"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

Gurpreet Singh

One of the motivations behind my going to Seville, in the summer of 2023, was to visit the monument built in memory of the author of The Devastation of the Indies, a first-hand account of the repression of the indigenous peoples of the Americas by Spanish conquerors.

Bartolomé de las Casas was born in 1484 to a merchant father, Pedro de las Casas, who had accompanied Columbus on one of his voyages. Columbus had given a young Indian slave to Pedro, who then gave him away to his son as a companion, but Bartolomé handed him over to the authorities so that he could be returned to the Indies.

Bartolomé thereby showed early signs of his disapproval of the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples whose lands were stolen by the Spanish.

As he grew older, he was ordained a deacon and became a priest in 1512. During his time in the Indies, he not only preached against the abuse of the natives by the colonists, but liberated his own slaves and began campaigning for their rights. His open denunciation of the slaughter of the indigenous peoples turned him into an enemy of the officials who were part of the exploitative structure. He faced death threats for seeing the whole affair as against his own Christian values.  

He remained steadfast in his resolve until his death in 1566. 

A sculpture stands on the bank of the Guadalquivir River, across from where he was born, according to Patrick Comerford. Thanks to the information given on his blog, my son and I were able to trace the monument built by Emilio García Ortiz.

Inaugurated in 1984 to mark the fifth centenary of his birth, the monument commemorates Bartolomé as a father-figure of human rights. Incidentally, it was the same year when the minority Sikh community suffered the worst human rights violations in India.

While we as Canadians are celebrating June as indigenous history month, we need to remember Bartolomé and his legacy. To start with, people need to read his book, which gives an idea how the Europeans colonized Turtle Island, and how problematic was the so-called doctrine of discovery that paved the way for marginalization of the indigenous peoples in North America, and their genocide through residential schools and other tools of white supremacy.

Also, we need to recognize and amplify the story of Bartolomé, to see that not every Christian priest was complicit in atrocities or misappropriated the Church to colonize indigenous peoples for material benefits.   

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The recent news of Mattel, Inc., honouring Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair was really heartwarming. 

It’s a matter of celebration to see Sinclair joining the inspiring women series of Barbie dolls, which include Rosa Parks, a towering civil rights movement hero. 

A few years ago, I gifted my daughter with a Rosa Parks doll shortly after it came out in the market. It’s really amazing to see this company including not only non-white female figures, but also those with many inspiring stories. We need our daughters to grow up not only as career women, but also as social justice activists. 

I wonder if Mattel can consider including Arundhati Roy in their list. The world renowned award winning author, who has published two novels and several political essays, has always stood for the underdog and challenged the power. She has been under constant attack for questioning the status quo in the world’s so-called largest democracy of India. Her difficulties have grown under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, which is highly intolerant to the religious minorities and any voice of dissent. Some of the scholars close to her had to endure imprisonments on trumped up charges, and yet she remained steadfast in her resolve. 

I will deeply appreciate if the makers of Barbie can do so, so that the girls of my daughter’s generation can get inspired by Indian icons like Roy, and make the tyrants across the globe accountable for their misdeeds.

Gurpreet Singh

 

When I moved to Canada from India as a Permanent Resident with my family in 2001, I was deeply touched to see welcoming signs in my native language of Punjabi, not only in and around the Vancouver airport, but shortly after at a few more public spaces in Surrey.

Thanks to the diversity of a country that eventually became my home, Punjabi is now the second most spoken language in several municipalities of BC after English.

The irony is that Punjabis had to fight to keep their language alive in their home country. We have a long history of struggle, jails and bloodshed that led to the creation of the present day Punjab state of India. Punjabi is still facing many challenges within Punjab from elitist English speaking schools and growing dominance of the Hindi language, particularly under a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.

Here, in a country that once discouraged Punjabi immigrants, things have changed remarkably over the years. Not only have Punjabis made it to Canadian legislative assemblies, but also to the House of Commons, with a few (including my wife Rachna Singh, who is now Minister for education) having made history speaking Punjabi, although briefly, in the provincial parliament in Victoria.

