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The Burnaby municipality made a proclamation in recognition of 100 years of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Monday, April 8.

The proclamation was read out by City Councillor Sav Dhaliwal on behalf of Mayor Mike Hurley, in the presence of several members of the Indo Canadian community at a public meeting held at Edmonds Community Centre.

On April 13, 1919 close to 1,000 people were killed at Jallianwala Bagh, a public park in Amritsar in British India when the troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators who had gathered in protest against repressive laws and the arrests of the leader of passive resistance movement against foreign occupation.

Dhaliwal himself is of Indian origin and was instrumental behind the proclamation. Burnaby is the first municipality in BC to make such a proclamation. Notably, Dhaliwal was also instrumental behind similar proclamations in recognition of the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh in 2007 and 100 years of the Ghadar Party in 2013. Bhagat Singh was a towering Indian revolutionary who was executed for assassinating a British police officer, while the Ghadar Party was a group of radical activists who believed in an armed rebellion against the British Empire.

The proclamation made by Mike Hurley declared April 13 as “Commemoration Day”.

It was later presented to community activists who have been trying to keep the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre alive in Canada. Among them were Mehak Punjab Dee TV producer Kamaljit Singh Thind and Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation Sahib Thind. Both individuals had started a campaign to put pressure on the British government to make a formal apology for the bloody incident.

Others present on the occasion were Dr. Raghbir Singh Sirjana, who is an authority on the history of Ghadar Party, former Burnaby School Trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang, and the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India which had lobbied for the proclamation.

 

Following sustained efforts of Mehak Punjab Dee TV, Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the BC government has proclaimed April 13, 2019 as “The Commemoration of the Centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Day”.  

Scores of peaceful protestors were killed in an unprovoked firing by the British troops at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar, India on April 13, 1919.

The demonstrators had gathered in protest against the repressive laws and arrests of the leaders of the passive resistance movement against British occupation of India.

The bloody episode galvanized the freedom movement that culminated in the end of British rule in 1947.

One hundred years later, the BC government has recognized the tragedy, with the Lt. Governor and Attorney General issuing a proclamation, an e-copy of which has been received by IAPI, which initiated the demand on behalf of two other groups, including one led by prominent community activist Sahib Thind who had successfully campaigned for the apology for Komagata Maru.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return by the Canadian government in 1914 under a discriminatory immigration law that was aimed at keeping Canada a "white man’s country". Thind had started a campaign for a formal apology for that incident, which led to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making an official apology in the House of Commons in 2016.

Encouraged by the results, Thind has now started efforts to get a similar apology from the British parliament. He recently visited England to lobby for an apology. He has already succeeded in getting a unanimous motion passed in the Punjab state assembly asking the British government for an official apology for Jallianwala Bagh episode.

Likewise, Mehak Punjab Dee TV producer Kamaljit Singh Thind (no relationship with Sahib Thind) had started an online petition seeking  a British apology for Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He is also instrumental behind annual vigils that are organized in Surrey in memory of the victims of Jallianwala Bagh incident, and has been organizing exhibitions depicting the tragedy at Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey.  

Significantly, the proclamation reads, “Whereas, the Government of British Columbia, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, invites the citizens of British Columbia to reflect on this tragedy and learn more about the history and contributions of India Canadians”.   

 

Teachers and students came together at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 3 to raise their voices for the jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba.   

A well-known human rights defender, Saibaba is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions, despite being ninety percent disabled below the waist.

Saibaba was convicted for life after being accused of being a sympathizer of the Maoist insurgents who are fighting a class war in the tribal areas of India. He has been raising his voice against the repression of indigenous peoples, who are being forcibly evicted by the big mining companies with the backing of the Indian state, that are eyeing their traditional lands to extract rich minerals without informed consent. The police become a ready tool in the hands of these companies and frequently target any voice of resistance. Often the state repression forces the indigenous peoples to join the Maoist ranks to escape police brutality.

Since Saibaba was instrumental in mobilizing public opinion against the exploitation of the tribal communities, he was first arrested in 2014 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer. He was convicted in March, 2017 under draconian laws. 

Recently, his family applied for a bail plea on medical grounds, as wheelchair bound Saibaba suffer 19 ailments.

