RAJEEV KHANNA | 2 JANUARY, 2020
Punjabi diaspora leads protests
CHANDIGARH: Canada, which has a sizeable population of the Indian diaspora, is witnessing a series of protests on the Citizen’s Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is mainly the Punjabi population, comprising a large number of Sikhs, which is spearheading these protests -- where people from other communities are also making their presence felt in the bitter cold.
On December 20, there were simultaneous protests outside the Indian Consulate in Vancouver and Toronto. These were followed by one in Vancouver downtown on December 22 and others at Surrey and Calgary. In addition to these protests, students and academia came out with public statements in Manitoba, Montreal and Ottawa against the CAA and NRC. Sources based in Canada told this reporter that an online petition asking for the scrapping of CAA has been started by a professor at the University of Ottawa, while students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver also held a rally on December 19.
It is one of the rare occasions that the members of the mainstream political parties are also taking cognizance of what is happening across India.
Leader of the opposition, New Democratic Party (NDP) Jagmeet Singh has also made a statement against the CAA. In a tweet that has gone viral, he said, “The Indian government's new Citizenship Amendment Law purposely discriminates Muslims & other minority communities. It is wrong & should be denounced. At a time of rising hate & polarization, governments should work to unite people, not divide them.”
A local political commentator Charlie Smith in one of his latest articles said, “For the first time since Modi visited Canada in 2015, protests against his government in Canadian cities were covered on national newscasts. The growing outrage in Canada has finally penetrated the national consciousness. The heartbreak felt many South Asian immigrants to Canada over what's occurring in the subcontinent is finally being acknowledged. That marks a breakthrough.”
The members of the Solidarity Front of Manitoba said they stand in solidarity with the university students and peaceful protestors in India leading the fight against the CAA and the NRC.
Lending their ‘unequivocal support’ to their peers protesting recently in Surrey, they said, “Independent of the debate over the CAA, we emphasize that protest and dissent are inherent to democracy. The violent suppression of protestors, the use of tear-gas, lathi charge and physical assault in response to peaceful protest, the police’s forceful entry into college campuses and the brutal use of force thereafter, the internet blockade, and the rising death toll are all very reprehensible. All of these are in violation of rights to due process, public association, and dissent.”
The statement further read, “We condemn the draconian means used by the Indian government and call for independent inquiry into the actions of the security forces. We reiterate that political dissent is not an impediment to democracy, rather, it breeds democracy. When people give up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon. We find some solace in the fact that this spirit still remains in our peers in India.”
The protestors have been pointing out that religion cannot be the determinant of nationhood and citizenship cannot be a tool of ethnic violence. The explicit and blatant exclusion of Muslims from citizenship upends the long-standing fundamental ideas of equality, liberty, pluralism and secularism enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
It is being underlined that the CAA, as such, is therefore a regrettable act of legislation, and combined with the NRC, becomes a potential tool for oppressing Muslims and other minority groups in India.
The statement of Solidarity Front further read, “There are seasons in every country where noise and impudence pass current for worth and in popular commotions especially, the clamours of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism. We see through the façade of the BJP government and lend our voices in support of the fight against this immoral and unconstitutional law and call for its immediate withdrawal.”
Similarly, the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC) in a hard hitting statement pointed, “The CAA is discriminatory and violative in its treatment of individuals based on religion (primarily the Muslim community) and the basic structure of what India’s own constitution is founded on. Further the Act is inconsistent with India’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the international law principle of non refoulement of refugees, irrespective of caste, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or political ideology.”
BCGC spokesperson Moninder Singh who is also the president of Gurdwara Sahib Dashmesh Darbar in Surrey said that these discriminatory steps are nothing new for India, which has consistently been a focus of international human rights groups. He also criticized India for not ratifying United Nations Convention Against Torture. He further said, “We believe these types of ‘Acts’ are steps towards the fulfillment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP’s claims to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. We outright condemn the violence inflicted upon innocent civilians, protestors and activists by the Indian government.”
Meanwhile Amarjit Singh Mann of Ontario Gurdwaras Committee (OGC) said the Indian government is showing its true face and worse is expected in the next five years. “The Canadian government must raise its voice with its counterpart in India to condemn both the CAA and the unnecessary use of violence that has killed several protestors in India,” he said.
Both BCGC and OGC have forwarded their concerns in writing to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois Philippe Champagne.
The rally at Surrey was organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) where the participants raised slogans against the CAA and the BJP government. They carried posters and placards in support of secularism and diversity.
Anti racism activist and educator Annie Ohana who has been raising her voice against human rights violations in the world was present at the event after having spoken at the anti-CAA rally held outside Indian Consulate in Vancouver. The IAPI members honoured her with a medal of courage.
Meanwhile, there are reports of some pro-CAA demonstrations being held in the neighbouring United States allegedly at the behest of Hindutva groups. Ironically, the much hyped Non Residents Gujaratis (NRGs) who are the core support base of Modi and Shah in America are quiet over the issue of CAA and NRC. Sources in Gujarat say that this may be because of the fact that a large number of Gujaratis might not have their immigration papers in order in the United States and would not want debate on issues of migration.
However, groups like Hindus for Human Rights USA are opposing the CAA and NRC. In a letter addressed to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani following his remarks supporting CAA, the group has written, “While we Indians - and Hindus- have historically been welcomed in many countries as business people, professionals and entrepreneurs, the recent parochial and unconstitutional acts of the government have put all of us on the defensive. Indians today are being regarded with the same suspicion that people used to look at Pakistanis and Saudis. Is this what you are supporting?”
The letter further says, “Hindus for Human Rights USA is saddened to see so many politicians who have sworn to uphold the Indian Constitution, who now seem to be abrogating that sacred oath by supporting an unconstitutional religious test as a path to citizenship.”