That said, the diversity of this country should not be taken for granted. We must acknowledge that this nation was built on the stolen lands of the indigenous peoples, who continue to face systemic racism and battle to revitalize their traditional languages, some of which are on the verge of extinction because of colonialism. Both Residential schools and the day boarding schools, established by the colonists to assimilate indigenous peoples, discouraged children from speaking in their mother languages. Defiance would often invite inhuman treatment and brutal punishments.

On March 31, National Indigenous Languages Day, we as Punjabis should be aware of this dark chapter of Canadian history. Rather than celebrating our language alone, we need to give back to the indigenous peoples for what their elders did for our pioneers, who were taken into their embrace when the immigrants were facing blatant racism. That’s how the First Nations came to be known as Tae Kes (from elder uncles’ family) by the Punjabis.

I am thankful to my friend Jennifer Sherif, who took me to Iskut nation close to the National Reconciliation Day in 2023, to see firsthand how the people of the Tahltan territory are trying to revitalize their language that was impacted by the boarding school, according to Jolene Hawkins the Education Manager at the Band Council.

The Klappan Independent School in the community provides education in Tahltan language. Angela Dennis, the language and culture teacher, has a room with an alphabet chart in that language. School principal Glen Campbell, a published author who previously served in the Slocan Valley, is passionate about the efforts of revitalizing Tahltan. As a matter of policy, signs in that language greet visitors everywhere in the school right from the library to the kitchen.  

I was given an opportunity to ask a group of educators at the school what non-indigenous groups need to do for true reconciliation. They divided themselves in four small groups and came up with 21 points. These included a few related to the language, asking for accepting traditional languages and for indigenous language immersion programs. Apart from asking for land acknowledgment and addressing racism in public schools, they mostly emphasized revitalizing the languages that are losing speakers.

While these steps give us some hope for a better future ahead, the experience left me wondering if we are really paying attention to the needs of the original stewards of Turtle Island, whose existence matters the most. Mere tokenistic territorial acknowledgments and reconciliation greetings that appeared in some local weeklies around our visit aren’t good enough.

A renowned UK-based author and scholar who was recently deported from India has received unanimous support of the Punjab Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC).

Nitasha Kaul was detained at Bengaluru airport and forced to leave the country, in spite of valid travel documents, merely because of her criticism of policies of the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.  A Kashmiri Hindu woman herself, she has been opposed to growing repression of Muslims and other minority communities in India, and is known for her advocacy for secularism.

Kaul, who has been visiting India frequently, was invited by a non-BJP government in Karnataka for an event to promote pluralism. However, she was denied entry to the country by the central government.

In one of the four resolutions passed by PPCBC, the members condemned the mistreatment meted out to Kaul at an Indian airport. “This reflects very badly on the world’s so-called largest democracy. And we strongly denounce what Indian establishment has done to a respectable person like Kaul,” the resolution read.

The members emphasized that this is an assault on the right to free expression, and that if freedom of speech is allowed to be stifled, press freedom cannot survive either. They also condemned the banning of books from public display by a Quebec writer, for her opposition to the Israeli aggression in Gaza. Elise Gravel has written several picture books and graphic novels for children. Her books were removed from public display by a Jewish Library in Montreal.

In another resolution, the PPCBC endorsed an open letter to the Israeli government by more than 50 journalists asking for access to Gaza, and expressed their condolences to the families of a dozen journalists killed during Israeli attacks.

The fourth resolution welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier David Eby for taking a stand against Bell Company which is laying off journalists and selling radio stations for maximizing profits, but also called upon the two leaders to give the media industry necessary support to ensure its long term survival and job protection for its workers.

 

Dear Prime Minister,

I believe you are deeply saddened by the death of a critic of the Russian President while being incarcerated. Please accept my condolences and stay strong. 

While I do understand that you carry the burden of being a self-styled leader of human rights in the world, and have an obligation to stand up for alleged repression of political dissidents in Russia, I fail to fathom why you never display such passion when it comes to state violence in other parts of the globe.

I don’t think I need to remind you that India is a neighbour to Russia, and that the country you aren’t unfamiliar with has a poor record on civil rights. After all, you recently acknowledged that they could be behind the murder of a Canadian Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and yet you have a tendency to forget.

Following the recent death of Alexei Navalny in a Russian jail, your government not only announced more sanctions against Russia, but you called the country’s president Vladimir Putin, a monster. Wow . How brave. Applause. 

