Category Archives: Statements/News Releases

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.

Passing of a pillar of progressive South Asian community

DR. HASSAN NAWAZ GARDEZI

(19 February 1933 – 20 April 2017)

Dr. Hassan Nawaz Gardezi, one of the founding members of the Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians, passed on early this morning in Peterborough General Hospital. He truly had remained a lifelong and a tireless activist for justice, peace, secularism, and socialism, a huge inspiration to its members, friends, and associates. Death of a human being is always a sad affair. Somehow death of an individual always creates big craters in the lives of those who survive to see another day. But, when a person of such an intellectual and academic presence and stature, like Professor Gardezi, leaves from our midst the void left is simply impossible to bridge, the sorrow that follows exacts an enormous toll, the scars of the loss become indelible. Although his loss is impossible to even fathom, his contributions shall forever live to produce a universe of possibilities, a pathway to a just and a fair society.

Professor Gardezi had taught sociology to several cohorts in the reputable Canadian, American, and Pakistani universities. A large number of his students went on to become professors, journalists, writers, judges, lawyers, trade unionists. Many developed and maintained a lifelong relationship with him and his thoughtful spouse, Rosalie Gardezi. Whether in Pakistan or in Ontario or any place else that the Gardezis lived, their home was always a meeting place where intellectuals, activists, mandarins, and bohemians congregated. Lively discussions and debates were always welcomed. Hassan and Rosalie’s calming presence and amazing hospitality was a constant at these events.

After his retirement from being the head of the Department of Sociology at Algoma University at Sault Ste. Marie, Dr. Gardezi and Rosalie moved to Peterborough, Ontario. The choice of Peterborough was logical to them as their children were attending at the nearby universities. During his years of retirement, Hassan, maintained an exemplary life of an intellectual. Publishing regularly, attending and presenting papers at international conferences, engaging in activism for justice, peace, secularism, and socialism. He also wrote beautiful poems in his first language, Siraiki. He translated some classic Sufi tracts from the Siraiki language into the English language. His two-volume biography of Dada Amir Haider Khan, a leader of the Communist Party of India, presents a remarkable account of the emancipatory movements in the colonized South Asia and their nexus with the workers and peasant movements throughout the world.

As a visionary, Hassan always encouraged younger comrades and friends to organize. He indeed played a big part in organization of numerous organisations and associations struggling for just, fair, and peaceful society. Indeed, Hassan was instrumental in the organization of the CPPC. His vision is reflected in the mission of the CPPC. While we are still struggling to cope with the loss of this remarkable person, we continue to bask in the light of his vision, his compassionate and thoughtful fellowship and friendship, his unfathomable wisdom and generosity. Our hearts are with Rosalie and their beautiful children. May we all and may the Gardezis find peace.

False charges as instrument of terror

SANSAD News-release, November 12, 2016

Dismiss false charges against human rights defenders

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), an organization of the South Asian Diaspora in Canada, utterly deplores the shocking charges of “criminal conspiracy” and “murder” laid against Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology at Delhi University, professor Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University, several political rights and adivasi rights activists and others by Chattisgarh police on October 5.

These charges were laid in regard to the killing of adivasi villager, Shamnath Baghel by Maoists in Nama village in Bastar on the night of October 4. According to the police they were laid in response to the naming of the accused by Shamnath’s wife, Vimala Baghel. However, Vimala  Baghel has said in an interview with NDTV that she did not recognize any of the armed attackers and had been instructed by the police to not talk to outsiders and the media.

These absurd charges against professors Sundar and Prasad and others engaged in bringing to light the atrocities of the police and the adivasis militia armed by the police against other adivais suspected of sympathizing with Maoists is only the latest episode in a long campaign to “pacify” the tribals who are resisting the destruction of their land and forest habitat by mining companies. Nandini Sundar has been exposing the fake encounters, rapes, custodial torture and deaths for more than ten years. In 2007 she, Ramchandra Guha, and E. A. S. Sharma had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court against Salwa Judum, an armed militia set up by the police, leading to the Supreme Court’s banning of  this organization as unconstitutional. In May 2016 Sundar and others had visited Nama village on a fact finding  mission to investigate atrocities and published a report that was critical of both the police and Maoists.

It is standard procedure for states to impose information blackout in areas where state terror is used against the people, whether it be to crush the resistance to resource extraction or the demand for autonomy. The absence of information is then filled with propaganda that justifies the repression. This is amply illustrated by developments in India, nowhere more clearly than in the tribal belt and Kashmir. These practices were pioneered by colonial powers, who also developed the tactic of arming and empowering one section of the oppressed group against the other.

There has been an escalation of attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and academics reporting on atrocities in Chattisgarh in the past year: adivasi human rights activist Soni Sori had acid thrown on her face following intense hararssment on February 20, and at the same time the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group faced a campaign of intimidation and eviction that forced them to leave the area. Journalist Malini Subramanian and social scientist Bela Bhatia too faced similar harassment compelling them to leave the area where they had been investigating atrocities. As in the events of February the false charges against Nandini Sundar and others flow  from the recent  Central Bureau of Investigation charge sheet against special police officers in Chattisgarh finding them responsible for burning down three villages in 2011 for which initially Maoists had been blamed. The charge sheets had been immediately followed by the burning of effigies of Nandini Sundar and other human rights activists by armed auxiliary forces personnel across Bastar range under the direction of the police.

As civil society groups in India have recognized in a series of statements and meetings the intense attack on all efforts to bring to light the atrocities committed by the police against adivasis is taking place today within a general assault on civil society. Freedom of information, enquiry, and expression is severely under stress in India today.

We demand that the false charges against Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad and others be immediately withdrawn.

We further demand that an independent fact finding mission be established to investigate the atrocities in Chattisgarh.

—Thirty—

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), www.sansad.org