BY INDIRA PRAHST
THIS week, several Sikh, Muslim and human rights organizations as well as scholars continued discussing, strategizing and organizing protests during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vancouver on April 16. Modi will be accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Some of the groups that have united as “Communities United Against Narendra Modi” and are organizing a protest at Vancouver’s Ross Street Gurdwara include Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, Gurdwara Sahib Baba Banda Singh Bahadur , Sikhs For Justice, North American Sikh Activist Network, Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (Mann) Canada, Trikone Vancouver, Coalition of South Asian Women Against Violence, Ghadar Party Celebrations Committee, Tarksheel Cultural Society of Canada, East Indian Defense Committee, Azaadi Canada, Gurdwara Dashmesh Culture Centre, Color Connected Against Racism UBC, Critical Muslims, OnePanth, Siraat, Salaam Vancouver and other human rights groups from diverse communities.
Based on the meetings I attended last week and discussions which continued this week, the protestors have a raft of grievances and allegations: bad treatment in general of minorities and violation of their rights; the unjust treatment by the state and the judicial system of political prisoners; genocide of Sikhs in 1984 and massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002; doing away of land and property rights of Sikhs in Gujarat; the intensifying of Hindutva mobilization in India which is making the lives of minorities (Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Dalits) more precarious; the adverse effects of global imperialism with Modi’s free trade agreements and nuclear deals and extraction of natural resources at the expense of the poor in the current climate of global capitalism.
Also, some are advocating for self-determination demanded by various groups including Kashmiris and some Sikhs advocating their right for Khalistan (a Sikh homeland).
While the media appears to be glorifying Modi with references to him being like a “rock star,” others are viewing Modi in rather negative terms because of the massacre of Muslims when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat and because of him having been an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Those who were condemning him before he became the Indian Prime Minister are now lauding him for economic considerations, the protestors say.
On that note, Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, University of British Columbia, had this to say: “I think it is really important for the South Asian community to speak out against human rights violations, whether these occur in India or in Canada. The rights of minorities cannot be traded away in favour of stronger trade links between the two countries.”
Time will tell how the protest will unfold.