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Gurpreet Singh

Ever since the Bollywood star tested positive for COVID 19, the social media is flooded with messages for his speedy recovery.

Amitabh Bachchan and three generations of his family, including son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and their eight-year-old daughter, were tested positive. This has obviously alarmed their fan following, as husband and wife too, like the family patriarch, have acted in the film industry.

The development has been widely reported in the international media, including CBC and Global, and Bachchan's admirers are publicly praying for his well-being.  

Though all this is understandable, considering the stature of Bachchan clan, there is a complete silence and lack of outrage over the inhuman treatment being meted out to people’s poet Varavara Rao.    

81-year-old Rao is not only a revolutionary Telugu poet, but a well-respected political activist. In spite of old age and poor health, he continues to be detained in Mumbai jail.

Arrested in August 2018, he was and 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 has worsened over the last several days, even as the threat of COVID 19 continues to grow in overcrowded 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. 

Those who are really concerned about the health of Bachchan and his privileged family must not overlook the struggle of Rao, who is being persecuted for his advocacy of the underdog.

Unlike Bachchan, who has largely remained indifferent to the ongoing repression of religious minorities in India, individuals like Rao haven been putting their lives at risk for the rights of ordinary people. It’s time to stand up for real and not fake celluloid heroes.

Gurpreet Singh

 

The University of British Columbia has conferred an honourary degree on India-based social justice activist Teesta Setalvad.

An award-winning journalist, who played a prominent role in the campaign for justice for the victims of a state sponsored massacre of Muslims in 2002, Setalvad is among the ten recipients of this year’s Honorary Degree of UBC.

Setalvad has been to Vancouver twice. During her 2018 visit to Canada, she spoke at UBC. Anne Murphy from the university's Department of Asian Studies was instrumental behind her nomination for the degree.

The 2002 pogrom against Muslims took place in Gujarat, under the watch of current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the state Chief Minister back then. Though Modi was never convicted, Setalvad’s memoir Foot Soldier of the Constitution indicts him for the bloodshed.

Thousands of Muslims were murdered by supporters of Modi’s right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 people dead. One commission of inquiry later found that it was a pure accident, but Modi had blamed it on Muslims, inciting violence against the minority community. He had reportedly asked the police to look the other way and let Hindu mobs vent their anger on helpless Muslims.

Modi was denied visa by US until he became the Prime Minister in 2014.  

Setalvad’s fight for justice and closure continues even today. She has faced threats and intimidation because of her daring work.

As a staunch secularist, she has also been critical of the anti-Sikh massacre engineered by the Congress party in 1984. Innocent Sikhs were slaughtered across India by mobs led by Congress activists following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. This was despite the fact that Congress claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP, which aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy.

Ever since the BJP came to power, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown in the world’s so called largest democracy.

***

 

Gurpreet Singh 

 

Today marks 35 years of the Air India bombings that left 331 people dead on June, 23 1985. 

This was the worst incident in the history of aviation terror before 9/11. 

Widely blamed on Sikh separatists in Canada seeking revenge for repression of Sikhs in India during 1984, the investigation and trial of the case culminated into one lone conviction of alleged bomb maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, who pleaded guilty of manslaughter.

Two other suspects,  Greater Vancouver Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik, and Kamloops sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted in 2005 for lack of evidence.

Bagri was associated with the now-banned Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh extremist group whose leader, the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, was said to be the mastermind of the conspiracy. He died at the hands of Indian police in 1992 under mysterious circumstances. Other potential suspects were never charged.

Ajay Basaria, the current Indian High Commissioner, has made a brief statement on social media condemning the incident. Due to COVID 19, most commemorative events are planned online; otherwise, Indian officials do not miss an opportunity to personally attend memorial services across Canada.  

India has been consistently raising this issue with Canada for years. The present Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the memorial site in Ontario during his 2015 official tour of Canada. When Malik and Bagri were acquitted, the Indian government had expressed its outrage.  

However, recent developments suggest that India has lost any moral right to talk about Air India in particular and terrorism in general.

