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On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a demonstration to oppose growing state violence in India, on Sunday, September 27 in Surrey.

Bhagat Singh was a towering revolutionary who fought against the British occupation of India and stood for an egalitarian and just society. He strongly believed in secularism and vowed to continue his struggle until human exploitation ends. He had predicted that once the British left, power would come into the hands of the native ruling classes, and therefore emphasised on continuing the battle until a classless society was established to ensure emancipation of the oppressed.  

His prophecy was proven right after the transfer of power in 1947; today, the repression has grown under an outright Hindu fascist government led by Narendra Modi.  

Not only have the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents sharpened, but the rights of the farmers who are the backbone of India's economy, are being stripped in the name of development. Without any consultation with the farmers, the government has brought an ordinance that badly affects the future of rural communities, as a result of which the people have come out on the streets in India.  

Organized in solidarity with the agitating farmers, the rally began with a moment of silence for Swami Agnivesh, a prominent social justice activist who passed away recently.  

Agnivesh, who was a progressive Hindu reformer, always stood for the minorities and the oppressed communities. He was viciously assaulted by the supporters of Hindu Right in 2018. IAPI had organised a rally in his support back then. His picture was displayed next to that of Bhagat Singh on the occasion.  

The speakers unanimously denounced the policies of the Modi government. Among them were IAPI members Rakesh Kumar, Tejinder Sharma, Harbir Rathi, Amrit Diwana, Sarabjit Baaj and Gurpreet Singh.  

Others who spoke at the event were Inderjit Singh Bains from Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, independent Sikh activists Kulwinder Singh and Surjit Singh Gosal, and leftist activists Parminder Swaich, Rawait Singh, Joseph Theriault and Ryan Abbott.  

While Theriault is associated with the Communist Party (Marxist Leninist), Abbott is with the Communist Party of Canada and running for the BC Legislature from Surrey-Whalley.  

The participants raised slogans against the Indian state and resolved to continue their fight against injustice.  

Gurpreet Singh  

What could be a better coincidence than her birthday falling on the International Day of Peace?  

Especially when a Bollywood superstar has to her credit playing three amazing roles that were akin to peacemaking between India and Pakistan, this becomes even more important.  

Kareena Kapoor Khan turned 40 on Monday, September 21, which has been declared as International Day of Peace by the United Nations.  

As this year marks her 20 years in Indian cinema, it is worth remembering her debut in Refugee, in which she played Nazneen, a stateless Bihari Muslim woman.  

Nazneen, whose family is seeking a permanent home in Pakistan, has left Bangladesh. She falls in love with refugee Ahmed, who is involved in human trafficking and helps her and her parents in crossing the Indo-Pak border illegally to enter Pakistan.  

As a sider, the film reveals the constant tension between India and Pakistan, which were divided on religious lines in 1947. This resulted in large scale Hindu-Muslim riots, forcing Muslims to migrate to Muslim-dominated Pakistan, and Hindus to Hindu-dominated India. Originally from Bihar, India, Nazneen’s family migrates to East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. They are forced to flee for the second time due to fear of persecution from Bengalis.  

Indo-Pak relations have never been stable. The two countries have fought two major wars, including one in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The Indian government tried to take full advantage of the Bangladeshi insurgency, and was partly instrumental behind its separation from Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan is taking advantage of the militant movement in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir region of India, which has been going through an armed struggle for the right to self-determination. Both countries continue to accuse each other of proxy war and aiding and abetting subversive activities within their territories from across the border.     

One thing can be counted as a legacy of Refugee - Nazneen’s role as a broker of peace between the two hostile neighbours.  

Refugee goes beyond the subject of Bihari Muslims, and highlights how infiltration by Pakistan-trained terrorists in India continues, while Indian Muslim patriots, despite being involved in human trafficking, resist any attempt by Pakistani Islamic extremists to launch Jihad on the Indian soil.   

The film ends on a happy note, with Nazneen giving birth to a child on the no man’s land. She therefore becomes a symbol of peace between the warring nations. This happens on the intervening night of August 14-15, when the two countries celebrate their independence from the British in 1947.  

The lyrics of a popular song in the film screened on Kareena carry a special meaning for those who want the two countries to end animosity and make a new beginning. The verses go: “Panchi, Nadiyaa, Pawan Ke Jhonke, Koi Sarhad Naa Inhe Roke, Sarhaden Insaanon Ke Liye Hain, Bhala Meine Aur Tumne Kya Paaya Insaan Hoke?” (No border can ever stop the birds, river or the wind, except humans. What have we achieved then by being human beings?). Such messaging questions the necessity of borders and false lines, and Kareena did her part very well.  

