South Asian immigrants—particularly those who represent secular and progressive groups—should show solidarity with the Idle No More movement launched by the indigenous peoples of Canada. As this movement's arrival coincides with the centenary of the anticolonial Ghadar Party, it's everyone's moral duty to lend support to the First Nations, who continue to struggle against colonialism and occupation in Canada.
The Ghadar Party was launched in 1913 by Indian immigrants who believed in using armed rebellion to free their home country from British occupation. Many of the party's founders had previously served in the British army and came to Canada as British subjects.
Thanks to blatant racism and discriminatory immigration policies, they soon realized that the root cause of their suffering was slavery back home. This transformed them into social-justice activists, and they launched the Ghadar Party to resist racism in a foreign land and British occupation on Indian soil. Many of these men returned to their country of origin to organize a mutiny, only to face the gallows or life imprisonment.
As South Asian community activists prepare to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Ghadar Party next year, they need to support the indigenous struggles here. After all, the supporters of Idle No More are fighting for similar objectives to those of the Ghadar Party.
Prominent social-justice activists of South Asian origin, such as Harsha Walia, have made passionate calls to all immigrant groups to join the campaign. She has also posted a flyer with an appeal in South Asian languages on Facebook.
I also elicited support from South Asian callers during an open-line show on this movement. All of them agreed that the aboriginal peoples' land was stolen by the colonists. Thanks to colonialism, the indigenous people were dispossessed from their land while their identity, culture, and language were systematically annihilated through the Indian residential-school system and other imperialist instruments like the Doctrine of Discovery.
Significantly, the nephew of Bhagat Singh, a towering revolutionary who participated in the freedom struggle of India, visited the site of the protest being staged by the members of the Musqueam First Nation on Marine Drive in Vancouver in September.
Prof. Jagmohan Singh, a social-justice activist, was here to attend series of events organized by progressive groups within the Indo Canadian community. As general secretary of the Association For Democratic Rights (AFDR), he has been consistently raising his voice against oppression of the so-called untouchables and tribal population in India, as well as against human-rights violations and state repression against religious minorities.
The Musqueam activists were opposing a real-estate development on their 3,000-year-old ancient burial site. Prof. Singh expressed his solidarity with the protesters. He said that colonization has devastated the lives of both the First Nations in Canada and people back in India. His uncle was hanged in 1931 for killing a British police officer.
At least two prominent Indo-Canadian figures—Ranjit Singh Khalsa of the Banda Singh Bahadur Society and Vinay Sharma of the Surrey Hindu Temple—expressed their support on Radio India for the movement. This reminds me of the mood within the South Asian community during the referendum on treaties conducted by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002. Cutting across ideological lines, prominent moderate and fundamentalist Sikh leaders sided with the First Nations.
South Asian seniors have always referred to the indigenous peoples as Taae Ke (family of elderly uncle). Hopefully, Idle No More will go a long way in cementing this bond. What could be a more fitting tribute to the Ghadar heroes than being a part of this struggle?
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.