Gurpreet Singh: The fight against sexism in politics must continue

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      This year’s Mother Day has special meaning for me. It’s the first since my wife Rachna Singh got elected as the NDP MLA in Surrey-Green Timbers on May 9. A mother of our two children, she has created history in our family.

      Though political activism has always been in her blood, it was the first time she ran for public office.

      While it's an occasion to celebrate her victory, it is also a reminder that sexism has not ended in our patriarchal society. As a journalist, I have been following stories about female politicians facing many barriers. But with my wife wading into electoral politics I have now experienced the issue firsthand and can say with confidence that the fight isn’t over yet.

      Rachna won with a margin of 4,000 votes over her nearest rival, former MLA Brenda Locke, who was elected in the same constituency in 2001. I feared that Rachna might find it hard to beat Locke, who had an experience and previously served as a minister of state in the B.C. Liberal government. But ultimately, Rachna won comfortably because of a wave in favour of the NDP and partly because of her tireless and clean campaign.

      Nevertheless, it is one of the NDP's safe ridings and credit goes to long-time party MLA Sue Hammell for nurturing it with her passion and hard work for the past many years. Hammell had announced her retirement early this year and Rachna wouldn’t have been able to make it without her active support during the campaign. Hammell ensured that her protégé went door-knocking and phoned many voters in the constituency.

      During and before the campaign, we had many sweet experiences as some unknown people came forward to help Rachna, both financially and otherwise. She had no shortage of dedicated volunteers. People associated with the NDP in the Surrey-Green Timbers did not want to let it go to the Liberals. Their collective efforts paid dividends and we both are humbled by such support and affection.

      But ever since Rachna’s candidacy was announced, there has been some noise, mainly from people who had some issues with me. They never appreciated my journalism and criticism, and began spreading rumours that the NDP would lose in Surrey-Green Timbers if my wife ran. Others suggested that nobody knew Rachna and they only knew her because of me.

      Some were just murmuring in the background, while a few openly tried to confront me by saying that she might lose because of me. There were some who tried to browbeat her by saying that her husband had said something on air as a broadcaster they did not like.

      A Pakistani man told her that her husband had been critical of Pakistan. Rachna had to tell him that he is critical of India, too. At least one person who claims to be a social-justice activist told her that he voted for her, but her husband ignores him.

      Thanks to the NDP that stood behind her and did not listen to this simmering, even though I have been critical of the party on several occasions.

      The NDP held its ground despite the fact that some of these so-called NDP well wishers threatened to stage a demonstration at the event where Rachna was formally acclaimed as candidate. NDP Leader John Horgan and Hammell refused to buckle under any pressure and stood up for Rachna, forcing those potential protesters to retreat.  

      The bottom line is that Rachna was seen by some as my shadow. Most of these people targeted her unfairly because of me, which is totally unacceptable. These people were clearly being sexist.

      The most surprising element of the whole story was that some of these individuals were self-styled Marxists and feminists who did not even think once that attacking someone because of her husband reflects badly on them. By doing this they have only exposed themselves.

      They never tried to find out what Rachna has always stood for. She became my wife only later, but she was born in a politically active family.

      Her maternal grandfather, Tera Singh Chann, was a leftist political activist and was instrumental behind establishing a progressive theatre group that spreads social and political awareness. Her father, Raghbir Singh, is a scholar and a leftist. Her sister, Sirjana Bindlish, was active in student politics. Her maternal uncle, Dildar Singh, has also been involved in political activism. So she inherited her political understanding from within her own family. I came into her life much later.

      After doing her master's in psychology, she joined the Punjab Red Cross and worked as drug addiction counsellor. In 2001, she migrated to Canada where she began her career with the Information Services Vancouver and helped people with substance abuse and those suffering domestic violence find resources. During that time, she used to go on community radio stations to educate people about these services.

      It wasn’t long after immigrating to Canada before she got involved in NDP politics. She helped MLA Jagrup Brar, MLA Harry Bains, and later MP Jinny Sims in their campaigns by signing up members, doing campaigning, and raising funds. Then she joined the Canadian Union of Public Employees and worked on a campaign against an attempt to privatize the water supply in Abbotsford. She worked aggressively on the campaign in the Punjabi community and her efforts contributed to its defeat in a referendum.

      On other occasions, she spoke against bigotry and repression. She has been attending rallies against racism as well as the annual LGBT march. She organized a forum in December when racist flyers were circulated in different communities in B.C.

      Is this not enough for anyone to be a candidate for MLA? All of these activities that she has been involved in had nothing to do with me.  

      The credit for her victory entirely belongs to her party, her campaign team, and her. Those who claimed that they don’t know her were either ignorant or male chauvinists, as they did not recognize her potential and her qualities and instead were bent upon punishing her because of her husband.

      Now that she has won, I feel that it is also the defeat of such elements who have been proven wrong by the voters.

      In the end truth has prevailed, but this whole stressful experience has taught me that the fight against male chauvinism must go on.

      Gurpreet Singh is a broadcaster and the cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.