South Asians came together to pay tributes to those who laid down their lives during a peaceful protest against the British occupation of India in 1919, at the annual commemorative event held in Surrey on Wednesday, April 13.
Organized by Mehak Punjab Di TV in partnership with Radical Desi, an online magazine that covers alternative politics, the vigil is aimed at educating people about the massacre of supporters of the passive resistance movement against colonialism. Close to 1,000 people died when British troops opened fire on the demonstrators, who had gathered to oppose repressive laws at the Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar 103 years ago.
The ugly episode was recognized on its centenary by the BC government in 2019, following a sustained campaign by the organizers of the vigil. While the vigil has been attended in the past by the current Chief Minister of Punjab Bhagwant Mann, the participants nevertheless condemned Mann and other Indian politicians for not only failing to protect human rights of the people in post-British India, but also denounced those indulging in blatant abuse of civil rights. They raised slogans against growing state violence and draconian laws under the current right wing Hindu nationalist regime in New Delhi, and demanded the release of political prisoners and withdrawal of barbaric Acts being used to suppress the right to dissent.
The event started with a moment of silence in memory of Ajit Singh Bains, a retired judge-turned human rights defender who passed away early this year, leaving behind a rich legacy of struggle for social justice. Bains was in the forefront of the fight for the rights of Sikh political prisoners in Punjab and was vocal against misuse of police power.
The fliers drafted by a Gandhian activist, Vipin Kumar Tripathi, who is a strong advocate for secularism and diversity, were also distributed on the occasion. Tripathi has been raising his voice against growing attacks on religious minorities in India and had prepared a special message to promote harmony during Ramadan and Navratri; the two auspicious occasions for Muslims and Hindus.
Those who spoke on the occasion included prominent Punjabi poet Amrit Diwana, elderly Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi, well known broadcaster Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, anti-racism educators and activists Imtiaz Popat and Annie Ohana, besides retired trade unionist Larry Johnston. Kamaljit Singh Thind and Gurpreet Singh from Mehak Punjab Di TV and Radical Desi respectively also addressed the gathering.