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article imageSikh Vaisakhi parade marred by terrorist images on float.

By Hans Smedbol     Apr 20, 2010 in World
Surrey - Surrey's Mayor Diane Watts was amazed and annoyed by the apparent disregard, by organisers, of a promise made to display no controversial, or terrorist inspired floats in the traditional Vaisakhi Day Parade held Saturday in Surrey.
Mayor Dianne Watts of Surrey, B.C., Canada, was amazed and angered Saturday, April 17, when she attended a traditional Vaisakhi Day Festival Parade held in that city by the Sikh community. Despite assurances that there would be no controversial floats in attendance at the parade, she was unhappy to discover that one of the floats displayed controversial pictures and literature, as well as the putative flag of Khalistan, glorifying the Sikh "martyrs" of the struggle between Sikh extremists and the Indian Government over the last many years, in their efforts to establish a Sikh fundamentalist homeland in part of the Punjab, under the name "Khalistan".
What was worse was that these "martyrs" have been labelled terrorists and supporters of terrorism in Canada as well as in India, from where many Sikhs had fled to avoid arrest and imprisonment, settling in Canada as "refugees" from the Indian justice system. Featured posters on the float depicted founders of the "Free Khalistan" movement of extremist Sikhs, as well as two men who are alleged to have been involved in the murder of the former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. There was a motto prominently displayed on the float, also, which stated: "They gave their tomorrows for our today."
As CBC News reported, the Mayor said "That float has no place in this parade and I will not participate in an event where that float is, and we were very clear with the organizers,"
Watts, who was herself, dressed in traditional Sikh attire, for the festival, to which she had been invited, also reportedly said she had been assured that there would be no controversial floats in this year's parade, and stated "city officials will review the parade and may not grant the event a license next year." As soon as she saw the controversial float coming, she immediately left the scene, refusing to take part, and returned only after the float was gone.
The Vancouver Sun wrote said: "Vaisakhi Day marks both the new year and the anniversary of one of Sikhism's most important events, the establishment of Khalsa in 1699." What the article didn't say is that Vaisakhi Day is also celebrated as a commemoration of the Vaisakhi day in 1978, when 100 Sikh protesters were "martyred" in Amritsar, Punjab, India, when they apparently objected to a dissident sect, the "Nirankaris" putting on a parade exalting their "Guru", whom they apparently held to be higher than the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's most Holy book. This is anathema to traditional Sikhs, who believe that their Holy Book is the only Guru now for them.
Because of the martyr issue being associated with Vaisakhi Day, many of the more extremist persuasion want to put the "martyrs'" pictures on a Vaisakhi Day float, to parade through town. It appears very difficult to extricate the mainstream Vaisakhi festival from the martyr entanglement, because it has been there as an important part of the Sikh (especially the extreme Sikh) consciousness for a long time. Even the commemoration of the founding of the Sikh Khalsa is drenched in the blood of "martyrs", the blood of the founder's father, Guru Teg Bahadur, and his advisers, when they were slaughtered by the Mogul emperor, Aurangzeb, because they would not convert to Islam.
On a side note, Vaisakhi Day is also celebrated by Buddhists as Wesak, and commemorates the day that the Buddha was born, as Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakya Clan, into a royal house in North India. The Buddha, after growing up in the lap of luxury, renounced it all, and went to live in the woods seeking "enlightenment" as to the nature of human life.
The traditional Vaisakhi Day Parade had also drawn fire the previous day, when fomer B.C. Premier, Ujjal Dosanjh, and current B.C. Liberal MLA, David Hayer, had been snubbed by the parade organisers with what appeared to them to be a very serious threat against their lives, when it was suggested on a radio show, by an organiser, that they should stay away, and that if they did come, they should be very sure to bring their own security, hinting at the distinct possibility of extremist violence, should they appear at the parade.
"Inderjit Singh Bains", relates the Vancouver Sun, "an organizer of the parade, made the comments Thursday morning on The Gurvinder Dhaliwal Show on the Sher-E-Punjab radio station."
This is particularly disturbing in the light of the fact that both Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Hayer are Sikhs themselves, although moderates, who condemn the violent methods used by the extremists to secure their goals. This opposition to violence as a legitimate political expression, has already gotten Mr. Dosanjh a severe beating back in the 1980's when his outspoken appeal for moderation, and his condemnation of violence annoyed many of the more extreme members of the "Free Khalistan" movement. So Mr. Dosanjh is no stranger to the "weightier" forms of politics practiced by some of them, when deemed necessary.
