All posts by Chinmoy Banerjee

Public forum on immigrant/refugee detention


Surrey: Sanctuary City, not Detention City


Public Forum
March 4, 2018, 1.00 pm -4.00 Pm
Surrey Centre Library, Room 120
10350 University Drive, Surrey

Chelliah Premrajah, Harsha Walia, Mohammad Zaman
Moderator: Sejal Lal
Overture: hospitality in Vancouver: Patricia Gruben with Martin Gotfrit on mandolin
The Government of Canada has signed a contract with an engineering company to build a New Immigration Detention Centre in Surrey at 13130-76 Avenue as a part of its infrastructure development plan. It is expected to be completed by November 2018 to replace the current holding center at the Vancouver airport and minimize the practice of placing immigrants/refugees in prisons. The detention of refugees with common criminals, for which Canada is conspicuous in the world, has been condemned by the UNHRC.

While the government promises profits to businesses, jobs to workers and taxes to the city, we need to understand the significance of detaining “immigrants, “the word used to cover refugees, who generate public sympathy, in the context of the larger world. The issue of the treatment of refugees by national governments has become extremely urgent in a world that currently has 22 million refugees according to the UN. This number can only grow as wars and climate change—and climate change induced wars—drive more and more people desperately to seek safety and livelihood far from their burnt, bombed, and abandoned homes. We are all aware of the droughts, wars and genocides that have driven millions to flee from Africa, Syria, Myanmar, and Afghanistan
Governments across the world have responded to this by creating barriers and adopting coercive measures, often in response to anti-immigrant popular movements, as we see in the US, Europe, particularly Central and Eastern Europe, and India. However, against this right-wing populism there has been the resistance of people with generous hearts who have opened their homes and purses for the succor of fellow human beings and established cities of sanctuary. We have seen this Canada in response to the refugees from Syria.
We need to be a part of this ethical politics of hospitality and welcome rather than incarcerate refugees. We must resist the labelling of refugees as “immigrant” or “illegal immigrant” to rationalize repression and block the gates of compassion. Particularly in the city of Surrey which is proud of its diversity we should build a sanctuary city and not allow the construction of detention centers.

Premrajah Chelliah is a member of SANSAD and Amnesty International. He is a retired healthcare worker, a life-long activist in the labor movement and life-member and past president of Tamil Cultural Association of BC. He is Secretary of BC Seniors Shanti Nilayam and a member of the Outreach and Social Justice Committee of Gilmore Park United Church, which co-sponsored Guatemalan, Afghan, and Syrian refugees.
Martin Gotfrit is emeritus professor of music and former Dean of the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. He is activist in hospitality for refugees through Or Shalom Synagogue.
Patricia Gruben is professor in film studies at Simon Fraser University. She is a leader in hospitality for refugees in Vancouver.
Sejal Lal is a musician and activist in human rights, South Asian youth issues, and indigenous support. She is a member of SANSAD.
Harsha Walia is cofounder of migrant justice group, No One is Illegal. She is the author of award-winning book, Undoing Border imperialism and Project Coordinator at Downtown Eastside Women’s Center. For the pat two decades she has been involved in immigrant and refugee rights, including supporting migrant detainees and campaigning against immigrant detention, deaths in detention, children in detention, and arbitrary detention. She has co-authored numerous reports on migrant and refugee issues in Canada and presented at the United Nations on immigration detention in Canada.
Mohammad Zaman is an international development/resettlement specialist. He recently has written a number of articles on Rohingya refugees in papers in Bangladesh and Canada.

Organized by South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD),;

Asma Jehangir passes away

current edition: International edition

‘An indomitable will’ – why Asma Jahangir was Pakistan’s social conscience

The formidable human rights lawyer and activist died on Sunday having spent her life fighting against religious extremism and for the rights of women and oppressed minorities

‘A legal watchdog and a political fighter’ ... Asma Jahangir.
‘A legal watchdog and a political fighter’ … Asma Jahangir. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

She stood a smidgen over 5ft and had fine, delicate bones. But the bird-like frame contained a courageous heart, an indomitable will and an unflagging social conscience. The death of Asma Jahangir, the Pakistani activist, lawyer and human rights campaigner who passed away on Sunday after suffering a cardiac arrest at her home in Lahore, has left a nation reeling with a profound sense of loss.

