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

 

Wednesday, March 25 will go down as another black day in history.

25 people were brutally murdered when Islamic State extremists attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul. The incident shook the entire world. Questions were raised by many about minorities being unsafe in Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, where the Taliban had once made the life of non-Muslims miserable in the past.  

The incident evoked a prompt and sharp reaction in Canada where Sikhs have a sizable population.

Elected officials of Sikh heritage across the political spectrum took to social media to condemn the terrorist act.

Notably, Canada had recently opened its doors for Hindus and Sikhs being persecuted in Afghanistan.

Not to be left behind, MLAs belonging to the BC NDP government were quick to respond. Among them were Minister for Labour Harry Bains and former Minister Jinny Sims.  

Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal and his conservative colleague and former federal minister Tim Uppal also denounced the bloody episode.

While this unanimous condemnation of the massacre was the right thing to do, there is one fundamental problem with their reaction. Such promptness remains missing when similar situations arise in India.

Minorities, especially Muslims, are under constant attack in India ever since the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014.

During recent months hate crimes against Muslims have spiked under the BJP, which wants to transform India into a Hindu theocracy. In February, there was large scale violence against Muslims in Delhi by BJP supporters who targeted the community with the help of police, leaving many dead. 

Earlier, Muslims and secular activists had been peacefully protesting against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The BJP tried to instigate violence against the opponents of CAA, leading to the killings of 53 people, mostly Muslims.

This resulted in rallies and protests even in Canada. But the Indo-Canadian politicians who are now shedding tears over the deaths of Sikhs in Afghanistan remained silent and never came out with any statement to flay what is happening in India.  So much so, they have also ignored frequent calls by community activists to stand up for minorities in India. 

This hasn't been noticed for the first time. These politicians have mostly remained disinterested in the issues of minorities being mistreated in India. 

It goes without saying that they are too timid to criticize the Indian government, as they have business and family ties in that country. After all, the Indian government can easily deny them visa.

Notably, Dhaliwal was once denied visa by the Indian government for trying to bring a motion on the Sikh Genocide. Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India in the first week of November, 1984 following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The massacre was orchestrated by the ruling Congress party.

Then there are politicians like Sims, who are known for their proximity with the Indian Consulate in Vancouver; their silence is understandable.

This is despite the fact that Canada claims to be a human rights leader in the world, and some of these politicians, like Sims and Bains, come from trade unions that championed for the rights of people oppressed anywhere on the globe.  

It is pertinent to mention that the violence in India was state sponsored, and is much more difficult to question than the violence of rogue elements that killed Sikhs in Afghanistan.

Such selectivity only strengths Islamophobia. It has become a norm to identify terrorism with Muslims, which overlooks the fact that majoritarian extremism also exists under the garb of democracy in places like India, where the establishment openly patronizes Hindu fanatics killing Muslims at will.

The latest incident might give an excuse to the Indian government to justify the necessity of CAA, as it opens doors for Hindus and Sikhs who wish to migrate from Afghanistan. It’s time that these politicians should equally criticise such a law, that excludes Muslim refugees on the basis of religion. One must keep in mind that the Islamic State is not only against non-Muslims, but has also been targeting fellow Muslims from Shia communities and those who believe in Sufism. The CAA is therefore flawed as it specifically allows non-Muslims from Afghanistan to seek refuge in India.

Canada must not remain quiet to this injustice, and raise its voice against exclusion of Muslims and ongoing violence against them in India.  Its silence on the situation so far suggests only one thing - that it has chosen to side with the oppressors as far as the Indian state is concerned.    

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

Friday, March 20 marks the twentieth anniversary of the killings of 36 Sikhs in Indian-occupied Kashmir under mysterious circumstances.

It happened close to then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.

The massacre took place in the Chittisinghpura village of Kashmir. The assailants wore Indian army uniforms, lined up the Sikhs from the village, and shot them to death.

Kashmir is a disputed territory where an armed insurgency has been going on for years. One faction of insurgents wants complete independence, while the other wants Kashmir to be merged with Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The Indian army continues to use military power to suppress the voice of dissent in Kashmir. Even those seeking the right to self-determination through peaceful means are not spared.

