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The members of Surrey-based Punjabi Press Club of BC (PPCBC) have unanimously condemned recent attacks on journalists in the national capital of India.

In a monthly meeting of the club held on Tuesday, March 3, it was resolved to denounce the assault on journalists in Delhi during anti-Muslim violence engineered by supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

More than 40 people have died in the bloodshed that followed protests against a controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the BJP government, which wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. The act discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from the neighbouring countries and is being opposed by secularist activists.

The BJP supporters had been trying to incite violence against peaceful demonstrators and had targeted Muslims in a well-organized mob attack.

Several journalists were assaulted during the pogroms. One of them was even forced to take off his pants to prove that he was not a Muslim.

As if this was not enough, threats of rape were made against a highly respectable female TV anchor, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, by BJP supporters. Sherwani has been highly critical of CAA and the divisive politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She has been a target of smear campaigns and fake news aimed at maligning her image.

Also, BC-based journalist Gurpreet Singh was directly threatened by Modi supporters at a teach-in held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on February 25. The event was organized to educate people about the CAA and its fallout on Muslims. Invited as one of the speakers, Singh had described the act as problematic and sectarian.

The PPCBC expressed its solidarity with Sherwani and flayed all the incidents of physical and verbal assaults against the journalists in India and Canada by those who subscribe to the ideology of BJP.

The outgoing President of the club, Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, moved the motion to condemn the UBC incident and called it an assault on press freedom and media fraternity.

In the meantime, the PPCBC elected its first female President.

Navjot Dhillon is a seasoned journalist, and has been a well-known broadcaster with Radio Red FM. She is a prominent progressive voice within the South Asian community and her popular show Raushani was highly educational and challenged the status quo and social ills.

Dhillon was elected unchallenged for the position.

 

 

The members of Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Surrey have honoured a New Westminster City Councillor for recognizing a day in commemoration of first Sikh political activist to be hanged in Canada. 

Chuck Puchmayr was instrumental behind the Bhai Mewa Singh Day proclamation made by the New Westminster City Council on January 13. This was first time in history that a municipal government acknowledged the martyrdom day of Mewa Singh, who was executed on January 11, 1915 for assassinating a controversial immigration Inspector, William Hopkinson.

Puchmayr was honoured on Sunday in the presence of a huge congregation. Mayor Jonathan Cote was also invited, but could not make it due to a death in the family.

Among those in attendance was Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, who had unveiled the portrait of Mewa Singh in her constituency office last year. Gurdwara Singh Sabha falls in her riding.

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

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

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

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

Those who spoke at the Sunday event were World Sikh Organization leader Prem Singh Vinning, Ghadar Memorial Society of Canada cofounder Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, besides MLA Singh and Puchmayr. 

Earlier, Puchmayr and his colleague Jamie McEvoy toured the community kitchen hall inside the gurdwara to see the portraits of Mewa Singh and his comrades displayed there. Jarnail Singh, the painter who made these portraits, showed them around. Puchmayr also presented the gurdwara officials with a copy of  the proclamation.

 

In protest against the hosting of right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders at Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall, Jalandhar, Radical Desi declined to give them a copy of the Mewa Singh Day proclamation.

Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall was established by followers of the Ghadar movement, started in 1913 to fight against British occupation of India and racism abroad. Formed by Indian immigrants in North America, the Ghadar Party believed in an egalitarian and secular society and denounced religious sectarianism.

However, the officials of Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall recently allowed the leaders of the ruling BJP to hold a political event inside their premises. They did that in the past too, but had virtually got away by claiming oversight on part of the clerical staff.

The attacks on religious minorities have grown in India under the BJP government that aims to transform the country into Hindu theocracy. Yet, Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall whose officials claim to be leftists allowed this to happen.

Radical Desi, which was instrumental behind the Mewa Singh Day proclamation, decided in principle not to give a copy to Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall this time.

The Bhai Mewa Singh Day proclamation was made by the New Westminster City Council on January 13 on the application of Radical Desi. This was first time in history that a municipal government acknowledged the martyrdom day of Mewa Singh, who was executed on January 11, 1915 for assassinating a controversial immigration Inspector William Hopkinson. Mewa Singh was a part of the Ghadar movement.

Radical Desi was also instrumental behind another proclamation, made by the City of Burnaby in 2013 in commemoration of 100 years of Ghadar Party. A copy of that proclamation was presented to Mangat Ram Pasla, a Marxist leader associated with Desh Bhagat Yaadgaar Hall during his visit to Vancouver. Incidentally, Pasla was in BC recently, but Radical Desi decided not to give him the copy of Mewa Singh Day proclamation, and rather had it presented to Kamaljit Singh Thind of Mehak Punjab Dee TV on Sunday, February 23.

Thind has been raising awareness about the Ghadar movement on his own without much help from anyone. He was given the copy of proclamation by New Westminster City Councillors Chuck Puchmayr and Jamie McEvoy,  and MLA Rachna Singh during an event organized at Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Surrey by the Ghadar Memorial Society of Canada.

 

 

Rising above party politics, the BC Minister of State for Childcare has appreciated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for trying to embrace the Chinese community that is currently facing racism following the outbreak of Coronavirus which has claimed more than 900 lives.  

