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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Mandeep Wirk 

I am writing this blog in response to a new Human Rights Watch report that alleges Mounties raped and abused BC aboriginal girls. Here is a link to that article: 

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/mounties-raped-abused-b-c-aboriginal-girls-rights-watchdog-alleges-in-report

Shameful and completely unacceptable behaviour by the Canadian RCMP officers - of course nothing will happen to the RCMP officers under Canadian law because their skins are white. 

RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces have also been in the news regarding class action lawsuits by women officers about sexism and sexual abuse. 

Recently  in the news was a story of ultra right extremist Canuck soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces and how one such soldier upon identification abandoned his car at the US-Canada border. Such stories of racism in Canadian military come out in the news every now and then. 

Canada has a very long way to go indeed in creating a dignified social environment where all people irrespective of their skin colour, race, and religion can thrive and flourish in equality. 

Under these circumstances where the public can no longer put their trust in the RCMP, it is best that the entire force be dismantled and UN Security people be brought into northern Canada to protect the First  Nations communities. 

Also it should be considered that third parties should be brought into all RCMP  detachments throughout Canada to oversee that officers conduct themselves in an ethical and humane way.

Mandeep Wirk was born in Kenya and as a little girl immigrated with her family to England. Then in 1972, the year that multiculturalism became official policy in Canada and the doors of immigration opened up to people of colour, she immigrated again with her family settling in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Besides being a writer and journalist, Wirk is also a visual artist, photographer, educator, and social activist. You can follow Wirk on her public FB page Art and Culture in Surrey at https://m.facebook.com/Art-and-Culture-in-Surrey-1662144070683149/.

 

 

The Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia unanimously condemned the ongoing assault on press freedom in Indian-occupied Kashmir at its monthly meeting in Surrey on Tuesday, September 3.

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

The ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government claims that the act was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim dominated state of India. Since then Kashmir has been turned into an open jail. Communication channels, such as internet, have been shut, while the 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. The situation has become grim with heavy deployment of troops curtailing civilian movement.

This has adversely affected the media industry as journalists are finding it hard to gather news stories and disseminate them. So much so, journalists from Kashmir are not being allowed to leave the country and face constant harassment and screening.

The resolution moved by the Press Club Secretary Gurpreet Singh Sahota was unanimously adopted by all the members.

The resolution also pointed out that the Indian agents in Canada are trying to wield undue influence over the local South Asian media outlets to present the government’s side of the story, and warned against any attempt to suppress the voice of journalists and commentators who have been reporting alternative facts.

The Press Club had earlier condemned supporters of the Indian government for harassing a TV journalist of Pakistani origin, Haroon Gaffar, during a press conference held at a Hindu temple in Surrey on August 15. 

The press conference was organized in support of the BJP government’s controversial decision on Kashmir. Gaffar was asked to leave for asking questions about human rights abuse in the region. The Press Club had expressed its solidarity with Gaffar and called for an apology from the temple officials for such behaviour. 

At Tuesday’s meeting the Press Club reiterated its previous resolution and noted that it won’t change its position until and unless an apology is made to Gaffar.

 

As the world grapples with growing bigotry, social inequalities and climate crisis, a Sikh businessman has raised some hopes for a better future.

Ludhiana-based bakery owner Harjinder Singh Kukreja has been crafting chocolate Ganesha for the past four years.

Ganesha is one of the most revered Hindu gods. Known for his elephant head, Ganesha’s festival falls this month. It is an auspicious occasion for Hindus who often build big idols of him and immerse them into the water. The practice has raised concerns over the years, as the paint and material used for making such statues is not good for the environment.

Kukreja came up with an idea of chocolate Ganesha to not only save water from pollutants, but also to bring smiles on the faces of poor and underprivileged kids. His Ganesha is immersed into milk and the kids are given free chocolate milk as a Prasad.  

The most inspiring part of the story is that this time, Kukreja involved a Muslim artist to craft Ganesha idols with 106 kgs. of Belgian chocolate. Thus he has set a great example of making cross cultural bridges when minorities, especially Muslims, continue to be targeted by Hindu extremists under a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.  

Both Kukreja and the Muslim artist involved in the project belong to minority communities which do not believe in idol worshipping. Yet they came together to give respect to a Hindu god in an unusual manner that goes a long way in saving the environment and embracing the poor, besides sending a strong message to those who are trying to divide people on religious lines to stay in power.

