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Gurpreet Singh

In what can be seen as censorship of academic work by the representatives in Canada of the world’s so called largest democracy, the Indian consulate has removed a slide quoting Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy from a presentation on Dr. B.R Ambedkar.

Ambedkar was a towering Indian scholar and social justice activist. He was also an architect of the Indian constitution. On his birth anniversary in April, the Indian consulate in Vancouver had organized an event in partnership with a local Ambedkarite group.

A US based researcher was given a task to make a presentation on Ambedkar in the global context. She confirmed to this writer that one of the slides carrying a quote of Roy was removed from her presentation without her consent at the last minute. When she confronted the officials, she was only told that Roy is a disputed figure. Even the local Ambedkarite group chose to remain silent and did not intervene. The presentation was submitted to the consulate through this group.

Roy has always stood for the rights of the poor and marginalized people in India and has been vocal against any form of state violence against minorities, at her own personal risk.

This is especially so under the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, under whose rule intolerance has grown. Scholars and writers like Roy continue to face threats and harassment.

India is presently witnessing an era of McCarthyism in which left-wing activists and thinkers are frequently targeted both by the police and Hindu vigilante groups. Roy has been frequently branded as left wing extremist by them.

Roy, who shot into prominence with her novel The God of Small Things that got her the Booker Prize, is also an essayist who has travelled extensively and demonstrated her capability in challenging power anywhere in the world.

She has been facing threats for writing in defence of the people of Kashmir fighting for the right to self-determination, as well as for the Adivasis (Indigenous peoples of India) facing eviction due to the extraction industry, which is often backed by the Indian establishment. She has pulled no punches in her lectures, media interviews, or writings while criticizing supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who have been been terrorizing minorities.

Roy has always been consistent in her criticism of Indian forces who often kill civilians with impunity and use rape as a weapon in conflict zones.

Her recent novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is a sad story about marginalized sections of the Indian society forced to live under constant fear and insecurity.

The development follows closely on the denial of Honorary Canadian Citizenship to Roy by the Canadian parliament.

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) collected hundreds of signatures in Metro Vancouver on petitions to grant her honorary citizenship.

In a one-line response to the petition, Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, wrote: “The decision to bestow citizenship is a decision of Parliament not that of the Government”.

This is despite the fact that the petition was addressed to the House of Commons and sponsored by none other than Member of Parliament from Surrey Centre, Randeep Singh Sarai Sarai.

The petition was first launched online in October 2018, through House of Commons website and was examined by the House Clerk of Petitions. Later, the IAPI members gathered signatures on hard copies as well. These were submitted to Sarai at his constituency office in February.

 

South Asian activists came together to raise their voices for a senior Indian police officer who is being persecuted for standing up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Sunday,  July 21 at Holland Park in Surrey.

Bhatt was recently given a life sentence for the custodial death of a man arrested in connection with sectarian violence in 1989.

Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) who organized the rally believe that Bhatt has been implicated in a false case at the behest of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Since Bhatt testified against Modi for the latter’s complicity in the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002, he has been framed to instil fears in the minds of those who continue to fight for justice to the victims of the pogrom engineered by the BJP.

Bhatt had testified that Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, had directed the police to look the other way and let Hindu mobs target Muslims. The carnage followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims leaving more than 50 people dead. Modi had instantly blamed Islamic fundamentalists for the incident, which according to one commission of enquiry was an accident.

The participants at the Sunday demonstration carried the placards that read, “Justice for Sanjiv Bhatt.” The speakers unanimously condemned the sentencing and asked for his immediate release. They also questioned why he was being singled out when many other police officers involved in extra judicial killings of Muslims, Sikhs and members of other minority communities continue to enjoy the backing of the state. They also demanded freedom of other political prisoners. Slogans against ongoing state repression and draconian laws in India under a fascist regime were also raised on the occasion.

Notably, the Sikh activists came out to show their wholehearted support to Bhatt, who had also stood up for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all across India by the mobs following the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister by Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Bhatt had refused to accept an award from a group that had invited a controversial politician, Jagdish Tytler, who was involved in the Sikh massacre.

