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Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) honoured renowned documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan in Vancouver on Monday, October 7.

Patwardhan was presented with the Radical Desi medal of courage for making powerful documentaries challenging the state power and reactionary forces.

He was here in connection with the screening of his latest documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

Reason is based on the murders of at least four rationalists and thinkers who were assassinated by Hindu extremists in India. The perpetrators of these crimes enjoy the political patronage of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The documentary reveals how the Indian government, led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shielded those involved in terror activities targeting Muslims.

Reason also looks into the broader issue of growing attacks on religious minorities, oppressed communities and political dissidents under the Modi government. There were attempts to stop the public screening of the film in India. So much so, some Hindu fanatics openly called for physical violence against Patwardhan during a press conference right in his presence. The footage of this incident was part of the film.

Patwardhan has made similar documentaries in the past, including In Memory of Friends which was based on the murders of Communist revolutionaries who were systematically killed by the Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab during 1980s.

IAPI was formed in response to the growing violence against minorities and efforts to turn India into a Hindu theocracy ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics and has been raising these issues in the Indian Diaspora in partnership with IAPI.

Patwardhan was presented with the medal right at the beginning of the screening by the members of IAPI, including its President Parshotam Dosanjh. Others present on behalf of IAPI at the event were Rakesh Kumar and Tejinder Sharma. The IAPI spokesman Gurpreet Singh told the audience that they wanted to honour Patwardhan for keeping the idea of India alive under these difficult times. He also congratulated the organizers of VIFF for bringing such a film to the festival to make Canadians aware of what is happening in India.

 

South Asian activists came together to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir at a rally organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) in Surrey on Saturday, October 5.

The Indian-occupied Kashmir remains under siege since August 5. This week marks two months of the blockade.

The participants at the rally carried placards in support of the people of Kashmir, and raised slogans against the Indian government for ongoing human rights abuse in the state in the name of national security and the so- called war on terror. The demonstration ended peacefully as nobody came to disrupt it. The supporters of pro-India groups had earlier tried to interrupt at least two events in support of Kashmir in Surrey and University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The speakers unanimously condemned human rights violations in Kashmir and demanded that the two-month-long siege be lifted immediately and all political prisoners be released.

The speakers included Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, who was the only elected official to show up. Two South Asian Members of Parliament from the governing Liberal Party, Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai, remained absent despite being invited by the organizers. However, the Conservative Party candidate for Surrey-Newton, Harpreet Singh, sent his message of solidarity and support. He had spoken at the previous rally organized by IAPI on Kashmir in August.  

Singh told the gathering that she and her colleague Ravi Kahlon, an MLA from North Delta, are in the process of writing a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Commission on Kashmir, on behalf of their Kashmiri constituents.

Three Kashmiri activists, Humaayun Lone, Mujeeb Rashid and Sajjid also spoke on the occasion, to explain how difficult it has been for them to get in touch with their families back home because of the blockade and suspension of net services.

Notably, Sikh activists came out in big numbers to show their support. Among them was Barjinder Singh, who is part of a group that organizes the annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide, Guru Nanak Sikh temple Surrey-Delta President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and an independent author and thinker, Charanjit Singh Sujjon. They spoke in one voice to denounce repression of Kashmiris.

A revolutionary communist activist, Rawait Singh, said that by standing up for Kashmiris, the Sikhs have paid real tribute to Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, who taught us to stand up against oppression.

Others who spoke on the occasion included Sayed Wajahat, Sunil Kumar and Bhupinder Malih.

 

 

 

 

The 20th annual blood drive in memory of the victims of 1984 Sikh Genocide officially kicked off in Surrey this past Sunday, September 29.

Launched in 1999 by the Sikh Nation, the campaign has saved 140,000 human lives since then.

Every year, donors line up outside the blood donation camps all across BC, organized by the Sikh Nation in the first week of November. This is done to mark the anniversary of the anti-Sikh massacre that followed the assassination of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. 

The supporters of Indira Gandhi's so-called secular Congress party led mobs who murdered Sikhs across India. Close to 3,000 people were murdered in the national capital of New Delhi alone. Prominent Congress leaders, including Indira’s son and the succeeding Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were involved in the mass murders. 

The state-sponsored mobs chanted, “Blood for Blood” slogans to incite hatred against the Sikhs, but the Sikh Nation has tried to conquer hate with love by encouraging people to save lives through blood donation.

This year’s blood drive coincides with growing attacks on religious minorities under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The BJP and its affiliates engineered similar violence against Muslims and Christians in 2002 and 2008 respectively. Ever since the BJP government under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, violence against minorities has increased significantly. Notably, the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre happened in Gujarat under Modi’s watch who was the Chief Minister of the state back then.

