery and persecution of their forefathers by Mughals who came from outside India with imperialist designs”. If their version of the history is to be believed, Islam was imposed in India through the rule of sword.  

However, many of such claims are blatant lies and lack objectivity.  

First of all, not all Mughals were tyrants; some made India their home and had cordial relations with Hindus. Secondly, even if we assume that they were, why should the Muslims living in India today be made to suffer? In the garb of Ram temple agitation, the BJP has polarized the Hindu majority against Muslims for electoral gains. It is not surprising to see how they continue to be attacked with impunity under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014. It is pertinent to mention that the 2002 Gujarat Muslim massacre was an outcome of this campaign. A train carrying Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya had caught fire, leaving more than 50 passengers dead. Although one commission of enquiry found that it was an accident, the BJP blamed it on Islamic fanatics. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, allowed the bloodletting of innocent Muslims by his supporters. 

The point conveniently overlooked by BJP apologists in North American Diaspora is that the anger of African-Americans is against White privilege. In the Indian context, the Hindus are the most privileged because of their majority, and it was never the other way round. If there are any parallels, they are between the Blacks or and Indigenous Peoples of North America and Dalits in India.  

Hindus have been persecuting those considered as Untouchables from the Dalit community for centuries. Their case is not only stronger and well documented, and dates back to the time when Mughals had not even appeared on the scene. Like it or not, Islam did not spread in India only due to repression by Mughals, it became popular because of its egalitarian approach that embraced Dalits, who were not even allowed to enter Hindu temples under strict caste codes.  

If the BJP really cares for correcting history, why not begin with fixing the problem of the caste system? Why not first remove the statues of Manu, who invented such an inhuman social structure from outside the Rajasthan Court?  

What the BJP cannot deny is that their founding fathers in Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) – a Hindu supremacist organization, of which the BJP is a part - glorified Hitler and rationalised the annihilation of Jews. On what basis can they make such claims, and even appropriate progressive movements such as Black Lives Matter, when its own history is highly problematic and full of contradictions?  

What happened to Babri Masjid was not an act of resistance, but an act of aggression and terrorism. It cannot be equated with the actions of oppressed groups in North America.  

 

 

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

If the insensitivity being shown by the Indian state towards a physically challenged former Delhi University Professor is any indication, the government of the world’s so called largest democracy lacks compassion.  

Wheelchair bound G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is incarcerated after being convicted for life after being branded as Maoist sympathizer.   

He is among several known scholars and human rights defenders detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), who continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state. 

Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see them as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state. 

Saibaba’s only crime was raising his voice for the indigenous peoples of India and religious minorities.  

Although a UN committee has urged for his immediate release on compassionate grounds, the Indian authorities continue to oppose any attempt to bail him out.  

On Saturday, he lost his ailing mother, despite attempts by his lawyer to get him released on bail due to his deteriorating health and the growing threat of COVID 19 in overcrowded Indian jails.  

74-year-old Gokarakonda Suryavathi was suffering with cancer, but Saibaba's lawyer failed to get him allowed see her through video-conferencing. He had informed the jail authorities about her condition and her wish to see her son one last time, but they did not even reply. 

All this is in sharp contrast to what Indian Prime Minister had stated at the beginning of the campaign against COVID 19.  

Narendra Modi had called for battling Corona (COVID 19) with Karuna (compassion), but seeing what Saibaba and his family are being forced to go through, his actions certainly do not match his words. If Saibaba’s condition does not evoke Karuna then what does? 

Gurpreet Singh  

July 31 marks 140th birth anniversary of a renowned Indian author, the late Munshi Premchand.  

Born as Dhanpat Rai in British India, he was forced to adopt an immortal name after his collection of short stories was seized by the authorities who found them to be seditious. 

These stories, which reflect the struggle of working class and the oppressed groups under British occupied India, and highlighted the freedom movement, were provocative for the foreign rulers. By all standards, their response was an assault on free expression. One such collection translated in Punjabi bears the title,  “Munshi Premchand’s stories that were confiscated by the British.”    

