South Asia

South Asia (7)

Saturday, 16 January 2016 20:42

Solheim Calls on Diaspora to Work on Peace

Written by
by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
 
The Sri Lankan civil war holds many a lesson for the island-nation's diaspora community in Canada and the world in general, according to Erik Solheim, former Norwegian Minister for International Development and for the Environment. Solheim's name is synonymous with peacemaking in Sri Lanka. 
 
“My biggest sorrow was that thousands of Tamils died unnecessarily due to lack of vision from both the Sinhala and Tamil leadership,” he said in Toronto this week, lamenting the futility of the civil war.
 
The country having gained a measure of calm in recent years, Solheim called on the diaspora community to participate in the South Asian nation's economy and thereby help heal the ethnic fault line. It has long been suspected that the country's Tamil diaspora worldwide, including its largest presence here in Canada, helped fuel the civil war through remittances and arms shipments. 
 
From 2000 to 2005, Solheim was the main negotiator of the process that led to a ceasefire agreement between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early 2002 and the Oslo Declaration.
 
“Around that time, I was the most well-known foreigner in Sri Lanka next only to [then U.S. President] George Bush,” he recalled. “Also, I am the sole non-Tamil who has had the most face time with [LTTE chief] Velupillai Prabhakaran.”
 
Role of diaspora
 
Solheim was in Canada this week for the launch of To End a Civil War, a book by Mark Salter on Norway’s peace efforts to end the island nation’s bitter fight.
 
He referred to the formation of an air force by the LTTE, the first by a non-state player that was made possible by diaspora contributions. “While it was an impressive achievement, it made absolutely no impact on the final outcome of the war.”
 
Currently the Chairperson of the Development Assistance Committee for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Solheim said apart from political initiatives, a lasting solution to the ethnic fault line can be achieved through rapid economic growth. 

Describing the Tamil diaspora as among the most successful in the world, he said it could play a big role in Sri Lanka’s growth.
 
“You now need to go back to invest and put your expertise to use,” he told a  largely Tamil audience at the Toronto book launch. “More so because diasporas are generally made up of the most industrious of a populace.”
 
Bipartisan consensus
 
The peacemaker suggested that a bipartisan consensus between Sri Lanka's major political parties would further help the healing. The lack of such a consensus between the historically-opposed Sinhala political parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), had played a role in prolonging the civil war. He hoped the current bipartisan administration of President Maithripala Sirisena (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP) can see through the process of rewriting the country’s constitution and move ahead on transitional justice.
 
Author Mark Salter said the importance of achieving bipartisan consensus is evident elsewhere. “Peace in Northern Ireland is a prime example of buy-in by all factions involved in a conflict.” 
 
Salter said the inability of the then Wickremesinghe government to explain the peace dividend in simple terms to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population was a key factor in the failure of the Sri Lankan peace process. Buddhists account for over 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people.
 
Looking back
 
Solheim said he wished he had a bigger and broader team to engage more broadly with key groups on the island, including Buddhist leaders. “We should have also insisted on better access to Prabhakaran and spoken to him more often.”
 
In his opinion, Prabhakaran was a brilliant military leader, but a failed politician. “He thought every issue had a military solution and went on to make many wrong decisions.”
 
It was exacerbated by the death of LTTE political ideologue Anton Balasingham. “Prabhakaran became very isolated and was pushed to the wall. There was not one meaningful initiative from him in an international context.”
 
Solheim said straight-talking Balasingham was able to give his Norwegian team a unique insight into the LTTE’s leadership. “He never lied to us.”
 
He said Prabhakaran’s biggest mistake was his decision to assassinate former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. “It was an astronomical blunder that finally led to the LTTE’s destruction [in May 2009].” Solheim said Sri Lanka’s destiny is tied to India on many counts, with close proximity to its giant South Asian neighbour being one. “If one wanted, you could take a boat to Chennai from Jaffna, watch a movie and return.”
 
Canada's "We're back"
 
His Norwegian team had been in constant touch with India and the U.S., the two big international players, throughout the peace process.
 
“No one nation can lead on all fronts in international affairs today,” Solheim told New Canadian Media when asked for his reaction to the new Canadian government’s global aspirations. “You must define a few areas of interest. But most importantly the desire to help must come from the heart.” 
 