This wasn’t the only time she played as a sort of peace ambassador on the screen. Similar opportunities came years later as she grew up into a seasoned actor.     

Twelve years after Refugee, Kareena performed as Iram Parveen Bilal, a British-Pakistani spy in Agent Vinod, an unusual thriller which had an important theme of how the two countries need to unite and fight against those involved in global terrorism and the arms industry.  

Her husband Saif Ali Khan, who played the title role, was her co-star.   

Iram helps Vinod in his mission against Pakistani terrorists, and lays down her life while doing so. The story ends with a climax about how those engaged in the international arms industry are precipitating terrorism and conflicts in the garb of philanthropy, and how the good people on either side of Indo-Pak border sincerely want to change this and continue to pay the price.  

Iram, the real hero of the film, dies in the line of duty towards humanity and not just one side or the other. She gives her life for the bigger cause of opposing the arms race and weapons of mass destruction, which can affect human life both in India and Pakistan.     

Most remarkable was her role as Rasika, a Hindu woman in Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), who comes to the rescue of a Pakistani Muslim girl separated from her mother.   

The story goes like this.  

A Pakistani mother comes to India with her daughter, who has a speech disability. She visits a famous shrine in Delhi to seek blessings for her child. On way back home, the girl accidentally gets down from the train parked on the railway platform and gets separated from her mother. While the train to Pakistan leaves without the child, she ends up reaching Kurukshetra on a freight train. She is discovered by Rasika’s lover Pawan Kumar, who tries to find her parents, but couldn’t. One day she is able to convey to him through gestures that she is from Pakistan. But she cannot convey the exact whereabouts of her family and the Pakistani embassy officials fail to provide any help.    

Rasika’s orthodox Hindu parents want to get rid of her, but Rasika encourages Pawan to do the right thing and not give up until the child is returned to her parents. Pawan succeeds in taking the girl back to Pakistan illegally, putting his life in danger.   

Rasika emerges as a strong advocate for a helpless child from a different community, in a highly polarized environment in which Hindu fanatics harbour hostile attitude toward Muslims and Pakistan. She tells Pawan that she respects him only because he is different from others, and expects him to help the child irrespective of her religious background.  

Rasika is definitely much more vocal and stronger than Nazneen and Iram, and gives hope for a better future in the South Asian region.  

But doing such roles brings many challenges. 

She has been repeatedly attacked on social media by supporters of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government led by Narendra Modi. Ever since he became Prime Minister of the world’s so called largest democracy in 2014, the attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims, have grown. Since such movies do not fit into their agenda, their outrage is not unexpected, but they have repeatedly mocked her for marrying a Muslim actor, adopting Khan as her last name, and naming her son as Taimur.  

Kareena married Saif in 2012 and gave birth to Taimur in 2016.  

Although it was a registered marriage, supporters of the Hindu Right continue to accuse Saif of luring her and converting her to Islam. This is despite the fact that Saif does not support conversion, and allows Kareena to keep her Hindu last name of Kapoor alongside Khan. So much so, the couple was harassed for naming their child as Taimur, who was said to be a tyrant Muslim invader who conquered India and tormented Hindus. Even though Kareena clarified that she wanted to name her son Taimur, which means "iron", solely because of macho appeal of the word, they are not letting it go, whatever may be the trigger of shameless attempts to bracket them with Pakistan.  

Critics have conveniently ignored how beautifully Kareena is grooming her child to respect both religions equally. Only recently she posted on Instagram pictures of lego Ganesha - the Elephant god that is highly revered by Hindus - made by Taimur. But what can one expect from hate mongers?   

In a post 9/11 environment, when Islamophobia has blinded most of the world under right wing leaders like Modi and Trump, Kareena gives us hope both through her acting and actions in real life. 

 

*** 

 

On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) held a demonstration to oppose growing state violence in India, on Sunday, September 27 in Surrey.

Bhagat Singh was a towering revolutionary who fought against the British occupation of India and stood for an egalitarian and just society. He strongly believed in secularism and vowed to continue his struggle until human exploitation ends. He had predicted that once the British left, power would come into the hands of the native ruling classes, and therefore emphasised on continuing the battle until a classless society was established to ensure emancipation of the oppressed.  