Firstly, the Indian government gave visa to Malik to visit his birthplace late last year. This is despite the fact that until then, India has been accusing him of being a financier of the conspirators. In fact, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson declared that Malik's acquittal “was not a declaration of innocence” while rejecting his claim for compensation for losses incurred by him on his legal defence.

Secondly, Indian agents continue to attack certain Sikh temples that glorify Parmar as a martyr of their cause. Canadian politicians who often visit these temples are frequently blasted by pro-India lobby groups. If Malik’s acquittal is a yardstick for getting Indian visa, there is no point going after the supporters of Parmar, as he never got a fair trial to prove his innocence. He was rather killed in an extra judicial manner.  

Considering what India is going through under a right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Modi, what right has India to talk tough on terrorism? 

Modi himself nominated a controversial female Hindu ascetic to run for the office in last year’s general election. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a Member of Parliament from Modi’s own Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), was involved in a bombing targeted at the Muslim community in 2008. Close to 10 people had died and many were injured. Thakur, who was cooling her heels in jail, was given bail to run for the parliament.

If this was not enough, the BJP government helped in the acquittal of Swami Aseemanand, another Hindu ascetic involved in the 2007 rail bombing that left close to 70 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims. His proximity with Modi is well documented.

Notably, these two individuals did not meet the same fate as Parmar. Apparently, India treats extremists belonging to the Hindu majority differently. 

Even otherwise, terror attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities have grown in India ever since Modi came to power in 2014. All this indicates that India is blatantly patronising terrorism, which takes away its legitimacy to question other countries on this issue.

To put things in perspective, Indian government’s decision to give visa to Malik might have to do something with the shrewd politics of Modi to create a wedge between Muslims and Sikhs in places like Canada, where the two communities have come together to challenge ultra-Hindu nationalism.

Modi’s calculation might be based on the fact that the Sikhs were subjected to state violence in India under a previous Congress government. In spite of its tall claims of being secular, Congress had engineered a Sikh massacre in 1984, following the murder of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Nevertheless, Modi repeated that against Muslims in 2002. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which witnessed a similar pogrom after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing more than 50 people. Modi had blamed that incident on Muslims, even though one commission of enquiry had established that it was a pure accident. 

Instead of shedding crocodile tears for the Air India victims and playing with their emotions, the Indian state needs to look hard at itself in the mirror. Blaming others all the time isn’t helpful. It’s time for India to change its ways and treat its minorities humanely. Either deal with terrorists of all shades alike or stop being selective. 

 

Members and supporters of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a rally for D.S. Bindra outside the Indian passport and visa application center in Surrey on the afternoon of Sunday, June 21.

An advocate and activist, Bindra has been named in a charge sheet filed by Delhi police against individuals accused of inciting violent protests against India’s discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which is unfair to Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries.

Bindra’s only fault was that he had organized langar (community kitchen) for the peaceful protestors in Delhi, in accordance with his Sikh traditions.

This follows the arrests of several activists, including Safoora Zargar, a pregnant woman, for raising their voices against CAA passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government. This is in sharp contrast to leniency toward supporters of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who actually instigated hate and mob violence against Muslims. 

Canada-based IAPI came into being in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents under the BJP government since 2014.   

On Mother’s Day last month, the IAPI held a car rally outside the same venue for Safoora due to COVID 19. The June 21 rally was also kept very small because of health emergency guidelines, and the physical distance was maintained by those in attendance.  

The participants held signs reading, “Serving Langar is not a crime” and “We stand with D.S. Bindra”, besides those reading, “No to CAA” and “Free Safoora”. They raised slogans against state violence in India. Since June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the rally started with a moment of silence for Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, an indigenous woman and a man who died at the hands of police recently in New Brunswick.

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for freedom of Safoora and other political prisoners, and condemned the highhandedness of Delhi Police against Bindra. The Sikh activists who showed up felt that it was a direct assault on their faith, and came as a rude shock to the community which is grieving the military attack on their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple Complex by Indian forces 36 years ago in the month of June, 1984.