Barjinder Singh of Sikh Nation spoke passionately in support of Bhatt at the rally. Sikh Nation organizes an annual blood drive in memory of those who were murdered during the 1984 violence. 

Other Sikh activists who spoke were Guru Nanak Singh Temple Surrey-Delta Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor and Kesar Singh Baghi.

Among others who spoke at the rally was Conservative Party candidate for Surrey-Newton and prominent TV host Harpreet Singh. Singh was the only political figure to show up. He has consistently spoken against human rights abuses in India both as a TV broadcaster and a political activist.

Muslim activist Sayed Wajahat, leftist activists Rawait Singh and Joseph Theriault, besides IAPI members Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh also spoke at the rally.  

 

 

 

 

Rising above political considerations and calculations, prominent Punjabi TV broadcaster and Conservative Party candidate Harpreet Singh has rejected a controversial statement of former Prime Minister and towering Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

In a letter to the media, Singh, who is running for parliament in Surrey-Newton, has expressed his disagreement with Harper who had recently denounced those seeking to create a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan in India.

Harper was speaking at a pro-India lobby group Canada India Foundation gala in Toronto where he accused Khalistanis of bringing the battles of the past to Canada, and assured to assist current Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and Indian Prime Minister and the leader of ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Narendra Modi, to make the Canada-India relationship stronger.

This has enraged the supporters of Khalistan who have a significant presence in Surrey and some other ridings with a sizable South Asian population.

Interestingly, Harper as Prime Minister in the past had categorically said that though he disagrees with Khalistan, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows people to have their political views. He had nearly defended those who want Khalistan through peaceful means, but pulled no punches while criticising violent extremism.

Many wonder if Harper has made the statement for strategic reasons, as Canada is heading for a federal election in October this year. Both current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh have been repeatedly accused of being soft on the Khalistan movement by Indian politicians and their supporters in Canada. In recent months, the anti-Khalistan rhetoric has grown in India under the BJP government. This coincides with recent reports suggesting growing foreign interference in Canadian politics by the Indian and Chinese governments.

Singh writes that Harper’s statement has come as a surprise, as he had in 2012 only denounced violent extremism and never tried to entirely reject the campaign for Khalistan. 

He acknowledged that he has been receiving calls and messages from the Sikhs in his riding about the statement given by Harper.  He has clarified, “The former PM’s statement does not reflect my views. While the Conservatives believe in united India, we also believe in freedom of speech and Sikhs have the right to articulate their views in a democratic manner”.

Singh goes on to write in the letter that the Sikhs have a history to stand up against injustice, and there is a tendency to brand everyone as a separatist even if some of them are only asking for justice for the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Sikh activists continue to fight for closure as several top political leaders involved in the massacre remain unpunished, according to Singh.

Singh has asked for an enquiry into a series of incidents leading to Harper’s statement. He points out that the last time Trudeau visited India, the issue of Khalistan was repeatedly raised by the Indian government, and shortly after that the Sikhs were bracketed with Khalistani extremism in the Public Safety Report on terrorism prepared by the Canadian government. He wants to know why such rhetoric has increased during the election year.

Singh has been vocal on human rights and social justice, despite being a candidate of a right wing political party. He has consistently attended rallies and demonstrations against growing attacks on religious minorities in India under Modi and has also provided the platform of his independent TV show to people who are critical of not only his party but the Modi government.

Singh is one of the rare South Asian political activists who do not shy from speaking his mind when it comes to human rights abuse or racism.

 

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

The banning of New York-based advocacy group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) by the Indian state has once again revealed the discriminatory and anti-minority mindset of the government of the world’s so called largest democracy.

On July 10, the Indian Home Ministry declared SFJ as an unlawful organization and banned it for five years.

SFJ is being accused of spreading terrorism not only by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Delhi, but also by the Congress government in Punjab, where Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has welcomed the move. Thus, the two parties that are ideologically opposed to each other have come under one tent to isolate SFJ, which has been campaigning for a referendum on a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan in 2020.

