Gurpreet Singh: Many Canadians of South Asian descent support struggle for LGBT equal rights

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      The Indian Supreme Court decision upholding a regressive law that bars homosexuality as a punishable offence reflects very badly on the world’s largest secular democracy.

      The apex court of India recently overturned the Delhi High Court verdict of 2009 that decriminalized homosexuality. The lower court had rejected the validity of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which is a tool of the British colonial era and describes homosexual union as crime.

      Ironically, the British government has allowed same-sex unions, whereas India—despite independence from the British occupation in 1947 and tall claims of progress and modernity—continues to cling to an outdated law.

      The verdict has obviously outraged LGBT people both in India and Canada.

      In Vancouver, South Asian gay and lesbian activists rallied outside the Indian consulate December 13, defying rain and cold weather.

      The controversial decision has particularly saddened LGBT people of Indian origin, who feel that the queer community continues to be oppressed and discriminated against in their home country.

      At the same time, they face double discrimination, and in case of lesbians—triple—in a foreign land because of their race, gender, and sexual orientation.

      The verdict sends a wrong signal and reinforces stereotypes and myths about the homosexuals within the South Asian community. In several instances of hate crimes against homosexuals in Vancouver, South Asians were reported to be potential suspects.

      Several years ago, the social enviornment within the Indo-Canadian community was quite hostile against homosexuals. The clerics and the self-styled gate keepers tried to make everyone believe that homosexuality is a moral crime.

      I remember that openly gay former NDP MP Svend Robinson was sometimes ridiculed by a section in our community in spite of his passion for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, including Sikhs and Muslims.

      Robinson vehemently opposed human-rights violations and persecution of minorities in India. His support for LGTB rights was hardly endorsed by the South Asians at the time. 

      Itrath Syed, a former NDP candidate, also faced undue criticism by the Muslim clerics for being in a party that supports same-sex couples' rights.   

      However, I have noticed a wind of change in my own community recently. All the hype about social conservatism in the South Asian community is not entirely true.

      If my open-line radio show on recent developments in India is any indication, the majority of South Asians are pained by the verdict. They feel that it is an attack on the rights of a gendered minority.

      Many feel that the law should not interfere into the sexual preferences of people and that the Indian parliament should eliminate this draconian law or make amendments to ensure safety and protection of the queer community.

      It is worth noting that Dr. Barjinder Singh, a prominent human rights activist, has expressed his solidarity with homosexuals. He's the leader of the Sikh Nation, a campaign that organizes annual blood donation camps across Canada in memory of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom.

      Thousands of Sikhs were murdered by goons influenced by leaders of India's Congress Party following the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

      Singh said during live talk show that the Indian judiciary, which has already failed the Sikh minority, has once again failed to protect the rights of a minority. Singh, who is influenced by the values of Sikhism, draws inspiration from the ninth master of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who laid down his life for the sake of Hindus who were being persecuted by the Islamic rulers.

      Singh feels that though Guru Teg Bahadur did not believe in Hinduism, he sacrificed his life for human liberty. Therefore, Singh believes that whatever may be the sexual orientation of the majority, we must stand by the gendered minority.

      Years ago, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) also supported the rights of gays and lesbians when books about same-sex parents in Surrey schools stirred an unwanted debate.

      In 2005, when the orthodox Sikh clergy in India ordered the Sikh MPs in Canada to vote against the same-sex marriage bill, then-Liberal MP Navdeep Singh Bains, a devout Sikh himself, defied the edict. The WSO supported his stand.  

      One may disagree with the WSO’s politics and its inclination toward theocracy, but it definitely scored a point over the so-called moderates in the Sikh community. As against WSO’s progressive position, a prominent moderate leader, Balwant Singh Gill, once trashed homosexuals, only to later apologize.

      Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who's of Sikh heritage, has consistently and vocally supported the cause of the homosexuals in the South Asian community. He also tries to educate his compatriots on this subject, even at personal level.

      Dosanjh, who is socially progressive in many aspects, also defied the Sikh clergy by voting in support of same-sex marriage as a Liberal MP in 2005.

      Baljinder Narang, chair of the Burnaby board of education, is another example. A practising Sikh herself, she spoke passionately about the rights of the the LGBT community when they came under attack in her city.

      All this indicate that the homosexuals should not feel alone, as many respectable and prominent South Asian immigrants stand by them.

      The Indian establishment should wake up and acknowledge the changing landscape of the world, instead of talking about symbolic development and progression by way of sending mission to Mars and also courting religious conservatives at the same time. 

      India, after all, belongs to its diverse population, including people with different sexual orientations—and not only to those who while away their time in religious places and spit venom against humanity. 

      Gurpreet Singh is a 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. He has a Facebook page called We Are All Untouchables!!! 



      Gary S Sandhu

      Dec 15, 2013 at 1:12pm

      I think it is offensive for all right thinking people and those who believe in human rights and protection of minorities when author calls India as a democratic and "secular' nation. India is basically a Hindu thugocracy where loot and plunder of its people is the prime religion of its Hindu establishment.

      Alan Layton

      Dec 16, 2013 at 9:20am

      Bravo and good to hear that the social conservatives are losing some of their power over the majority. I'm sure most never opposed gay rights but peer pressure prevented them from speaking out. Although I don't think this change is going to happen over night, at least it's heading in the right direction.


      Dec 17, 2013 at 10:36am

      @Alan Layton: The point to note here is that while the so called "moderates" in the Sikh community are lauded by the mainstream media or the "establishment" for their opposition against traditionalists in temple politics and for their stand against the struggle of traditionalist Sikhs in Canada and abroad for justice from the brutality of the Indian state(one wonders why? as Canada has always stood for human rights)......its the traditionalist fully practicing Canadian Sikhs and their organizations that have consistently supported gay rights from very early on, whether it was their(World Sikh Organization's) stand against Heather Stillwell and Christian right members on the Surrey school board that opposed references about same sex parents in school books in the 90's or the opposition to the later edicts which the Harper conservative party members got issued from the Indian clergy(stuffing their mouths with dollars) while Liberal party was in power in Ottawa and Paul Martin was touring India just so as to embarrass him and his MPs.

      It fell flat off course as Navdeep Singh Bains a young and very devout Sikh MP from Mississauga, ON took a very public and forceful stand in favour of gay rights. Others such as Ruby Dhalla and Ujjal Dosanjh followed his lead in Ottawa.

      Navdeep Bains is the same Sikh MP whom harper tried to smear in parliament a few years later with the help of a bogus "report" of kim bolan about the Air India inquiry in the Vancouver sun two months after he became PM and Bains had just been re-elected defeating Harper's hand picked conservative nominee. Apparently the issue was that Bains's father in law was a distributer of Tara Singh Hayer's(who was considered to know a lot about the incident as an insider) paper in the mid 80's and could have been a witness on the inquiry if called(although the RCMP later denied he was ever needed). Just by that link they thought they could bring Bains down even though he was a 9 year old child at the time and did not know his father in law back then lol. Even the people related to witnesses are not safe from Harper con smears.