His prophecy was proven right after the transfer of power in 1947; today, the repression has grown under an outright Hindu fascist government led by Narendra Modi.  

Not only have the attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents sharpened, but the rights of the farmers who are the backbone of India's economy, are being stripped in the name of development. Without any consultation with the farmers, the government has brought an ordinance that badly affects the future of rural communities, as a result of which the people have come out on the streets in India.  

Organized in solidarity with the agitating farmers, the rally began with a moment of silence for Swami Agnivesh, a prominent social justice activist who passed away recently.  

Agnivesh, who was a progressive Hindu reformer, always stood for the minorities and the oppressed communities. He was viciously assaulted by the supporters of Hindu Right in 2018. IAPI had organised a rally in his support back then. His picture was displayed next to that of Bhagat Singh on the occasion.  

The speakers unanimously denounced the policies of the Modi government. Among them were IAPI members Rakesh Kumar, Tejinder Sharma, Harbir Rathi, Amrit Diwana, Sarabjit Baaj and Gurpreet Singh.  

Others who spoke at the event were Inderjit Singh Bains from Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Society, independent Sikh activists Kulwinder Singh and Surjit Singh Gosal, and leftist activists Parminder Swaich, Rawait Singh, Joseph Theriault and Ryan Abbott.  

While Theriault is associated with the Communist Party (Marxist Leninist), Abbott is with the Communist Party of Canada and running for the BC Legislature from Surrey-Whalley.  

The participants raised slogans against the Indian state and resolved to continue their fight against injustice. 

 

A former white supremacist and an author, Tony McAleer was presented with a plaque for standing up against bigotry by the Sikh community on Saturday, September 26.  

He was honoured at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, the exact place where Nirmal Singh Gill was murdered by skinheads in January 1998.  

Gill was the temple caretaker when the incident happened. He was trying to stop the Neo-Nazis who were vandalizing cars at the gurdwara parking lot when he was violently assaulted.  

Although McAleer was not involved in the incident, he has taken moral responsibility for the crime. He has repeatedly said that he can’t claim “zero percent” responsibility, as his hateful propaganda back then must have been a contributing factor.   

As a changed man, McAleer started the initiative Life After Hate, and has been encouraging young people to stay away from the racist ideology.  

His memoir The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist's Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion,  delivers  startling revelations about his previous life as a white supremacist who hated Jews, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. 

The story of his life’s journey as a youthful neo-Nazi who once believed that whites were an endangered species helps readers understand where hate comes from. The book also reveals how hate is exploited by white nationalists to rope in impressionable teenagers to be mobilized against minorities. 

Ironically, a Jewish psychologist helped inspire McAleer to abandon his racist ideology. 

McAleer’s book reveals that Gill also tried to resist the attempt of the attackers to steal his iron bracelet, which all practising Sikhs wear as an article of faith.  

At the time of the book launch, he had announced that he 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. Those who want to be a part of this initiative can order it online through Arsenal Pulp Press—publisher of the memoir—by typing in the code “nirmal”.  

On Sunday, he presented the cheque to the gurdwara where the portrait of Gill will soon be reinstalled.  

While addressing the congregation he said, “I am here to stand with you and not against you”.  The Gurdwara General Secretary Bhupinder Singh Hothi thanked him on behalf of the community on the occasion. 

Notably, a racist poster had appeared close to the temple premises early this year. McAleer took notice of the incident and had cautioned everyone to remain vigilant against growing hate in the post-Trump political environment. 

Last year, the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara held special prayers for those who were killed in an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 50 people died in the crime committed by a white supremacist. 

 

 

A Vancouver-based poet has a remedy to survive the current crisis by remaining connected with nature.   

Sherry Duggal, a naturopath and a teacher, has recently produced Pandemic Dance, which is now posted on youtube. The video has generated a lot of curiosity and interest among people grappling with anxiety caused by social distancing and isolation in the time of COVID 19.   

Through her performance, punctuated with expressions of sadness and fear, Sherry makes us travel through what the real world is facing. The video ends with her hugging a tree, and a sense of relaxation all over her face.  

That’s the key message she tries to convey. “That tree I actually hugged will always have a special place in my heart because it shared a moment with me. Nature speaks to you. Go out to nature”, she said during a live interview with Spice Radio. 