Those who spoke on the occasion included former spokesman of Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar, Gian Singh Gill, the president of Guru Nanak Singh Temple, Surrey-Delta Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Sikh scholar Charanjit Singh Sujjon, independent Sikh activist Kulwinder Singh, prominent anti-racism educator Annie Ohana, well known progressive Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, and IAPI members, Sayed Wajahat and Gurpreet Singh.

 

 

Almost three months after the killings of 25 Sikhs in a terror incident in Afghanistan, US-based independent researchers have come out with a theory that counters official narrative. 

Published by Pieter Friedrich, an analyst on South Asian affairs and Bhajan Singh, a well-respected Sikh scholar and an activist, Kite Fights: The Proxy Wars Behind the Kabul Gurdwara Massacre is based, on close scrutiny of media reports.

The attack on March 25, 2020 on a historic gurdwara was blamed on Islamic State. A statement reportedly made by the group claimed that it was to avenge the repression of Muslims in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

The bloody incident followed series of developments in India that help in comprehending real intentions behind the massacre.

The document which is likely to raise many eyebrows in New Delhi points out that the incident comes at a time when the  right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India is facing international criticism for mistreating religious minorities, particularly Muslims.

In all probability, the attack was like a god-sent opportunity for the Indian establishment for reasons well explained by Friedrich and Singh.

Not only have attacks on Muslims spiked in India ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014, the BJP government arbitrarily abrogated special rights given to the only Muslim-dominated province of Kashmir in August, 2019 shortly after winning a second term. Civil rights remain suspended in the disputed territory which has been turned into a heavily militarized zone to suppress any voice of dissent.

Notably, in February 2019, when 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers died during a suicide attack blamed on Kashmiri insurgents seeking freedom from India, the BJP goons started targeting innocent Kashmiri Muslims all over India. This polarization helped the BJP government to win a second term in the May 2019 election, riding on a Hindu nationalist campaign.

As if this was not enough, the BJP government passed a highly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that only allows non-Muslim refugees in the country coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  

The Sikhs had stood for Muslims, both in the wake of the February 2019 suicide attack, and against the CAA. They helped Kashmiri Muslims stranded in other parts of India to safely reach their homes, and were in the forefront of the protests against CAA. The Sikh diaspora also came out to show its solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims during demonstrations held in US and Canada. This has not gone down well with the BJP which has an agenda to assimilate Sikhs into the Hindu fold. 

It is therefore logical to ask: why would Islamic extremists be targeting the Sikhs in Afghanistan? Considering the timing of the Kabul attack, it sounds less convincing, as such an act would benefit the BJP government more than the Jihadists.

It is not surprising that the BJP supporters had tried to defend CAA in the aftermath of the Kabul episode. They justified its implementation by citing persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan. It was like trying to kill two birds with one stone, by pitting Sikhs against Muslims and turning international attention to what is happening with minorities in Afghanistan. 

Even otherwise, the founding fathers of  Radhtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist organization of which the BJP is a part, harboured expansionist designs in South Asia and always saw Afghanistan as part of the  Greater Hindu India which they always wanted to establish. The report explains this in detail, and tells us how India has invested heavily in Afghanistan to not only maintain its supremacy in the region, but neutralize Pakistan by sponsoring insurgency in Baluchistan. India often accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting militancy in Kashmir, but its own involvement in Pakistan’s Baluchistan state is no different.

Pakistan’s decision to open Kartarpur Corridor in November, 2019. has further frustrated the BJP. Kartarpur is close to the Indo-Pak border. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, spent the final years of his life at this place. It was separated from them due to partition between Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India in 1947. Relations between the two countries have never been stable. Nevertheless, for years, Sikhs in India have been seeking direct access to its important shrines, including Kartarpur. By allowing visa free entry to Kartarpur through a corridor, Pakistan has won the hearts of the Sikh community, to the dismay of the BJP which continues to maintain a hawkish posture toward its neighbours. This is despite the fact that Pakistan itself has become victim of the Islamic terrorism it once supported at the time of the cold war era. According to the report, the group being blamed for the Kabul massacre is also targeting Pakistanis. Any argument to suggest their desperation to target Sikhs under such circumstances holds little water.    