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that you never dared to call Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi just that, despite the fact that he has Muslim blood on his hands. He was instrumental behind the 2002 massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat province of India. Before being elected as Prime Minister in 2014, he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and was denied visa by several countries for that reason. How can you overlook such an important historical fact? Not very long ago, in 2021, political prisoner Stan Swamy died in custody of the brutal Indian state. You never uttered a word. Swamy was a Christian preacher who worked among the indigenous communities of India and was locked up under trumped up charges for merely defending their right to the lands being appropriated by the extraction industry. Well, what can be expected from the Prime Minister of a country built on stolen lands of the First Nations? If Putin is a monster, then Modi is a devil who deserves to be punished for his crimes against humanity. The story does not end there. Sikh groups started a petition asking for sanctions against India in the light of Nijjar’s murder. But nothing came out of that. You need to come clean on this. Either act against India with a similar zeal, or stop pretending. Unfortunately, that’s what you have been doing in the garb of human rights advocacy. You don’t see the sufferings of the Palestinians under the repressive Israeli government, but you are obsessed with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. You even failed to make the Israeli state accountable for the genocide of people of Gaza, but chose to call pro-Palestine activists "anti-semitic", whereas Modi is the real anti-semite whose Hindu supremacist organization RSS glorified Hitler and justified the Jewish holocaust. Kindly learn something from South Africa, which has taken the lead on social justice, and stop fooling yourself. 

Gurpreet Singh

Independent journalist and broadcaster.

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

This Sunday brings back the ugly memories of two separate incidents of terrorism and bloodshed perpetrated against Muslims in India.

The first occurred on February 18, 1983, in Nellie, Assam where over 2,000 Bangladeshi Muslims were slaughtered in 14 villages by mobs; the second happened years later. In 2007, on the same fateful date in Panipat, Haryana, the Samjhauta express train, mainly carrying Pakistani Muslim passengers, was hit by bombings, leaving 70 people dead.

 

In both instances, Hindu supremacists were involved, while the Indian state either remained complicit or failed to deliver justice.

The Nellie massacre had its roots in the regional chauvinist movement started by those seeking exclusion of so-called outsiders from Assam. It was instigated by the Hindu groups who owe allegiance to the currently ruling right wing BJP government in New Delhi. The 2007 blasts were orchestrated by the same forces, who wanted to stop the rail service between India and Pakistan and terrorise Muslims.

 

During the years in between, the victims of some other notable tragedies, such as the 1984 Sikh Genocide or the 2002 Gujarat violence against Muslims, have received global attention and a very few convictions, however insignificant and insufficient this closure might be. But in the February 18 tragedies two decades apart, no justice has been served.

 

In the Samjhauta blast case, several arrests were made following the brave efforts of a handful of police investigators, including the late Hemant Karkare of Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, but the suspects were acquitted under the BJP regime that used every tool in its toolbox to weaken the prosecution. They have openly indicated their intentions ever since they came to power with a brute majority under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Not only had Modi accused the previous government of wrongly blaming Hindus for the Samjhauta blasts, but other ministers in his government had declined to file an appeal when the suspects were exonerated.

 

What links the two stories is the fact that since the victims were not Indian nationals, there has hardly been any outrage within the broader Indian community, let alone any reaction from the Hindu majority. Narrow nationalism is the only explanation why calls by human rights activists for justice to these victims have remained unheard in the mainstream media. Nor could the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan do anything to expose the Indian establishment internationally.  

 

The victims of February 18 fall perfectly into the category of "unworthy victims" defined by Noam Chomsky in his book, Manufacturing Consent. Let’s keep them in our collective memory this Sunday and mark February 18 as another black day inworld history.  

Gurpreet Singh 

This February 14 was no different. Unmindful of wars, repression and marches for missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada, privileged couples in their comfort zone expressed love to each other. After all, Valentine’s Day has been marked as a romantic occasion for years.

Many in the West may not be familiar with the name of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a towering progressive Urdu poet of Pakistan, but his birthday falls on February 13, a day before people are busy ordering roses and chocolates for their loved ones.

As Faiz prophetically said in one famous verse addressed to his sweetheart, please don’t expect the love I once had for you, as there is so much misery in our world to deal with. 

