Category Archives: Bulletin Board

Uphold independence and freedom of press

SANSAD News-release June 8, 2017

Uphold the Independence and freedom of the Press

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the Central Bureau of Investigation raid on the offices of NDTV and the residence of its owners in and around New Delhi on June 4 as a blatant politically motivated attempt to intimidate and silence its independent and critical voice. NDTV is one of the most respected and influential media outlets in India, and one of the very few such voices left in an increasingly gloomy mediascape. The current raid is the latest of a series of episodes of harassment faced by NDTV, which the government had tried to shut down for 24 hours in 2016 as punishment for its coverage of the terrorist attack on the military base in Pathankot.

Journalism in India is in a state of acute crisis. Most of the mainstream media is owned by a small number of corporate houses whose owners are also intimately connected with the ruling BJP and the government of Narendra Modi. Indeed, NDTV too is indebted to Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India and owner of Reliance corporation, and has promoted the interests of the BJP and the multinational, Vedanta. Such corporate and political domination ensures that the media presents the official narrative of the party and the government without question and has established hyper-nationalism as hegemonic. Any dissent is branded “anti-national” , with the cry taken up by an increasingly mobilized section of the populace affiliated with the party or its various social forms who hound the culprit  on social media or attempt to silence her/him with physical violence. In addition, any media attempting to cast a critical eye on the government and its friends is  branded “Presstitute” by the ruling politicians and their supporters bringing the media into disrepute. Since Modi’s coming to power in 2014 it has become almost impossible to expose manipulated data and opaque government operations. This is the background against which the President of India recently affirmed in an important speech to journalists that discussion and dissention were essential to a vibrant democracy and public institutions had to be held accountable for all their actions and inactions.

India has 406 news channels in various languages and tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines. Yet this year it has fallen 3 places to 136th among 180 countries ranked in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which places India below Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates. This is not surprising given the Hindu nationalist’s rampage to cleanse India of all “anti-nationalist” thought, as a result of which in 2014 at least 114 journalists were attacked, with only 32  attackers arrested, and between January 2016 and April 2017 there have been 54 attacks reported though the actual number is much higher since many attacks are unreported because of threats from politicians, police, and the vigilantes.

We, members of the South Asian diaspora in Canada stand in solidarity with the many brave people of India fighting for democracy against fascistic developments and with the courageous journalists and independent media engaged in the struggle for press freedom, which is the bedrock of all democracy.  We applaud the declaration of NDTV that it will fight all attempts to bully it. We demand that the government of India stop using the institutions of the state to attack the freedom of the press and take appropriate action against those who use violence to silence critical voices.

Being Here Differently: SANSAD youth forum

Being Here Differently: South Asian Youth Voices

Public Forum: Surrey Centre Library, Ambedkar Room: # 418, 10350 University Drive, Surrey, June 24, 2017, 2 PM – 5 PM

Despite many differences the South Asian community shares several concerns. First generation immigrants maintain their link with their homeland, often engaging passionately with issues there, struggling to preserve the old culture in the new land, even as they establish themselves here and fight for their recognition and rights. The generation born here have a very different experience. This is their homeland and yet they are always different: they are different both at home, where they bring the new culture and its concerns into a space that doesn’t quite understand them and outside, where their difference of origin is almost always an issue.

How is this difference experienced? What strategies do youth use to deal with the tensions they must cope with? What are the problems they share as South Asian youth? How do their concerns differ from the concerns of the older generation? These are some of the questions that will be explored by a panel of South Asian youth. The goal is to understand what engages South Asian youth and how to build a bridge to communication.

Panel: Safder Raza, Sejal Lal, Jovian Radheswar, Samia Khan, Anna Makhdoom
Moderator: Zahid Makhdoom

Music: Jovian Radheswar and Sejal Lal

Refreshments will be served.

SANSAD News-release May 29, 2017

SANSAD Hails the Fight-back against Oppression of Dalits

SANSAD hails the formation of the Bhim Army in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, as the instrument of fight-back against persistent caste discrimination and the recent spate of violence against Dalits. The Bhim Army, named after Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the great champion of Dalits, has been in the forefront of the opposition against upper-caste Rajput violence against Dalits in Saharanpur which has been aided by the state. Two Dalits have been killed in this violence and sixty Dalit homes burnt while the state has arrested several Dalits and is conducting a witch-hunt against the leader and members of the Bhim Army. In protest the Bhim Army organized a rally of thousands in New Delhi on May 22 at the popular site of Jantar Mantar in defiance of the police refusal to grant them permission.