Many of their activists have been arrested in the past by the Punjab police for merely propagating in support of the referendum that Captain Amarinder Singh and the BJP claim to be secessionist in nature. 

A violent insurgency for Khalistan in Punjab left thousands of people dead between the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, but that movement is long dead, partly because of police repression and partly because it lost popular support from the Sikh community due to excesses committed by the militants. Only some fringe groups, such as SFJ, are asking for Khalistan through democratic means and yet the Indian government chose to ban them. 

The SFJ was founded in 2007. Initially, the group was campaigning for justice to the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide.

In the first week of November 1984, Sikhs were slaughtered by the mobs all over India, following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards in retaliation for the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in June that year. The ill-conceived army operation, planned and executed to deal with a handful of militants inside the temple, left many pilgrims dead and important buildings heavily destroyed. The attack that was preventable had alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream and galvanized the movement for Khalistan.

Activists of the slain leader’s self-proclaimed secularist Congress party were seen instigating the murderous mobs that targeted innocent Sikhs. SFJ has been trying to embarrass all those political figures involved by trying to block their visits to North America. Some of these individuals were served with summons by the courts following sustained efforts of SFJ. 

Notably, the SFJ did not just confine itself to Sikh issues; it also opposed the visits of the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US and Canada for his complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre.

Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were murdered in the state following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Modi had blamed the Muslim extremists for the incident that claimed more than 50 lives.

However, SFJ went a step further when a far right Hindu nationalist group,  Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), announced in 2015 that India will become a Hindu state by 2020. The statement came from the VHP leader Ashok Singhal, after Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. VHP was involved in the Gujarat massacre and is known to be closely associated with the BJP. The two groups are determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. This gave SFJ an excuse to raise the issue of 2020 referendum.

Under Modi, the government of India, despite the secular constitution, remained a mute spectator to the vicious statement of Singhal. The SFJ continues to receive backlash and bad press since then. Nobody talks about Singhal being a troublemaker.  

Leave aside the question of banning VHP for spreading hate and violence, when Singhal died the same year, he was given last respects by the ministers in the BJP government. Modi also paid tributes to this leader, who was known for spewing venom against Muslims.

Since 2014, the minorities continue to be attacked with impunity by Hindu extremist groups, including VHP. In the recently concluded general election, BJP fielded Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur – a controversial female ascetic involved in a bombing incident that left six people dead and 100 injured in a predominantly Muslim locality in 2008 - as its candidate. Now an elected MP, she was openly supported by Modi, despite the fact that she is still facing trial and hasn’t been acquitted.

This clearly shows that the Indian state under Modi is shamelessly patronizing those involved in majoritarian terrorism and has given them enough legitimacy. To punish Hindu fanatical groups is one thing, the Indian state lacks will to ban them. So the question is why and on what basis SFJ has been banned.

These simple facts are sufficient to understand that the Indian state is being selective. Its definition of terrorism remains flawed, as it arbitrarily decides who is a terrorist and who isn’t. Not a single Hindu extremist organization has been added to its growing list of banned terror groups.

People in North America need to raise their voice in defence of SFJ and press upon the Indian government to lift the ban which is aimed at polarizing Hindu majority and scapegoat minority Sikh community to gain political mileage. Both the BJP and the Congress are aiming to pocket the constituency of Hindu majority by othering non-Hindus, be they Muslims or the Sikhs. If a democracy like India has an appetite to accept the rhetoric of Hindu Right then it must also show respect to the demand for a referendum on Khalistan, or else India should honestly admit that it was always a Hindu nation where minorities hold second class citizenship.

 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

For the past several weeks, the followers of Bollywood diva are celebrating her 19 years in the Indian movie industry.  The twitter is flooded with greetings and best wishes to her from all over the world.

Kareena Kapoor Khan made her entry into films in June 2000, with her acting debut in Refugee.

Though her parents and the Kapoor clan are long associated with Bollywood, Kareena made an independent place for herself in the film industry with her talent and beauty. It goes without saying that her father Randhir Kapoor and mother Babita, besides sister Karishma, had dominated the movie industry for years, but Kareena remains one of the most sought after movie stars.