This was the first time that the Sikh minority was targeted in Kashmir in such a violent manner. The Indian government, under the then-ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), blamed Pakistan-based Islamic extremists for the crime. Their argument was that the Pakistan-sponsored militants wanted to send a message to the visiting US President.

But several survivors noticed something unusual. The attackers did not appear to be Kashmiris. They looked more like people from southern India. While leaving they chanted pro-India slogans.

Under immense pressure to solve the case, the army later apprehended five Kashmiris and eliminated them in a staged shooting in Pathribal area. The army claimed that the dead men were foreign (read Pakistani) militants who died in an exchange of fire, though none of the soldiers were injured in the incident.

The army also claimed they were able to identify the men with the help of another militant, who was arrested and aided them in locating their whereabouts. This militant was later freed after the authorities failed to present any corroborative evidence before the courts.

Following the Pathribal episode there was a huge outcry in Kashmir. The families of those who were killed maintained that they were locals and were picked up by the army before the alleged shootout. People protested for an investigation into the incident, but the trigger-happy security forces killed nine more people in firing on the demonstrators in Brakpora. Among the dead were those related to the victims of the Pathribal episode.

Finally, the investigation revealed that those killed in Pathribal were local Kashmiris who were indeed murdered, after their bodies were exhumed from the graves and identified by their families.

Yet, the Indian army tried to exonerate the soldiers involved. There has always been the intention of a cover up, as proved when there was an attempt to temper with the DNA of those killed in Pathribal, and a delay in release of the forensic report.

In the meantime, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote in her memoir that Clinton suspected the hand of Hindu extremists in the Chittisinghpura incident. This angered the Indian government, and the publishers relented and agreed to make changes.

However, this only raises more questions.

Notably, a former officer of India’s secret agency RAW, B. Raman, acknowledged in his memoir that during a minority government before the BJP came to power, an idea was floated to recruit Hindu nationalists for counter-terrorism operations in Kashmir. The government was supported by the BJP. However, the proposal was shot down, and the government fell after a short while. There are reasons to believe that this idea might have been brought into practice once the BJP came to power.

If we connect all these dots together we can safely conclude that there is something fishy about the tragedy and the way its investigation has been handled. We need to ask: why there was no investigation into the possibility of Hindu extremists being involved in the crime that was blamed on Pakistan during Clinton’s visit, to strengthen the claims of the Indian state which has frequently accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting terrorism in India? Why wasn’t the role of the army thoroughly investigated to get to the bottom of the truth?

Unfortunately, those killed in Chittisinghpura and subsequently in Pathribal and Brakpora are being treated by the world as “unworthy victims”. It is sad that even the US did not stand up for the families of those killed in a series of incidents linked with Clinton’s visit. If Clinton and Albright knew something more, they should have been candid about it, instead of pushing everything under the carpet to maintain cozy relations with India. This reflects very badly on a country that claims to be the champion of democracy and human rights.

India understandably will never be honest about it, considering the circumstances that point to the complicity of the army. Even otherwise India has a poor human rights record, considering its patronage to the Hindu extremists and lack of political will to punish them, as against minority extremist groups who are often dealt with violently.

With the BJP being in power and US being governed by a right wing President who is a staunch ally of the current Indian regime, the chances of any transparent effort to uncover the truth are bleak.

Only an independent international inquiry by the UN can settle this issue. India owes an answer to the global community for at least 50 deaths (36 Sikhs + 5 Kashmiris + 9 protestors) that resulted from the conspiracy behind the Chittisinghpura massacre.

The Coronavirus scare which has gripped the globe must not make us forget those who died for no reason.

***

 

Grade 10 and 12 students at L.A. Matheson School in Surrey joined the campaign for the release of Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba on Thursday, March 12.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, is being incarcerated under inhumane conditions in India. This is despite the continued deterioration of his health because of 19 ailments.

March 7 marked the third anniversary of his life sentencing by the Indian judiciary that branded him as a sympathizer of Maoist insurgents. The Indian government has refused to free him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, even as UN experts have sought his release.

A teach-in was organized at the school by award winning educator and social justice activist Annie Ohana along with her colleague Gurpreet Bains, in partnership with Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI). They told the students about the case of Saibaba and encouraged them to write to local MPs asking them to build international pressure for his release.

