Gurpreet Singh: Burnaby proclaims Jaswant Singh Khalra Day; New Westminster may do the same

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      Close to the 25th anniversary of the day a prominent human rights activist was martyred in India, at least two municipalities in Greater Vancouver have issued proclamations recognizing the circumstances that led to his murder. 

      Jaswant Singh Khalra was investigating the extrajudicial killings of Sikh political activists in Punjab when police kidnapped him on September 6, 1995. Khalra was murdered in cold blood. 

      This reflected very poorly on a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

      That same year, Khalra visited Canada to educate Indian diaspora and Canadian politicians about the human rights situation in Punjab. It came during a Sikh insurgency for the right to self-determination.

      In response to this situation, the Indian state gave sweeping powers to police to suppress the militancy, which led to thousands of Sikhs being abducted and killed. 

      Khalra had detected more than 2,500 such cases and was continuing to work to find more when he was picked up from outside his home in Amritsar following his return to India. 

      Although he was warned against going back and advised to stay in Canada and seek asylum, he did not allow himself to do that. Interestingly, his grandfather Harman Singh was aboard Komagata Maru in 1914. 

      The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers was forcibly retuned by the Canadian government under a discriminatory and racist immigration law. Canada has already apologized for that incident.

      Khalra preferred to go back to his country and face possible death rather than making Canada home.

      As a tribute to him, the City of Burnaby proclaimed September 6, 2020, as Jaswant Singh Khalra Day.  

      On August 24, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal read out the historic proclamation recognizing how Khalra lost his life fighting for the dignity and human rights of Sikhs. Former school trustee Baljinder Kaur Narang was the driving force behind the proclamation. Narang, a progressive Sikh, is very vocal on social justice. In the past, she has also stood up for the rights of the LGBTQ community in Burnaby. 

      The City of New Westminster is scheduled to do the same on Monday (August 31). Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, who is a strong voice for human rights, is instrumental behind the proclamation.

      Puchmayr had previously brought a motion against India's discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that discourages accepting Muslim refugees from neighbouring countries. The controversial CAA was passed by the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government that wants to transform India into Hindu theocracy.