A documentary linking all these tragedies was also shown on the occasion. One of the volunteers of Sikh Nation, Sukdheep Singh, told the gathering how all these stories are connected. In his presentation, Singh explained how the 1984 Sikh Genocide was a catalyst in the history of majoritarian violence; the experiment helped the political leadership of India in polarizing the dominant Hindu society by scapegoating minorities to ensure electoral victories.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The passing away of a veteran Indian journalist and one of my mentors, Gobind Thukral, has come as a big shock under such difficult times.

79-year-old Thukral died after he lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, September 29.

I had not only a long professional relationship with him, but also a personal bonding. His son Naveen Thukral is a fellow journalist and a close friend. Naveen and I worked together as budding reporters with Indian Express years ago. He currently works with Reuters in Singapore. But that’s not how I came to know his dad.

As a student of journalism and much before I joined the media industry I used to read Gobind Thukral’s stories. He had worked with various reputed dailies and magazines, including Indian Express, India Today, The Hindustan Times and The Tribune.

I enjoyed reading his stories, particularly those published in India Today and The Hindustan Times in which he extensively covered Punjab, which witnessed a decade-long Sikh militancy from 1980s-1990s. This was a time when the Sikh militants were fighting an armed insurgency for a separate homeland. Thukral covered all aspects of the movement, including the police repression of Sikhs during the conflict. He pulled no punches while criticising both sides, even as journalists faced death threats from both the police and the extremists.

I never imagined back then that one day I would meet him while working as a reporter. As luck would have it, I developed an interest in writing and began working as a small time reporter with a local weekly in Chandigarh. This gave me an opportunity to meet Gobind Thukral on different occasions. After doing my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism I joined Indian Express where I met Naveen. Through this association I came close to his dad.  

Eventually, Gobind Thukral, who had started working as Punjab and Haryana Bureau Chief with The Tribune, encouraged me to join the paper.  I then quit Indian Express to work directly under him. I was sent to Ferozepore, a district of Punjab close to the Indo-Pak border. This gave me an opportunity to work on many challenging stories, involving smugglers and criminals who enjoyed political patronage. Often my stories invited threats and hate phone calls, but Gobind Thukral stood behind me like a rock and kept giving me valuable guidance. A much bigger challenge came when I began reporting on the growing activities of the right wing Hindu nationalist cultural outfit Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, of which the currently ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part, was trying to make inroads in rural Punjab by organizing camps and brainwashing simple hearted villagers against Muslims and Christians, and trying to assimilate Sikhs into the Hindu fold. Wanting to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, the RSS considers Islam and Christianity as alien faiths, while Sikhism as part of Hinduism. This had created a lot of anxiety among the Sikhs, who have always feared assimilation in the Hindu dominated India.

All through this Gobind Thukral was very supportive, although I was told that RSS supporters had tried to approach my office to put some kind of pressure on me.

In 2001, I had moved to Canada. But my association with Gobind Thukral continued. As a radio broadcaster here in BC, I had him on air a number of times to talk about current issues back home. During these interviews he was consistently critical of the establishment. He also visited Canada on several occasions. Together we started a website on which we covered issues related to South Asia, and the Indian and Pakistani Diaspora. When I started Radical Desi, Gobind Thukral used to write for it occasionally. Under his leadership I learned much more as the years progressed. I now came to see him as someone who believed in equality, social justice, secularism and Indo-Pak friendship.

In May 2014, when the BJP came to power with a brute majority, Gobind Thukral wrote an article that was highly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his narrow-minded and sectarian politics. Modi is closely associated with RSS, under whose watch the anti-Muslim massacre broke out in Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the Chief Minister of the state back then, and is held complicit in the violence by many survivors and human rights activists. Thukral’s article was published in Radical Desi.

Not only that, he also wrote in great detail about the 2002 massacre in his book Troubled Reflections: Reporting Violence, which takes a critical look at the way media functioned during the bloodshed and gave legitimacy to those involved.

I still remember that both during radio interviews and personal interactions, he remained critical of religious fanaticism and ultra-nationalism of all stripes.  

Today when India is witnessing growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissent, and ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, the death of Gobind Thukral is an irreparable loss. His voice will always be missed under these difficult times. As the space for secularism and diversity continues to shrink in Modi’s India, Thukral’s legacy has become even more relevant.

 

The Cure for Hate couldn’t have come at a better time, as the world grapples with growing threats of populism and alt right movements.

