Darshan Singh Canadian was martyred today 26 years ago on September 25th, at the hands of the Khalistani terrorists. His entire life was manifestation of relentless spirit to serve the downtrodden. Darshan Singh was a very warm personality, extremely well read, a versatile conservationist and resonating with wit and humour.
In 1937, at the age of 19, Darshan Singh immigrated to Canada from India. Although hearrived here as a student, his reasons to immigrate were similar to those of other Punjabis.He recalls that “My reasons to come here were no different than others. There was hunger in my family. I had to go somewhere. My father was a very poor farmer. We had a total of four acres of land in our village called Langeri, which was in the district of Hoshiarpurand even those four acres were spread around the village in 15 different pieces. It is worth recalling Canadian’s contribution as a resident in Canada.
When the Punjabis first arrived and made British Columbia their home, they had the right to vote but that right was taken away from them in 1907. Relying on their own courage without any outside help, Punjabis living here continuously struggled to regain this right. During his stay in Canada, Darshan Singh made notable contributions to this struggle, including being a member of many delegations that met with the government agencies on behalf of the Indian community. His biggest contribution to the struggle to regain the right to vote was by garnering support for this cause from the trade union movement, and many other progressive sections of the larger community. This was one of the major factors that contributed to the increased drive of the campaign to gain the right to vote during the mid-1940’s.
Darshan’s work in Canada was essential, where he shaped or made profound impact in many different spheres. .After arriving in Canada, he joined the progressive movement and, understanding the conditions of the labour industry, used that knowledge to embark on educating the people in his community. In many ways, he enhanced the intellectual level of theIndian workers, especially those who worked in the lumber industry. It resulted in them feeling on equal terms with other workers and new sense of self-confidence and pride, sparkled or resonated within them. At the same time, he educated the white workers and the general public by destroying dispelling many of the illusions they held about Indians. This resulted in qualitative changes in the way the larger community viewed the Indian workers. The strong support received for the right to vote campaign from the trade union movement in BC, especially between 1942 and 1947, was the direct result of Darshan’s work. He welded the gaps between both communities.. He left no stony unturned in improving the quality of life for everyone in Canada. This makes Darshan important for all Canadians, not just for the Indian community. It is important to give meaning to the words spoken by Clay Perry at that time:“Darshan Singh was known in Punjab as Canadian and here in Canada we know him as a Punjabi. We should do whatever is needed to remove this difference and make him Canadian forever here and there. He always struggled to remove differences and inequalities from the society and he represented a sentiment that goes beyond any differences.”
Darshan with great resilience worked to educate the Canadian labour force as well as the general public about the struggle being waged in India to obtain freedom from British Imperialism. For example, at the Communist party convention held in Toronto in 1942 where more than 400 delegates from across Canada were present, Darshan presented a resolution in support of India’s Independence. The entire convention stood up and overwhelmingly supported the resolution. Similarly, in November of 1944 at the Eighth International Convention of the IWA held in Vancouver, Darshan presented another resolution in support of India’s struggle, which was passed by consent. The November 6th, 1944 issue of the Lumber Worker carried a news item about this resolution with Darshan’s picture onthe front page. The headline read: “Darshan Singh Supports Unity.” Speaking to the resolution Darshan said, “No permanent peace would be possible without her (India’s)deliverance. Fascism and Imperialism are inseparable twins. With one fifth of mankind inbondage under tyranny, must we keep quiet? … We are not fighting to make world safe for imperialism, whether it be imperialism of the Dutch, French, Americans, British or what have you.”
Return to India
Darshan Singh returned to India from Canada in 1947.He went underground along with many members of the Communist party He married Harbans,the grand daughter of Baba Laal singh,the Ghadr veteran from Jandiala in Jalandhar district. Canadian addressed general body meetings and mass rallies being powerful speaker. He also contested for parliament. As the secretary of Punjab Kisan Sabha he was an active participant in the great anti-betterment levy kisan struggle.He was twice elected to the Punjab assembly, from Garh Shankar in his native district Hoshiarpur.In 1968 he was appointed state secretary and national council member and was impactful as a legislator and party spokesman.Inspite of facing a bout of spondylitis with great tenacity he continued his work, but was discharged of role as state secretary.
It is worth mentioning that Canadian played an important role in exposing and challenging the staged encounters of naxalites in the early 1970’s.
After returning for medical treatment from abroad he resumed his work through defeating a big Congress party opponent in his village and sparkling a successful campaign of abroad joint action committee, to prevent displacement of villagers through constructing a proposed cantonment. The building site was shifted saving thousands of acres of fertile land and compensation rate was also increased.
On 24th September i 1986 he addressed a rally at Rayya in Amritsar district after which he visited his in laws before returning to his village, only to face the wrath of bullets of Khalistani assasins, who lay in an ambush.Darshan Singh became the 16th Communist leader to be martyred n Punjab.
Within 2 hours a huge procession thronged from his native village in Langeri to Mahilpur raising slogans “Na Hindu Raj Na Khalistan” , ‘Hindu-Sikh Ekta Zindabad’and ‘Hindu and Sikhs fight is enemy of the country. ‘In the commemoration meeting huge tributes were paid to him by not only Communist party of India leaders but those of Congress,Akali Dal,CPM, AND Communist revolutionary groups. They all praised his lifelong service to the cause of the downtrodden.
It was an immense loss for the secular and democratic movement. The entire democratic and secular contingent deeply mourned his loss. His life illustrated simplicity, struggle and dedication .Canadian was as relentless as a boulder resisting a bulldozer in combating communal forces.
Hind Samacahar newspaper credited Canadian stating “The assassination of Darshan Singh Canadian has deprived the lap of Punjab and India of an honest and patriotic son who always held aloft firmly the banner of Hindu-Sikh Unity.”
Canadian played a major role as an architect in the rallies, demonstrations and gatherings with relentless courage. With meticulous skill and patience he knitted joint Hindu-Sikh peace committees.
Tribune paper praised Canadian for isolating the criminals from the vast masses and not succumbing to the communal divide.
It is of great regret that the party to which he belonged, the Communist Party of India, did nor raise it’s voice against the oppressive state terrorism, where innocent sikh youth were assassinated in encounters. It also soft pedalled with the Sikh communal Akali Dal and shamelessly joined hands with ruling class parties. Still their cadre constituted the most determined section to wage a battle against the oppressive Sikh fundamentalism and many of it’s activists laid down their lives. It is similar to CPI cadre during Bhiwandi riots in Mumbai or even 1993 anti-muslim riots, who displayed death-defying spirit in confronting Hindu fundamentalist, preserving communal harmony and saving lives of many Muslims. I can’t forget the courage with which they withstood the Shiv Sena.The Association for Democratic Rights o Punjab upheld leaders like Canadian,as martyrs in the struggle for secularism and so did Communist revolutionary forces. Even if a revisionist party, many cadre within CPI and CPM constitute the most determined fighters against Hindutva fascism.
Today Darshan Singh Canadian’s memories still shimmer within Punjab and Canada, like an inextinguishable spark. Significant that today Sikh separatism is again shaping in Punjab, playing a diversionary role. A character like Canadian has to be resurrected to confront the wave of Hindutva fascism, today.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India and extensively studied Punjab movement.