"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.
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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi

 

 

Deepak Sharma has been found guilty by the North Vancouver provincial court.  The former President of the Abbotsford Hindu temple was charged for sexual assault of a woman in his cab in January, 2019.

Following a trial, Judge Patricia Bond delivered her verdict on Friday. The date for sentencing is yet to be set.

Sharma had been driving for North Shore Taxi when the incident happened. The episode was partly captured by the cab’s onboard security cameras.

Sharma has been close to the Indian consulate in Vancouver and has been hosting public events to celebrate Indian nationalism, inviting Indian officials, including former Counsel Generals of India, Ashok Das and Abhilasha Joshi, besides former acting counsel general Amarjit Singh.

He had established a group called India Canada Association, that took into its embrace pro-India moderate Sikhs. One of its posters carried the pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Kumar Kovind.

His pictures from the programs designed to promote India-Canada friendship are available on social media. In one of these pictures, he can also be seen in the company of a visiting minister of the current right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, Prakash Javadekar.

It is interesting that the Indian consulate often accuses anyone raising questions against the government of the day for its repressive policies of being anti-India, whereas individuals like Sharma have always been in their good books.

The situation has turned from bad to worse under an intolerant regime led by the BJP, where anyone from a minority community can conveniently be labeled as a traitor for trying to hold the government accountable. Not only can such a person be denied visa, in all likelihood their social media accounts will come under scrutiny. If that is what nationalism means, then it is better to be called antinational instead of being blue eyed boys of Hindu nationalist rulers.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

While most Bollywood stars have been busy defending the Indian government which faces international criticism for mistreating agitating farmers, a famous Punjabi actress has stood up for the underdog.

Undeterred by threats, sexism or fear of losing her film career, Sonia Mann has been helping the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since last November in protest against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.

The critics believe that these laws, which have been adopted without due consultations, will hurt the livelihood of farmers and increase the corporate control over the agro-based economy. Scores of farmers have laid down their lives during the struggle as they face police brutality.

Sonia, who comes from a family involved in farming, has been acting in both Bollywood and Punjabi film industry.

Not only has she been giving monetary support to the female protestors at the camp site of the ongoing agitation, she has been sitting with them to raise her voice against repression. This has led to a backlash from supporters of the ruling BJP, while also being warned that she might lose some film offers.

This is in sharp contrast to what many Bollywood stars did when the BJP government came under global condemnation for ignoring and humiliating the farmers. They rather sided with the government and described the international criticism as propaganda.

For doing so, Sonia had to also endure sexism from both the right wing trolls, and a section of the agitating farmers, who are mostly aligned with reactionary elements and agent provocateurs.

Notably, her father, the late Baldev Singh Mann, was a revolutionary communist, who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists in 1986.

Sonia was merely 16 days old when he was murdered. Since she was away with her mother, her father had written her a highly emotional letter which became an important document of literature. 

The father had warned his daughter against patriarchy within Indian society. He honestly acknowledged that some within the family were also unhappy at her birth, and prepared her to face many barriers for being a girl in a male-dominated world. 

He advised his daughter to grow up as a good human being, rather than with any religious identity. Although born in the Sikh faith, he wasn’t a die-hard religious person, and being a communist strictly practiced pluralism in his real life. He was killed for challenging the ideology of the Sikh militants who were fighting for a separate homeland and targeting their political critics, as well as Hindus in Punjab. This was despite the fact that he had also denounced state violence against Sikhs in the name of war on terror and the Hindu Right. He was also in the forefront of farmers’ agitations of his times. 

Years later, Sonia is facing similar challenges. Having been raised single-handed by her mother, who often took her to political and cultural events, she preferred to choose film line. The farmers’ agitation has given her an opportunity to carry forward the mission of her father. She has confessed on several occasions that the letter from her father became a guiding light for her life, and today she feels great by standing up for his values, such as social justice and secularism.

 

Six people, from Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson to Sahib Kaur Dhaliwal, a young student from the University of Ottawa, have been presented with medals of courage by a Canada-based online magazine that covers alternative politics.

Radical Desi, which started its journey in 2014, had established a medal bearing the quote of Desmond Tutu: “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” to honour individuals who have stood up against repression and injustice.

This year, the magazine gave six medals to those who have raised their voices for Indian farmers, who have been camping on the borders of New Delhi since last November, against controversial farm laws which have been passed by the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government. 