 

***

 

This month marks 24 years of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a towering human rights activist from Punjab.

Jaswant Singh Khalra was abducted by the Indian police from his home in Amritsar on September 6, 1995, and was never seen after that. While an eyewitness testified that he was murdered by the police in custody, his body wasn't recovered. 

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

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

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

Prior to being kidnapped and murdered, Khalra came to Canada in 1995 to raise international awareness about this issue. Even though he was offered a chance to apply for asylum, true to his convictions, he chose to return and continue his unfinished task in the face of threats coming from senior police officers. 

Interestingly, Khalra’s grandfather Harnam Singh was aboard the Komagata Maru, a Japanese vessel carrying more than 350 Indian passengers in 1914 who were forced to return from Vancouver under a racist immigration law. Singh later became involved in the struggle against British occupation of India.  

Khalra’s story remains relevant both in India and across the world as security forces continue to use enforced disappearances as a tool to create terror and suppress any voice of dissent with impunity. The federal NDP has already recognized Khalra as Human Rights Defender. It's time for Canada to recognize the day of his kidnapping as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.

***

 

 

Gurpreet Singh

Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world, has let down the people of Indian occupied Kashmir by remaining insensitive to the ongoing repression in the region under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Since August 5, Kashmir has virtually been turned into an open jail after the Indian government led by BJP abrogated special status given to the state, turning it into centrally governed union territory without any dialogue with the local leaders. This is despite the fact that India is internationally seen as the world’s largest democracy.

Phones and net service aren’t working, as the region remains cut off from the rest of the country that claims Kashmir to be its integral part. Kashmiri politicians have been detained, while physical violence continues to be applied on dissidents with impunity.

The ruling BJP and its supporters claim that the step was necessary to contain terrorism and violent struggle for an independent Kashmir. They have gone to the extent of labelling anyone who criticises such undemocratic move as anti-national.

The fact remains that the BJP government, which enjoys a brute majority in the parliament, had a long time agenda to revoke the special status to Kashmir - the only Muslim dominated state in India - to polarize the Hindu majority all over the country. Even months before the general election last May, the BJP had demonized Muslims. After a suicide attack left close to 40 Indian soldiers dead in Kashmir, Kashmiris in other parts of India were roughed up and beaten by the mobs as the authorities remained mute spectators.   

The situation has turned volatile after the August 5 announcement. However, the Canadian government remains indifferent, despite many protests held coast to coast by Kashmiris and their supporters. Even as 3,000 postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked him to break his silence, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has come out with a very weak statement. She simply assures that Canada continues to closely follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of laying the blame at the doorstep of the Indian government, she has called on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control (international boundary dividing Indian and Pakistani Kashmir) and in the region.

The federal New Democrats, especially Svend Robinson, a former MP and a known advocate for human rights, came out with a very strong statement categorically condemning the action of the Indian state. But his party colleagues in BC have maintained a deafening silence. They not only remained away from the rallies held in support of the people of Kashmir, but abstained from making any statement citing this to be a federal matter. Nevertheless, they shamelessly participated in series of events sponsored by the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Among them are Minister Jinny Sims and Raj Chouhan, a Deputy speaker, who attended India’s Independence Day celebrations inside the consulate on August 15, but did not dare to come and join the protestors who had gathered outside. Notably, both are South Asians and come from labour movements that boast to be the defenders of international solidarity movement.

Not to be left behind, Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal and another BC Minister, Harry Bains, joined Sims and others for another event held in partnership with the Indian Consulate on August 31. Notably, Bains had flayed the suicide attack that left 40 soldiers dead in Kashmir, but never found it necessary to say a word against the Indian state’s highhandedness against its people. So much so, the NDP leaders have also failed to stand up against a local BJP supporter, Parshotam Goyal, who described Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as “mentally retarded” for raising his voice in support of the people of Kashmir. Goyal is associated with the Laxminarayan Hindu temple in Surrey that welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.  They even remained silent when Goyal ridiculed a Muslim TV reporter of Pakistani origin for asking an inconvenient question about human rights abuse in Kashmir, during a press conference organized by the officials of Laxminarayan Temple in support of the BJP government’s decision on Kashmir. Similarly, Dhaliwal never showed up at the rally held in Surrey for the people of Kashmir despite being invited by the organizers. For the record, these politicians have mostly ignored invitations for similar protest rallies against state repression in India over the past several years. The attacks on religious minorities continue to grow, but these politicians have always preferred to maintain cozy relations with the Indian officials instead of making time to listen to the grievances of those who have been holding demonstrations to highlight these issues in Canada. This may have to do with the fact that they have business and family ties with India and do not want to annoy the Indian agents who hold enough power to deny them visas. Notably, Dhaliwal was once denied a visa for raising the issue of 1984 Sikh Genocide in the parliament. Jagmeet Singh was denied Indian visa as well for the same reason. 