Rather, with the BJP government in power, the Indian establishment has turned more aggressive in its policy to establish a permanent base in Afghanistan. Both countries have seen Pakistan as a common enemy, and hold it responsible for creating the Frankenstein monster of Jihadi extremism, to help the US against the Soviets, that eventually spilled over to India. For this reason, India has been supporting Afghanistan both militarily and politically.  

That the Research and Analysis Wing, an Indian spy agency, is active in Afghanistan is not a secret. It cannot be a coincidence that India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) was looking for one of the suspects involved in Kabul attack since 2017.

Abdul Khayum was from Kerala, India, and was on the NIA radar for being involved in multiple terror plots. Therefore, the possibility of its agents being complicit in the Gurdwara attack cannot be ruled out.

The report has drawn parallels between the Kabul events and those which happened in India and Sri Lanka in the past, using these to conclude how such killings have helped governments to patronize rogue elements to their advantage.

Those who are really concerned with what is happening in South Asia need to take time to read it thoroughly, with an open mind. One may agree or disagree with the interpretation of certain facts, but their authenticity cannot be challenged. As the report rightfully says, ”Official narratives, ideologies, and authorities must all pass interrogation to be deemed trustworthy and true”.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh  

When Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion to formally apologize for the infamous Komagata Maru episode on Wednesday, June 10, a section of the Indo Canadian politicians, ethnic media, and self-styled community gatekeepers were thrilled.

Before you make any assumption that the entire South Asian population in Greater Vancouver is delighted, it is important to recognize that not everyone is impressed.

After all, the City of Vancouver has let down those who have been raising their voices against the highly discriminatory and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CAA is a poor copy of the Continuous Journey Regulation, under which the Komagata Maru was forcibly returned from Vancouver harbour in July, 1914. The Japanese vessel with more than 300 South Asian passengers had remained stranded in Burrard Inlet for two months. This was done as part of the racist policy of the Canadian government to keep this country as a “white man’s land” and discourage immigrants from India from permanent settlement in BC.  

While Canada has repeatedly acknowledged its mistake, the Modi government has passed the CAA, which openly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries. 

CAA only allows non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

There have been angry protests in North America, as a result of which Seattle City Council has already passed a motion against CAA. 

However, a similar motion brought in Vancouver by city councillor Jean Swanson was withdrawn after a pushback from pro-India lobby groups. So much so, the officials of Khalsa Diwan Society, which runs the oldest Sikh temple in Vancouver and has a glorious history of defending the case of Komagata Maru passengers, shamelessly opposed the motion brought by Swanson. 

It is pertinent to mention that the current leadership of the Khalsa Diwan Society is completely aligned with Modi, and welcomed him with open arms when he came to Vancouver in 2015. This was despite the fact that Modi has a controversial past. Thousands of Muslims were murdered under his watch in 2002. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, was denied a US visa until he was elected Prime Minister in 2014. Since then, attacks on religious minorities have grown at an alarming rate across India. 

Even though Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party is known for its anti-minority stance and aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, Khalsa Diwan Society did not find anything wrong in entertaining him, even though the  organization was established in 1906 by Indian revolutionaries to fight back against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad, to form an egalitarian and secular republic.   

Ironically, the latest motion on Komagata Maru was moved by Swanson, who was left alone on the issue of CAA. Since she wasn’t getting support from others on the council, she decided to withdraw it. She was not the only city politician to face a ba cklash for taking a stand against what is happening in India. The City of New Westminster  also came under fire from Modi supporters when a lone city councillor, Chuck Puchmayr, brought a motion against CAA on Mach 9. That motion is yet to pass as the voting is delayed indefinitely due to public health emergency in the wake of COVID 19. 