The farmers believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood and increase corporate control over the agro-industry. 

The first among the recipients of the Radical Desi medal for this cause was Jean Swanson, who brought a motion against the Indian farm laws to Vancouver City Council, followed by well-known community activist and the founder of Coalition Against Bigotry, Imtiaz Popat, prominent poet Sherry Duggal,  two organizers of the farmers’ protests across BC, Dupinder Kaur Saran and Ishwinder Singh, besides Sahib Kaur Dhaliwal, a promising student who spoke passionately for agitating farmers during the youth parliament session. She is the daughter of renowned Punjabi media personality Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal.

Notably, Saran and Singh were also instrumental behind a vigil organized on behalf of the South Asian community in Surrey, in memory of the 215 indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered from near the site of the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops.

Duggal has written two poems dedicated to the farmers’ struggle, while Popat had spoken in support of Swanson’s motion in the Vancouver Council chambers. Popat is vocal against growing racism in Canada and attacks on religious minorities in India and elsewhere in the world.

Swanson had also brought a motion against India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries, but was forced to withdraw it due to lack of support and backlash from the Indian consulate.

All the six medals were given to these individuals on separate occasions. Swanson was honoured right outside Vancouver City Hall in April, while Popat, Duggal and Saran were given their medals on the international workers’ day rally on May 1, outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey. The last two recipients, Singh and Dhaliwal, received them on Wednesday, June 16 at Channel Punjabi studios in Surrey, from Saran on behalf of Radical Desi.

 

Gurpreet Singh

The US President’s order asking the country’s intelligence to look into the origin of COVID 19 is likely to have consequences.

Joe Biden has directed the US intelligence community to step up efforts to investigate the origins of the pandemic, and to report back in 90 days. The implication is that Biden wants to know whether the pandemic can be traced to a laboratory in China, making this a man-made crisis, a theory which has not yet been established by science. 

Until now, the World Health Organization has been saying that the virus most likely originated from animals.  

While it is important to know the source of the disease that has claimed thousands of human lives across the globe to prevent any future catastrophes, Biden’s position on the issue isn’t helpful.  

Any suggestion of this being the result of a lab leak will give racists another excuse to go after people of Asian heritage in our communities. The people of Chinese ancestry in particular continue to face outright bigotry ever since the pandemic broke out. There have been a large number of violent incidents, including the killing of six Asian women in Atlanta.

Former US President Donald Trump was blunt in his racism, precipitating this hate by repeatedly calling the pandemic a “China virus”, Biden has only rephrased this in more sophisticated language. This reminds us of the famous words of Malcolm X, the hero of Black resistance movement, who differentiated between the Republicans and Democrats as the Wolves and Foxes respectively.  

If Trump was a science denier, Biden has gone a step further by wading into the territory of science with his brand of imperialist politics. It is not a coincidence that China is being isolated internationally by the US, Canada and India on many other issues, such as human rights, trade and territorial matters. COVID 19 is just the pretext of bashing the common enemy.

Biden’s controversial statement at this juncture will give legitimacy to those targeting the Chinese community almost every day. His remarks have already sparked a fierce debate on social media. So much so, Facebook has decided not to block any post claiming that COVID 19 could be man-made, thus creating more space for hate and conspiracy theories.

As for the white supremacists who think it is justified to punish Chinese people for COVID 19 - why not pack up your bags and leave for Europe, since your elders came from there and destroyed the Indigenous population in the US and Canada by bringing in smallpox? It is time to be careful and sensitive about what we say, and fight the pandemic together, instead of scapegoating a minority group, which knows no race or boundaries.

 

Gurpreet Singh

This year’s birth anniversary of Lord Buddha coincides with six months of the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India.

On May 26, when the Indian farmers observed black day to make the deaf government hear their demands, the prime minister of the country was lecturing the people on the philosophy of Buddhism.

The farmers in India have been struggling for the repeal of controversial farm laws that threaten their livelihood and increase corporate control over the agro industry. However, the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government under Narendra Modi won’t listen.

While the Indian nation and the Indian Diaspora came together to oppose the disputed farm laws, Modi spoke on the principles of Buddha, in his online address to emphasize non-violence and the importance of serving humanity during COVID 19.  

What he conveniently overlooked was that Buddha, in spite of being born in an aristocratic family, had ploughed the fields like those who worked on the farm lands owned by his father. While Buddha was pained to see the tillers working hard and being exploited by the rich, Modi lacks compassion for the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since November 26.