Expressing delight over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s "We're back" pronouncements, he was planning to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion in Ottawa during his trip to the capital for the launch of Salter’s book.
 
The Toronto launch was organized by Sri Lankans Without Borders and was moderated by Amaranth Amarasingam of Dalhousie University.
 
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At least one Canadian is on a so-called global hit list of bloggers put out by Bangladeshi jihadist group Ansarullah which has vowed to take action against those it deems to have denigrated Islam.

The group named Raihan Abir editor of the Bengali-English blog Mukto-Mona, which has other Canadian contributors writing under pseudonyms among its stable of 300 writers from around the world.

Mukto-Mona started as an online discussion circle, but has now evolved into a social movement through blogs, activism and research. In English, the literal dictionary translation of "Muktomona" is freethinker. 

Prominent in the list is Bengali author Taslima Nasreen, who is presently staying under police protection in India, after fleeing Bangladesh 21 years ago in the face of death threats and fatwas from fundamentalists.

The list includes names of Abdul Ghaffar Choudhury (London), Dawood Haider (Germany), Banya Ahmed (US), Asif Mohiuddin (Germany), Ananya Azad (Germany), Omer Farooq Luqs (Germany), Farzana Kabir Khan (Germany), Naastiker Dharmakatha (Germany), Foring Camelia (Germany), Qamrul Hassan (London), Sushanta Dasgupta (London), Arifur Rehman(london), Ajanta Debroy (London), Maneer Hassan (Birmingham), Shantanu Adeeb (London), Nijhoom Majumdar (London), Rumala Hashem (London), Raihan Abir (Canada) and Nirjhar Majumdar (Sweden).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There have been reports in the media recently that Ansarullah activists are trying to cross over from Bangladesh to India to target Taslima Nasreen.[/quote]

At the bottom of the list, the extremist group Ansarullah has issued the following chilling threat: "Enemies of Islam and madrassa education, atheists, anti-Islamic apostates, Shahbagi bloggers, acting on behalf of India, are trying to set obstacles in the path of establishment of Islamic caliphate. We demand that the Bangladesh government cancel the citizenship of such enemies of Islam, otherwise we will liquidate them wherever we find them across the world. Our jihad will continue, Inshallah. Amen. - Ansarullah Bangla Team".

There have been reports in the media recently that Ansarullah activists are trying to cross over from Bangladesh to India to target Taslima Nasreen.
Ansarullah believes in the ideology of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda activist, and has been involved in the gruesome murders of at least four Bangladeshi freethinkers and bloggers including US-based Bengali writer Avijit Roy and blogger Washiqur Rahman.

Taslima Nasreen tweeted: "Ansarullah Team that killed B'deshi atheist bloggers just published global hit list of bloggers. My name is in the list." She has attached the photo of the hit list.

Police have linked Ansarullah Bangla Team to the recent murders of five secularist bloggers in Bangladesh, and arrested seven of its members, Dhakar police joint Commissioner Monirul Islam said.

He said there was little threat to society within Bangladesh, where more than 90 per cent of the 160 million people are practising Muslims, Asia Times reported.

Fear for the future

Many intellectuals, especially among the Bangladeshi diaspora, do fear for the future however, and worry that the South Asian country could be seen as a safe destination for radical Islamists if the blogger killers are not caught and prosecuted.

Four of the bloggers were killed this year alone.

Bangladeshi-born U.S. writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death by unidentified assailants on February 26 when leaving a university book fair in Dhaka with his wife.

Oyeshekur Rahman Babu, an atheist writer, was chopped to death in central Dhaka on March 30, after he criticized Islam, followed by the killing of science writer Ananta Bijoy Das in a similar attack in the north-eastern city of Sylhet on May 12.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who campaigns for secularism beside Islam as a state religion, was criticized for requesting local bloggers and activists “not to cross the limit” over sensitive religious issues after blogger Niladri Chattapadhay was killed in another gruesome murder in Dhaka on August 7.

Writers around the world chime in

For critics, the government’s stance seems like double standards.