Looking through social media I am not surprised by the number of tributes to her, but by the fact that they come from her detractors as well as her supporters. The conservatives who branded her a traitor until last week are now acknowledging her courage. Whether that is out of political expediency or genuine feeling I cannot say. But for the besieged liberal community and the religious minorities of Pakistan, she was indispensable. When plainclothes security men barrelled into my sister’s home one night in 1999, dragging away my journalist brother-in-law at gunpoint, the first person she called was Asma. That’s how it was. If you wanted someone in your corner, you called Asma. And she would respond at once.

When I heard the news of her death, my first thought, regrettably, was for myself: “Who will have our backs now?” I was not the only one. A legal watchdog and a political fighter, Jahangir patrolled the rights of secular liberals, religious minorities, the politically disenfranchised, wronged women, abused children; she even fought for the constitutional rights of the very same religious extremists and hard-right nationalists who would have had her silenced.

Jahangir was six years old when her politician father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, opposed Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958. In 1971, when her father was arrested by another military dictator, Yahya Khan, the teenage girl filed a petition for his release in the Lahore high court: Asma Jilani v the government of the Punjab.

“Courts were not new to me,” she joked with her customary levity. “Even before his detention, my father was fighting many cases. He remained in jail in Multan. He remained in jail in Bannu. But we were not allowed to go see him there. We always saw him in courts. So for me, the courts were a place where you dressed up to see your father. It had a very nice feeling to it.”

The Lahore high court dismissed her petition. Undaunted, Jahangir appealed to the supreme court. In 1972, after Khan’s dictatorship had ended, the court decided it had been illegal and declared him a usurper. Jahangir had won her first case.

She began her legal career as a family lawyer. In 1980, along with her sister Hina Jilani and two friends, she set up a firm specialising in divorce, maintenance payments and custodial cases. It was her work with women that brought her to politics. She realised early on that while it was important to fight for oppressed individuals, what was needed was institutional reform and societal change. So when Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s third military dictator, amended the constitution to discriminate against women and religious minorities under the guise of an Islamising agenda, Jahangir publicly challenged his ordinance, questioning its moral underpinnings. He was a brutal dictator with a taste for public floggings who responded by slapping a blasphemy case against her, yet she did not shy away from the fight. Many years later, she wrote: “We may fight terrorism through brute force, but the terror that is unleashed in the name of religion can only be challenged through moral courage.”

Jahangir addresses a 2009 rally in Lahore, protesting against the public flogging of a veiled woman.
Jahangir addresses a 2009 rally in Lahore, protesting against the public flogging of a veiled woman. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

She was never lacking in that moral courage. Or in the energy required to pursue the goals she set herself. The list of her accomplishments goes on and on. A founder member of Women’s Action Forum and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; a long-serving UN special rapporteur on human rights; the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. She opened the first legal aid centre and refuge for battered women in Pakistan. She took on cases that nobody else would touch. She fought for poor Christians accused of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death, but which also put their defenders at risk of assassination at the hands of religious fanatics. In representing bonded labourers, she fought against institutionalised slavery, and in speaking for girls who wanted to marry of their own choice, took on centuries of misogynistic custom, earning the wrath of mullahs, urbane senators and tribal leaders alike.

What rattled her nationalist detractors the most was her consistent critique of human rights abuses in Pakistan. They labelled her a traitor and accused her of being an Indian spy or an American agent. Why couldn’t she highlight similar abuses in other countries? Why must she spread negative propaganda against Pakistan? The fact was that she did call out human rights abuses wherever she found them. She alerted the world to the plight of the Rohingyas, the Palestinians and the Kashmiris, but she was most exercised by atrocities at home. As she said in one interview: “I think it sounds very hollow if I keep talking about the rights of Kashmiris, but do not talk about the rights of a woman in Lahore who is battered to death.”