Undoubtedly Kareena is gorgeous and many people, including me, would like to date her. I never miss an opportunity to like her pictures on Twitter and Facebook and remain one of her followers on Instagram. I felt on top of the world when I got myself pictured with her wax statue at Madam Tussaud’s museum in London, but some other elements of her powerful story are much less discussed.

That she chose to marry a Muslim actor Saif Ali Khan, who is ten years older than her and was previously married, says lot about Kareena. It shows that she thinks independently and will make a choice that is close to her heart. She could have easily found someone younger and richer and also from her own Hindu community to marry, but she fell for Khan.

The story doesn’t stop there. She chose to adopt Khan as her last name and invited the wrath of Hindu fundamentalists who accused Saif Ali Khan of luring her and convert her to Islam. But Kareena never buckled down. Another reason why the Hindu fanatics were up in arms against her was when she chose to name her son Taimur, after a Mughal emperor who is often accused of tyranny by the Hindu historians. She and her husband were viciously attacked by the troll army on social media.

Today, she openly goes by the name Kareena Kapoor Khan, when most Bollywood stars prefer to align themselves with the Muslim haters in power, including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Most Bollywood stars have remained silent to growing attacks on religious minorities under Modi. It goes to the credit of Kareena for standing for eight-year-old Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu extremists in Jammu in January 2018. They did that to terrorist Muslims and force them to migrate. Thus, Asifa’s body was used as a battlefield. Kareena was one of those few actresses who posed themselves with a placard that condemned this gruesome act taking place inside a temple on social media.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. She went to cast her ballot at the polling station in the recently concluded general election along with her son whose name had generated an unwanted controversy. This action itself was strong enough to send a message to the Hindu fanatics that she hasn't forgotten what they did to her family. This election was a mandate on the performance of the BJP. It is a separate matter that the BJP won again with a brute majority. While Kareena never revealed whom she voted for, I have reasons to believe that she wouldn't have voted for the BJP. She had admitted in one TV interview that she wanted to date Rahul Gandhi, who recently stepped down as opposition Congress Party President after losing the election to BJP. Rahul Gandhi is a vocal critic of the sectarian politics of BJP. Kareena’s liking for Rahul sets her apart from other prominent stars who are enamoured by the popularity of Modi. Notably, BJP supporters have frequently mocked Rahul. This is not to suggest that Rahul Gandhi is a perfect politician or that his party is a great alternative to the BJP, but Kareena’s admiration for someone who is despised by BJP says something about her.                           

We need more role models like Kareena in today’s world to challenge growing bigotry and Islamophobia. Love you Kareena and I wish I get an opportunity to meet you one day to tell you how much hope you give in these depressing times.

 

***

 

The campaign for recognition of the 1984 Sikh massacre as Genocide in the Canadian parliament has been launched in Surrey on Saturday, June 29.

Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all across India in the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The activists of the slain leader’s ruling Congress party were involved in the pogrom that was aided and abetted by the police. The mobs identified innocent Sikhs, burnt them alive and raped their women to avenge the murder of Indira Gandhi. This was all done to win the next general election by polarizing the Hindu majority against the Sikhs who merely make two percent of the country’s population.

In New Delhi alone close to 3,000 Sikhs were murdered. So far only one senior politician has been convicted after 34 years, while most senior politicians remain unpunished.

The South Asian activists came together at Surrey-Newton Library on Saturday to launch the campaign that was opened by Indigenous activist Kwistel Tatel.  She expressed her solidarity with the cause and mentioned how Indigenous peoples have been subjected to Genocide in Canada. The organizers of the Saturday event also extended their unconditional support for recognizing structural violence against Indigenous women as Genocide.

Only recently the report of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry report described the problem as Genocide. Much like right wing political parties in Canada which refuse to recognize it as Genocide, the Indian state has repeatedly refused to recognise the 1984 massacre as such.

Former New Democratic MP and a strong voice for human rights Svend Robinson also spoke at the event. He was the only Canadian politician who showed up and assured to take the campaign to its logical end.