Mr. Hayer, too, is no stranger to the blunter forms of expression used by Sikh extremists who would rather that people who know things, should either be silent, or be silenced. His father Tara Singh Hayer was attacked by assassins twice, once in 1988, when he was left paralyzed and in a wheel chair after being shot in the back, and later in 1998, shortly before he was to testify at the Air India trial against the accused leaders of the Khalistan movement. He did not survive this attack, and a valuable witness was lost to the Prosecution. It was suggested that there should be a far more vigorous witness protection program in Canada, to encourage witnesses to come forward to testify. Unfortunately, the weakness of the system left potential witnesses too exposed and vulnerable to threats by the extremists, and so the Prosecution of the Air India trial found their witnesses melting away in denials and recanting of their previous testimonies. The result was an aquittal of the suspects. It was against this kind of violence and intimidation that Mr. Dosanjh and Mr Hayer Sr. were speaking, when they too suffered the consequences of openly opposing the Khalistan faction of Sikhs.
Mr. Dosanjh said that usually he would not attend the festival anyways, as he is not religious, and the festival has religious overtones, as well as being exploited by the extremists. As a precautionary measure, Mr. Dosanjh passed his concerns on to the local RCMP for investigation. Mayor Watts also lodged a complaint with the RCMP over the issue.
Current B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, also stayed away from the parade after his demands of the organisers for an public apology to Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Hayer, went officially unacknowledged and unanswered by the parade organisers.
"Unless there has been a direct apology to the two individuals that were mentioned ... I would find it difficult agreeing to go," Campbell said Friday.
One organiser, Moninder Singh of the Dasmesh Darbar temple, insisted that no threat was implied, furthermore insisted it was all a misunderstanding and suggested that any politician who came might want to have their own security, as the organisers would provide none. He also stated:
"There is no invitation that's sent, so we can't really invite somebody to come, and if they show up there is nothing stopping them from attending...Technically at the end of the day, the RCMP and security services are all throughout the parade and they ensure the safety of everyone there, so those comments I think are taken out of context."
CBC News tells us that despite promises made to the Surrey Mayor, and possibly to others, the Parade organisers had been promising to put the flag of Khalistan on every float this year, also depicting images of the so-called "martyrs" of Khalistan, in commemoration of the struggle by Sikh nationalists and separatists with the Government of India in their efforts to establish a Sikh homeland in a part of the Punjab,
by the name of Khalistan. Links to information about the "martyrs" and "Khalistan" have been given above.
It can be hard for someone who is not a member of the community to attempt to gauge whether the Sikh extremists attract the affections and longings of the majority of Sikhs, or whether they might support such a "homeland" idea, but may not agree with the violent means espoused by some of their more aggressive "brothers". It appears that the majority of Sikhs living in Canada, and in the Greater Vancouver area (including Surrey) are not as extreme as what the Babbar Khalsa faction represents, promoting violence as a legitimate form of political expression.
Many may have a fondness for the ideals, and even honour the "martyrs" so to speak, but they are likely not so interested in pursuing murder, as a form of intervention in affairs, if things are not going their way. However most of them would likely also be easily cowed by the "bullies" in the Babbar Khalsa bunch of heroes. After all some of these "heroes" allegedly saw fit to murder MLA Dave Hayer's father and to beat Ujjal Dosanjh severely because neither of them would "follow" orders. Both gentlemen decried the violence that was causing such fear in the community, and were themselves felled (although only temporarily for Mr. Dosanjh!) by the propagators of that fear.
Gurpreet Singh wrote in the Straight voicing concerns of moderate Sikhs, wherein he complained about the amount of attention devoted to the extremists, and suggested that most of the Sikh community does not support them in their violent ways.
One publication by extremist Sikhs in America,in an article relating the New York City, N.Y., U.S.A.Vaisakhi Day Parade and festival also loudly editorialised in support of the Surrey parade's organisers and especially pointed out their approval of the float with the "martyrs" so prominently displayed, along with the flag of "Khalistan, "American Sikhs support the defiant stand of Canadian Sikhs on the issue of display of photographs of Sikh martyrs of Khalistan on parades.",wrote the journal Daily Burning Panjab.
This is a long simmering issue in India, and it is a long simmering issue here in Canada. Despite the fervent wishes of moderates and the rest of Canadians, it does not appear to be going away any time soon. What the solution to this issue might be, is unknown at present, but we pray with all our hearts that one might be found before any more lives are lost in this unending struggle in our Sikh communities, both in India and in Canada.
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