If the City of Vancouver and those who claim to be passionate about the history of Komagata Maru really care, they should show courage to stand up against tyrants like Modi. Their silence is only strengthening the hands of Modi as anti-CAA protestors continue to be arrested and harassed back in India. 

It is always easy to talk about what happened in the distant past, but if you cannot challenge what is going wrong in the present, then there is no point in remembering our history which is being repeated with impunity.

In the meantime, no thanks to the City of Vancouver for buckling under pressure of a bigot who is governing the world’s so-called largest democracy and trampling the rights of minorities every day.

 

Gurpreet Singh 

This month marks two decades of the emergence of a Bollywood Diva.

Kareena Kapoor Khan’s debut, Refugee, was released in June, 2000.  Since then, she hasn’t looked back and continues to steal many hearts with her beauty and talent.

The span of her twenty-year-old-long film career speaks volumes about her capability to represent the reality of the changing cultural and political landscape of India.  

From her very first role in Refugee as Nazneen, a stateless Muslim looking for permanent home and settlement in Pakistan, to the last one as Naina, a tough British police officer hounding suspected illegal migrants in Angrezi Medium, released early this year, proves her strength as a versatile actor.

In between these two films, Kareena has completed a journey of showcasing characters, who could be anyone from an innocent sweetheart to a loyal wife, besides a villain to a historical figure.

Kareena has acted in more than 50 films. The list includes those in which she either made special appearances or played cameo roles. However, the variety of powerful roles she has played help in understanding India’s transformation from a tolerant to an illiberal society.   

To begin with, the story of Nazneen educates the audience about the plight of stateless Muslims from Bihar state of India.

Nazneen’s parents were uprooted when India and Pakistan were divided on religious lines in 1947. This was following the liberation of the country from British occupation, forcing Bihari Muslims in Hindu-dominated India to migrate to East Pakistan. When East Pakistan was separated from Islamic Pakistan to become Bangladesh in 1971, they were forced to migrate again, as they weren’t accepted in a fledgling Bengali speaking nation. They had no choice but to go to Pakistan,  as it was difficult to return to their roots in Bihar. So they took an illegal route to travel to Pakistan, with the help of human traffickers. Nazneen, who falls in love with one of them, gives birth to a child on the no man’s land between India and Pakistan, symbolizing the hollowness of false border lines. This makes her role relevant not only for South Asian audiences, but for a global viewership in light of the ongoing refugee crisis everywhere.  

Refugee came in the wake of tensions between India and Pakistan. With India accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism within its territory, the film gave a message how humanity continues to prevail in the hearts of ordinary people on both sides of the border. It was a far better film than many others made during that time, to mainly bash Pakistan and evoke narrow nationalism. The currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power back then and much like now, there was no dearth of filmmakers who tried to outdo each other to please the government in New Delhi.

The BJP is known for its anti-Muslim prejudices and often portrays Muslims in India as terrorists and Pakistani agents.

Refugee was first in a series of films revolving around the ticklish subject of Indo-Pak relations done by Kareena in a highly polarized environment.   

In 2003, another movie LOC: Kargil was released. This time, Kareena played Simran, the fiancé of an Indian soldier who died during the fight between Indian and Pakistani troops deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LOC) in Kargil area of Kashmir.

The actual events took place in 1999.  The movie was certainly not like Refugee, and glorified the Indian soldiers, while vilifying their Pakistani counterparts.

Simran was the depiction of a courageous woman who is willing to marry and live with a soldier in spite of the war threat. Her story is similar to real life war widows, irrespective of being Indian or Pakistani, who know how to live with dignity.

Then came Agent Vinod in 2012. Kareena played as a spy of Pakistani origin. Iram Parveen wants to live a peaceful life, but circumstances land her in the espionage business. More than being a diehard nationalist, Iram is someone who cares for humanity and dies in pursuit of truth without taking sides, by helping Indians from a potential terror attack planned by international conspirators.

Her prominent role in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, released in 2015, gives hope for a better future between the two countries. As Rasika, a Hindu woman, she comes to the rescue of a Muslim girl from Pakistan who is separated from her mother during a train journey. Despite being born in a rigidly religious family that hate Muslims, she encourages her lover to locate and reunite her with her parents in Pakistan.