However, the Nagpur court not only rejected his bail application, but refused to show any leniency, stating that he is mentally fit and is working as a think tank for Maoists.

The Scholars at Risk that organized the UBC event to raise awareness about Saibaba’s case in Canada was formed to highlight the plight of scholars, who are being hounded by different governments all over the world for standing up for the oppressed. The event was held at the C.K. Choi Building in partnership with Centre for India and South Asia Research.  

The poems written by Saibaba to his wife from inside the jail were read out on the occasion as a tribute to the imprisoned professor. The speakers shed light on his contributions to social justice and international solidarity movements.

Among the speakers were Associate Professor of Punjabi Language, Literature and Sikh Studies Anne Murphy, Instructor at Political Science and Vantage College Jenny Peterson, student of Political Science and International Relations Zeus Shroff, and an independent journalist and co-founder of Radical Desi magazine, Gurpreet Singh. 

The speakers were unanimous in their observation that more needs to be done to educate Canadians about this important issue and to pressure the Canadian government to intervene urgently.   

Those present included human rights lawyer Amandeep Singh, who had drafted a petition on behalf of Radical Desi, seeking Canadian intervention into the matter. More than 1,000 people signed the petition concerning Saibaba, which was submitted to the House of Commons by two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian. Singh is the former New Democratic Party candidate in Richmond Queensborough. 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) Rakesh Kumar, Sandeep Modgil and Sarabjit Singh were also in attendance. IAPI has been instrumental behind several demonstrations organized in support of Saibaba and other political prisoners in India. 

 

Punjabi journalist Shiv Inder Singh, who was sacked as a field reporter by a Canada-based prominent South Asian radio station for being critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has received the Jagjit Singh Anand Award.

Singh used to give daily news updates to a radio station in Surrey. His services were terminated abruptly in 2016 following complaints over his critical reporting of the right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Modi. Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown.

Singh runs Suhi Saver, a website that covers alternative politics . He was given the Jagjiit Singh Anand Award along with RS. 51,000 at a special public event held in Amritsar. 

The late Jagjit Singh Anand was a prominent Punjabi journalist and a veteran Communist who had established Nawan Zamana newspaper.

The Award was established to recognize the efforts of individuals who have contributed to the growth of Punjabi journalism, language and culture.

Through his writings and an independent TV channel, Singh has been raising the issues affecting the marginalized sections of society. He has also been honouring journalists from all over India who have dared to question the power by taking personal risks.

 

Gurpreet Singh

A huge congregation was held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey this past Sunday, March 24 to show solidarity with three Sikh men who were recently convicted in the world’s so called largest democracy for merely keeping literature perceived as “seditious” by the Indian state.

Arwinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Ranjit Singh were criminally charged in 2016 under draconian laws. In February, a Nawanshehar court awarded them life sentences, which has been strongly denounced by various human rights groups in India.

The speakers at the congregation were unanimous in their demand for the release of these three men and other political prisoners. They pointed out that the crackdown on political dissidents and state repression of religious minorities has grown under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime. The speakers also agreed that the families of the three Sikh men should be given financial aid for legal help. To show their support with the three men, the temple officials also distributed the copies of the literature that has been used as an evidence to convict them under colonial laws.  

Those who spoke on the occasion, included myself and my journalist colleague from Chardikala newsgroup Gurpreet Singh Sahota, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Gurdwara Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor, a volunteer with Sikh Nation Sunil Kumar, two independent Sikh activists Gurmukh Singh Deol and Dharam Singh, a veteran leader of Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib New Westminster Harbhajan Singh Atwal, Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara President Moninder Singh and Ranjit Singh Khalsa from Banda Singh Bahadur Gurdwara, Abbotsford.

The event coincided with the first death anniversary of Gurbax Singh Khalsa, a Sikh activist who jumped to his death from a water tank in Haryana, India on March 20, 2018 in protest against the continued incarceration of many Sikh political prisoners. Atwal, who had come from New Westminster to participate in the congregation, had also joined many Sikh activists for public fasting in support of Khalsa at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

I emphasized that this struggle isn’t just confined to the minority Sikh community, as other minorities and leftists are also being unfairly targeted by the Indian state for questioning the power, while Hindu extremists continue to intimidate minorities with impunity. While repressive laws and excessive force are frequently used to muzzle any voice of dissent from the minority groups or left wing political activists, the Hindu fundamentalists enjoy the backing of the state.