The Bhim Army was created by the young Dalit lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad in 2015 in response to the discrimination experienced by him and his fellow Dalits in school, where they were beaten up for drinking water, not cleaning benches or sweeping floors, or for studying too hard and what he learnt of the ordeals of his father, who as a chamar, a member of the leather-working caste, had faced constant humiliation for his low social status despite being the headmaster of a school. In two years it has spread across several states and attracted more than 40,000 members. It also runs 300 schools for Dalit children in and around Saharanpur. Its tactics of direct action have appealed to long-suffering Dalits who are disappointed at the absence of mainstream Dalit politicians from the scenes of violence. Many have come out in support of the Bhim Army in the face of the former Chief Minister of UP and leader of the BSP, the party of Dalits, Mayawati’s comments (The Hindu, May 28, 2017) labelling the Bhim Army the creation of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, BJP. Prominent Dalit public intellectual, Anand Teltumbde has called the Bhim Army a byproduct of the failures of BSP and sees in it the “potential to transcend the BSP and present a new politics of emancipation of the Dalits” (Indian Express, May 29).

Against this background SANSAD commends Chetna Association of Canada, Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation, Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University, and Department of Asian Studies, Centre for India and South Asia Research, and Buddhism and Contemporary Society program at University of British Columbia for coming together to establish the annual Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver, BC. This important lecture series was announced at a celebration of Dr. Ambedkar Day held in Surrey Centre Library on April 10. The event was dedicated to the memory of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad who was pushed to suicide by societal, political, and administrative oppression in February, 2016.

Dr. Anne Murphy and Dr. Sara Shneiderman, representing UBC, said “Dr. Ambedkar has shaped our world today in fundamental ways, through his work as an activist-scholar; as architect of the Indian constitution and, through it, the implementation of structural forces for equity within an inequitable structure; and as Buddhist philosopher, organizer, and practitioner. Bringing greater knowledge of scholarship about Dr. Ambedkar and his work, as well as about issues related to caste and inequality in South Asian societies in broader terms, to students, faculty, and the public at large will allow for a fuller understanding of South Asian societies and histories, and will resonate deeply with ongoing issues in Canadian society.”

Institute for the Humanities, SFU said in a message: “Dr. Ambedkar, as well as Rohith Vemula, exemplified the moral compass that we so desperately seek today at a time when we are witnessing the ascendancy of a despotic intolerance.

 

Dr. Ambedkar once said: ‘cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.’ With the marriage of the corporeal and the corporate, we are at a unique juncture in human history that threatens to destroy the essence of our humanity. By instilling a passion and commitment to justice, education could provide the necessary counter force to this trend.

The Institute for the Humanities are committed to Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy of social liberation and justice. We are honored to be partners in this homage paid to this legacy through the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture, which embodies Dr. Ambedkar’s important message. ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’

The message from Hari Sharma Foundation read, “Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy remains vital because it challenges all settled beliefs and orthodoxy and calls for a fundamental examination of society  in order to topple its structures of oppression. It calls on scholarship to provide the ground for a social transformation in which the annihilation of caste will also be the annihilation of class and bring about the liberation that will be the coming into being of the truly Human.”

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) is proud to stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Dalits in India and the diaspora and honored to report the establishment of the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver that will extend this struggle.

 

SANSAD deplores violence against Dalits In UP

SANSAD News-release, May 15. 2017

SANSAD deplores on-going violence against Dalits

Brutal, systemic violence against Dalits is woven into the fabric of Hindu society in India and persists despite constitutional guarantees of the rights of citizenship. Every day brings news of some atrocity against these historical victims of caste oppression. South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), an organization of the South Asian diaspora in Canada utterly deplores the latest of these in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) recently won the state elections and appointed a HIndu priest and ultra-nationalist, Yogi Adityanath, as Chief Minister.

On May 5 a procession celebrating the Rajput king Maharana Pratap, playing loud music, was taken out by the Rajputs, the dominant caste in the area, through a Dalit neighborhood in a village in Saharanpur. As this was in violation of a government ban on such processions in this area with volatile caste relations and Dalits had earlier been denied permission to celebrate the birth anniversary of their icon, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Dalits protested against the procession.  In the ensuing clashes a Rajput died of unknown causes and several Dalits were injured. While the police remained inactive but arrested several Dalits, the Rajputs retaliated by burning down 60 homes in Shabbirpur village and unleashing an attack in which several Dalits were injured and sent to hospital. More than half the Dalit homes in the village were locked up and abandoned as people fled in fear of further violence from the upper caste or the police.

On May 9 the Bheem Army, a Dalit organization created by the local young lawyer, Chandrashekhar, called a peaceful rally in Saharanpur to protest the violence against Dalits in Shabbirpur village, seek compensation for the victims, and demand that the police release the arrested Dalits and take action against the upper-caste culprits. However, this was met with a baton-charge by the police with the allegation that the rally had been illegally organized by the use of social media, leading to dispersed violence through two cities, in which a police station was attacked and several vehicles  set on fire.

While no one from the government has visited Shabbirpur village and no compensation has been offered to the Dalits who lost their homes, though the dead Rajput’s family has been compensated, the police are conducting a witch hunt for members of the Bheem Army and its leader, Chandrashekhar. It is understood that the state government wants to charge Chandrashekhar under the National Security Act (NSA), though the Bheem Army’s protest against caste violence has no bearing on national security. We condemn this violence of caste society and its state against Dalits.  We demand that the witch hunt against Bheem Army and Chandrashekhar be withdrawn and the victims of caste violence be duly compensated.