CERAS (Centre sur l’asie du sud/South Asia Centre)

As a direct challenge to India telling its citizens travelling to or living in Canada to “exercise utmost caution”, Montreal-based Indian diaspora groups held a speak-out to put the lie to this politics of hate and fear.

On 18 September, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau announced in the Canadian parliament that there were “credible allegations” of a link between the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjer in Canada in June this year and agents of the Indian state. India denied the allegations calling them “absurd”.  

After that Canada expelled Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai of the Research and Analysis Wing and  India expelled a senior Canadian diplomat and then stopped issuing visas for India from Canada.  Then India issued its warning to its citizens about Canada “in view of growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada”.

Since then, many people of Indian origin in Canada have been receiving worried enquiries from their families in India.  In response to which some of them took to twitter to say they felt absolutely  safe and there is no need for concern.  As a result of this they have received hate mail, being called desh virodhi and the like.

The speak-out was held to drive home the point that people of Indian origin in Canada are safe.   People who took the mike and spoke at the event came from organizations that have existed in Montreal for decades, working in the Indian and South Asian communities, such as the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC), the Immigrant Workers’ Centre (IWC), the Centre sur l’asie du sud (CERAS), South Asian Diaspora Action Collective (SADAC) and other women’s, migrant rights and housing groups.  They described how they have worked together without any conflict or sectarian or communal tensions, and that their struggles were about justice and equality, against racism and economic marginalization. They noted how working together over the years had contributed to relationships built on solidarity.   As such, they said it was important at this moment to demonstrate leadership to counter what they saw as incendiary allegations coming from India.

As Lily Paul of CERAS said, “today we have come out especially to speak back to the Modi government in India, and to stand up for minority rights across South Asia. We stand in solidarity in our communities here; we have come to say that we will not let the nationalist manipulations of the Modi government tear us apart.”  She drew attention to the invention of ‘Hinduphobia’ as a “strategy devised to silence” critiques of casteism and the treatment of minorities in India, and that they need to alert the Canadian public about the “spurious invention, ‘Hinduphobia’.

There were representatives from other minority groups in other parts of South Asia, such as Pakistani Christians, who said that their communities in their home countries faced persecution and attacks.  Many speakers reiterated that rather than safety in Canada, there was deep concern about what was happening to minorities in India. The concerns of the South Asian groups were also mirrored in those of other speakers, representing organizations such as the International Women’s Alliance.

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