More than 150 writers from around the world, including Canada, issued an open letter this week to the Bangladeshi government after the killing of Ananta Bijoy Das.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][F]reedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution and one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[/quote]

The writers including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel and Colm Tóibín, in the letter said freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution and one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It called Bangladesh to provide protection and support to bloggers and other writers at risk in the South Asian country in line with Bangladesh’s obligations under national and international laws.

Lux said the death list was nothing new, and warned that the extremists could also strike others.

Like others who received it by email, he has taken precautions, he said, and is under German police protection.

The role of the government

Religion and secularism have frequently clashed in Bangladesh’s recent history.

Secularism was one of the basic principles of Bangladesh’s constitution when the Muslim-majority part of the then Pakistan (East Pakistan) became independent after a bloody war in 1971.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Whatever the official status of Islam, the individual’s freedom of expression must be protected, says Arifur Rahman, a writer living in London.[/quote]

But military-chief-turned-president Ziaur Rahman began the process of Islamizing the constitution after the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Ziaur Rahman gave way to the Islamists, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami party which opposed Bangladesh during the war.

Military dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad, who took over shortly after Ziaur Rahman’s murder in 1981, formalized Islam as the state religion in 1988.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mujibur Rahman’s daughter, brought back secularism in the constitution in 2011, while keeping Islam as the state religion.

With the political stakes high in Bangladesh’s sharply divided politics, analysts say Hasina would never put her popularity at risk by repealing the state religion.

Whatever the official status of Islam, the individual’s freedom of expression must be protected, says Arifur Rahman, a writer living in London.

The government had a duty to “create an atmosphere where everyone can express their opinion without fear,” he said.


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Sunday, 28 June 2015 09:41

Sing Your Way to Punjabi

Written by

Preet Sandhu Dhillon has taken what kids and babies naturally do and made it a teaching tool. 

“Singing to babies and children comes naturally. We all do it. Children also love music and it’s a very powerful tool for language exposure,” says Dhillon, who has three children.

She and her team of producers and musicians put together catchy and easy to sing-along tunes to expose children to Punjabi numbers, colours, animals and body parts in their first children’s album Punj Nikkay Bandar.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is going to be a very powerful tool in helping to preserve the Punjabi language.” - Preet Sandhu Dhillon[/quote]

Dillion looked for professionally performed Punjabi songs with a good beat; she found the quality of songs available was lacking, too religiously based or not developmentally appropriate for preschool aged children. That inspired her to create her own album that kids and parents could sing along. 

“This is going to be a very powerful tool in helping to preserve the Punjabi language,” says Dillion. 

Punj Nikkay Bandar is a children’s music playlist with tunes that are familiar and catchy, and will introduce the Punjabi language to all listeners.

Tracks include: "Baabay Budday Da Si Khait" ("Old Macdonald Had a Farm"), "Angootha Kithay Ah?" ("Where is Thumbkin?"), "Jay Kushi Hundi Ah Gidha Pao" ("If You’re Happy and You Know It") and many more.

Punj Nikkay Bandar can be purchased on iTunes and on Amazon.

Published in Partnership with South Asian Post.

Friday, 05 June 2015 12:55

Akali Dal Seeks Sikh Votes in Canada

Written by

India’s oldest regional political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which rules Punjab, is sending special teams to Canada to woo votes from Sikhs who have left their homeland.

For the first time in its 95-year history, the party will send out a large contingent of senior leaders led by state cabinet ministers to woo the so-called Non-Resident Indians or NRIs to set up a structured organization and create a SAD base outside India.

"I am sending teams of my party in June-end to set up our organization in America, Canada and Europe," SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal told the Times of India. 

"We will start a membership drive in these countries with each member getting a digital identity card."

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.[/quote]

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will initially focus on the diaspora in the U.S., Canada and the EU. It will divide each of these regions into four zones and appoint a president in each zone. In the second phase they will head to Australia and New Zealand.

"We will create an entire organization with vice-presidents, general secretaries, working committee members, unit heads," Sukhbir added. "In October, I want to invite my presidents from around the world."

According to his plan over the next 45 days, three teams will visit various countries one after another. 

They will meet community leaders and also arrange some large gatherings. Each team will be led by a Cabinet minister. The teams will also identify people who are ideologically compatible so that they can be given important positions.