The Sunday congregation was followed by a demonstration held at Holland Park in Surrey on March 10 for the three Sikh men by the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), which was established in response to growing attacks on minorities in India.The IAPI wants the Canadian government to intervene into the matter urgently. 

Among those who participated in the March 10 demonstration was Federal Liberal MP from Surrey Center Randeep Singh Sarai. Sarai had assured the organizers of the rally to raise this issue at the highest level. 

Gurpreet Singh is an independent journalist and a cofounder of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.  

 

On Saturday, March 23 Spice Radio honoured two inspiring women for standing up against racism as the world grapples with growing bigotry.

As part of its annual campaign "Raise Your Hands Against Racism", Burnaby-based Spice Radio held this year’s event at Surrey City Hall where Indigenous activist Cecilia Point and former Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Niki Sharma were presented with special awards.

Point has been active in grassroots level movements, such as campaign for justice to the missing and murdered indigenous women, while Sharma had challenged racism directed at her with courage and conviction. These women were presented with the shields by anti-racism activist Alan Dutton and Georgia Straight Editor Charlie Smith on behalf of Spice Radio. The two men were the recipients of the last year’s Spice Radio awards.

The event started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Christchurch attacks on mosques that left 50 people dead. Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt opened the event with a special tribute to those gunned down by a white supremacist in Christchurch, and the three Indian revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who were executed on March 23, 1931 for waging war against British occupation of India. Later, Vishaljeet Kaur sang a song dedicated to the three martyrs.

Datt launched this campaign in 2015 on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. The campaign aims to link the fight against racism with Holi – a Hindu festival of colours that helps in eradicating caste and class barriers in India. This year, the festival of Holi fell on March 21, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Those present on the occasion included BC Minister for Labour Harry Bains, Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon and Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh.

Kahlon formally announced the proclamation of March 21 as “Raise Your Hands Against Racism Day” in recognition of the campaign started by Spice Radio. Earlier, BC Premier John Horgan gave Spice Radio a Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Award under the Business category, at an event held in Vancouver on the evening of March 21. Significantly, Horgan had kick started this year's campaign by visiting the Spice Radio studios in January. 

Kahlon emphasized that such campaigns have become even more relevant considering what happened in Christchurch on March 15. Both Point and Sharma also observed that the fight against racism must continue in light of the growing alt right movement all over the world.

Among others who spoke at the event were Spice Radio General Manager and Production Director Sudhir Datta, Newscaster and Talk Show Host Safeeya Pirani, another talk show host Gurpreet Singh, budding radio reporter Sohila, Rochelle Prasad from Camp We Empower, community activist Suresh Kurl and well-known physician Arun Garg.

Kurl shed a light on the significance of Holi and its connection with the spirit behind anti-racism movement.

The members of South Asian Arts and Shiamak Vancouver gave free performances. The event culminated with the participants dipping their hands in colour and leaving their hand-prints on a sheet of white paper along with statements against racism and hate.

 

 

A towering South Asian activist and scholar, the late Hari Sharma, was remembered at an event organized in Abbotsford on Sunday, March 17.

Sharma passed away on March 16, 2010 after losing his battle with cancer.

Punjabi Sahit Sabha (Mudli) – a Punjabi literary group - organized the program at the Sikh Heritage Gurdwara. Significantly, the gurdwara was established by supporters of the Ghadar Party, a radical group of political activists formed in 1913 to fight back against racism in North America and British colonialism in India.

Sharma was among those social justice activists who believed in the policies of the Ghadar Party, which wanted to establish a secular and socialist republic in post-British India.

Sharma was a tireless champion of human rights who consistently raised his voice against the repression of minorities and political dissent in India. He staunchly opposed the Emergency that was imposed by the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 and remained a vocal critic of massacres engineered against the Sikhs and Muslims by the so called secular Congress party and the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) respectively. The attacks on religious minorities have grown in India ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014. 