None of the elected officials from among the local Sikh community was in attendance, even though the organizers had invited them.  Whereas Robinson came all the way from Burnaby to show his support, the Surrey MPs, MLAs and Councillors were conspicuous by their absence.

Notably, the Indian government had denied visas to at least two Indo Canadian politicians in the past for campaigning for Sikh Genocide motions in the parliament and the Ontario Legislature. They are Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal and New Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Saturday’s event coincides with the fourth anniversary of a Sikh Genocide motion passed by the New Delhi assembly on June 30, 2015. The motion was brought by Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh who was previously a journalist and shot into prominence after throwing a shoe at the former Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram during a press conference in protest against his attempt to shield those involved in the massacre.

Singh, who also authored a book on the 1984 massacre, was the keynote speaker at the Saturday event. He presented copies of his book to Robinson and Tatel on the occasion.  

Others who spoke included independent journalist and poet Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, Barjinder Singh from Sikh Nation – a group of volunteers that started an annual blood drive in memory of the victims of the massacre - other Sikh activists Dharam Singh, Gurmukh Singh Deol and Kesar Singh Baghi, a Muslim activist Syed Wajahat, prominent painter Jarnail Singh, besides rationalist society leader Avtar Gill.

A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the event in memory of Tabrez Ansari, a Muslim man who was recently lynched in India by the Hindu fundamentalists who owed allegiance to the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that is bent upon turning India into a Hindu theocracy. The speakers also touched upon the complicity of the BJP in a 1984-like massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then and is widely accused of being complicit in the mass murder of Muslims.   

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

Today marks 34 years of the Air India Flight 182 bombing that left 329 

people dead.

The suitcase bomb used in the crime that is widely blamed on Sikh 

separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government originated from 

Vancouver. The incident was the worst attack in the history of aviation 

terror before 9/11.

Investigators believe that the episode was in response to repression of 

Sikhs in India during 1984. The Indian army had invaded the Golden 

Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984, to deal 

with a handful of armed militants. The military operation left many 

worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed.

The same year, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her 

Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Delhi, following which innocent 

Sikhs were targeted all across India by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling 

Congress party with the help of police.

These bloody events alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream, and 

galvanized the movement for a separate Sikh homeland, both in India and 

Canada.

At the annual memorial event this year in Stanley Park, Vancouver , 

where a wall bears the names of the victims, the speakers paid tributes 

to the dead and emphasised remaining vigilant against terrorism anywhere 

in the world. Among them were Counsel General of India Abhilasha Joshi, 

and some pro-India moderate Sikhs who are known to be vocal critics of 

terrorism and violence.

They rightly condemned those who were involved in the Air India bombing 

conspiracy and expressed their frustration over just one conviction for 

329 murders, but none of them touched upon the terrorism of Hindu 

extremists which has spiked in India over the past several years under a 

right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Ever since the BJP came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 

2014, attacks on religious minorities by Hindu fundamentalists have 

grown. Emboldened by the electoral support Modi continues to receive in 

a Hindu dominated India, they are bent upon turning a secular democracy 

into an official Hindu state.

So much so, Modi endorsed newly elected BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh 

Thakur, who was responsible for a bomb blast targeting Muslims in 2008. 

The incident left eight people dead and 100 injured. Thakur got a bail 

on medical grounds and was allowed to run for the parliamentary 

election.  Modi justified the decision citing the anti-Sikh massacre of 

1984 engineered by the then ruling Congress party.

Notably, Modi repeated the 1984-like carnage in Gujarat in 2002 when he 

was Chief Minister of the state. Thousands of Muslims were killed by BJP 

supporters after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving 

more than 50 people dead. Modi blamed Muslim extremists for the incident.

It is important to mention here that the son of a Muslim couple that 

perished in the Air India tragedy had also suffered during the Gujarat 

violence. Irfan was only ten-years-old when his father Umar Jethva and 

mother Zebunisa died in the tragedy. They were both visiting Vancouver 

to see their relatives leaving behind their son when the bombing 

happened during their return journey.

Irfan was then brought up by the extended family in Gujarat. His 

computer business shop was destroyed during the anti-Muslim violence. 

