The news of Chinmoy Banerjee’s death has greatly saddened the South Asian community in BC. 80-year-old scholar and activist of Indian heritage, Chin Daa, as we affectionately called him, was not keeping well for the past several days. He passed away on the morning of July 29, leaving behind a powerful legacy of tireless activism.

He previously taught English at Simon Fraser University and was deeply involved in social justice movements.

His demise, at a time when bigotry continues to grow all over the world, has caused an irreparable loss to his comrades. Until two weeks ago, he was actively trying to organize each one of us against racism. I had an opportunity to attend one of the two zoom meetings he had hosted to figure out how to work in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by the police in US. Little did we realize that those might be his last interactions with us on such an intense issue.

As a true humanist and die hard secularist, he has been consistently raising his voice against state violence and repression of minorities anywhere, including India where he was born in January, 1940. He was among the founders of the Indian People’s Association of North America and South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, the advocacy groups of progressive South Asians dedicated to the cause of challenging attacks on democratic and civil rights of the people. He was also instrumental behind the formation of BC Organization to Fight Racism.

He not only denounced the attacks on Sikhs during 1980s by the then-so called secularist Congress government of India, but remained vocal against the outright sectarian and anti-minority policies of the currently ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The BJP is determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, and believes in the ideology of Hindutva, which is based on extreme political Hinduism that excludes Muslims and Christians as “outsiders” and tries to assimilate Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.

Banerjee was among those few in lower mainland who opposed Modi and his Hindutva and protested against his visit to Vancouver in 2015.

Attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.

He had invited many fabulous speakers from India to educate the world about what is going on under Modi. By virtue of knowing him closely, I had an opportunity to meet a number of them. Among them is Anand Teltumbde, an established author, who was arrested in April this year on trumped up charges for merely raising a voice against the Indian establishment. Teltumbde has been questioning the power through his writings. He is among many other scholars who are being incarcerated for challenging the status quo.

Together with Chin Daa, we also held a protest outside the Indian consulate when another Indian scholar, Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, was first arrested and thrown in jail in 2014.

Wheelchair-bound Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist, had been speaking out against evictions of Adivasis (Indigenous peoples) of India from their traditional lands, by the Indian state in the name of development only to help the extraction industry. Since Maoist insurgents are active in those areas, Saibaba was branded as a Maoist, thrown in jail, and later convicted for life despite his disability. The Modi government refuses to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Banerjee had also given me opportunities to speak at public events organized by him and extended his help to Radical Desi, a magazine started by myself and also Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, a group we created in response to state sponsored violence against minorities and political dissidents under Modi.

With Banerjee gone, we all need to carry on with his incomplete mission for a just society, as the struggle is not over yet and is only likely to become more difficult.

Rest in Peace, Chin Daa. You will always be missed.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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