She added that Coronavirus is teaching us lessons, including why it is important to be grounded and connect with nature. “No matter how you are feeling. Put your foot on bare grass and bare soil and see what happens”.  

According to her, nature teaches humanity about abundance and giving without asking.   

She also cautioned people to be aware of their prejudices in the light of growing hate because of COVID 19. She believes that if nature does not discriminate, and all races are equally affected by the pandemic, there is no reason for humans to be discriminating against each other.  

Ever since COVID 19 broke out in China, there has been a spike in hate crimes against people of Asian heritage, even in Vancouver. 

Notably, Sherry has previously made a video of her poem on racism. Titled Between the Pages, it is also available on youtube.  

 

Gurpreet Singh  

The recent report on the imaginary Sikh state of Khalistan is full of gaps and lacks an in-depth understanding of the issue. 

Written by seasoned journalist Terry Milewski, and published by the Macdonald Laurier Institute, the document not only fails to tell us anything significant, but provides flawed and weak arguments to suggest that Pakistan has fostered an indigenous movement for a separate homeland for the Sikhs in northern India. 

Sensationally titled Khalistan: A project of Pakistan, the report focuses on an armed insurgency started by the Sikh militants in Punjab, India during the 1980s. The decade long conflict that ended in the 1990s left thousands of people dead.  

The proponents of the movement wanted to carve out a Sikh homeland of Khalistan in Punjab, which shares a border with Pakistan. The campaign was brutally suppressed by the police and paramilitary forces that were given sweeping powers by the Indian establishment to deal with the extremists.  

Apart from state repression, the movement also fizzled out due to lack of public sympathy, because of excesses committed by the extremists on innocent civilians, including the Hindus and their political critics within the Sikh community.  

Although the campaign for Khalistan has lost its popularity a long time back, its supporters in Canada and other parts of the world are trying to keep it alive through gimmicks such as a demand for referendum on Sikh nation in November 2020.  

Interestingly, the report itself acknowledges this fact, and yet it tries to make everyone believe this is a huge challenge, by simply overlooking the real picture.  

Frankly speaking, this kind of research is highly untimely, as there is no serious threat of Khalistan to India at this time. If there is any realistic threat to India, it comes directly from the Hindu extremists who have become emboldened under a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which is determined to turn the country into a theocracy where all minorities, including the Sikhs, would be treated as second class citizens.  

It therefore seems funny that anyone has taken so much pain to highlight a stale and dead issue instead of examining the situation at hand.  

It is hard to fathom why a person like Ujjal Dosanjh, a former BC Premier and so well up to date on current issues in India, chose to co-write the foreword of the report that says nothing about the present situation in India, where attacks on religious minorities have grown under an intolerant BJP regime.  

Notably, Dosanjh, who was once assaulted for being critical of Sikh extremism in Canada, recently condemned the violence against Muslims and other minorities in India. Why didn't this report try to put things into the perspective of ongoing attacks on minorities in India? After all, the Khalistan movement was a direct result of the persecution of Sikhs in Hindu-dominated India.   

However, the report conveniently ignores all that.  

When India and Pakistan were divided on religious lines in 1947, the Sikh leadership chose to go with India instead of Muslim-dominated Pakistan. They were promised an autonomous region in northern India, an assurance that was never fulfilled. On the contrary, when the Sikhs asked for a Punjabi-speaking state that could guarantee their independent religious identity, the Indian state tried to criminalize the demand at the behest of Hindu nationalists who wanted to assimilate the Sikhs.  

Nevertheless, after years of struggle, present day Punjab was created in 1966, but many Punjabi-speaking areas went to neighbouring states, after Hindu chauvinists decided to choose Hindi and not Punjabi as their mother language.  

Punjab was even denied its rightful share of the river waters, which hurt hard the Sikh farmers who dominate the rural side of Punjab.  

These injustices led the Sikh leaders to launch another political campaign seeking extra rights to the state, the re-transfer of Punjabi speaking areas, settlement of the river water dispute and protection of their separate religious identity. These demands were not seditious in nature, but the Indian government continued to fail the moderate Sikh leadership. This resulted in the emergence of a militant leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who later made the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar, into the nerve center of his activities.  

Accusing Bhindranwale of spreading violence through the precincts of the shrine, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military invasion of the Golden Temple in June, 1984. The ill-conceived army operation left many innocent pilgrims dead. This infuriated the Sikhs worldwide and brought a sense of alienation against them. It was precisely after this that the Khalistan movement became stronger. Earlier, this demand was mostly being raised by fringe elements mainly outside India. There were hardly any takers for that, but the military assault on the temple had made their task easier. 

