It was a nice sunny, but chilly afternoon on Saturday, March 15.

A perfect day for a rally at Surrey’s Holland Park. The Coalition Against Bigotry (CAB) had organized a demonstration in protest against the recent appearance of racist flyers close to the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, in Surrey-Delta, where Sikh immigrant Nirmal Singh Gill was murdered by white supremacists in 1998. This had rightfully alarmed the temple officials who have already reported the matter to the police.

CAB founder Imtiaz Popat, who had made a documentary on Gill’s murder, gave a call for action to raise awareness. Though Surrey has a sizable population of Sikhs and other South Asian communities, only eight people, including myself showed up.

This was disheartening but not surprising, as most people want to stay home these days in light of the growing threat of Coronavirus which has claimed more than 8,000 human lives worldwide, including eight in Canada at the time of filing of this article. A virtual lockdown has now been imposed to prevent the spread of disease in BC.

While it is understandable why people are so concerned and fearful, the scare of pandemic has eclipsed many important issues. What is more disturbing is to see how stories related to hate violence have taken a back seat.

Another case in point is that the first anniversary of the Christchurch massacre that shook the world on March 15, 2019 did not elicit much public interest.

51 people died in targeted attacks on two mosques in New Zealand. Last year, Canadians joined the rest of the world in mourning the hate crime. Negligible attention was paid to the first anniversary of the bloody episode.

Similarly, the incidents of violence against Muslims in India under a right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government have been lost under screaming headlines of COVID-19 stories.

Not long ago, more than 50 people died during bloodshed in New Delhi, when BJP supporters attacked peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed by the Indian government. The act discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since it violates the secular principles of India’s constitution, people have been protesting against it. Most of those who died in New Delhi violence were Muslims.

Notably, last August, in the name of national security, the BJP government scrapped the special status given to the Muslim-dominated state of Kashmir, to polarize the Hindu majority for future electoral gains. The people of Kashmir have been fighting for the right to self- determination for years. Instead of listening to them, the BJP government has placed the state under a lockdown that has entered its seventh month. Thousands of people have been arrested while communication services remain disrupted. After remaining indifferent to the situation of Kashmiri people, in spite of many protests in Vancouver and other parts of the country, Canada might now realise what it means to survive under such conditions. People who are now whining over losing social contact in Canada following tough measures taken by the government should take a moment to think about Kashmiris who have been forced to live under the worst situation.

Here in Canada, the stories of indigenous communities fighting against LNG and Trans Mountain pipelines being pushed through their traditional lands against informed consent, have almost been buried under the coverage of COVID-19. Nor is there any serious investigative journalism into the threats being made against protesters by white nationalists.

Ironically, the coronavirus, like any other natural calamity, does not discriminate and affects everyone, whether rich or poor, white or black. Yet human beings have learnt nothing from nature, and are discriminating against people of Chinese heritage because the pandemic originated from China. Not every Chinese person can be seen as a potential carrier of this disease, which has crossed over more than 150 countries, and yet, the Chinese community is facing an unnecessary backlash.

It’s time to join hands and stand up for each other, both in our fight against coronavirus, and the virus of a bigoted mind that is far more dangerous as it deliberately aims to single out communities and ethnic groups and create more divisions. Let’s ensure that those sitting in power do not take advantage of the crisis to push everything under the rug and make people forget the other virus completely. We must keep our eyes open to those challenges as a civil society.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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