Penned by a former neo-Nazi, Tony McAleer, the book will be released on Wednesday, October 2 at 6:30 pm at Vancouver’s Langara College.

McAleer has made startling revelations about his previous avatar as a white supremacist who hated Jews, immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

This story of his life’s journey as a neo Nazi, who once believed that whites are an endangered species, helps in understanding where the hate comes from and how it is exploited by white nationalists to rope in impressionable teenagers to mobilize them against minorities. Ironically, a Jewish psychologist helped inspire him to abandon his racist ideology. This led to the formation of Life After Hate, an initiative started by McAleer and others to keep youngsters away from hate. His firsthand experience with racist ideology therefore also offers us a solution to deal with the problem.

McAleer’s work is important especially under current circumstances, following the emergence of Donald Trump as US President and the increased presence of far right parties on the political landscape of Canada. As we head toward a crucial federal election on October 21, with several candidates having ties with white nationalist groups, his book may provide some answers to questions about this phenomenon.

McAleer writes extensively about how fear of the unknown was created by the neo Nazi leadership, who frequently blamed immigrants for “taking away jobs” during the 1990s, resulting in violent attacks against racialized groups.  He takes “moral responsibility” for the 1998 murder of Nirmal Singh Gill, a caretaker at the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in Surrey, even though he was not directly involved in the crime.

Gill was beaten to death in the temple’s parking lot. Five skinheads involved in the racially motivated hate crime were eventually convicted and sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The book reveals that as part of his duty, at personal risk, Gill had tried to stop neo-Nazis from vandalizing cars parked at the gurdwara. Not only that, Gill tried to resist their attempt to steal his iron bracelet that all practicing Sikhs wear as an article of faith.  

Years after the murder, McAleer paid a visit to the temple, to pay his respect to the deceased. At the temple, he indicated that even though he was not involved in the killing, he can’t claim “zero percent” responsibility because his racist propaganda may have been a contributing factor. He now wants part of the proceedings from the sale of his book to go to the gurdwara to help the temple keep Gill’s legacy alive.

 

Veteran Liberal leader and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien called upon the voters in Surrey not to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election to save Canada from divisive politics.  

Chretien, who served as Prime Minister for three successive terms from 1993 to 2003, was speaking at an election rally on Thursday afternoon in Surrey-Newton riding which has a sizable South Asian population.

Chretien said that Canada remains an example to the world. “When I see the narrowed mentality that is developing in Europe and United States and so on I want more Canada around the world where we have the diversity that we have today.”

Emphasizing unity in the diversity of Canada he categorically stated, “I don’t want Tories to be elected”. This was received with a huge round of applause from the audience that comprised of Sikhs and Muslims who had come out in big numbers to listen to the former Prime Minister.

Chretien remains popular within the minority communities for his liberal immigration policies. His government had been vocal against repression of Sikhs in India and had recognized the contributions made by the community to Canada, apart from refusing to participate in the Iraq war. One of his trusted friends and a cofounder of World Sikh Organization, Prem Singh Vinning, was the Master of Ceremonies on the occasion.

Chretien also said that immigrants are not a burden and have done a lot for the country. He added that he had told different world leaders as Prime Minister that Canada has no problem with immigrants as they are assets.   

He was given a standing ovation once he concluded his speech.

Chretien’s visit gave a major boost to Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, who is seeking re-election in Surrey-Newton. Among other Surrey area MPs present were Randeep Singh Sarai, Ken Hardie and Gordie Hogg, besides two federal ministers Harjit Singh Sajjan and Carla Qualtrough.

Sajjan is the first turbaned Sikh defence minister to be appointed by the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Later, Chretien joined Spice Radio’s campaign #HandsAgainstRacism by leaving his handprint on a piece of paper alongside his autographs on the sidelines of the event. The campaign was started by Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt in 2015. A Pakistani Liberal supporter while taking the picture of his handprint remarked, “This handprint is important for all of us as he had signed the charter of rights from this hand”. The Canadian Charter of Rights gives freedom to all its citizens, including immigrants and remains an important legacy of the Liberal Party.

 

 

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s old pictures and a video suggesting that he painted himself brown and black have devastated all of us.

It hurts us more to know that someone who has always stood up for immigrants and the racialized  communities had such a disturbing past, when he not only acted silly, but was insensitive toward the feelings of coloured minorities whose realities are much more horrific than those coming from a white privileged society.

The good thing is that he has now apologized and has acknowledged that he did something racist. All hell broke out when the first picture of him appeared with brown face and a turban from a party that was held in 2001. Trudeau was a teacher back then; he was participating in a fundraising event at a Vancouver school and dressed up like Aladdin. Being a teacher and someone whose father, the late Pierre Eliot Trudeau, had opened doors for immigrants as a Prime Minister, he should have known that it is wrong to dress up like that.