As if this was not enough, thousands of Sikhs were murdered across India in the first week of November, 1984 by state-sponsored goons following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.  The police either remained mute spectators  or openly sided with the mobs.  

These ugly events culminated in the Air India bombing in June 1985. The crime that left 329 people dead was widely blamed on the Canada-based Sikh extremist group Babbar Khalsa.  

By glossing over these simple facts, the report does not help readers understand that the movement originated in India purely because of domestic reasons, for which the blame only lies at the doorstep of government in New Delhi.  

It makes no sense to suggest that it is a Pakistani project. It is not. Nobody can dispute that Pakistan has been trying to take advantage of internal strife in India, whether in Punjab or in Kashmir. But to call this a Pakistani project is laughable. 

Let’s face it - India and Pakistan have never had cozy relations. They have already fought two major wars, including one in 1971 that culminated in the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. The whole world knows that India tried to take advantage of a liberation movement in Bangladesh and supported its insurgents. But to believe that this was a project of India would be living in a fool’s paradise. Bangladesh was imminent, as the Bengali-speaking population was being suppressed by the Urdu- speaking Pakistanis. India only tried to do what any enemy nation does in such circumstances. Similarly, Pakistan has only been taking advantage of the conflicts in Punjab and Kashmir, which could have been best resolved by the Indian state itself.  

It seems the report serves no other purpose than to say something which the Indian government likes to listen. The Indian government has habitually blamed Pakistan all the time. Today, when India is facing international criticism for mistreating its minorities, this kind of report will give them some satisfaction. They have already intensified their campaign against Khalistan, which the government in New Delhi has been trying to club with its enemy next door.  

It was not long ago that the Indian government banned Sikhs for Justice, which is seeking a referendum on Khalistan, and began arresting its supporters for merely distributing posters and using social media to spread awareness about their cause, which hasn’t gained any serious traction on the ground. On the other hand, Hindu extremists continue to target Muslims and other communities at will with impunity.  

The credibility of the report becomes questionable when it begins with the official version of the Indian government on the killing of Babbar Khalsa leader Talwinder Singh Parmar in 1992.  

Parmar was liquidated in a staged police shootout after being arrested. He was never given a fair trial, and was branded as the Air India bombing mastermind after being killed in an extra judicial manner.  

The report claims that two other men who died along with him in the so-called exchange of fire were Pakistanis. Considering the poor human rights record of India, where killing political activists in cold blood has become a norm, how appropriate was it  to give such controversial details, which the report did not even try to verify independently?   

The only real evidence about Pakistan’s direct involvement with the Khalistan movement is the picture of Parmar armed to the teeth. Milewski claims in the report that it was taken in Pakistan, which certainly gave and still gives refuge to the anti-India insurgents. But that is not the complete truth. The truth is that the picture was taken during the cold war era, when the US and Russia were engaged in a serious conflict. While Pakistan was on the US’ side, India was in the Russian camp. This was the time when anti-Russia Islamic extremists were being supported by the US in that region. The Sikh militants became allies in their fight against the Russian-backed Indian state, but that by itself is not sufficient to establish Khalistan being a project of Pakistan.  

That reality has changed anyway, with the US and India now allies under right wing governments which repeatedly talk tough against Islamic extremism. Pakistan too continues to suffer at the hands of Islamic extremists and is in no position to openly support any movement like Khalistan, which has lost its charm.   

The Indian state is also involved in double speak. On one hand it uses every tool in its toolbox to obliterate the Khalistan movement, but on the other it recently gave a visa to Vancouver-based Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik.  

Malik is a former suspect in the Air India bombing. He was the alleged financier of those involved in the conspiracy but acquitted for the lack of evidence. How come the report is silent about it? Why not blame India for running a parallel project to weaken Khalistan by roping in people with a problematic background? In an interview with a Punjabi TV channel, Malik’s own brother thanked the head of India's R&AW intelligence agency for making this happen. If Pakistani spy agency ISI can be mentioned in the report for supporting Khalistanis, then why not question R&AW for rubbing shoulders with someone like Malik, who until yesterday was seen as an enemy of the Indian government?      