Apart from focussing on the liberation struggle, Premchand was among the founding fathers of progressive literature. He showcased the richness of pluralist culture of India through his novels and short fiction.  

His work has become even more relevant today, under a right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ever since he came to power in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown. So much so, the authors and scholars are being frequently detained and thrown in jails for questioning the power.  

Ironically, Modi is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi, the birthplace of Premchand. It is not surprising to see how he is trying to appropriate the late writer, who continues to dominate the literary landscape of the country. Last year,in his radio address to the nation, Modi went to the extent of claiming that he was deeply touched by the stories of Premchand.         

If Modi really means what he says, then he should start releasing all the scholars and intellectuals who have been detained by his government for questioning the power. Among them is an 81-year-old revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, who was hit by COVID 19 in jail, and Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist. The list is long and includes published authors, like Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. These individuals were arrested on trumped up charges for merely raising voices for the poor and marginalised.  

Also, Modi’s ideology completely contradicts that of Premchand. Whereas Modi wants to transform India into a Hindu theocracy, Premchand’s work stands for an inclusive and tolerant society.  

Modi's government is behaving no differently than the British rulers, who seized the short stories of Premchand to crush resistance. If he cannot do this, then he should at least stop lying about his feelings in public.  

*** 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

The news of Chinmoy Banerjee’s death has greatly saddened the South Asian community in BC.  

80-year-old scholar and activist of Indian heritage, Chin Daa, as we affectionately called him, was not keeping well for the past several days.  

He passed away on the morning of July 29, leaving behind a powerful legacy of tireless activism.  

He previously taught English at Simon Fraser University and was deeply involved in social justice movements.  

His demise, at a time when bigotry continues to grow all over the world, has caused an irreparable loss to his comrades. Until two weeks ago, he was actively trying to organize each one of us against racism. I had an opportunity to attend one of the two zoom meetings he had hosted to figure out how to work in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by the police in US. Little did we realize that those might be his last interactions with us on such an intense issue.   

As a true humanist and die hard secularist, he has been consistently raising his voice against state violence and repression of minorities anywhere, including India where he was born in January, 1940. He was among the founders of the Indian People’s Association of North America and South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, the advocacy groups of progressive South Asians dedicated to the cause of challenging attacks on democratic and civil rights of the people. He was also instrumental behind the formation of BC Organization to Fight Racism.  

He not only denounced the attacks on Sikhs during 1980s by the then-so called secularist Congress government of India, but remained vocal against the outright sectarian and anti-minority policies of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

The BJP is determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, and believes in the ideology of Hindutva, which is based on extreme political Hinduism that excludes Muslims and Christians as “outsiders” and tries to assimilate Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.  

Banerjee was among those few in lower mainland who opposed Modi and his Hindutva and protested against his visit to Vancouver in 2015.  

Attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.  

He had invited many fabulous speakers from India to educate the world about what is going on under Modi.  By virtue of knowing him closely, I had an opportunity to meet a number of them. Among them is Anand Teltumbde, an established author, who was arrested in April this year on trumped up charges for merely raising a voice against the Indian establishment. Teltumbde has been questioning the power through his writings. He is among many other scholars who are being incarcerated for challenging the status quo.  

Together with Chin Daa, we also held a protest outside the Indian consulate when another Indian scholar, Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, was first arrested and thrown in jail in 2014.  

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, had been speaking out against evictions of Adivasis (Indigenous peoples) of India from their traditional lands, by the Indian state in the name of development only to help the extraction industry. Since Maoist insurgents are active in those areas, Saibaba was branded as a Maoist, thrown in jail, and later convicted for life despite his disability. The Modi government refuses to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.  

Banerjee had also given me opportunities to speak at public events organized by him and extended his help to Radical Desi, a magazine started by myself and also Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, a group we created in response to state sponsored violence against minorities and political dissidents under Modi.  