Jahangir fought on many fronts, but perhaps her greatest ire was reserved for religious extremists and military dictators. She lampooned mullahs mercilessly, mocking their frizzy beards and fuzzy thinking. When other activists called out the ISI, Pakistan’s feared intelligence service, they did so cautiously, referring to it as “the deep state”, “the establishment” or “the powers that be”, knowing what every schoolchild in Pakistan knows: forced disappearances are a fact of life. But Jahangir alone had the courage to go on live television and say: “These duffers, these duffer generals … need to return to their barracks and stay there.” Her commitment to democracy was unwavering. She knew that however corrupt, venal or inefficient civilian leaders might be, they were always preferable to military dictators. “However flawed democracy is,” she told the New Yorker, “it is still the only answer.”

But while others in her place might have lain low for a while or quietly left the country for a spot of “family time”, Jahangir’s response was to go on the front foot. In 2012, she publicly accused intelligence and security agencies of trying to kill her and in so doing turned the spotlight on them. If there was one thing that made her anxious, it was the safety of her three children, whom she eventually sent abroad. But for herself, there was no question of going anywhere. She stayed in Lahore right till the very end, fighting the good fight.

ICW statement on “Hindus for Trump”

Resist Bigotry, Recover Solidarity: Say No to “Hindus for Trump”


February 12, 2018:  We, the members of India Civil Watch (ICW) reject unequivocally the rank opportunism of “Hindus for Trump” (henceforth HFT) that leads them to offer to pay for President Trump’s proposed wall at the Mexican border as long as it will facilitate their own presumed ability to stay in the U.S.


The enthusiastic support of HFT’s members – immigrants or children of immigrants themselves – for Trump’s racist anti-immigration policies is the worst kind of political expediency. Supporting thus the bigoted and vindictive policies of an administration that openly expresses racist contempt against immigrants, minorities, and non-white populations of the world is an affront to South Asian communities in the U.S., a diverse population in terms of class, caste and status, which often shares with other Americans of color their struggles for dignity and a stable livelihood, and aspirations for lives free of racist and sexist discrimination.


HFT’s demands for exceptional treatment in the immigration process are based in ‘model minority’ rhetoric, and an expectation that their class status should grant them immunity from America’s social hierarchies and legal regimes. They would however do well to heed Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian-American elected representative in U.S. Congress, who compared caste in India with race in the U.S. while demanding civil rights for all.


HFT’s support for Trump’s “merit-based” immigration system is consistent with their opposition to affirmative action (known as “reservations”) in India, designed to provide access to jobs and educational opportunities to those suffering from centuries of oppression under India’s caste system. A large proportion of Indian immigrants are from communities of privilege that have benefited from caste hierarchy, which denied economic and social opportunities to generations of those consigned to so-called “lower caste” communities. It is not surprising that HFT is an avid supporter of the Islamophobic and casteist policies of Indian Prime Minister Modi, who, inspired by Hindu Supremacist ideology (known as “Hindutva”) sees non-Hindus and oppressed castes as permanent second-class citizens.


HFT’s embrace of white supremacist rhetoric about immigration is particularly contradictory given the discrimination and exploitation that Indian workers historically faced in the U.S. It was barely a hundred years ago that Punjabi farm workers laboring in the fields of California made common cause and built community with Mexican immigrants working alongside them, navigating exclusionary laws around land ownership and civil rights, but also drawing hope in the commonality of their lived experiences.


ICW believes that our political work should be based on relationships of solidarity and a recognition of shared histories of neocolonial exploitation as seen in the shining example of the drivers from the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance who staged an impromptu strike at JFK to protest against Trump’s Muslim ban. We list below a brief sampling of statements from South Asian and Indian groups fighting for labor, immigrant, and minority rights that have explicitly dissented from groups like HFT that support Trump’s bigoted policies.