  His cousin Renee Saklikar is a Vancouver-based poet who has authored a 

book, based on her poems dedicated to more than 80 children who died in 

the Air India bombing. Her husband Adrian Dix, the health minister in 

the BC Government, was Master of Ceremony at the memorial event. And yet 

there was a complete silence about terrorism being patronized by Modi 

administration.

Ironically, Joshi said in her speech that it was everyone’s duty to 

speak up against “dark forces” that try to disrupt peace. But no one at 

today’s event found it necessary to say anything against majoritarian 

terrorism in the name of Hindu theocracy that poses a greater threat to 

the peace in India because of state support.  The Air India tragedy was 

the culmination of sectarian politics of the Indian politicians, and if 

the Indian leadership continues to oppress minorities and patronise 

majoritarianism, this is going to cause more problems in the Indian 

Diaspora.

***

 

The Government of British Columbia has for the first time proclaimed June 23 as Air India Flight 182 Remembrance Day.

Following sustained efforts of Radical Desi publications, the proclamation was made close to the 34th anniversary of the tragedy.

The ill-fated flight was bombed mid-air above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985 killing all 329 people aboard.  

The suitcase bomb used in the crime that is widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government had originated from Vancouver. The incident was worst attack in the history of aviation terror before 9/11. The investigation of the incident has led to only one conviction.

The investigators believe that the episode was in response to repression of Sikhs in India during 1984. The Indian army had invaded the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984, to deal with a handful of armed militants. The military operation left many worshipers dead and important historical buildings heavily destroyed. 

The same year, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Delhi, following which innocent Sikhs were targeted all across India by mobs led by Gandhi’s ruling Congress party with the help of police.

These bloody events alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream, and galvanized the movement for a separate Sikh homeland, both in India and Canada.

The Proclamation made by the Attorney General and Lt. Governor mentions about 86 children who were heading to India for summer vacations when the bombing took place. It also urges residents of the province to reflect on the root causes of the incident and stand in support of the victims’ families.

 

 

Dozens of political activists came together to raise their voices for jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba at a rally held in Surrey on Sunday, June 16.

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally was aimed at drawing international attention to the deteriorating health of physically challenged Prof. Saibaba who is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions by the Indian state.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba is ninety percent disabled below the waist, and is suffering with 19 ailments. Yet, the Indian judiciary has refused to set him free on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

So much so, the Indian government isn’t listening to the demand for clemency to Saibaba by international bodies, such as United Nations. 

IAPI believes that Saibaba is being persecuted for standing for the religious minorities and other oppressed groups. He was given a life sentence after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer although he functioned as a responsible social justice activist and Human Rights Defender while remaining within the framework of the Indian constitution.

The speakers at the rally unanimously condemned the high handedness of the Indian state and asked for his immediate release. They also pointed out that the Indian courts are being selective, as they have already given bails on medical grounds to much more dangerous right wing Hindu extremists affiliated with the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party involved in violent acts, while Saibaba continues to suffer.

Among those who spoke on the occasion was Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who expressed his unconditional solidarity with Saibaba. Nijjar had earlier made an appeal to the community on social media to participate in the rally.

Amal Vincent from Teaching Support Staff Union came out to read a statement issued in support of Saibaba on the occasion. The statement has asked the Canadian government to urgently intervene into the matter.

None of the elected officials invited showed up. However, the Conservative Party candidate Harpreet Singh joined the rally and expressed his support for Saibaba.

Others who spoke on the occasion were progressive Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, Barjinder Singh of Sikh Nation, Joseph Theriault from Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), Guru Nanak Sikh temple Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor, a visiting activist from India Rawait Singh from Saibaba’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and IAPI spokesman Gurpreet Singh.  

The participants also raised slogans against state violence and carried placards asking for the release of all political prisoners, including Saibaba.

The rally was started with a moment of silence in memory of towering Indian film star and activist Girish Karnad, who passed away recently. He was in the forefront of campaigns against repression and growing attacks on religious minorities.

 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

June 10 was a great day for those who have been fighting for justice to an eight-year-old victim of rape and murder.