However, the way this whole episode is being blown out of proportion needs to be challenged. Why has this story come out now, and not in 2015 when Trudeau first got elected as Prime Minister? The only explanation is that his opponents, especially the right wing Conservatives and People’s Party of Canada are already facing tough questions about their ties with White nationalists and their regressive views on immigration, inclusion, sexual orientation and abortion. Since Trudeau and his Liberal Party have been aggressively taking on them for trying to polarize the White majority, they are seeking to drive political mileage out of this issue. Others, like New Democrats, are trying to put Trudeau and the right wing politicians who are outright racists in the same basket, without stepping back to differentiate between conscious acts of racism, and racism at a subconscious level.

This is not to defend the actions of Trudeau, but one needs to acknowledge that he has already been under constant attack from far right groups and racists who are not pleased with his liberal immigration policies and commitment for social justice. It is for this reason that he is also disliked by the supporters of right wing political leaders across the world, such as US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Their apologists here in Canada are trying to prey upon him for the so-called brownface bombshell and equate it with what their beloved leaders are up to.

Of course, Trudeau has failed on several fronts, like giving a green signal to Kinder Morgan trampling the concerns of indigenous population or letting an indigenous cabinet minister go to safeguard the interest of a corrupt corporation. We must make him accountable for that, but to call him racist is an overstatement.

Like it or not, when we opened lines on this issue at Spice Radio where I work as a newscaster and talk show host, most brown skinned callers of South Asian origin said that Trudeau should be forgiven and all parties need to focus on real issues rather than making a big deal out of something so trivial. In fact, well known anti-racism activist, longtime New Democrat Charanpal Gill, has come to Trudeau’s rescue under these difficult times. Gill, who is a South Asian, says that he feels that Trudeau has made a sincere apology and has done a lot for visible minorities. 

Lastly, the Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has described the actions of Trudeau as mockery and racism, and has said that he is “unfit for office”. Wow, who is talking? Scheer should first explain his ties with right wing media groups and those spewing venom against the LGBTQ community and immigrants. His attempt to counterweight his own actions with those of Trudeau are not going to help. If Trudeau is unfit for office, then Scheer is unfit for politics, unless he comes clean on his association with bigots. It is Scheer who owes us answers  for staying away from Pride Parades, whereas Trudeau has made history by participating in them. I have a feeling that the Conservatives are trying to silence Trudeau by bringing up the issue of brown-facing in the past. Under these circumstances, Trudeau and his team must not buckle, and keep exposing the real colours of their political rivals. The voters can see the difference between apples and oranges, and hopefully they are going to vote wisely to keep the real racists out of power on October 21. Ironically, this debate has at least forced Canadians to look hard at themselves in the mirror, and accept that white privilege and racism are deeply embedded in our society. We cannot just blame our neighbours south of the border for being racists in the post-Trump era, when we have them among us here in a supposedly much more open and diverse nation.  

 

***

 

 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has presented a towering filmmaker and a lyricist from India with Life Time Achievement for keeping the flag of secularism high under a right wing Hindu nationalist regime.

Gulzar had made the first ever Hindi film on Sikh genocide, and has penned short stories and poems on related topics, often inviting the wrath of right wing trolls.

Released in 1996, Maachis is the story of Sikhs who had suffered state-sponsored violence during 1980s. This was the time when the Sikh militants were fighting an armed insurgency for a separate homeland.

It was a first honest attempt of any Bollywood Director to look into the inconvenient truth of 1984 and the subsequent events that devastated the Sikh minority.

In June, 1984 the Indian government ordered a military invasion on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, on the pretext of dealing with handful of extremists, with a design to polarize the Hindu majority to win the forthcoming general election. The ill-conceived army operation left many worshippers dead and important historical structures destroyed. As a result, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Her murder followed state-engineered mob violence against the Sikhs in different parts of India. In the national capital of New Delhi alone, close to 3,000 Sikhs were slaughtered.

Maachis had used the imagery depicting that violence. The story revolved around young Sikh men who were forced to join militant ranks in response to state repression.

Gulzar received a lot of backlash from the Indian police and right wing politicians at that time.

Formed in response to the growing attacks on religious minorities in India under the current government, IAPI had resolved to honour Gulzar on his first visit to BC after the release of Maachis.

In fact, he was intimidated on social media by the supporters of Hindu Right after he voiced his concerns over the present situation in India, where diversity is under constant attack.