Katrina Chen, a New Democrat, feels that the Liberal Prime Minister has shown leadership in the time of crisis.

As a person of Chinese origin, Chen feels that this gesture means a lot to her.  

Most of the deaths from the virus that originated in China have been in that country, and yet Chinese people in Canada are facing discrimination which has been strongly denounced by Trudeau, who went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate his daughter’s birthday to dispel fears. Years ago, Chinese people faced a similar situation in the aftermath of the deadly SARS  virus that hit the country. The then-Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien also went to a Chinese restaurant to show his solidarity.   

Chen told Spice Radio on Monday, February 10 that not only Trudeau, but her party's leader, Premier John Horgan, also went to attend Chinese lunar year celebrations and ate with the community.  Apprehensions are unfounded about the spread of the Coronavirus in Canada, since the risk is very low, thanks to the efforts of Health Canada.

She had gone to the Burnaby-based radio station to participate in their sixth annual #HandsAgainstRacism campaign launched in 2015. The participants are encouraged to dip their hands in colour and leave behind  handprints on a white sheet along side a message against bigotry. Before she left, Chen wrote, "Fight Against Racism Every Day !". 

Chen was concerned about growing hostilities against Chinese people in Canada, which has a history of racism against people of Asian heritage. Chen herself endured racism in the past, and witnessed attempts to polarize society by extreme right wing political parties in the last federal election.

 

Canada-based Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), established in response to growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents under a right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in India, was honoured in absentia at a public event held in Ludhiana on Sunday, February 9. 

A Punjabi media outlet Suhi Saver, that covers alternative politics, presented a plaque to the organization during their annual event. 

The award was received by social justice activist Buta Singh on behalf of the group whose members could not make it.

Singh is an ally of IAPI and was instrumental behind the drafting of the policy paper of the organization that continues to raise its voice against repression and state violence in India ever since BJP came to power in 2014. However, IAPI is equally critical of other parties that indulge in majoritarianism and try to stifle freedom and democracy. It's members have also been raising voices against racism in Canada.   

Suhi Saver also announced a monetary award to IAPI. The group unanimously declined the award, but decided to double the figure and donate the entire amount to student union leader Aishe Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi who was recently assaulted by supporters of the ruling BJP. 

IAPI had resolved to extend its solidarity with Ghosh and her outfit to send a strong message to the apologists of the Indian government. 

The student unions, owing to affiliation with the left parties, are under constant attack by the right wing goons.  

In the meantime, Suhi Saver also honoured a brave Kashmiri journalist Jalil Rathore on the occasion. 

Kashmir has been under lockdown since August 5. The Indian authorities have suspended civil liberties in Kashmir on the pretext of fighting a war on terror to suppress the ongoing struggle for the right to self determination in the disputed territory. 

Rathore is the first Kashmiri journalist to travel outside the region to shed light on the current state of affairs in his home state, where media is not being allowed by the government to function freely. 

 

***    

 

As tensions between the First Nations and Canadian establishment escalate over controversial pipeline projects, Kwitsel Tatel called for “civil unrest” on Thursday morning.

An Indigenous Land Defender and Water Protector, Tatel was speaking with Spice Radio where she had gone to participate in their campaign against racism started in 2015.  

Responding to a question about the recent Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in favour of building Trans Mountain Pipeline and the RCMP arrests of Indigenous activists camping against Coastal GasLink's LNG Pipeline in north-central BC, she categorically said, “We need unrest, civil unrest, because so called British Columbia will not be beautiful anymore.”

Tatel has been in the forefront of grassroots movement against the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion that many indigenous communities believe is being pushed through their traditional lands without informed consent, carrying the potential to pollute water and destroy their livelihood.

The LNG pipeline in Unistoten territory is also being opposed for similar reasons. The arrest of the activists in that region comes shortly after the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision that has enraged several First Nations. It is pertinent to mention that a recent report by the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination had asked Canada to abandon these projects, as well as the Site C dam.

Ironically, the BC NDP government, which last year adopted legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, remains adamant on building Site C, which will flood First Nation lands. The provincial government is likely to invite the wrath of Indigenous communities following the arrests made in Unistoten. This has triggered ugly memories of the Gustafsen Lake episode of 1995, when the then-Attorney General in BC's NDP government, Ujjal Dosanjh, sent an RCMP contingent to arrest Indigenous peoples who had gathered to organize Sun Dance ceremonies on their traditional territory, to protect the interests of ranchers.  

Launched by Spice Radio, #HandsAgainstRacism encourages people to dip their hands in colour and leave a handprint on a white sheet alongside a message against bigotry as part of the campaign which entered its sixth year in January.

Tatel wrote beneath her coloured handprint, “Really, water will find its place!” before she left the studio.

***

 

Gurpreet Singh

A motion highly critical of a discriminatory citizenship law brought by a right wing Hindu nationalist government in India was passed by Seattle City Council on Monday.