Ohana had also spoken at the rally for Saibaba held by IAPI in Surrey on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities in December.

IAPI members Parshotam Dosanjh and Gurpreet Singh were also present at the Thursday event, which was organized as part of the Indigenous week. Ohana tried to draw parallels between the indigenous issues in Canada and India.

Saibaba has been framed because of his opposition to the repression of indigenous communities and other minorities in India. Since Maoists are fighting a class war in the tribal belt, not only Saibaba, but others like him have been frequently labelled as ultra-leftists to suppress any voice of dissent. Saibaba has been raising concerns over the eviction of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands in the name of development by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state.

The current right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is indulging in a double standard by openly shielding Hindu extremists who are spreading violence and terror while punishing a scholar like Saibaba.

The attacks on minorities and indigenous peoples have grown ever since the BJP came to power with a brute majority in 2014.  

Later, some of the students stuck “Free Saibaba” signs on their backs for a group picture to show their solidarity with the jailed teacher.

 

Following in the footsteps of Seattle City council, which unanimously passed a motion against the discriminatory citizenship law adopted by India, a councillor in New Westminster made a similar move on Monday, March 9.

Chuck Puchmayr, who is vocal on social justice and human rights, tabled a motion calling for the scrapping of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) amidst a tense atmosphere inside the council chamber. The motion also urges the Canadian government to intervene.

The right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India recently passed CAA, which discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, on the pretext of giving shelter to non-Muslims facing religious persecution in those places.

This stirred angry protests in India and Canada. More than 50 people have died in New Delhi alone during violence. Most of those dead were Muslims who were systematically targeted by BJP supporters with the active help of the police.

The motion clearly says that the city of New Westminster, which is one of the most multicultural cities in North America “raises concerns with the Government of India’s December 11, 2019 passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act which clearly discriminates against Muslims and has sparked fatal attacks on Muslims inside India.”

The motion is yet to be passed and is scheduled for debate on March 30.

Both supporters and opponents of the CAA were present inside the council chamber, and there were heated exchanges between the two sides outside before the meeting started. The opponents of CAA outnumbered the people on the opposite side and had lined up more speakers. A significant number of Muslims came out to show their support for the motion.

Puchmayr faced lot of pushback from pro BJP activists. However, he ended up moving the motion, which needs a majority vote to pass.

In the meantime, a move to bring another anti-CAA motion in Vancouver city council has fizzled out. Brought by Councillor Jean Swanson, it received backlash from the pro-India lobby. In the absence of any potential support from within the council she has now withdrawn it.

 

 

Following in the footsteps of Seattle City council, which unanimously passed a motion against the discriminatory citizenship law adopted by India, a councillor in New Westminster made a similar move on Monday, March 9.

Chuck Puchmayr, who is vocal on social justice and human rights, tabled a motion calling for the scrapping of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) amidst a tense atmosphere inside the council chamber. The motion also urges the Canadian government to intervene.

The right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India recently passed CAA, which discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, on the pretext of giving shelter to non-Muslims facing religious persecution in those places.

This stirred angry protests in India and Canada. More than 50 people have died in New Delhi alone during violence. Most of those dead were Muslims who were systematically targeted by BJP supporters with the active help of the police.

The motion clearly says that the city of New Westminster, which is one of the most multicultural cities in North America “raises concerns with the Government of India’s December 11, 2019 passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act which clearly discriminates against Muslims and has sparked fatal attacks on Muslims inside India.”

The motion is yet to be passed and is scheduled for debate on March 30.

Both supporters and opponents of the CAA were present inside the council chamber, and there were heated exchanges between the two sides outside before the meeting started. The opponents of CAA outnumbered the people on the opposite side and had lined up more speakers. A significant number of Muslims came out to show their support for the motion.

Puchmayr faced lot of pushback from pro BJP activists. However, he ended up moving the motion, which needs a majority vote to pass.

In the meantime, a move to bring another anti-CAA motion in Vancouver city council has fizzled out. Brought by Councillor Jean Swanson, it received backlash from the pro-India lobby. In the absence of any potential support from within the council she has now withdrawn it.

 

 

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. 

 

***    

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