Gurpreet Singh: John Horgan's curiosity about other cultures serves B.C. well in a world marred by extremism

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      Premier John Horgan made history this month when his government celebrated the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi at the B.C. legislature for the first time.

      The Sikh community all over the world celebrates Vaisakhi to mark the birth of Khalsa.

      During the harvest month in 1699, the tenth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh, created this order in Punjab to fight back against injustice and repression. The Khalsa was a revolutionary force of dedicated Sikhs who had come forward to resist the oppressive Mughal Empire and uplift Dalits (so-called untouchables) who were being discriminated against by orthodox Hindu priests.

      Guru Gobind Singh wanted to raise an army of Khalsa and bring those marginalized under a brutal caste system into his embrace to establish a just society.

      Credit goes to Horgan that his government not only opened doors for Vaisakhi festivities at B.C. legislature on April 10, but also proclaimed the month of April as Sikh Heritage Month last year. He event went to a gurdwara in Victoria to offer a helping hand to the volunteers at the free community kitchen inside the temple.

      Most notable was his correct pronunciation of Sikhs during his address at the B.C. legislature.

      Bhinder Sajan of CTV made a most telling comment on Twitter.

      “He pronounced Sikh the way we do in Punjabi. Not 'seek'. Maybe a minor detail but I enjoyed it,” noted Sajan who herself is a Sikh.

      This shows that Horgan is trying to educate himself and learn more about another culture. Such humility is a rare quality among political leaders who often have a paternalistic attitude toward the masses they serve.

      Horgan’s attempt to reach out minorities in an inclusive way is not limited to the influential Sikh community. He joined Muslims for Iftar last year. Acts like these become more important in an era of Islamophobia and increased hatred against Muslim community.  

      In March when 50 worshippers were murdered in Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist, Horgan rightfully described the incident as a case of terrorism.

      Even otherwise, he has started a process to restore the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which was dismantled by a previous B.C, Liberal government. This extreme step left B.C. as the only province in Canada without such a body.

      In times of growing populism and right-wing politics all over the world, especially with the emergence of Donald Trump across the border and the recent electoral victory of Conservatives in Alberta, people like Horgan give us some hope.

      That said, Horgan needs to do more to win the trust of Indigenous peoples who continue to endure structural racism. It's not that Horgan hasn’t done anything at all for the First Nations. But his government’s decision to give the green light to the controversial Site C dam, which will have a devastating effect on the traditional and sacred lands of Indigenous communities, is unacceptable.

      While Horgan deserves appreciation for standing out as a "People’s Premier" for making the lives of working people a little more affordable and giving back to B.C. residents in the form of more public health services, schools, and other social spending, he certainly needs to keep in mind the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the society. Among them are minority communities, including First Nations, immigrants, and LGBT people.

      Real progress in any society isn’t complete until and unless the weakest of all benefit from it and receive their due. Horgan's out-loud statements and actions against racism are a necessary first step along the road to a fair and just world.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a cofounder of Radical Desi.

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