Moved by Indo-American city Councillor Kshama Sawant, the motion was unanimously passed amidst tension between its supporters and opponents.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India recently adopted the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries on the pretext of giving shelter to non-Muslims facing religious persecution in those places. The law blatantly ignores Muslims and only encourages non-Muslims to come to India from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is despite the fact that not only non-Muslims, but even some sects of Muslims and atheists have been facing oppression in these countries. 

The CAA violates the principle of secularism enshrined in the Indian constitution. The BJP is determined to transform India into a Hindu theocracy, and attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown under the BJP government ever since it came to power in 2014.

There have been angry protests against CAA all over the world. In Canada, which has a history of the racist Continuous Journey Regulation passed against South Asians in 1908 to discourage their permanent settlement in this country, politicians have mainly remained silent. While Canada has already apologized for the Continuous Journey Regulation, it remains indifferent to the CAA which is repeating that history in worst form. 

Unlike Sawant, Canadian leaders have largely remained unmoved to these demonstrations. Barring a statement from Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh against CAA, and Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson’s presence at one of the anti-CAA rallies outside the Indian Consulate on January 26, no such motion has been passed in any municipal councils or provincial legislatures, let alone in the House of Commons.

Even though BC is a next door neighbour to Seattle, and has no dearth of MPs and MLAs of Indian origin, hardly any statement has been made by them against CAA in Parliament or the provincial legislature.

In BC,  where the ruling NDP has six Indo-Canadian MLAs who claim to be progressives, coming from a labour background that morally binds them with international solidarity movement, we are still waiting for such a thing to happen. It’s a shame that they miss no opportunity to wine and dine with Indian agents and attend their official events, but continue to ignore rallies being held against the CAA for the past several weeks.  

On January 26, when the Indian consulate was holding its Republic Day celebrations, they stayed away to avoid demonstrators who were protesting outside, but some could not stop themselves from going to the evening party hosted by the Indian officials that night. Among them were Labour Minister Harry Bains, Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan, former Minister Jinny Sims and MLA Jagrup Brar. 

While Sims is known for her proximity to the Indian consulate, others need to explain to the voters: why have they remained silent to the persecution of minorities in India, but choose to please the Indian diplomats under these difficult times? Especially Bains and Chouhan will be at pains to defend themselves considering their labour background and “strong left leanings”.

It is pertinent to mention that when Sims and Brar went to attend another event inside the Indian consulate on the night of January 9, a young female activist and anti-CAA protester Riya Talitha, who was protesting outside, chanted slogans to shame them publicly. Those chants were widely circulated on Facebook, and yet these politicians remain unapologetic. Maybe they need to be taught a much harder lesson during the next election. For now, Seattle’s slap on these spineless Canadian politicians is enough to expose their double speak on human rights and social justice.

 

***   

The assault on Bhupinder Singh, a journalist in Punjab, by supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has been unanimously condemned by the members of Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia.

The motion was passed during the monthly meeting of the club in Surrey on Tuesday afternoon.  

Singh, who is a turbaned Sikh, feels that he was unfairly targeted by the BJP supporters because of his identity, for merely asking tough questions.

The incident happened in Hoshiarpur on January 26, when the BJP leaders were trying to stop Sikh activists from organizing a peaceful business shutdown in protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

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

More than 20 people have died during violent demonstrations all over India.

The Sikh organizations, including Dal Khalsa, had given a call for business shutdown against CAA in Punjab, to which the BJP supporters responded aggressively. Dal Khalsa has been consistently supporting Muslims and other minority groups who have come under attack ever since BJP government came to power with a brute majority in 2014.

The members of Punjabi Press Club of BC believe that the incident involving Singh was a blatant attack on press freedom and reflects very poorly on a so-called democratic country.     

***

 

 

#HandsAgainstRacism got a major boost when a retired teacher and long-time peace activist joined the campaign on Thursday, January 30.

Susan Ruzic, who had initiated a peace project aimed at discouraging kids from playing with toys of violence, went to Spice Radio on the occasion of the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Launched by the Burnaby-based radio station in January 2015 on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., #HandsAgainstRacism encourages participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a handprint on a white sheet with a message against bigotry. 

With Gandhi in mind, Ruzic wrote alongside her handprint, “Peace Begins With Me” adding a peace sign. 

Gandhi was a towering leader of the passive resistance movement against British occupation of India and a global peace icon. He was assassinated by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948.  Although Gandhi was a devout Hindu, he was opposed to Hindu theocracy. He had vehemently denounced the religious partition of India between Hindus and Muslims in 1947 and stood against sectarian violence directed at Muslims by Hindu fundamentalists.

Godse and his associates wanted to establish a Hindu state and saw Gandhi as threat to their objective, because of which he was shot to death.

Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr. was also murdered by a white supremacist. Much like Gandhi, he was also an advocate of peace and was despised by chauvinists.   Ironically, both India and the United States are currently governed by forces that were responsible for the killings of these two men. Many of the leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India glorify Godse. He belonged to the Hindu supremacist organization Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) of which BJP is a political wing. Notably, RSS was banned for sometime following the death of Gandhi.

Ruzic told Spice Radio that the legacy of the two men has become even more relevant today due to rise in hate and violence all over the world.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***      

 

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