Moving beyond Indo-Pak ties, Kareena has to her credit some other significant roles that revealed Islamophobia in both Indian and western societies.

She played Aaliya, a survivor of anti-Muslim pogrom, in Dev (2004). Aaliya loses her family in the violence engineered by right wing Hindu politicians and testifies fearlessly against those involved. The film was produced two years after the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state when the violence broke out under his watch. The storyline of the film clearly suggested it was based on the ugly events of Gujarat.

In 2009, she played as Avantika in Kurbaan, which is about Jihadist terrorism, and how Muslims are being mistreated all over the world. In spite of the reservations of her Hindu family, Avantika marries a Muslim man and ends up facing betrayal from her husband, who is part of an Islamic extremist group.

In her real life too, Kareena has stood up against Islamophobia. Married to a Muslim, she comes from a Hindu family. Saif Ali Khan is also an established actor and has acted with her in number of films, including Kurbaan.  She had to face a backlash from BJP supporters for marrying Saif and adopting Khan as her last name. She later came under attack when the couple named their child after an Islamic historical figure, who Hindu right wing leaders accuse of being a tyrant.

In 2018, when she stood up in support of an eight-year-old-girl Asifa Bano, who was raped and murdered by Hindu fundamentalists, she was widely trolled on social media, risking the fate of her film Veere Dee Wedding.

Although she is not an activist, she has played as one in at least two films, which are worth watching to comprehend the problems being faced by Indians due to corruption. Both Gori Tere Pyaar Mein and Satyagrah came in 2013. She played as Diya and Yasmin respectively in the two movies, that came around the time when people were marching in the streets against corruption. Yasmin is a journalist-turned-activist who expresses her concern over the anti-corruption campaigners taking the support of right wing nationalist parties that are bent upon dividing society. Her role proved prophetic, as a year later Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, riding an anti-corruption wave that completely blinded the voters about his brand of divisive politics aimed at turning India into Hindu theocracy.

At the time of COVID 19, when healthcare workers continue to face challenges, Kareena’s role as a doctor in Udta Punjab (2016) needs special recognition. Preet is a doctor at a rehabilitation centre in Punjab who loses her life at the hand of a drug addict. She also tries to expose those involved in the drug trade, putting her life in jeopardy and speaking passionately for those who struggle with their addiction. The movie faced censor cuts due to political pressure, as it showed an inconvenient truth about the complicity of police and politicians in drug trafficking.

There is a long list of her roles as a feminist and confident career woman, but her performance as a sex worker in Chameli (2004) and Talaash (2012) was outstanding. As Rosie in Talaash, she became a voice of thousands of sex trade workers who are killed with impunity all over the world. The story has a special significance for Canada, where thousands of women went missing and the police remained indifferent because of their involvement in the sex trade.  

Likewise, she has acted as a rebellion lover, who goes against the wishes of her family and rejects social and class boundaries to choose a husband or a life partner in Jeena Sirf Mere Liye (2002), Talaash (2003), Mein Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), Jab We Met (2007), Yuva (2004), Kyon Ki (2005) 3 Idiots (2009) and Heroine (2012).

It would be an injustice not to consider her roles as Kaurwaki in Asoka (2001) and Dolly Misra in Omkara (2006). Kaurwaki was a historical figure who was the second queen of King Asoka of India. Kareena amazed the audience with her acting skills while playing as Kaurwaki, who influenced Asoka to give up his lifestyle as a reckless warrior and become a Buddhist.

Omkara was the adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Dolly Misra was an equivalent of Desdemona, murdered by her husband, who is made to suspect her loyalties by his detractors, including her estranged father. Kareena’s performance in the context of Indian society strictly governed by patriarchy and a  brutal caste system left viewers completely overwhelmed. 

Her exceptional performances as a villain in Fida (2004) and a person with speech disability in Chup Chup Ke (2006) were equally commendable. 

