BY INDIRA PRAHST
VANCOUVER’S Ross Street Gurdwara President Sohan Singh Deo told me that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be accompanying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Khalsa Diwan Society-run gurdwara on April 16.
Deo said: “This is very good for us. In the history of Canada, this is the third Prime Minister from India that will be coming here, the first being [Jawaharlal] Nehru in 1949. Indira Gandhi came in 1973 when I was here and now, luckily the Prime Minister is coming here and we are very glad.”
Deo pointed out: “This is the society that has for years stood up for the rights of our people in Canada. … It was a big sacrifice of Khalsa Diwan Society and I hope people in India will learn about this and we are glad Modi is concerned about this and that he is visiting this society.”
When I asked Deo about public accessibility for the event, he said: “Everyone is welcome, but according to the security people, it is a big event. Both the Prime Ministers of Canada and India will be visiting, so it is a security concern of the security (personnel). It’s not closed; only on that day there will be security. Everyone who wants to attend have to call us at (604) 322-5610, give us their name and birth date and (phone) number which we have to send to the security people. This is the duty of the Canadian government.”
When I asked Deo if he was aware of protests during Modi’s Vancouver visit, he replied that he had heard rumours about it.
When I told him that Modi had been accused of serious human rights violation such as his alleged role in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, Deo replied: “India is a big country and there are so many things happening. You are only pointing the finger at one person – Modi. … So many things are happening in India, what can we do from here? He is coming to pay respects, to view the history of the Komagata Maru. This is not a political stage. He is coming only for 30 to 45 minutes.”
SOURCES in Ottawa told The VOICE that Harper is also scheduled to accompany Modi to Surrey’s Shri Laxmi Narayan Temple.
The VOICE broke the news that Modi will be coming to Vancouver on April 16. This paper first reported the news on line (voiceonline.com) on March 17 and then in the print edition on March 21.
This is a hot topic here in the Lower Mainland with some being thrilled by Modi’s visit, and others viewing it as problematic.
At two meetings that I attended in Surrey this week, various groups decided to hold two protests against Modi’s visit: one near Ross Street Gurdwara at 2 p.m. and another at 5 p.m. near Shri Laxmi Narayan Temple.
Some Sikhs and Muslims in particular are outraged at how many human rights violations in India seem to have been glossed over by both the Canadian and Indian government and the lack of accountability.
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; self-determination demanded by various groups including Kashmiris; the doing away of land and property rights of Sikhs in Gujarat; and the intensifying of Hindutva mobilization in India which is making the lives of minorities more precarious. In fact, even U.S. President Barack Obama referred to the unjust treatment of minorities during his visit last January to New Delhi.
In fact, Dalits and Christians are also standing in solidarity on these issues knowing about their lived experiences as minority groups in India.
These groups also pointed out that the allegations against Modi were serious enough for the U.S. to deny him a visa in 2005 when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat.
Moninder Singh, spokesperson for the BC Sikh Gurdwara Council, told me that “the importance of the protest as a Sikh community, is our constant pursuit of human rights for all, whether Modi had a direct impact on human rights issues with Sikhs, Guajarati Muslims, Christians, or Dalits, his representations of Hindutva and RSS policies affects these communities and we want to ensure we have a voice as Sikhs and as a minority community.”