Modi, a well-known political hawk, instead used the opportunity to draw attention to the menace of terrorism, as if Buddha’s only teaching was to renounce violence. In that sense, Modi was clearly being hypocritical, as his own government continues to patronise terrorism against minorities, especially Muslims.

Though he did say something meaningful by appreciating the scientists and health care workers fighting the pandemic, his statement will go down in history as tokenistic considering the ground realities in India.

More than 250,000 human lives have already been lost, while the hospitals continue to lack oxygen supplies. This is a direct result of the political ideology of Modi and his party, who lack scientific temperament and have been promoting superstition shamelessly. Modi himself has tried to glorify Hindu mythology as science several times, while some of his party leaders have been advising people to consume cow urine to be safe from COVID 19. Buddha had taught his disciples not to be blind followers of anything. He himself believed in reason, and encouraged everyone to adopt critical thinking. Like it or not, Modi’s words do not match his actions. He and his party are the deniers of science and reason, and that explains why India has gone into a mess.

Modi has no moral right to even talk about such a great soul, who led the world through sacrifice and compassion and wanted to create a just society.

We can only hope that good sense prevails over the bigots on this year’s Buddha’s birth anniversary.

 

Close to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the officials of the Surrey-Delta Sikh temple came together to help out a youth whose lower limbs had stopped working.

After becoming disabled below the waist following an accident, international student Amritpal Singh was dependent on fellow students.

The members of Guru Nanak Singh Gurdwara, which continues to provide free food to the needy during the pandemic, bought a battery-operated wheelchair for him.

According to temple President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, service to everyone irrespective of caste and creed is the duty of every Sikh.

Nijjar and his team have been helping international students, who face isolation and many other challenges in Canada.

Being a strong advocate for human rights and social justice, he had earlier extended his support to Prof. G.N. Saibaba, a disabled Indian scholar incarcerated under trumped up charges.

Saibaba is a former Delhi University Lecturer who was arrested and convicted for being a Maoist sympathizer, for merely standing up against repression of the poor and marginalized in the world’s so called largest democracy.

The wheelchair bound Saibaba, who is suffering multiple ailments, is being held under inhuman conditions.

Nijjar had publicly announced that he and others at the gurdwara will continue to raise their voices for his release, and for the freedom of all political prisoners under detention in Indian jails.

 

The members of Spice Radio team presented a special gift to the Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives, at her constituency office in Surrey on Monday, May 17. 

As part of their Hands Against Racism campaign, the hosts of Spice Radio had prepared a collage of green hand prints, with a message of solidarity with the Indian peasants who have been struggling for their rights since last November.  

The on-air team at the Burnaby-based radio station had painted their hands in green and left their palm prints on a white sheet, alongside messages of support for the agitating farmers who have taken to the streets in opposition to controversial farm laws passed by the Indian government. 

Among them is Vishaljeet Kaur, whose recent Punjabi song dedicated to the farmers' protest has gone viral on social media. Except Kaur, who looks after administrative work at the station, all others whose handprints are on the collage are either entertainment or news-based talk show hosts. These include Noni Kaur and Gaurav Shah. Both are actors and performance artists, who host famous musical shows. The other three hosts, Mankiran Aujla, Suzanne Pasch and Gurpreet Singh are news casters and produce programs based on current affairs.   

Participants in the annual campaign, which was started in 2015, are encouraged to dip their hands in colours and leave a palm print alongside a message against bigotry. Launched on the birth anniversary of the late Martin Luther King Jr., the campaign coincides with Holi, an Indian festival of colours.  

Rachna Singh, who represents Surrey-Greentimbers, is the Parliamentary Secretary for anti-racism initiatives in the BC government. She has not only been vocal against racism in Canada, but has spoken out in support of Indian farmers. Singh is a former trade unionist. 

Her office will be a permanent home for the collage, which reads #FarmersProtest and #HandsAgainstRacism. 

Those present on the occasion on behalf of Spice Radio were Noni Kaur, Gaurav Shah, Vishaljeet Kaur and Gurpreet Singh. 

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On World Press Freedom day, Radical Desi has announced a new award for the daring journalists who have stood up for the oppressed and questioned the power.  

Named after the newspaper started by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar – an undisputed leader of the so-called untouchables in India - the Mooknayak journalism award will be given annually to exceptional media personalities.  