As she completes 20 years in Bollywood, a lot has  changed. With the beginning of the 2020s, one can expect Kareena to bring us more knowledge and entertainment in the backdrop of new challenges.     

***

 

A Burnaby-based South Asian radio station that started its campaign against racism in 2015, has strongly denounced the killing of George Floyd, an African American who died in police custody recently.

Floyd’s death has sparked angry protests all over North America.

This is being seen as part of structural racism and violence against black people.

#HandsAgainstRacism, which has entered its sixth year, was launched on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt in January, 2015.

A veteran broadcaster, Datt, who was born and raised in Kenya, has been familiar with the racism endured by the black community.

On June 2, Spice Radio made a strong statement expressing its solidarity with “Black brothers and sisters”.

The statement read, “We send our condolences and prayers to George Floyd’s family and to the countless others, who have lost their loved ones to this senseless and systemic violence.”

Earlier, Datt had called for an end to growing hatred against people of Asian origin in Canada in the light of COVID 19.

The pandemic, which has its roots in China, has triggered racially motivated attacks against people of Asian descent in Vancouver.

Datt says that her campaign provides a platform to voices that need to be heard under such difficult circumstances.

***

 

To mark the martyrdom day of the fifth master of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev ji, South Asian community activists came together on Sunday, May 31, to raise voices for political prisoners being incarcerated in the Indian jails.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally against state violence was held at the Surrey-Delta Guru Nanak Sikh temple.

Guru Arjan Dev ji was tortured to death for standing for justice and human rights.

The temple held special prayers in memory of the guru.

The rally was called to draw attention of the world to the current state of affairs in India, where scholars and political dissidents are being arrested and tortured under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime. The minority groups are at the receiving end of both police brutality and state sponsored vigilante attacks.

The temple Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor said that the rally was a fitting tribute to Guru Arjan Dev ji, whose sacrifice remains relevant considering the ongoing repression everywhere in the world.

The organizers also paid homage to Bhagwati Charan Vohra, an Indian revolutionary who died fighting against the British occupation of India, on May 28, 1930. 

Vohra was killed during an attempt to make a bomb to break the jail housing his comrades.

The demonstrators held signs and placards asking for the release of all political prisoners, including jailed Sikh activists, who were given life sentences for merely keeping books and literature that supports the idea of a separate Sikh nation. 

Some of the signs carried the pictures of disabled Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, and other intellectuals such as Telugu poet Varavara Rao and author Gautam Navlakha. All these men are currently imprisoned on motivated charges for standing up for the rights of the oppressed communities and religious minorities.  

Signs for George Floyd, an Afro-American who recently died at the hands of police in the US, were held out by some of the participants. A moment of silence was observed for Floyd at the beginning of the rally. Significantly, the Surrey Delta Gurdwara had witnessed the brutal murder of Nirmal Singh Gill by white supremacists in 1998. Gill was a temple keeper who was assaulted for stopping neo-Nazis from vandalizing inside the temple premises. 

Slogans against state repression were raised at the gathering, which was deliberately kept very low due to COVID 19 restrictions. Necessary physical distance was maintained by the participants.

Those who spoke on the occasion included IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh, as well as two other IAPI members, Tejinder Sharma and Gurpreet Singh, and prominent Sikh activists Charajit Singh Sujjon and Kulwinder Singh.

***

Gurpreet Singh 

Saturday, May 30 marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the second term of Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India. 

Modi won with a huge majority in the May 2019 general election. 

Out of total 542 seats in the parliament, the BJP alone bagged 300. This was more than the total number of 272 seats required to get a clear majority. 

In 2014, BJP won 282 seats—10 more than the magic figure. The 2019 election result was therefore a spectacular win that no one anticipated. 

The most challenging part of this election was that it was considered a referendum on the sectarian politics of Modi. Attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, had grown under this government since he first came to power. 