Sharma had been instrumental in inviting activists from India to raise awareness of the prevailing circumstances in India in North America. He was a force behind Indian People’s Association in North America and South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. He was equally active in campaigns against war and racism. 

The main organizer of the Sunday event, Dr. Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, believes that with the rise in populism and bigotry all over the world, including India, Sharma’s legacy has become even more relevant today.

The event was started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Among the speakers were Deputy Speaker of BC Legislature Raj Chouhan, Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, former BC Human Rights Commissioner Harinder Mahil, Sikh Nation volunteer Sunil Kumar, veteran Marxist activist Gurmeet Singh Tiwana and poet Mahima Singh Toor.

Notably, Sharma was a mentor of both Chouhan and Mahil, while Singh and Kumar shared their personal memories of the deceased activist. The speakers were unanimous in their observation that Sharma is being greatly missed due to the growth of right wing forces all over the world.

 

 

The Sikh congregation at a gurdwara in Surrey held prayers for the victims of Christchurch attacks by a neo Nazi.

The Friday attacks on two mosques in New Zealand had left 50 people dead.   

On Sunday, the congregation at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey remembered the dead and prayed for the speedy recovery of those injured.

What binds the Surrey Sikh temple with those mosques in a faraway country is their own experience with racism in the past.

It is the same gurdwara where temple keeper Nirmal Singh Gill was beaten to death by the skinheads in the parking lot in January, 1998.  

The temple President Hardeep Singh Nijjar told RDNB that apart from that connection, the values of Sikhism demand that we must stand up for everyone without any discrimination.

He pointed out that the daily prayers of the Sikhs end with a verse that calls for the well-being of the whole of mankind.

The development is significant, as a Sikh MLA of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party in India tried to justify the Christchurch incident. Manjinder Singh Sirsa is a legislator from Delhi, and also the head of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.  

He went on social media to suggest that the attacks were the outcome of violence being perpetrated by Islamic extremists. He shared the controversial views expressed by right wing Senator Fraser Anning in New Zealand.  Anning had blamed the attacks on Muslim immigrants.

Nijjar strongly denounced the statement made by Sirsa, and said that it only reflects the mindset of his party that desires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, and is known for its anti-minority stance. He believes that a true Sikh will never do that, as the Sikh gurus always stood against injustice and oppression without compromising with those in power.   

He further said that in view of growing bigotry in North America, and the Quebec City mosque massacre that left six people dead in 2017, the Sikh temples are deliberating on increasing vigilance in partnership with other religious minority groups who face similar challenges.

A courageous Indian journalist who exposed a Residential School-like system in her country has been honoured by an alternative media outlet.

Neha Dixit did an investigative report on a pattern behind plucking indigenous girls from the North Eastern states of India, to be taken far away from their families to indoctrinate them into a right wing Hindu nationalist ideology.

Published by the Outlook magazine in 2016, the story enraged supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who not only lodged a police complaint against Dixit and others in the publication staff, but also attacked them on social media.

Her report revealed how different outfits affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which the BJP is a part, trafficked 31 tribal girls from Assam, including those as young as three, and sent them to distantly located states of Punjab and Gujarat, where special Hindu seminaries indoctrinated them into the ultra-nationalist Hindu ideology. 

RSS desires to transform India into a unified Hindu theocracy. Attacks on non-Hindus have intensified under the BJP government that came to power with a brute majority in 2014.   

Dixit found that these girls were taught the Hindi language and encouraged to become vegetarians in accordance with Hindu norms, giving up their tribal identity and customs. The idea is no different from the one adopted in Canada by the churches, to Christianize Indigenous children after taking them away from their families as part of their policy of assimilation. The RSS too has similar designs of assimilating various minority communities, including tribals, Buddhists and Sikhs.

But the matter did not end there. Dixit noted that these tribal girls in the RSS-run schools were also brainwashed to become fanatics who hate religious minorities, such as Muslims and Christians.      

Last month, the Punjab-based Suhi Saver which covers alternative politics, invited Dixit to Ludhiana where she was honoured with their annual award for courage in journalism.

Apart from covering the story of these tribal girls, Dixit has also covered the issue of extra judicial murders of Muslim men by the Indian police. Often the Muslims are branded as terrorists, and then killed by the police in staged encounters in the BJP-run state of Uttar Pradesh, in the name of peace and security.  