With Banerjee gone, we all need to carry on with his incomplete mission for a just society, as the struggle is not over yet and is only likely to become more difficult.  

Rest in Peace, Chin Daa. You will always be missed.

 

Gurpreet Singh  

July 28 marks 50 years of the extra-judicial killing of an 82-year-old former Indian freedom fighter by none other than the police force of his own nation.  

Bujha Singh, who deserved state honours for participating in the struggle to rid India of the British occupation, was instead murdered by the police for his association with revolutionary communist movement sparked by an uprising of landless tillers who've been fighting against the rich and the elites since the 1960s. 

Singh was part of the Ghadar party, that was launched in 1913 by Indian immigrants who lived in B.C., Washington, Oregon, and California to rid India of foreign occupation trough armed resistance. Later, it spread its wings and those who lived in faraway places such as South America also established branches. 

Singh, who worked in Argentina, was instrumental in creating a chapter in that country. Formally known as Hindi Pacific Association, it came to be known as the Ghadar Party after the launching of its official newspaper called Ghadar, which means "mutiny" in Urdu. 

The Ghadar Party believed in social justice and equality. Its members desired to establish a democratic, secular, and socialistic republic that provided equal opportunities to everyone with no discrimination against the poor or marginalized. 

Many Ghadar activists returned to India hoping to start an insurgency, only to face the gallows or life imprisonment. They did not get the desired support from the public, as the popular leadership of the independence movement was in the hands of moderates, who denounced political violence. 

Those who survived carried on their struggle even in post-independent India after the British left in 1947. Among them was Singh, who became a die-hard Communist. 

Following an uprising in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal by poor farmers, who claimed a right to the land, there was a campaign of police repression. People like Singh parted ways with the mainstream Communist parties to join the radicals. All reports indicate that he died in a staged shootout by Punjab police. From his perspective, India's independence was merely symbolic, really just transfer of power between the ruling classes of Britain and India. 

Influenced by Ghadar ideology, the revolutionary communists have continued their struggle.  

Half century later, the history of Singh is being repeated in the form of state repression of those who are in the forefront of this fight. Among them is a Telugu radical poet and political activist, Varavara Rao.  

The 81-year-old Rao has been recently tested positive for COVID 19, leaving his family and admirers deeply worried.   

In spite of old age and poor health, he was being held in Mumbai jail, then shifted to hospital only recently, after his condition deteriorated.  

Arrested in August 2018, he was thrown into prison on trumped up charges after being branded as a Maoist ideologue, accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by his relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent.   

Rao is among several known scholars and human rights defenders detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), who continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state. 

Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. The roots of their movement can be traced back to the bloody events of Naxalbari. Many Adivasis see Maoists as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state. 

Rao’s health condition worsened over the last several days, as the threat of COVID 19 hovers over badly crammed Indian jails. Despite many petitions and protests seeking the release of political prisoners under these extraordinary circumstances, the authorities have refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. There is a a feeling among his supporters that the Indian state wants to finish him legally and send a message to the opposition.  

If this was not enough, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed the bail application for Rao, claiming that he was trying to take “undue benefit of his situation”.   

All this only reflects on India’s so called democracy.  Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem of social unrest caused by systemic injustice and inequality, the state is going after veterans such as Singh or Rao, to instil fear in the minds of political dissidents. And to achieve that end, Indian officials can go to any length.  

It’s a shame that Indian society claims to be respectful of its seniors, but remains indifferent to these horrific stories. The tales of these two men shows that the Indian system’s brutal side remains unchanged even as the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown over the past 50 years. There is no respite to the most underprivileged and underserved, despite tall claims of development and progress.   

*** 

Gurpreet Singh  

If the insensitivity being shown towards a senior revolutionary poet by the Indian state is any indication, the government of the world’s so called largest democracy lacks compassion.  

81-year-old Varavara Rao, a well-respected political activist and poet, has been recently tested positive for COVID 19, leaving his family and admirers deeply worried.   