The most offensive part of the report is the way it minimizes the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984, which it tries to equate with the religious violence of 1947 and sporadic violent attacks on Sikhs in Pakistan. This makes absolutely no sense. What happened in 1984 was perpetrated by the state machinery, which is supposed to protect its citizens and not to kill them. To make India accountable for the happenings of 1984 is an obligation of not only the Sikhs in Canada, but of the entire humanity. But until now, the Indian diplomats have been trying to deny the Sikh Genocide.  

One can safely conclude that the report is in line with the narrative of a government which has lost any moral right to raise the issue of terrorism. 

Canadians should rather pay more attention to what is happening under BJP at this time. No less than the Prime Minister, Narendar Modi, brought a suspected terrorist to parliament in the last general election in 2019.  

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was arrested and charged for a 2008 bombing targeting a Muslim community that left 10 people dead. She was part of the module that wanted to establish a Hindu state through terrorism. She was given the BJP ticket to run for office even though the trial was not completed. Modi unashamedly called her their symbol. Isn’t it worth asking why she never met the same fate as Parmar if the Indian political system is really fair?  

Maybe Canadian think tanks and journalists should do some hard work on what’s going on in the name of democracy, instead of raising false alarms about something which has lost its relevance.  

*** 

 

Gurpreet Singh   

On the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, Canada will do a huge service by speaking out for a disabled scholar incarcerated in an Indian jail for merely advocating for the rights of poor and marginalized people.  

This is the occasion when we remember our hero Terry Fox, who started a marathon to raise funds for cancer research after losing his right leg to the disease. After having covered more than 5,000 kilometers with the help of an artificial leg, he had to stop on September 1, 1980 when the cancer spread to his lungs.  

A resident of Port Coquitlam, he died in 1981.  

Fox remains popular worldwide. Annual runs in his memory are also held in India, where the Terry Fox India Committee raises funds for cancer treatment.  

As a fitting tribute to Fox who stood up for others, Canada needs to step in to get Professor G.N. Saibaba released.    

The former Delhi University lecturer is locked up in spite of being ninety percent disabled below the waist. 

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba is serving a life sentence under brutal conditions, after being convicted for being a supporter of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal areas 

He had mobilized public opinion against growing state repression of Adivasis or the Indigenous peoples, who are being displaced from their traditional lands by the extraction industry with the backing of the Indian government. Blinded by capital greed, the resource industries are eyeing these mineral rich lands and taking them into their possession without informed consent.  

This, in turn, has led many to join the Maoist movement. 

Saibaba's family and friends believe that he has been framed to silence any voice of dissent from civil society. They apprehend danger to his life as he has multiple health issues. 

A petition asking for the release of Saibaba has received more than 1,000 signatures in Canada. Though it was submitted to two MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal and Peter Julian, the Canadian government has chosen to remain neutral. 

New Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh and former B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger also issued statements in support of Saibaba. 

Even though UN human-rights experts have urged his immediate release, Indian authorities continue to oppose any attempt to bail him out.  This is despite concerns about his deteriorating health, particularly in the midst of the growing threat of COVID-19 in overcrowded Indian jails. 

Recently, the Indian authorities refused to release him to attend the last rites of his mother who died of cancer. Earlier, his lawyer unsuccessfully tried to get him released to see her on her death bed. Even the lawyer's attempt to get Saibaba to see her through video-conferencing was refused.    

Canada, which claims to be a global human rights leader, has an obligation to tell India loudly and clearly to release Saibaba on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Considering the growing support he is receiving coast to coast, Canada must recognize the urgency of the issue without any delay.  

 

 

 

Narendra Modi  

The Prime Minister of India 

Subject: I wish you a long life so that you can live to see the consequences of your actions  

Mr. Modi,  

Hope you are doing well, even under these difficult circumstances when your country is now the second most hit in the world by COVID 19. Too bad that your lockdown did not work despite tall claims and leaving the poor and marginalized as most vulnerable. But they were never on your radar anyway.  

Let me briefly introduce myself.  

I am a Canadian citizen of Indian origin, who is highly concerned about the well-being of the country of my birth. Since you have many followers in Canada who continue to support you and your party, I also hold some rights to at least say something that irks me. No?  

