The assassination of prominent South Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh by Hindu extremists occurred half a world away, but that didn't stop Metro Vancouver residents from commemorating her birthday.
Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), a group gathered in Holland Park in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey on Sunday (February 4) to also remember Rohith Vemula, an Indian PhD student who committed suicide in 2016 after being harassed by Hindu extremists.
Lankesh was born on January 29 and Vemula’s birthday fell on January 30. This year, January 30 coincided with the 70th anniversary of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu extremist.
All three of them courageously stood up for minorities in the world's so-called largest democracy, which ended up costing them their lives.
Lankesh was gunned down outside her home in September 2017.
Vemula, a PhD student and an activist with the Ambedkar Students' Association, was bullied by right-wing goons for opposing the death penalty against a convicted terrorist.
He also wrote a book called Caste Is Not a Rumour, which didn't endear himself to Hindu extremists.
Like Gandhi, Lankesh and Vemula supported peaceful coexistence between followers of all religions in India.
The rally in Holland Park opened with with a poem dedicated to Lankesh by Amrit Diwana.
Demonstrators carried placards with the faces of Lankesh, Vemula, and other victims of terrorist attacks by Hindu extremists, who've been calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shatter secularism and convert India into a Hindu nation.
The protesters in the park chanted slogans against the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and its right-wing affiliates.
One of the speakers, Raghu, a documentary filmmaker and an activist from Bengaluru, told the gathering that he knew Lankesh. He described her as a brave woman who never compromised on her principles despite serious threat to her life.
The Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization, named after towering scholar and Dalit leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, also made its presence felt.
Leaders Rashpal Singh Bhardawaj, Amarjit Singh Leahl, and Rattan Paul pointed out that the BJP government in India believes in Manusmriti, which is a controversial Hindu text that justifies caste-based oppression. According to them, this has led to increasing violence against Dalits, otherwise known as "untouchables".
Abbedkar coauthored the Indian constitution, which guarantees equality and religious freedom. He also worked tirelessly for the emancipation of those characterized as "untouchables".
Other speakers at the event included Barjinder Singh of Sikh Nation, Gian Singh Gill of the Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar, Coalition Against Bigotry cofounder Imtiaz Popat, journalist Dionne Bunsha, Marxist activist Hardev Singh, and Radical Desi director and IAPI cofounder Gurpreet Singh.