IAPI members Parshotam Dosanjh, Rakesh Kumar, Sandeep Moudgil, Amrit Diwana and Gurpreet Singh, and IAPI supporters Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal and Preet Manpreet, presented him with the plaque on the sidelines of a civic reception organized for him by Kamal Videos in Surrey on Monday night.

In the meantime, Members of Parliament from Surrey-Newton and Surrey-Centre, Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai respectively, presented him with appreciation certificates on separate occasions. Surrey-Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh also presented him with a letter of appreciation at the Monday evening event.  

 

 

 

The mother of Dilawar Singh, who assassinated former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, was honoured at Guru Nanak Singh Gurdwara on Sunday, September 8.

Surjit Kaur was presented with a robe of honour by members of the Gurdwara committee following special prayers in memory of Dilawar Singh, who killed Beant Singh in a suicide attack on August 31, 1995 at Chandigarh secretariat.

 

The assassination was in retaliation of state repression of Sikhs in Punjab under Beant Singh. The slain leader had given a free hand to the police to liquidate militants fighting for a separate Sikh homeland, through extra judicial means. This had resulted in gross misuse of police power and large scale human rights abuse in the name of "war on terror".

 

Dilawar Singh, who was a police officer, had joined the militant ranks to avenge the police excesses and turned into a human bomb to assassinate the Chief Minister. Every year, the supporters of Dilawar Singh commemorate his martyrdom day all over the world. 

 

Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who is close to the family of Dilawar Singh, was instrumental in bringing Surjit Kaur for the event. Nijjar also spoke on the occasion and paid tributes to Dilawar Singh and other Sikh militants who had died at the hands of Indian police.

 

The committee also remembered human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra, who was abducted and killed by the Indian police on September 6, 1995. 

 

Khalra was among thousands of Sikhs who were kidnapped and murdered by the police and security forces in Punjab between the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these people remain untraced and presumed dead. There has been no accountability for senior police officers involved in illegal operations to deal with an armed insurgency by Sikh separatists.

 

Sikh men were frequently kidnapped, tortured, and killed with impunity in faked encounters, as perpetrators in uniforms were rewarded with out-of-turn promotions and gallantry awards. In almost all cases, the victims' bodies were disposed of unceremoniously.

 

Khalra’s only fault was that he started an investigation into the enforced disappearances. At the time, he was collecting records of those who were cremated secretly in Amritsar.

 

 

 

An emergency meeting was held on the contentious issue of Kashmir in Surrey on Monday night.

Organized at the Jamea mosque on September 9, the meeting was called in response to the current situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir, where thousands of troops have been deployed and civil liberties have been suspended by the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

Among those in attendance were three federal Liberal MPs - Ken Hardie, Sukh Dhaliwal and Randeep Singh Sarai – who came on behalf of the Canadian government to listen to the concerns of the participants.  

On August 5, the Indian government unilaterally scrapped special rights given to the state of Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, arresting local leaders on the pretext of maintaining public safety.

The BJP government claims that the act was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim dominated state of India. Since then, Kashmir has been turned into an open jail, communication channels such as internet have been shut, and leaders fighting for freedom and autonomy have been detained indefinitely. These include political figures and activists who have been advocating for peaceful resolution of the problem of Kashmir, where people have been struggling for right to self-determination.

The organizers of the meeting said that the Canadian government has failed to step in and raise its voice against growing atrocities in Kashmir. They included local Kashmiris who have collected close to 3,000 signatures on postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for his intervention. They handed over some of these cards to the three MPs, who assured the gathering these would be passed on to Trudeau. 

Those present also confronted the MPs , seeking to know why the Canadian government hasn’t done enough to send a strong message to the Indian government, when their constituents have been holding rallies and demonstrations in Metro Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada.

Though Canadian Minister for Global Affairs Christiya Freeland has issued a statement, it wasn’t critical of the actions of the BJP government, according to Kashmiri activist Auzeb Manzoor who spoke on the occasion.  Moninder Singh who spoke on behalf of the BC Sikh Societies felt the same. He pointed out that the blockade of Kashmir is part of the same pattern under which minorities continue to be attacked with impunity all across India. 

Others in the gathering included Federal New Democratic candidate Annie Ohana, who was very vocal on the issue. While she reiterated the statement made by her party condemning the Indian government, none of the local New Democratic MLAs showed up, despite the fact that Surrey has four NDP MLAs of Indian origin. However, MLA Rachna Singh had sent her message of solidarity. The New Democratic government in BC remains silent on the issue, citing this to be a federal matter.

 

 

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