Those opposed to Modi warned that if BJP got another chance, India will be transformed into a Hindu theocracy. Not surprisingly, the victory emboldened the Modi government to scrap special status given to the state of Kashmir- the only Muslim majority province in India - in the name of national security. An armed insurgency alongside peaceful agitation has been going on in the region for the right to self-determination. The BJP has always been threatening to take away special rights given to the people of Kashmir, to polarize the Hindu majority in the rest of the country. Not only have civil rights and freedom been suspended in the area, troops have been heavily deployed to suppress any voice of dissent. 

If that was not enough, the government has passed a controversial and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from the neighbouring countries, sparking angry protests, which have subsided due to lockdown following the outbreak of COVID 19.  

It's now a matter of time until India officially declares itself as a Hindu nation, as the country has made a choice. 

If the election of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur—a controversial Hindu ascetic who faces trial in the bombing conspiracy against Muslims - is any indication, Indians have not only sold their soul to Modi, but have let down an honest police officer who exposed the Hindutva terror network. 

The late Hemant Karkare had smashed the terror module involved in bombings targeting the Muslim community. Until then, the media and the intelligence blamed most terror incidents in India on Muslim extremists, without even considering the possibility of Hindu fanatics being involved. 

Karkare, a thoroughly professional officer associated with Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad, was completely detached from majoritarian prejudices. This was in spite of the fact that he was a practising Hindu. 

Notably, Modi and his party had started a smear campaign against him for arresting Hindus involved in terror activities. 

Thakur, who was nominated as a BJP candidate from Bhopal, was involved in the 2008 bomb blast in Malegaon. The incident  left 10 people dead and close to 100 injured. This was one of the many blasts triggered by a gang that wants to instill fear in the minds of Muslims and establish a Hindu state by overthrowing a democratic and secular republic of India. Her arrest had outraged Modi. 

Thakur wasn't the only Hindu extremist to be arrested for terrorism. Karkare's investigation culminated in the arrests of several more who had conspired bomb blasts in different parts of India. 

On November 26, 2008 when India’s financial capital of Mumbai came under attack from a Pakistan-based terror group, Karkare was shot to death under mysterious circumstances. Many, like former police officer S.M. Mushrif, believe that it was a set up to silence Karkare forever; in the garb of a terror attack, a shadow group took his life. His book, “Who killed Karkare? The real face of terrorism in India” raises too many questions.  Some of the arguments he has made are very convincing. 

Mushrif’s second book, “Brahminists bombed, Muslims hanged: The Brahminist game of blast and blame Muslims” maps out all the terror incidents involving Hindu extremists and gives a detailed account of how these cases have been diluted and weakened by the government under Modi, and police and courts have enabled individuals such as Thakur to go unpunished. Thakur was given bail to run for office, while others like her were acquitted for lack of evidence. The Modi administration has indicated that it's not going to pursue these cases, and the courts have said that not enough evidence was presented to corroborate the claims against suspects. Modi has publicly gone on record to discredit investigations against Hindu extremists by accusing previous governments of deliberately maligning Hindu groups. 

This is in sharp contrast to what Muslim and Sikh extremists face at the hands of the police, who have frequently killed political activists and suspects through extra judicial means with impunity. 

It is pertinent to mention that Karkare, who became a national hero overnight for the BJP after getting killed in the Mumbai terror attack, was defamed posthumously by Thakur and her supporters. 

Whether or not Karkare was killed by Hindutva forces is difficult to establish, but the way his investigation has been botched after his death and his image is being tarnished by the apologists of Modi is shameful. 

One needs to read a book by his daughter Jui Karkara Navare to understand the commitment of the slain officer, who had dedicated his life to the country. ‘Hemant Karkare: A Daughter’s Memoir” reveals how fair this exceptional policeman was. He was just doing his duty without any discrimination. His faith in Hinduism and his love for the country did not blind him while dealing with Hindu extremists or extremists of any other shade alike.  

It was indeed painful to see the nation turning a blind eye to the actions of Thakur and others like her in the BJP and giving Modi another chance. 

For now, Indians need to do some introspection and hang their heads in shame, rather than rejoicing over the second win of someone who is patronizing terrorism and hatred. 

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