From what I am seeing in the media, your fans all over the globe are super excited to celebrate your 70th birth anniversary on September 17. In India, they are going to do some acts of kindness and have decided to give away artificial limbs to those in need.  Good for them.  But why shouldn’t they be? After all, you have delivered to your constituency, with promises of progress for everyone. However, until now it’s mostly your party supporters who have benefited the most. Whether it was to abrogate special rights given to the only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir or constructing a temple where once stood an ancient mosque that your party supporters demolished in 1992, you have fulfilled your core promises. And who can stop you when you have been elected with a brute majority for the second time in 2019?  

You have already turned India into a Hindu nation. So what is stopping you from officially declaring the country as a Hindu state? Maybe you are a little bit scared after seeing so many people coming out on the streets against your highly problematic citizenship law that discriminates against Muslim refugees coming from neighbouring countries. So you have already seen that the people are not going to accept it so easily.  

But who can prevent you from using draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that can be conveniently applied against protestors?  

But let’s talk about your birthday. I want you to have a very healthy long life and there is a reason for that.  

First of all, I believe that one’s enemy should live longer, until you win by conquering the heart and soul of someone you oppose.That is the real victory. I hope you agree on that.  

I want your real and not fake critics to win over your heart and soul with their ideas. By fake critics I mean those who you rightfully pointed out in your last victory speech wore badges of false secularism. So stay calm, I am not even talking about them. I do not agree with you on many things, but I am in complete agreement with you about your opinion of the opposition Congress party, which you have accused of being involved in terrorism against innocent Sikhs, who were massacred mercilessly all over India following the murder of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.  

But the problem is you did the same to Muslims in 2002 as Chief Minister of Gujarat. This followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims leaving more than 50 people dead. Even though one commission of enquiry had found that it was an accident, you simply blamed it on Muslims and let your party people avenge the incident by targeting ordinary citizens. By using your own definition of terrorism, what I should be calling it then?  

You can justifiably argue that you were never convicted for anything. But Mr. Modi you understand more than anyone how the Indian legal justice system works. Congress too can make a similar argument, as then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, despite being complicit in Sikh massacre, was never convicted.  

Let’s not talk about what Congress says about you. They have already lost their credibility.  

But I am going to point out a couple of things on behalf of the people your party and your government have been tormenting.  

Muslims are one of the most persecuted groups. It doesn’t matter if you have handful of Muslims on your side, as Congress too had many Sikhs on their side. Who cares about such sell outs or tokens when in the end majority matters in a democracy like India? 

You made Muslims suffer in 2002. Even before that, your party supporters razed their mosque to the ground in 1992. Come 2019, you scrapped the special rights given to the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, while in the meantime, your men carried on mob lynching of Muslims at will. Some made videos of their violent actions to post on social media.  

By the way, some of those you follow on twitter are very interesting people Mr. Modi. One of them even applauded the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who was murdered in 2017 by the supporters of your ideology.  

I don’t really understand - on what basis do you keep talking tough on Islamic terrorism, while people from within your community are also involved in similar activities? On one hand you revere MK Gandhi, while on the other your party members glorify his assassin Nathuram Godse. One of the MPs, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur who was accused in the 2008 bombing targeted at the Muslim community, has called Godse a patriot. You yourself brought her into politics and ensured her victory in the last general election. It seems that you have two different yardsticks to measure terrorism. Perhaps it is fine to be a Hindu terrorist, who can kill Muslims, destroy their places of worship, and then get elected with your blessings. But a Muslim or a Sikh terrorist can either get killed by the police without a fair trial or charged under UAPA which is not applicable to Hindu extremists. Wow.  

The kind of legitimacy you give to all these acts of violence since 1992 will ultimately lead to more bloodshed. We have seen the history of vendetta and terrorism repeated all over the world and India is no exception. After all, India too has witnessed how the ugly events of 1984 had fuelled Sikh separatism, which you despise so much. When courts under you have lost will to give justice to the people you have made to suffer for all these years, what else can they think of to get justice except taking the law into their own hands?  

So do not assume that there will be no consequences of the incidents which have happened under your watch. Quoting Bhagwad Geeta, your sacred scripture, I would like to say that what you do comes back to you. Let’s not forget that you also tried to rationalize the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 by quoting Newton's third law of motion, which says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, in reference to the train incident. Unfortunately, you do not enjoy a copyright on Newton's law. Anyone can use it in an event of any act of violence in retaliation to your actions. You will see all that happening sooner or later. So it is important for you to live longer and repent.  

