By the time federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh arrived at Indigo in Burnaby on April 24 to promote his memoir, some anxious readers had been waiting for hours.
A young Sikh mother and her son were there at 9:30 a.m. to get Singh’s autograph on her copy of Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected; he arrived 20 minutes after his scheduled book launch at 12:30 p.m.
By that time, people had formed a beeline to get a signed copy.
Among those who showed up was former NDP MP Svend Robinson, who is going to run in Burnaby North–Seymour in October.
Singh, who recently won the by-election in Burnaby South, remains popular for the very slogan that is now the title of his memoir.
In fact, he starts his book by describing an incident involving a racist woman who confronted him when he first announced his decision to run for the leadership of the federal NDP.
Singh won many hearts by silencing her with the love and courage that became a slogan of his campaign.
The memoir is an important document to understand racial barriers visible minorities face in Canada. Singh shares his first-hand experience with racism in great detail in the book.
Being a turbaned Sikh with facial hair, he not only faced hostility from white supremacists, but also became a victim of racial profiling at the hands of police in Ontario, the province where he lived for many years.
The Air India bombing of 1985 and 9/11 attacks brought on more insults and racial slurs.
The explosion on Air India Flight 182 over the Irish Sea left 329 people dead and has been widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge for ugly political events of 1984. This mass murder came after the Indian army had attacked the Golden Temple complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, to deal with militants accused of fortifying the place of worship.
The army's actions left many worshippers dead and destroyed historical buildings. This military invasion also enraged Sikhs all across the world, with Singh’s father participating in a protest in Canada.
The ill-conceived army action culminated in the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. This was followed by a well-organized anti-Sikh massacre orchestrated by supporters of her ruling Congress party.
Singh admits in the memoir that he was denied a visa by the Indian government for seeking justice for the 1984 Sikh massacre. He writes that despite repeated condemnation of the Air India tragedy by Sikhs, the community continues to be maligned unfairly. Likewise, he was frequently taken as Muslim after 9/11 and was on the receiving end of racial remarks.
Apart from revealing his repeated encounters with racism, he has candidly written about his alcoholic father and the sexual abuse that Singh suffered at the hands of his taekwondo instructor. Notably, he took to martial arts to become stronger to defend himself from racist bullies at school and an aggressive father at home.
It takes lot of courage to talk about those issues, particularly when one is a leader of a national party. Singh has gone into many details about his father’s fight with alcoholism, which led to the bankruptcy of the family. It must have been very difficult for Singh to share that story, considering his religious background.
It is very challenging for a practising Sikh to publicly acknowledge sexual abuse and the addiction of one’s parent, as discussing those issues remain a taboo for many within the South Asian community.
However, Singh ends his story with hope and a message of inclusion. His decision to shed his last name Dhaliwal and to stick with Jagmeet Singh alone is very significant.
Dhaliwals are an affluent community of Sikh landlords who are considered superior under a brutal caste system in India. Singh writes that it was his conscious decision to give up that privilege, according to his own principles and also because of the Sikh faith's rich heritage that denounces the caste system and treats everyone as equal.
Obviously being a politician, he has not revealed many things. Those who follow the news closely can easily figure out what remains missing. But he still deserves appreciation for being so frank about his family situation and sexual abuse, which can give confidence to those who continue to suffer in silence and who might be ready to open up and resist.