Three years from now, South Asians in Vancouver and Surrey will mark the 100th anniversary of the bloody massacre at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar in British India.
More than 400 people died in the indiscriminate firing on peaceful demonstrators on April 13, 1919. They had gathered at the park to protest the detention of leaders of the passive resistance movement against the foreign occupation of India. Those held in custody were opposing draconian laws introduced by the British government to crush the liberation struggle.
Other estimates put the death toll at more than 1,000. Whatever the actual figure was, the massacre was a catalyst for the Indian freedom movement and encouraged many to take up armed insurgency. India finally become independent in 1947.
Those who died included people from different faith groups. In keeping with the secular spirit of the struggle against imperialism, a revolutionary named Udham Singh, calling himself Mohamad Singh Azad, assassinated the former Punjab lieutenant governor, Michael O'Dwyer, in 1940 to avenge the massacre.
O'Dwyer was instrumental in the circumstances that led to the mass shooting, which was ordered by brigadier general Reginal Dyer. Incidentally, this happened on the auspicious day of Vaisakhi when the 10th master of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, laid the foundation of Khalsa Panth in 1699.
The Khalsa was an army of devout Sikhs who were prepared to fight against repression. The Jallianwala Bagh is located very close to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. The incident therefore shocked everyone in Punjab.
In Canada, which was a British colony, very few people have tried to keep the story of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre alive. This is despite the fact that Punjabi Sikhs are in sizable numbers in B.C.
The Vaisakhi parades organized in Vancouver and Surrey are more focused on religion. However, one rare individual in the community, Kamaljit Singh Thind, has never forgotten to remind people about the Vaisakhi massacre under British rule.
On his own, the independent producer of Mehak Punjab Di TV launched a petition seeking an apology for the barbaric act in the British parliament. Over the last couple of years, he has also organized an exhibition of pictures during Vaisakhi parades depicting the history of massacre. And a float carrying a replica of Jallianwala Bagh memorial site has become a new addition.
On top of that every April 13, Thind holds a vigil in Surrey in memory of the victims.
This year, speakers from various progressive groups participated at Holland Park, unanimously condemning ongoing state repression in post-British India. They observed that state violence has increased under the current right wing Modi government.
Indeed, Thind also strongly believes that it is important to remember history to understand our present. He says that even after the British left India, oppression has not ended. That's one of the reasons why he commemorates the mass shooting in Amritsar in 1919.