This is especially true for the courageous Human Rights Lawyer, Deepika Singh Rajawat who stepped forward at personal risk to defend the family of Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018.

The horrific crime attracted international attention.  

Those involved in the conspiracy wanted to terrorize and humiliate Muslims in the area by using rape as a weapon. 

On Monday, the special court in India convicted six people involved in the incident. Three of them have been given life imprisonment, while three police officers have been sentenced for five years each for destroying the evidence.

Rajawat faced threats and intimidation in the deeply polarized society of India. After all, the accused enjoyed the patronage of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power. Thanks to her advocacy, the case was transferred outside Jammu and Kashmir to ensure a fair trial.

While the verdict has certainly brought some relief, if one looks at the broader picture Bano has actually been let down by the Indian nation.

In the general election that concluded on May 19, the BJP came back to power with a brute majority. This time, the party that openly and shamelessly supported those involved in the gruesome act bagged 300 seats in the house of 543, more than the 282 it captured in 2014.

If the Indian electorate was honest, the BJP should have been punished in these elections. Rather the party got rewarded by the Hindu majority. Apparently, voters obsessed with the BJP’s outright sectarian agenda to transform the country into Hindu theocracy completely ignored the cries of Bano.

Not only that, the majority voters also overlooked the fact that Bano was confined in a temple that was used for such a sacrilegious act. It seems that they weren’t even outraged over BJP folks coming out in support of the accused with the national flag. 

The people who raped and murdered Bano, and those who came out on streets to support them were merely a few, but by re-electing a party that claims to be a custodian of Hindu religion and national interest, the entire nation has deceived the soul of the little child.

Whatever may be the explanation, the May election results were in sharp contrast to the mandate of 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ascended to power against the backdrop of infamous Nirbhaya case.

In December 2012, a woman was gang raped and physically assaulted on a public bus in Delhi, the national capital. The victim later succumbed to her injuries. The death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, was followed by angry protests in the capital.

The whole episode became a matter of shame for those in power. People thought that the government lacked will and strength to stop sexual violence on the streets of Delhi.

Among the demonstrators were the supporters of Modi and his party. Those opposed to then-Congress government did not let the issue die until the next election.

Modi openly appealed to the voters not to forget what happened to Nirbhaya when they went to vote. He categorically asked them to keep in mind the victim of the Delhi rape before voting for Lotus – the electoral symbol of BJP. Thus, the Delhi rape and murder became one of the many issues when Modi was elected to power in May 2014 with a hope for a strong government.

Come 2019, such drive was missing. Maybe Asifa wasn’t even on anyone’s mind.

It is pertinent to mention that the conspirators had also incited communal hatred against Muslim nomads, accusing them of killing cows. Asifa had clearly become another victim of cow politics which has gripped the general mood of the nation ever since Modi first became the Prime Minister. Since Hindus consider the cow as a sacred animal, the self-styled cow vigilantes have intensified their hateful and violent campaign against Muslims and Christians all over the country. They continue to target these communities on suspicion of consuming beef.   

Modi, who never missed an opportunity to rake up the issue of Nirbhaya before his 2014 election, remained silent on the sexual assault and murder of Asifa and did not find it necessary to reprimand his party men for supporting wrong people.  

Even otherwise, Modi was complicit in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom of Gujarat during which many young Muslim girls were raped by Hindu fundamentalists. The massacre followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident that was blamed on Islamic extremists by Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then. He wasn’t punished by the electorate at that time either, getting a heavy majority in the assembly election that followed the massacre.

It’s a shame to see that the entire nation was on its feet when a Hindu woman was raped in Delhi and kept the issue alive until Modi got elected to power in 2014, but the same nation looked the other way when Asifa was raped and murdered in 2018, and forgot her completely when they re-elected those who defended her killers.

This is despite the fact that many social justice activists continued to remind people of what happened to Asifa before the election started.

The election results, coming before the verdict that was the result of pure hard work of people like Rajawat and the prosecutors, have proved one thing - that India is a majoritarian democracy where winning elections by scapegoating non-Hindus has become a norm.

 

 

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