The announcement coincides with the 130th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar.  

Mooknayak, which literally means "leader of the voiceless," was launched in January, 1920 and gave a platform to the Dalit community that continues to suffer caste-based oppression within the Hindu society.  

The first award will be given to Hartosh Singh Bal, a New Delhi-based political editor of The Caravan magazine, which has done many challenging stories under a right wing Hindu fascist regime. Press freedom is under great risk in the current political environment in the world’s so called largest democracy.  

The award will be presented to Bal at an appropriate time and location once the COVID 19 restrictions are over.  

Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics.  

 

 

Activists came together on the international workers’ day outside the Indian Visa and Passport Application Center in Surrey, to remember more than 300 farmers who have laid down their lives during the ongoing agitation.  

Indian farmers have been camping on the borders of New Delhi since November against controversial farm laws which have been passed by the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.  

The farmers believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood and increase corporate control over the agro industry.  

Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the vigil was held on Saturday, May 1.  

The event began with a moment of silence for not only the Indian farmers who have lost their lives during the struggle, but also thousands of healthcare workers who have died in the line of duty all over the world because of the pandemic.  

The speakers unanimously called for the repeal of Indian farm laws and raised slogans in solidarity with the Indian farmers. They also expressed their apprehension over how COVID 19 is being used by the Indian government to push the whole issue under the rug.  

Among those who spoke on the occasion were famous poet Sherry Duggal, social justice activists Imtiaz Popat, Annie Ohana and Dupinder Kaur Saran, besides IAPI spokesman Gurpreet Singh.   

Sherry recited one of her two poems dedicated to the farmers on the occasion.  

Annie Ohana, an anti-racism educator who was instrumental behind the statement made by BC Teachers Federation in support of Indian farmers, honoured Sherry, Imtiaz and Dupinder with Radical Desi medals of courage on behalf of IAPI.  

Radical Desi is an online magazine that covers alternative politics and is a media partner of IAPI. Annie is the past recipient of the Radical Desi medal.  

The three individuals were honoured for standing up for the farmers. Imtiaz had spoken in support of a motion that was passed by the Vancouver City Council in solidarity with Indian farmers, while Dupinder had mobilized people to write letters to the Council, asking it to adopt the motion and hold peaceful demonstrations all over Greater Vancouver.  

While Imtiaz is associated with Coalition Against Bigotry, Dupinder is part of Guru Nanak Free Kitchen and One Voice.  

IAPI wanted to send a strong message to the Indian government by honouring these three individuals from different faiths, and to let the world know that it is not a religious issue, as the Indian establishment is trying to make everyone believe. The BJP government has portrayed the farmers' movement as "separatist and anti-national", by polarizing the Hindu majority against the Sikhs, whereas people from all the religious communities are united and together in this issue.  

Likewise, the IAPI believes that the supporters in Canada of Khalistan, an imaginary separate Sikh state, were also hurting the cause of Indian peasantry, by trying to appropriate the agitation.   

 

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Hands Against Racism (HAR), which was launched on the birth anniversary of the late Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015 has now been by acknowledged by the fastest growing municipality with a sizable population of South Asians and other minority groups.  

Started by the Burnaby-based Spice Radio, the campaign encourages participants to dip their hands in colour and leave a palm print on a white sheet of paper alongside a message against bigotry. It coincides with Holi, an Indian festival of colours. Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt, who is of Indian origin, initiated the campaign to raise awareness about the growing hate in North America.  

This year saw a spike in anti-Asian racism in the light of COVID 19 that started from China and eventually spread to other parts of the world.  

The notice of motion recognizing HAR was unanimously passed by the City of Surrey.   

Jack Singh Hundial, the South Asian councillor, was instrumental behind the motion. Hundial, who is a strong voice for social justice, had moved a motion asking the city to formally acknowledge that it sits on indigenous land. However, the motion was rejected by the Mayor much to the dismay of the First Nations.  

Early this year, Hundial and his council teammate Brenda Locke had gone to the Spice Radio station to participate in HAR.  

Locke, too, has stood against a controversial anti-religion bill passed by Quebec National Assembly. Bill 21 bars public employees from wearing religious symbols. This has hit hard turbaned Sikhs and Muslim women with head coverings, and has intensified hate attacks against them in a charged political environment.  

Surrey follows the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, which have already recognized HAR. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan have also participated in the campaign that continues to grow with each passing year.