The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.

Presently, the Akali Dal is in alliance with the BJP and forms a majority in the state, with 56 of its own members and 12 members of the BJP in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The current Chief Minister of the state is Sukhbir Singh Badal’s father and party patron Prakash Singh Badal. 

The Akali Dal controls the various Sikh religious bodies and is highly revered among Sikhs in the country as well as across the world, for its efforts to safeguard religious, cultural and linguistic minorities. 

Following the Prime Minister's Lead

The move to woo the Sikh vote around the world comes at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set new standards in engagement with NRIs during his various trips abroad, including Canada in the past year.

It also follows fears of heightened Sikh militant activities by supporters of the Khalistan movement, which is seeking an independent homeland of Punjab.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy.[/quote]

In 2011, the Canadian Government estimated there to be at least 800,000 Sikhs living in Canada.

Observers said the SAD has a fairly tough task when seeking to secure the support of Sikhs overseas as many of the opinion makers in the diaspora were hardliners who had fled Punjab during the militancy era.

However, the SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy. They now want the influence they wield over their community to translate into some kind of say in the affairs of Punjab.

"Have you ever noticed that all prime ministers from countries where there are Punjabis come and visit the Golden Temple?" Sukhbir told the Indian media recently. "Because they need votes there, they have to be seen at the Darbar Sahib. They have to be seen with us."

Virtually every Canadian politician makes a beeline for Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Punjab, for photo ops when in India.
Canada’s relationship with India’s central government in New Delhi and the state government of Punjab has been testy.

In August 2013, Sukhbir had cancelled his 10-day visit to Canada after the Canadian government said it would not provide immunity against any civil suit that may be filed against him there. 

Sikh groups in Canada had tried to file a case against him and Punjab police chief Sumedh Singh Saini for "crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, seeking an independent Sikh country, “Ontario Gurdwaras Committee” (OGC) a Canadian umbrella Sikh organization passed a historic resolution in support of holding a referendum in the state of Punjab in the year 2020.

Since the military invasion of Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in June 1984 in the operation code named “Blue Star”, Canadian Sikhs have been supporting the movement for creation of “Khalistan”, a sovereign Sikh country. 

The OGC said that on May 3, a gathering of more than 150,000 Canadian Sikhs unanimously passed the Punjab Referendum Resolution during annual Khalsa Day parade in Toronto.

Chanting slogans in favour of Independent Sikh country, participants walked over 11 kilometres from Malton to Sikh Spiritual Centre Toronto carrying placards demanding referendum in the state of Punjab.


Published in Partnership with South Asian Post

 

by Themrise Khan in Ottawa 

While the mainstream media definitely covers stories of local politicians’ victories and foreign leaders’ visits to Canada, what is sometimes missing from the coverage is the 'ethnic' story angle relating directly to the many Diaspora communities settling in Canada. That's why ethnic media outlets are vital to our country's media make-up. In this edition of PULSE we explore five headlines relating to the Pakistani-Canadian diaspora making waves in ethnic media outlets. 

Pakistani-Canadians Unsuccessful in Mississauga Ward 4 By-Elections 

After earning a total of 1,565 votes, John Kovac was the winner of the Mississauga Ward 4 by-elections held in April, reported the Urdu Post. 

Several candidates from the Pakistani community also contested the by-elections, but unfortunately, did not fare as well. Rabia Khedr garnered 850 votes, Arshad Mahmood received 265 votes and Ameer Ali received only 95 votes out of a total of 9,000 votes cast.

Kovac, won slightly over 17 per cent of the popular vote, with a result that came as a surprise to many voters. Kovac ran a stellar campaign to become the youngest councillor to be elected in Mississauga with a winning margin of almost 100 votes over opponent Antoni Kanto who received 1,467 votes.

From a total of 27 candidates, only seven ran campaigns that could be considered as well organized as Kovac's.

Modi’s Visit to Canada: Kashmiri People Must be Allowed to Decide Own Future

Until the Kashmiri people are given the right to decide their own future, the struggle for freedom will continue.