Suhi Saver is run by Shiv Inder Singh, who was removed by a Vancouver-based South Asian radio station as its news commentator from Punjab for his critical views of the BJP government. He has been running his outlet with the help of independent donors, and every year he invites active journalists to Ludhiana for guest lectures on pressing issues which are generally ignored by the mainstream media.  The focus of this year’s event was the oppression of women, and growing chauvinism and patriarchy under a right wing regime. Others honoured on the occasion were independent TV journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who is also a vocal critic of religious extremism, and two activists, Sudesh Kumari and Gurvinder Singh. While Kumari spearheaded a campaign for justice to the victims of sexual violence at a spiritual centre run by controversial godmam Gurmit Ram Rahim in Haryana, Singh was involved in a movement against barbaric rape and murder of a girl in Mehal Kalan in Punjab by some influential people. 

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

Ever since more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14, the Indian mainstream has gone mad with more hawkish nationalists calling for revenge and war.

The incident took place in Indian-administered Kashmir, where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years. The Indian government generally blames neighbouring Pakistan for supporting the movement in Muslim dominated Kashmir, which they claim wants to annex the territory through an uprising.

The lone bomber involved was a Kashmiri Muslim, and the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Jaish-E-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the incident. Since then, supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party and others have started a nationwide campaign against Pakistan and Kashmiri people.   Calls are being made for “Blood for Blood”, while Kashmiris settled in other states of India have come under well-orchestrated attacks by angry mobs.

The anger also spilled over outside India in countries with sizable populations of the Indian Diaspora. Candle-light vigils and prayers were organized for the slain soldiers, and donations for the bereaved families started pouring in from celebrities.

Though it is sad that so many families lost their loved ones in a single stroke, the hysteria caused by this tragedy suppressed the wails of those Kashmiri women who lost their honour on a single night at the hands of Indian forces 28 years ago.

On February 23, 1991 the Indian army cracked down on two Kashmiri villages, Konan and Poshpora, and allegedly tortured 200 men and gang raped 150 women. Because of shame and fear of reprisal many women did not come forward. Close to 40 women dared to step forward to fight for justice, and years have passed, but there is no justice and closure. This is partly because the Indian army continues to enjoy immunity under repressive laws that give protection to the Indian forces in conflict zones.

The anniversary of the incident came and passed without much coverage in the media.  

In an environment of hyper nationalism, any discussion that brings the role of Indian forces under critical questioning is more likely to be discouraged by the political leadership and media pundits. That seems to have happened in this case.

Undoubtedly, we should all deplore the killings of soldiers who mostly came from poor and less privileged families, but are we ready to question the repression of people by the custodians of peace and security?

Konan Poshpora is not the only instance of state barbarity or sexual violence by the Indian forces. There have been many other instances all over India, of how in the name of maintaining peace or protecting the so called national interest, political activists have been murdered through extra judicial means, and custodial rapes have been used as a weapon to punish communities fighting for their rights, including the right to self-determination as in the case of Kashmir.

Those who are spewing so much hatred and calling for revenge against Pakistan or Kashmiris because of the killings of more than 40 soldiers, need to take a moment to remember shameful episodes such as Konan Poshpora, and see how repression has caused more misery and violence rather than bringing permanent peace. If we cannot treat our own people with respect, we have no right to confront our enemies, both perceived and real, for merely taking advantage of a disorder created by us.

For the record, the lone attacker involved in Pulwama was also detained and humiliated by the Indian forces for no fault of his own, according to his family. He was returning home when he was picked up during a protest and forced to rub his nose on the ground.

Those talking of revenge are forgetting that such harsh punitive measures have turned many into separatists and extremists. In the end, ordinary soldiers coming from poor families suffer, not those who incite passions for their narrow political ends.

Konan Poshpora is a reminder, not only that everything served to the citizens as a recipe for peace by the ruling classes can be accepted at face value, but we cannot let them decide in our name what is good for the nation. Rather than mimicking them, we need to make them accountable for the crisis in Kashmir, and ask them to resolve the problem through dialogue and justice to the victims of the Konan Poshpora mass-rape and other excesses committed in the name of unity and integration.   

 

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