Visiting social justice activist from India Teesta Setalvad was honoured with a medal of courage by Radical Desi publications and Indians Abroad For Pluralist India, at an event organized in commemoration of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre on Friday, April 13.
Held at the Surrey Central Library, the event was organized to launch the Punjabi edition of Foot Soldier of the Constitution. Originally authored by Setalvad in English, it was translated by Buta Singh into Punjabi. The book is a memoir of Setalvad, based on her journey as a journalist and an activist who has been fighting for justice to the victims of state repression. The Indian establishment tried to prevent her from travelling abroad by slapping malicious charges against her. However, she was finally allowed by the Indian Supreme Court to leave for Canada.
Setalvad spoke at length about the current situation in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist government and growing attacks on religious minorities. She pointed out that the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre has become more relevant today as the police and security forces continue to target people by using repressive laws.
Scores of peaceful protesters were killed in an indiscriminate firing by the troops on an assembly of people at Jallinwala Bagh in Amritsar on April 13, 1919. The demonstrators had gathered to denounce stringent laws that were passed to suppress the liberation movement under British India. Setalvad’s great-grandfather Chimanlal Setalvad was among those who cross-examined the British army general who was involved in the massacre.
Buta Singh, a dedicated activist himself and the editor of Lok Kafila – a Punjabi magazine that covers alternative politics – also spoke on the occasion, and emphasized the need to stand up against ongoing state repression in India.
The event was started with a moment of silence for Asifa, an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was murdered and raped in Kathua, and whose killers were being defended by members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party.
The members of Ambedkar International Social Reform Organisation (AISRO) also came to welcome Setalvad, who was shown the library room named after Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar – the co-author of the Indian constitution and a towering leader of the Dalit emancipation movement. Notably, the Friday event was held on the eve of the birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Chimanlal Setalvad was a close associate of Ambedkar and helped him in his struggle against oppression of the so-called untouchables in a caste ridden society.
Later, a candle light vigil was held at Holland Park, where speakers paid tributes to the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and demanded the release of political prisoners, such as Prof GN Saibaba and Chander Shekhar Azad. Saibaba is ninety percent disabled below the waist. Both Saibaba and Azad are currently imprisoned for raising their voices for the oppressed groups.
Those who spoke on the occasion included, Surrey Greentimbers MLA Rachna Singh, Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians leader Shahzad Nazir Khan, AISRO cofounder Rashpal Bhardawaj, independent Ambedkarite activist Kamlesh Aheer, veteran communist leader Harjit Daudhria, besides Setalvad and Buta Singh.
The candle light vigil, organized every year by Mehak Punjab Dee TV, was started with a moment of silence for the Palestinian protesters who were recently killed by Israeli forces. It is pertinent to mention that Mehak Punjab Dee TV Producer Kamaljit Thind has also launched an online petition seeking a formal apology from the British government. He also organizes an exhibition of pictures related to the Jallianwala Bagh history during annual Vaisakhi parades both in Vancouver and Surrey.