This was the message put forward by Dr. Ghulam Abbas at a meeting held in Toronto in light of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to Canada in April, reported the Weekly Urdu Post Canada.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The meeting protested Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada and declared that in accordance with international law, India and Pakistan must withdraw their forces from Occupied Kashmir and allow the Kashmiri people to decide their own future.[/quote]

Thousands of Kashmiris have been killed in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir due to India’s forced occupation of the region and the Modi government has been accused of creating its own colonies to be able to crush the Kashmiri independence movement, reports the newspaper.

Members of this meeting further demanded that Canada should end all its agreements with India to convince it to allow the (disputed) state of Jammu and Kashmir to decide its own fate.

The meeting protested Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada and declared that in accordance with international law, India and Pakistan must withdraw their forces from Occupied Kashmir and allow the Kashmiri people to decide their own future.

Why are Pakistani-Canadians not Politically United? A Commentary.

The weak performance of Pakistani candidates in Canadian politics has prompted many in the community to question why they have not been able to achieve success.

A commentary by Masood Khan on this topic appeared in the May 6 edition of the Urdu Times, using the Mississauga Ward 4 by-elections as an example of this, where the few Pakistani-Canadians who contested, fared poorly.

Unlike the Indian community who are very politically and socially united, several Pakistani community members have made many attempts to contest in local ridings, but have not been very been successful in winning, despite their contributions to the community.

One of the reasons for this, the article suggests, is perhaps that many Pakistanis contest for nominations without having much experience in politics or, for that matter, working for the community. 

The analysis further states that thousands of people vie for nominations on local seats so candidates now need at least between 2,500 and 4,000 votes to win, which is far beyond the scope of the Pakistani community in many cases.

Alleged Irregularities Discovered in Selection of Brampton South Nominations

Unusual circumstances have prevented Nasir Hussain, the Liberal Party candidate in Brampton South, from securing a nomination for his party recently, reported the Urdu Times. Coming third place in the race has raised serious questions for all those who recognize Hussain as being a long-standing member of the local community and the Liberal Party for several years.

A sudden blackout on the day of polling at the station and unusual traffic conditions that blocked roads leading to the polling station were incidences that have raised suspicion amongst Hussain’s supporters. Investigations revealed that the reason for these occurances was a traffic accident close by that damaged an electrical pole.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]These incidences have raised many concerns amongst [Nasir] Hussain’s supporters, who feel the need to find out exactly why someone as popular as him was unable to secure the riding nomination. They want to protect the Liberal Party from such attacks in the future.[/quote]

But even if this was the case, the article continues, it still raises questions as to why there were not adequate measures made at the polling centre for backup generators, or an alternative route was not provided to those driving to the polling station.

Another major concern that raised suspicion of irregularities in the process, was the removal of Hussain’s chief polling agent on accusations of wrongdoing, which provided the opposing candidate the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, and ultimately, win.

This was followed by an altercation between the winning party and supporters of Hussain who claimed they were abused verbally in ways that did not reflect Canadian values.

These incidences have raised many concerns amongst Hussain’s supporters, who feel the need to find out exactly why someone as popular as him was unable to secure the riding nomination. They want to protect the Liberal Party from such attacks in the future.

The 100-Year Journey: A Story of South Asian Pioneers

With the help of funding from the Government, a project showcasing the contributions of South Asians in building Canada has been initiated to create awareness on the subject among the public at large.

According to The Canadian Times, Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney and state minister for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal (pictured to the right) announced that under the 100-year Journey Project, the Government of Canada would provide $200,000 to produce a book chronicling this journey. 

The book will contain stories of prominent South Asians who came to Canada in its early years and made significant contributions to the development of the country.


Themrise Khan is a freelance social policy research professional and a recent immigrant to Canada. She has a keen interest in issues of migration and migrant diasporas, as well as foreign policy and international relations.

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by Sharif Hasan (@sharifhasan80) in Ottawa

If the latest spring fashions are not in store to cheer Canadians at the end of yet another dreary winter, little noticed events in Bangladesh could be a plausible reason.

The South Asian country finds itself in the midst of another political standoff in the New Year affecting all economic activities including the export of garments for popular brands.

Trouble began when the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a rally to observe the first anniversary of last year’s January 5 election, which it boycotted, as “Death of Democracy Day”.

