Gurpreet Singh: UBC confers honorary degree on Indian human rights defender

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      British Columbia's largest university has recognized the contributions of India-based social-justice activist Teesta Setalvad.

      An award-winning journalist, Setalvad played a prominent role in the campaign for justice for the victims of state-supported massacre of Muslims in 2002.

      She's among the 10 recipients of honorary degrees from UBC. 

      Setalvad has been to Vancouver twice. During her 2018 visit to Canada, she spoke at UBC.

      Anne Murphy from university's department of Asian Studies played a key role in her nomination for the degree. 

      The 2002 pogrom against Muslims took place in the western Indian state of Gujarat under the watch of current Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

      He was the state's chief minister back then. Though Modi was never convicted, Setalvad’s memoir Foot Soldier of the Constitution indicts him for the bloodshed.

      Thousands of Muslims were murdered by supporters of Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, leaving more than 50 people dead.

      Even though one commission of inquiry later found that it was a pure accident, Modi blamed it on Muslims, inciting violence against the minority community.

      Though he was never convicted of wrongdoing, he reportedly asked the police to look the other way and let Hindu mobs vent out their anger on helpless Muslims.

      Modi was denied a visa by the U.S. until he became India's prime minister in 2014.   

      Setalvad’s fight for justice and closure continues even today. She has faced threats and intimidation because of her daring work. 

      As a staunch secularist, she has also been critical of the anti-Sikh massacre engineered by the Congress party in 1984. Innocent Sikhs were slaughtered across India by the mobs led by Congress activists following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

      This orchestrated violence by Congress leaders occurred despite the party claiming to be a secular alternative to the BJP, which aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

      Ever since the BJP came to power, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown in the world’s so-called largest democracy. 

      Gurpreet Singh is a cofounder of Radical Desi and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.