Known for his leftist ideology, Faiz was critical of the system that discriminated against the poor and marginalized. What he stood for remains relevant today, due to growing social disparity not just in his own country, but neighbouring India, besides North America.

Ironically, Valentine’s Day has become popular in South Asia too, where Faiz is losing charm in spite of the history of colonialism. In India, the situation is worse under a right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government, whose supporters despise both Faiz and Saint Valentine. Not surprisingly, the attacks on Muslims and Christians have grown, as BJP supporters are known for their hatred against Islam and Christianity, let alone their dislike for anything they consider alien to the Indian culture. The bigots conveniently ignore their own heritage that once allowed polygamy and encouraged both erotic art and literature, such as Kama Sutra.

In a more ideal situation like the one in Canada, where all this is welcomed in the name of free choice and consumerism, the masses are least bothered about other pressing issues. Here Valentine’s Day and the annual marches for missing and murdered indigenous women happen around the same time. Obviously, not every Canadian is on board to march along with those pained by systemic racism indigenous women face in this country.

This year, the world is also facing many other challenges, like the ongoing attacks on Palestine by Israel, and the Russian-Ukraine war which has impacted the global economy, making the life of the less privileged more difficult.

We probably need to hear and feel what Faiz told his beloved. Yes, the greetings and roses can wait until there is peace and justice. Saint Valentine’s legacy should not be reduced to tokenism either. He laid down his life for the right of the couples to marry in defiance of the Roman Empire. Considering how interracial or same sex couples are being hounded in socially conservative countries, and how human rights defenders are incarcerated all over the world, we need to celebrate Valentine’s Day differently by spreading more humane and spiritual love which have become a rare commodity.

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

A news item from India published in the National Post on Thursday, February 8 left me amused.

Right on top of page four, the headline of the story screamed, “India frees pigeon wrongly accused of spying for China”.

After reading the dispatch credited to The Washington Post, I thought of a comedy Hindi movie titled Lucky Kabootar, and a song with similar lyrics which means a fortunate pigeon.

The story goes on to tell how the Indian police became suspicious of a pigeon that strayed into its territory, and took the bird into custody for eight months. The metal rings on its leg had something they believed to be written in Chinese. Since India and China have long-standing issues and hostile relations, the Mumbai police couldn’t take a chance. However, it was later revealed that the bird was from Taiwan and had lost its way. 

The investigation did not find any material to suggest espionage, and the pigeon was eventually released, bringing a happy ending to the tale.

What is really interesting to note here is how a Canadian daily picked the story and displayed it. This has not been the case for scores of political prisoners cooling their heels in Indian jails for years under trumped up charges. Among them is former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, a wheelchair bound scholar, who is disabled below the waist, and is grappling with several ailments. There have been a series of protests for him in Canada, and thousands of people signed a petition asking for his release on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.  No Canadian daily ever took pains to share his story.

Saibaba was convicted for life in 2017 after being branded as a Maoist sympathizer, merely because he has been advocating for the rights of the tribal people whose lands are being acquired by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian state. As Maoist insurgents have been active in those areas, Saibaba was labelled as anti-national and thrown behind bars.  He wasn’t given an opportunity to see his dying mother for the last time or to attend her last rites, whereas right wing Hindu extremists, in spite of being involved in mass murders, have been given bails and paroles on medical grounds. Notably, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown in India under the current Hindu supremacist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Saibaba is just one instance, while many other scholars, human rights defenders, and political activists from minority communities, are being incarcerated under draconian laws and inhuman conditions.  

The Taiwanese pigeon is surely lucky to have been freed after eight months and to capture headlines across the globe.

It’s a shame that the Canadian media has chosen to avoid looking at the way the world’s so-called largest democracy is treating its people. Such empathy and interest in the story of a bird, over the brutal experiences of human beings in India, reflects very poorly on the fourth estate of our society. How different is it than the approach of a Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi towards humanity? While the supporters of Modi continue to attack Muslims suspected of carrying beef in their tiffin boxes in the name of cow protection, the western media is enamoured with the story of a bird over jailed political activists.

***

 

 

Honourable Commissioner Hogue,

 

Thank you for opening an inquiry into the growing foreign interference in Canada, which is home to people from almost all the countries across the globe.

I, being a journalist of Indian origin, who came to Canada in 2001, have been following these developments very closely.