But there are a few exceptions, like Harpreet Singh, an independent TV broadcaster and Conservative Party candidate for Surrey Newton, who never shies from attending such rallies. He has been very vocal against ongoing repression of minorities and political dissidents in India, in spite of being a candidate of a right wing political party that is known for its fondness for the BJP. He has not only stood up against some of the hardline positions of his party, but has also provided the platform of his independent TV show to people who are critical of BJP government.

If Canadian politicians really care for social justice and human rights, they need to speak out very powerfully against the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian military forces.  By choosing to remain neutral they are siding with the oppressors. Either tell the Indian establishment to stop this barbarity, or stop wining and dining with their agents for selfish interests. Otherwise don’t pretend to be champions of the underdog.   

 

***

 

Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt, who had started a campaign against racism, was honoured at a community festival on Sunday, August 4, organized in commemoration of the South Asian elders who had fought against colonialism.

#HandsAgainstRacism was launched by Datt on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. in January 2015.

At an annual community festival attended by thousands of people every year, the organizers of the event Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation honoured Datt in recognition of her popular initiative against growing bigotry and racism in North America.

The event coincided with the mass shooting in El Paso that left 20 people dead. The massacre was committed by a white supremacist who targeted Hispanic population at a store in Texas.

Datt, who is a veteran broadcaster, congratulated the organizers for keeping the history of resistance against racism and colonialism alive.

Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation is dedicated to the cause of celebrating the struggle of Indian revolutionaries who laid down their lives fighting against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad. They had founded the Ghadar Party in North America back in 1913. To honour those heroes, the organizers also hoisted the Ghadar Party flag on the occasion, while small Ghadar flags greeted visitors from different corners of the venue at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park.

They also honoured an independent TV Producer Kamaljit Thind for keeping alive the history of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which left close to 1,000 people dead in British India. The troops had fired indiscriminately at a gathering of peaceful demonstrators who had assembled at a public park in Amritsar in 1919 to protest against draconian laws and the arrests of the leaders of passive resistance movement.

The key organizer Sahib Thind gave a call to the crowd to keep fighting against racism. Thind was expecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to attend, but he never came. However, two Liberal Cabinet Ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Carla Quoltrough, besides local Liberal MPs, Sukh Dhaliwal, Randeep Singh Sarai and Ken Hardie were in attendance. 

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and NDP MLA Rachna Singh were also present on the occasion.   

 

The Punjabi community is anxious to thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for making an official apology for the racist incident that occurred more than a century ago, at a huge public gathering in Surrey this coming weekend.

The efforts of Surrey-based Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation culminated into a formal apology for Komagata Maru episode in the House of Commons in 2016.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forced to return in July, 1914 from Vancouver under a discriminatory law that was aimed to discourage permanent settlement of immigrants from India.

Trudeau had officially acknowledged that it was a wrong thing to do, and made an apology that was received by many Indo-Canadians who traveled all the way to Ottawa to witness it.  

Trudeau had promised in July 2015, when he was running to become Prime Minister, to make a dignified closure through a formal apology at the annual community festival organized by Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park.

The Foundation had started a campaign seeking this apology way back in 2002, and received thousands of signatures on its petition since then. Foundation leader Sahib Singh Thind says that they have invited Trudeau to this year’s festival on Sunday, August 4, in commemoration of the Indian revolutionaries who had fought against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad. 

Thind is hopeful that Trudeau will make it, as the community is keen to honour him for keeping his promise.

Since Surrey has a sizable South Asian population with a few swing ridings, there is no reason why Trudeau won’t be in attendance. With the Federal election less than three months away, he would connect with thousands of Indo-Canadians who are likely to participate in the festival that remains extremely popular for the past two decades. 

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