A huge congregation was held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey this past Sunday, March 24 to show solidarity with three Sikh men who were recently convicted in the world’s so called largest democracy for merely keeping literature perceived as “seditious” by the Indian state.
Arwinder Singh, Surjit Singh and Ranjit Singh were criminally charged in 2016 under draconian laws. In February, a Nawanshehar court awarded them life sentences, which has been strongly denounced by various human rights groups in India.
The speakers at the congregation were unanimous in their demand for the release of these three men and other political prisoners. They pointed out that the crackdown on political dissidents and state repression of religious minorities has grown under the right wing Hindu nationalist regime. The speakers also agreed that the families of the three Sikh men should be given financial aid for legal help. To show their support with the three men, the temple officials also distributed the copies of the literature that has been used as an evidence to convict them under colonial laws.
Those who spoke on the occasion, included myself and my journalist colleague from Chardikala newsgroup Gurpreet Singh Sahota, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara President Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Gurdwara Secretary Gurmeet Singh Toor, a volunteer with Sikh Nation Sunil Kumar, two independent Sikh activists Gurmukh Singh Deol and Dharam Singh, a veteran leader of Gurdwara Sukh Sagar Sahib New Westminster Harbhajan Singh Atwal, Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara President Moninder Singh and Ranjit Singh Khalsa from Banda Singh Bahadur Gurdwara, Abbotsford.
The event coincided with the first death anniversary of Gurbax Singh Khalsa, a Sikh activist who jumped to his death from a water tank in Haryana, India on March 20, 2018 in protest against the continued incarceration of many Sikh political prisoners. Atwal, who had come from New Westminster to participate in the congregation, had also joined many Sikh activists for public fasting in support of Khalsa at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
I emphasized that this struggle isn’t just confined to the minority Sikh community, as other minorities and leftists are also being unfairly targeted by the Indian state for questioning the power, while Hindu extremists continue to intimidate minorities with impunity. While repressive laws and excessive force are frequently used to muzzle any voice of dissent from the minority groups or left wing political activists, the Hindu fundamentalists enjoy the backing of the state.
The Sunday congregation was followed by a demonstration held at Holland Park in Surrey on March 10 for the three Sikh men by the members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), which was established in response to growing attacks on minorities in India.The IAPI wants the Canadian government to intervene into the matter urgently.
Among those who participated in the March 10 demonstration was Federal Liberal MP from Surrey Center Randeep Singh Sarai. Sarai had assured the organizers of the rally to raise this issue at the highest level.
Gurpreet Singh is an independent journalist and a cofounder of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.