Gurpreet Singh: Senior leftist Bibi Veeran calls for unity against Sikh fundamentalists

Defying old age and Alzheimer's disease, senior leftist Bibi Veeran has come to the support of moderate Sikhs in Greater Vancouver. At 83 years of age, the Coquitlam resident recently called upon moderate Sikhs and secularists to unite against fundamentalist forces in Canada.

At a public meeting organized by moderates in Surrey, she urged the gathering to get active and work together to oust the fundamentalists from the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in this year's election. The Surrey gurdwara has in the past been controlled and managed by moderates. However, as a result of infighting among them, a conservative Sikh slate won the last temple election in 2009.

At a meeting held following a truce among moderate camps, Veeran insisted that if the fundamentalist forces were not defeated, temples in Greater Vancouver will eventually end up in the hands of Sikh separatists. She was particularly upset at the continued control by Sikh separatists over the historical Sikh temple in Stockton, California.

It was established by activists in the Ghadar party, who believed in armed rebellion against the British occupation of India. The party, which was founded in 1913, was secular in character as it kept religion and politics apart.

Gradually, control of that temple fell into the hands of the supporters of Khalistan, an imaginary theocratic Sikh homeland carved out of India. Stockton temple officials have allegedly replaced pictures of Ghadar activists with images of pro-Khalistan militants.

"They have dumped the pictures of the secular martyrs and replaced them with the pictures of religious extremists," Veeran told the crowd.

She reminded the gathering that old Sikh temples in Canada were also established by secularists and need to be saved from being taken over by fundamentalist forces.

Veeran told the Georgia Straight that she has repeated her message at other social functions. She is not new to activism within the local Punjabi community, having spoken out against fanaticism, racism, and gender discrimination on countless occasions.

Married to a veteran Communist activist, Karam Singh Dhanwant, she was born in a liberal Sikh family in India. She immigrated to Canada in the early 1980s, and one of her daughters is married to an aboriginal man.

Her brother, Arjan Singh Mastana, was a senior Communist leader in Punjab until he was assassinated by pro-Khalistan militants for opposing religious extremism.

Veeran was visiting Punjab when Mastana was murdered. Nevertheless, she is proud of her Sikh heritage, too.

"I do not distinguish between the liberal version of Sikhism and Communism," she said. "For me, they are the same. The separatists who talk about religion are in fact its biggest enemies as they do not believe in true values of Sikhism, which is more about compassion and social equality."

When caste war broke out in Punjab in 2009, she resolutely condemned discrimination against Dalits (the so-called untouchables). The violence followed the murder of a Dalit saint in Vienna by upper-caste Sikh fundamentalists. Veeran categorically stated that the crisis was an outcome of the systemic abuse of Dalits.

"The false sense of superiority among the upper-caste people is the root of the problem," she said.

Since Bibi Veeran is losing her memory, it is becoming difficult to document many details she might have about her life history. But she continues to attend public meetings aimed at promoting secularism.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Comments (15) Add New Comment
Rod Lennox
With the greatest of respect Gurpreet, your articles often leave me shaking my head in confusion.

What reason would "secular communists" have to take control of Sikh gurdwaras? Aren't the places of worship of every other religious community run by religious members of the community? Why are the Sikh community's places of worship so different?

Secondly, you seem to have no problem lauding the Ghadar "martyrs" who took up arms against the British but clearly oppose the Khalistan "militants" who also resorted to the same tactics. Why do you think that the Ghadar "martyr" pictures should be up on walls of temples (especially if they're "moderate" temples?)

Finally, I'm not sure what to make of the moderate/extremist/fundamentalist categorization you've identified in the Sikh community. As a host of Radio India, isn't your boss, an avowed "moderate", accused of shooting a rival in the Guru Nanak Temple parking lot? Do "moderates" also resort to violence in the Sikh community or are the categories you've identified not reflective of reality?

Just trying to understand the whole picture.
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N.S.
Sikh fundamentalists are nothing like what we call "Christian fundamentalists" here in North America. They do not promote cultural de-evolution like Christian fundamentalists do (opposing abortion, silencing science, etc.). Rather, Sikh fundamentalists promote a return to practising Guru Nanak's original teachings. Nanak was a progressive who believed in gender and spiritual equality. His faith was a response to the oppressive and hierarchical practices of Hinduism.
The moderates in question here were ousted after years of corruption at the temple. Millions of dollars were funnelled out of the temple and into private hands during the time when the moderates held power. Voters were fed up with seeing money that should have gone into programs and temple improvements being wasted on private gains.
The fundamentalists won because they are the party of the people. Since coming to power they have established useful programs (a battered women's shelter at the temple, for instance).
Moderate control leads to private gain. The majority spoke out and put an end to it.
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Amandeep Singh
Ah! Gurpreet Singh again at the service, hiding vital facts and highlighting the trivial ones and presenting an embedded interpretation against struggling Sikh nation.
But, now I could say What else you could expect.
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Amandeep Singh
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Bikramjit Singh
I see our friend Gurpreet is up to his usual tricks again, lionising minor figures whose vision and politics have been constantly rejected by the wider Sikh community. After giving us such towering figures as Pash, the poet we have some character called Bibi Veeran who despite being proud of her 'Sikh' roots wants to see alcoholics and yes men to the Indian regime control the Gurdwaras. Here are a few howlers-;