I already know that you are a tyrant. It’s up to you now to prove me wrong by becoming kinder to religious minorities and your opponents. You can make a beginning by at least releasing former Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba from jail on your birth day. The wheelchair-bound scholar is disabled below the waist and poses no danger to anyone. He is being incarcerated since the time of Congress, merely because he stood up for the Adivasis, whose lands are being taken away by the extraction industry in the name of development. In spite of all your criticism of Congress, you both are partners in crime when it comes to suppress the right to dissent.

When COVID 19 broke out you gave a call to fight corona with karuna (compassion). But hardly any compassion was shown by the jail authorities who did not even let Saibaba see his dying mother, leave aside the question of giving him amnesty because of the pandemic spreading in overcrowded Indian prisons.  

Your people do not need to give away artificial limbs to celebrate your birthday. Just set Saibaba free and we will be thankful. For the rest of your report card we can always wait for the next time. Anxiously waiting for you to act, even though, I have no hopes from you or your administrators.   

Happy Birthday in advance.  

Gurpreet Singh  

 

 

On the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom day of Jaswant Singh Khalra, Surrey-Delta Gurdwara officials honoured a former Burnaby School Trustee for being instrumental behind a proclamation recognizing the circumstances that led to his murder.  

A prominent human rights activist, Khalra was investigating the extrajudicial killings of Sikh political activists in Punjab when police kidnapped him on September 6, 1995. He was murdered in cold blood.  

That same year, Khalra visited Canada to educate Indian diaspora and Canadian politicians about the human rights abuse in Punjab during the Sikh insurgency for the right to self-determination. 

In response to this situation, the Indian state gave sweeping powers to police to suppress the militancy, which led to thousands of Sikhs being abducted and killed.  

Khalra had detected more than 2,500 such cases, and was continuing to work to find more when he was picked up from outside his home in Amritsar following his return to India.  

Although he was warned against going back and advised to stay in Canada and seek asylum, he did not allow himself to do that.  

Khalra preferred to go back to his country and face possible death rather than making Canada home. 

As a tribute to him, the City of Burnaby proclaimed September 6, 2020, as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.   

On August 24, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal read out the historic proclamation recognizing how Khalra lost his life fighting for the dignity and human rights of Sikhs.  

Narang was the driving force behind the proclamation. Being a progressive Sikh, she is very vocal on social justice. In the past, she has also stood up for the rights of the LGBTQ community in Burnaby.  

On Sunday, she was honoured at the Surrey-Delta Gurdwara during a commemorative event held for Khalra. Themple President Hardeep Singh Nijjar presented her with a trophy amidst Sikh slogans of victory from the congregation. 

Narang, who briefly spoke on the occasion, presented the gurdwara with a copy of the proclamation.  

Burnaby was the first municipality in Greater Vancouver to proclaim Jaswant Singh Khalra Day, followed by New Westminster, Victoria and Surrey.  

*** 

 

 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) presented a medal of courage to a North Delta MLA at his constituency office on Thursday, August 27 for raising the issue of Kashmir with the United Nations and speaking out for justice to the victims of Sikh Genocide. 

Ravi Kahlon, who is known for his strong advocacy for human rights and social justice, has written to the United Nations on behalf of his constituents, who had raised concerns about the plight of their relatives in Kashmir, asking for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the disputed region.   

On August 5, 2019, 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 right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government claims that the act was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim-majority 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 the right to self-determination.   

Kahlon has directly written to the office of United Nations’ Human Rights Council Branch, for the second time after October 2019. He hasn’t heard back yet from them, and reminded the UN High Commissioner about the concerns raised by his constituents.   

Kahlon shot off his first letter to the UN after meeting with a delegation of people of Kashmiri origin, who were having difficulty in connecting with their relatives back home  They remain deeply concerned about human rights abuses in the highly militarized zone.   

In 2017, Kahlon read out a statement in the BC legislature asking for justice to the victims of Sikh Genocide. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered all over India during the first week of November, 1984 in a state sponsored massacre following the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.    

He is also vocal about systemic racism in Canada, and recently concluded a BC-wide tour to learn about the first hand experiences of people of colour with bigotry and prejudices. He was instrumental behind the restoration of the BC Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded by the previous Liberal government.   

IAPI President Parshotam Dosanjh presented Kahlon with the medal. Among those who joined him on the occasion were prominent Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, besides other IAPI members Tejinder Sharma, Sandeep Modgil and Gurpreet Singh. 

Due to COVID 19 restrictions, everyone, including Kahlon wore masks during the ceremony.  

*** 

 

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