Gurpreet Singh: A South Asian martyr who was known as Canadian
While the Canadian establishment talks tough against terrorism in the post 9/11 period, little has been done to recognize a hero named Canadian who died fighting war against terrorism 25 years ago in India.
Darshan Singh Canadian was assassinated for opposing religious extremism in Punjab on September 25, 1986. This came after he challenged the ideology of those seeking a theocratic homeland for the Sikhs.
His real name was Darshan Singh Sangha, but he was affectionately called Canadian after spending 10 years in Canada. Here, he worked in sawmills and attended the University of British Columbia.
He arrived here in 1937 like any other "East Indian" immigrant for a prosperous future, but eventually became a political activist. He was also drafted in the army during the Second World War and received military training.
As a student, he came in contact with progressive Canadians and joined the Young Communist League. He also encouraged his Indian compatriots to join the B.C. labour movement.
While in Canada, he not only supported the freedom struggle back home to drive Britons out of India, but also participated in the campaign for Indians' right to vote in this country. They had been disfranchised in 1907 and got back the right to vote in 1947, the year India got its independence.
Though Canadian could have stayed here for the rest of his life, he chose to return to his home country and joined the Communist Party of India. He also worked for the peasant movement. Eventually, he became a member of the state legislative assembly in Punjab.
During 1980s when Sikh militancy was at its peak in Punjab, he vehemently criticized religious fanaticism through his writings and his public speeches, travelling across Punjab to spread his message. Canadian did not buckle under pressure despite the potential threat to his life—and was gunned down right near his village by Sikh separatists.
He was among 300 Communists who were systematically murdered by the religious extremists who enjoyed the support of the Pakistani spy agency ISI. This was before terrorism entered the consciousness of North Americans.
Canadian's daughter Amardeep Kaur lives in Vancouver. She remembers how he faced threats to his life during those days, yet he did not take security cover from the government. He was visiting Vancouver in 1984 when the then-Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was shot to death by her Sikh bodyguards. Kaur recalls that he was very disturbed with the bloody events in Punjab.
At a personal level he was known for his honesty and integrity, and he lived modestly. He also taught his lesser educated wife, Harbans Kaur, who lives in Punjab and takes care of the family’s farmland.
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.