>>It was established by activists in the Ghadar party, who believed in armed rebellion against the British occupation of India. The party, which was founded in 1913, was secular in character as it kept religion and politics apart.>At a meeting held following a truce among moderate camps, Veeran insisted that if the fundamentalist forces were not defeated, temples in Greater Vancouver will eventually end up in the hands of Sikh separatists. She was particularly upset at the continued control by Sikh separatists over the historical Sikh temple in Stockton, California.
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in the community
A communist trying to take control of a religious institution..yea that makes sense.
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Mr. Singh
So we are supposed to believe that communists and socialists aren't political and supposedly secular? tell that to the Chinese and Russians. Why are communists trying to take control of Sikh religious places anyway?
There are no moderate or conservative Sikhs. Either you believe in Sikh philosophy and tenets or you don't. Are there moderate and conservative Catholics? Either you believe or you are a non-believer and non-practitioner. Someone may be born into a Sikh or Catholic family and just be a cultural Sikh or a cultural Catholic without any belief. Why would people born into Catholic families who don't practice want to run the church? In the same way why do people who don't practice Sikhism want to run Sikh temples?
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Amrit Kaur
I'd like to point out the hypocrisy by the defunct Comunists of Punjab. This Bibi says "separatists" have taken over Sikh Gurdwaras. Ah, the last I checked you live in Canada, and none of the "Separatists" want to separate from Canada.

This Bibi and the likes of Gurpreet say that these "separatists" need to leave their imaginary fights from back in Punjab in Punjab and integrate into Canadian society. Ok, so why is this Bibi and others so hell bent on promoting Indian nationalism. Shouldn't they also leave their Indian nationalism in India and focus on Canadian society?

The so-called "separatists" have donated blood, sweat, and tears to the Canadian state and are productive members of Canadian society.

Also, please not that the Sikhs fighters who fought the Indian state in the 80s and 90s were fighting for their human rights, to live freely as Sikhs, whereas the Communists of the time were actively assisting the Indian state in villifying genuine Sikh demands. Many of these demands have now been fulfilled or are in the process of being fulfilled.(live broadcast of religious hymns from the golden temple, Sikh marriage act, the Indian state still has a quota on % of sikhs that can serve in the army) This is all thanks to the "separatists" sacrifices, whereas the communists fought for what?

They did nothing to advance Punjab economically or culturally. They tried their best to please the Congress establishment hoping for power in return. However, all they received was complete political estrangement in Punjab politics, so much so, even the Congress party has not asked for their support any longer.

If a government sponsors genocide on a specific faith or race, and that faith or race picks up arms to defend their right to life and liberty, civilized nations view this as heroic. Communists of Punjab view this as "separatism." Why these Punjabi communists don't immigrate to Communists nations is bewildering; instead they insist on living in democratic, captitalist societies. Thus, why their agendas always conflict with mainstream Sikhs, the vast majority who support the "separatists" whom this Bibi and Gurpreet portray as "living martyrs."

The fact that most Gurdwaras across the civilized world support the "separatists" is a sure tale sign that the vast majority of Sikhs are in favor or just don't care about such things. However, the belief that the Gurdwaras are forcibly in the control of "separatists" is the same propaganda that Indira Gandhi used to attack the Golden Temple.

If Sikhs were so upset at such "separatists", they would not vote them into control. The elections are a democratic process. This is not your Communist state where one party rules the roost and forces people to submit to totalitarian rule.

Wake up. Your communist buddies in Punjab are a rejected and lost lot with threadbare support. Even the ghadari babas would despise the current Indian state as it stands on human rights and religious freedom. However, you people would rather keep the infighting among the sikh community going as it suits your fantasy love affair with a eutopian Indian state where people live in harmony and the establishment treats its citizens like humans. However, every unbiased international study shows otherwise.

Gurfateh!
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Ravi Sharma
This guy makes no sense at all. A communist trying to take control of a religious institution? Why is your hatred for sikhs so apparant. What has sikhs ever done to you?
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Jay Sean
Bogus article
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True Facts
Ever since these so called "moderates" lost the last election, the Gurdwara has become a true example of Sikhism. The current management has done more in 2 years than the previous party did in 12 years.
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True Facts
The moderate party posted signs in the Guru Ka Langar(free kitchen) hall stating that food was only for the people that had booked the function for that day. The Langar is open to all people at all times. They privatized the temple for their benefit.
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one sikh
easy to be a communist in a democracy , if communism is so good , go to china, cuba n. korea . im sure they will welcome you on national television , and soon soon as the camera lights go out , they will tell you where and when to work and how little you will be paid , and one more thing , you have no human rights. moderates want to be temples for the money only , if they build their own(they can't anyways) where will they get the income. the communists had property in vancouver and richmond , which they lost ,because their comrade bankrupted them. build you own place and show me if even your own kids will support you.
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Ms. Kaur
The people have spoken again in the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple. The Sikhs got rougly 10 290 votes and the so called moderates got 4 330. This was on Dec. 16, 2012. I hope Bibi Veeran you are in one of your lucid periods and can appreciate what this might mean though of course you might be too busy saluting the red flag with the sickle when those periods occur.
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Ms. Kaur
Bibi Veeran,I hear Nepal had a civil war and the commies won. Why don't you move there gal instead of staying in a capitalistic place where the vast majority of folks don't like the communist ideology. I say pack up and leave with your red linens embroidered with the yellow sickle and hammer. Better even, take the other commies with you, old gal. If you don't like Nepal, there is China too. They will welcome an old comrade like you for sure, especially if you wear your red socks with the sickle and hammer embroidery.
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SinghSoorme
Khalistan Zindabad.
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