It’s good that you are looking into an issue which has deeply impacted my compatriots residing in this country for a very long time.

It gives us hope that you aren’t just focusing on China, Russia or Iran, but also on how the government of the world’s so-called largest democracy in New Delhi has been spreading its tentacles in Canada through its spies to suppress any voice of dissent in the diaspora.  

Since I have covered the Air India tragedy, and have interviewed the families of the victims of the worst incident in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11, I call upon your inquiry commission to look into the circumstances that led to the bombings that left 331 people dead. Radical Desi, an online magazine which I started, has already launched a petition asking for a focused inquiry into the whole episode. We will continue to gather signatures both online and on physical petitions, until Vaisakhi in April.

Community members are signing the petition with a desire to see justice being served. There has been a feeling out there that the Indian agencies could be involved behind the crime that has largely been blamed on Sikh separatists, leading to only one conviction.  

This has become even more necessary after the murder of Surrey-Delta Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, 2023. The events leading up to his assassination demand a fresh investigation into the role of Indian spies behind the Air Indian blasts.  

Let’s take a quick look at some of the facts.   

331 people died in two bombings on June 23, 1985. This included the mid-air blast of Air India Flight 182 that killed all 329 people aboard. While the incidents were blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government, community activists continue to believe that this was the handiwork of Indian intelligence to discredit the movement for a Sikh homeland of Khalistan. They have pointed to a flawed investigation, destruction of surveillance tapes, and facts such as the last minute cancellation of travel plans by some people known to be close to the Indian consulate, and the proximity of some of the suspects to Indian officials.

Two of the persons charged were acquitted. Inderjit Singh Reyat was the only individual to be convicted for manslaughter and perjury, for concealing the identity of another potential suspect.

Among the acquitted was Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was not only given visa to visit India in 2019, but was allowed to meet the head of the Indian spy agency R&AW. Malik was shot to death under mysterious circumstances in July 2022. A section of the Indian media speculated that he was killed by the supporters of Khalistan.

Nijjar was portrayed as a suspect, raising apprehensions of retaliation within the community. He had been facing threats to his life, and had been on the radar of the Indian government that was seeking his extradition. A month before his murder, he told me during a radio interview that he is on the Indian watch list and could be eliminated through contract killers. So much so, I was labeled as a provocateur against Malik by the same media group, as I have been questioning Malik’s meeting with the R&AW chief and his growing loyalty towards right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A dossier made on me by the Indian government accused me of indulging in anti-India activities around the same time, even though I have been critical of Khalistan movement and had received threats for criticising Malik and others charged in the Air India case. 

The Indian government was outraged over Nijjar’s support for a referendum on Khalistan and for glorification of the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, a militant leader who is widely accused as a mastermind behind the Air India carnage. Notably, while Parmar was never convicted for the crime, he was killed by the Indian police in cold blood in 1992, giving credence to the conspiracy theories. Many believe that his killing was a part of the cover up.  

In June, 2023, Nijjar was murdered near the gurdwara parking lot, despite the fact that he was repeatedly cautioned by Canadian authorities about the danger to his life.

The Canadian Prime Minister acknowledged in the House of Commons that the Indian government could be behind the murder. Later, US authorities unearthed a plot to kill Nijjar’s colleague Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, and indicted Nikhil Gupta, who hired an undercover police officer for the job on behalf of an unidentified Indian government official.

The series of events has made the demand for another Air India inquiry even more relevant than before. Previous investigations mainly looked into the hand of Sikh separatists in the bombings and have remained unresolved, so let’s go beyond and try to look into other possibilities with an open mind.

I urge you to kindly examine this question urgently and bring closure that is much needed before it is too late. Not only the victims’ families deserve that, but also the Sikh community that remains under a microscope because of this ugly affair.

 

Gurpreet Singh 

An independent journalist and the author of Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India victims' families 

 

 

 

 

 

To mark the beginning of the Black History Month, the Vancouver-based online magazine that covers alternative politics has picked the President of South Africa for the title, in recognition of his government’s initiative to make Israel accountable for Palestinian genocide in the International Court of Justice, something which the western democracies, like Canada and US, have failed to do.

Through this historic action, South Africa has proved itself to be a true human rights leader in the world.

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