Gurpreet Singh: Secularism wins at a news conference hosted by Modi supporters in Surrey

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      Apologists for India's ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government were given a jolt by a secularist broadcaster at a recent news conference.  

      It came after journalists were invited to the Hindu-Sikh Forum at the Laxminarayan Temple in Surrey on August 15. The organizers wanted to air their support for a controversial decision by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi regarding Kashmir.

      The Modi government recently revoked the special status granted to Kashmir and detained its leaders to suppress a liberation movement. The action was taken without any debate in the Indian parliament and there were no consultations with the people of the disputed territory.

      Back in 2015, the Hindu-Sikh Forum welcomed Modi at the same temple during his visit to Canada. Its leaders support the ideology of Modi and are known to be pro-India.

      The news conference turned intense when one of the leaders of the Hindu-Sikh Forum, Parshotam Goel, criticized an Omni TV Muslim reporter, Haroon Ghaffar. 

      Ghaffar, who is of Pakistani origin, had simply asked Goel to respond to accusations of human rights abuses by Indian forces in Kashmir. That's when Goel became angry and suggested he leave.

      Goel also accused Ghaffar of being selective.

      At that very moment, Sameer Kaushal of Red FM Radio stepped forward and said that Ghaffar has every right to raise questions and should not be interrupted.

      Kaushal later told Straight that he considers Ghaffar like a brother and will never tolerate any kind of attack on anyone from the media fraternity.

      He alleged that Ghaffar was targeted only because of his religious background, which he considered to be unacceptable. He added that Goel could have refused to comment rather than mistreating a media colleague. 

      For the record, Ghaffar previously worked with Red FM Radio and is well respected for his fair reporting. Earlier that day, he covered India’s Independence Day celebrations at the Indian consulate in Vancouver.

      Red FM's Sameer Kaushal alleged that religion played a role in Haroon Gaffar being asked to leave a news conference at a Hindu temple in Surrey.

      Kaushal’s action, however small it may be, was akin to leaving egg on the face of Goel, who is associated with the Hindu supremacist group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), of which BJP is a political wing.

      The RSS wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy and does not believe in a secular and inclusive India. It considers Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold (something staunchly resisted by the Sikh scholars) but treats Muslims and Christians as outsiders.

      Attacks on religious minorities have grown under Modi since 2014 and Hindu-Muslim kinship is being threatened. 

      Kashmir, being a Muslim-majority state in India, has become a flash point and the Modi government's decision is likely to create more divisions. 

      Kaushal, who himself comes from the Hindu community, has shown by his action that the idea of India based on pluralism and diversity remains alive.

      It won’t die easily in India or within the Indian diaspora.