A community that has produced a Ravi Ragbir who stands for the rights of the undocumented, should not have to settle for a Shalli Kumar (founder of ‘Hindus for Trump’), who seeks to ingratiate himself to white supremacists for a shameful seat at the table of injustice. Indian Americans can draw inspiration and take pride in a Kshama Sawant who fights for working people, instead of being embarrassed globally by a Nikki Haley who serves the dangerously militaristic foreign policies of the Trump administration. ICW calls on Indian communities in the U.S. to actively participate in anti-racist, anti-caste and and anti-colonial politics, both in the U.S. and in India.



List of Statements:


India Civil Watch is a collective of Indian-Americans committed to furthering progressive politics in the USA and India. For more information, please write to



Book launch with David Barsamian

Panel: David Barsamian, Lindsay Brown, Annie Ross, Dionne Bunsha

Moderator: Samir Gandesha

Saturday, February 24, 2 pm – 4 pm
Harbor Centre Rm 7000
515 W Hastings Street, Vancouver
Global Discontents is a compelling new set of interviews with Noam Chomsky, who identifies the “dry kindling” of discontent around the world that could soon catch fire. In wide-ranging interviews with David Barsamian, his longtime interlocutor, Noam Chomsky asks us to consider “the world we are leaving to our grandchildren”: one imperiled by the escalation of climate change and the growing threat of nuclear war. If the current system is incapable of dealing with these crises, he argues, it’s up to us to radically change it. These ten interviews examine the latest developments around the globe: the devastation of Syria, the reach of state surveillance, growing anger over economic inequality, the place of religion in American political culture, and the bitterly contested 2016 U.S. presidential election. In accompanying personal reflections, Chomsky describes his own intellectual journey and the development of his uncompromising stance as America’s premier dissident intellectual.David Barsamian: One of America’s most tireless and wide-ranging investigative journalists, David Barsamian has altered the independent media landscape, both with his weekly radio show Alternative Radio—now in its 32th year—and his books with Noam Chomsky, Eqbal Ahmad, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Richard Wolff, Arundhati Roy and Edward Said. His new book with Noam Chomsky is Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy. He lectures on world affairs, imperialism, capitalism, propaganda, the media, the economic crisis and global rebellions.
David Barsamian is the winner of the Media Education Award, the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism, and the Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. The Institute for Alternative Journalism named him one of its Top Ten Media Heroes. He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. In 2017 the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy presented him with their Lifetime Achievement Award. He has collaborated with the world-renowned Kronos Quartet in events in New York, London, Vienna, Boulder and elsewhere.
Barsamian was deported from India due to his work on Kashmir and other revolts. He is still barred from traveling to “the world’s largest democracy.”

Lindsay Brown is a Vancouver writer, designer and activist. Her book, Habitat 76, an illustrated history of Vancouver’s 1976 UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements was published in 2017.

Dionne Bunsha is an award-winning author and journalist. She is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat (Penguin India, 2006) about the aftermath of the communal violence in Gujarat. As a Senior Assistant Editor for Frontline magazine ( in Mumbai, India, she travelled extensively to report on human rights, social justice and environmental issues.  Dionne writes for The Guardian, The Hindu newspaper, the New Internationalist, Guernica, Toronto Star and The Tyee. Dionne was a Knight International Journalism Fellow at Stanford University in 2008-09. Currently, Dionne coordinates a project mapping indigenous knowledge for Lower Fraser First Nations and teaches communications at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.


Samir Gandesha is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. His recent books include  Reification and Spectacle: On the Timeliness of Western Marxism and Aesthetic Marx.

Annie Ross is an Indigenous (Maya) teacher and artist working along and with community in Canada. She teaches Environmental Ethics in First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University.

Organized by South Asian Network for Secularism (SANSAD) and co-sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University