In spite of old age and poor health, he was being held in Mumbai jail, but shifted to hospital only recently, after his condition deteriorated.  

Arrested in August 2018, he was thrown into prison on trumped up charges after being branded as a Maoist ideologue and accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by his relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent.   

Rao is among several known scholars and human rights defenders who are being detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), who continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state. 

Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. Many Adivasis see them as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state. 

Rao’s health condition had worsened over the last several days, as the threat of COVID 19 was hovering over badly crammed Indian jails. Despite many petitions and protests seeking the release of political prisoners under these extraordinary circumstances, the authorities have refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. There is a feeling among his supporters that the Indian state wants to finish him legally and send a message to the opposition.  

If this was not enough, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed the bail application for Rao, claiming that he was trying to take “undue benefit of his situation”.  All this is in sharp contrast to what Indian Prime Minister stated at the beginning of the campaign against COVID 19. Narendra Modi had called for battling Corona (COVID 19) with Karuna (compassion), but seeing what Rao is being forced to go through, his actions do not certainly match his words. If Rao’s condition does not evoke Karuna then what does?  

In the meantime, the Indian government remains adamant not to release a disabled scholar and former Delhi University Prof. GN. Saibaba either.  

Ninety percent disabled below the waist, wheelchair bound Saibaba is being incarcerated after being convicted for life, after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer.  His only crime was that he has been raising his voice for the Adivasis and religious minorities. Although the UN had urged for his immediate release on compassionate grounds, the Indian authorities continue to oppose any attempt to bail him out.  

 

*** 

 

 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India honoured New Westminster City Councillor Chuck Puchmayr with a medal of courage on Sunday, July 19, for bringing a motion against India’s highly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).  

The medal was presented to Puchmayr by the IAPI President Parshottam Dosanjh and another member of the group, and prominent poet Amrit Diwana, at an event held at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey-Delta.

The officials from Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and Abbotsford-based Banda Singh Bahadur Society also honoured him for his role behind Bhai Mewa Singh Day proclamation on the occasion.

Mewa Singh was the first Sikh political activist to be executed in Canada on January 11, 1915, for assassinating controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson. Singh was a part of the revolutionary group that fought against the British occupation of India and racism abroad. Hopkinson was patronizing a network of spies within the South Asian community to weaken the freedom struggle and was complicit in the murders of two community leaders by a British agent inside a gurdwara in September, 1914.

Early this year, following the efforts of Chuck Puchmayr, the City of New Westminster unanimously proclaimed January 11 as “Bhai Mewa Singh Day”.

Puchmayr had moved a motion against CAA on March 9, but it was passed with a majority vote on July 13. The motion was approved more than four months later in a 5-1 vote, with one city councillor absent. The voting was delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions and public health emergency in the province. The motion makes New Westminster the first Canadian city to denounce the CAA, which blatantly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries, and only allows non-Muslim refugees to make India their home.

The law was passed at the behest of the right-wing Hindu nationalist government, under which attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown over the last several years. Indian police continue to hound CAA opponents. 

The law violates India's constitution, which guarantees religious equality, and sparked angry protests all across the country. Demonstrations have been held in Canada as well, with Puchmayr attending one rally in Surrey days before the motion was tabled. 

The New Westminster motion is a huge setback for pro-India lobby groups, which have been trying to prevent it from being approved.

Puchmayr read out the motion, which asks the Canadian government to intervene. Speaking to the congregation, he acknowledged that this was one of the most difficult motiona, which eventually passed with the support of Mayor Jonathan Cote and his colleagues.

Others who spoke on the occasion included the President of Guru Nanak Sikh temple, Hardeep Singh Nijjar; the President of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, Ranjit Singh Khalsa; the President of Sukh Sagar Gurdwara in New Westminster, Harbhajan Singh Atwal; and IAPI spokesperson Gurpreet Singh. Diwana also read out a poem dedicated to Mewa Singh at the event.

 

***

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