The government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party, which was planning a “Victory Day of Democracy” to mark the occasion, responded by banning the protest and locking up BNP leader Khaleda Zia in her office. Violent clashes between activists of the ruling party and the BNP ensued leading to several deaths. 

“It’s so frustrating! We have our family and friends there. Anyone can get killed or wounded anytime,” said Salehin Chowdhury, an employee of Statistics Canada. “The economy was thriving, but the political turmoil is going to spoil everything.”

These fears are justified as the political unrest has been hurting industry badly, especially the garment sector, which has been struggling to meet buyers’ deadlines. Around 80 per cent of the country’s export earnings come from garments.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 put our garments industry into big trouble, but with help from government and other organizations we have slowly recovered. And now this political unrest has created new pressure for us.” - Abu Talib, President of Zubi Fashion [/quote]

The country’s GDP growth was estimated at 6.1 per cent for the fiscal year ending with June 2014, half a percentage point higher than what the Asian Development Bank had projected. For 2015, the projection is higher at 6.4 per cent on the hope that private sector investment will pick up given some political stability.

“If we cannot meet the buyers’ deadlines, we’re going to lose it all again,” said Abu Talib, the President of Zubi Fashion, who lives in Montreal and operates a buying house in Dhaka. “The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 put our garments industry into big trouble, but with help from government and other organizations we have slowly recovered. And now this political unrest has created new pressure for us,” Talib added.

The tragedy Talib referred to was the collapse of a building housing many garment factories that killed 1,129 people. It got prominent media attention here in Canada as many local fashion brands were being produced in these factories.

Economists estimate that a day's shutdown of economic activity shaves 0.9 per cent off the country’s gross domestic product a year at market price. Political unrest, like the current standoff, also affects foreign remittance and foreign direct investment. Last year the economy could have done better, but for 53 strikes and 19 blockades.

History of violent politics

Unfortunately, this year looks no better as both the warring parties seem unable to overcome their history of confrontational and violent politics. The BNP wants fresh elections to be held under a non-partisan caretaker government, while the Awami League insists it will continue in office for its entire term that is to end in 2019.

According to the constitution of Bangladesh, the general election is held after every five years. Following a Supreme Court judgement, the caretaker government system was repealed in 2011 and Awami League remained in power when the election was held in January 2014.

Awami League leaders have been saying that BNP made a mistake by not participating in the election and now will have to wait four more years.

Prime Minister Hasinahas dismissed the possibility of any dialogue with the BNP, saying the party was just trying to save war criminals in the name of a political movement.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As there are no signs of any moves to solve the political crisis, the people of Bangladesh are bracing for more trouble in the days to come. While the projected economic pickup seems unlikely, Canadians would understand that missed fashion deadlines are of lessor concern under these circumstances.[/quote]

The war criminals issue has been at the heart of the confrontation between the two parties ever since the country’s violent birth in 1971. The unsettled questions include the one about who was on which side in the movement for liberation from Pakistan.

To settle those questions the Awami League government in 2008 set up war tribunals that have dispensed speedy verdicts including the death sentence to several in the senior leadership of the anti-Liberation Jamaat-e-Islami party and life terms to others including BNP leaders. Predictably, these verdicts have proved divisive.

By using the state power, Awami League has so far been successful to foil the political programs of BNP, but it has not been able to restore law and order in the country.

The BNP on its part has failed to convert its struggle into a mass movement and has alienated itself from majority of the public because it is in league with the Jamaat. The corruption charges against its leader’s elder son, Tareq Zia, is another factor against it.

While Awami League enjoys popular support by being the party that helped gain independence, members of the civil society are critical of its handling of last year’s election. With almost all other major parties boycotting the election, the Awami League  won 154 of the 300 parliamentary seats uncontested and went on to form a government for the second consecutive term with two-third majority.

As there are no signs of any moves to solve the political crisis, the people of Bangladesh are bracing for more trouble in the days to come. While the projected economic pickup seems unlikely, Canadians would understand that missed fashion deadlines are of lessor concern under these circumstances.


An M.A. English Literature graduate from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sharif Hasan became a campus journalist while doing his undergraduate degree there. He worked as the Social and Cultural Affairs Editor at the weekly Aajkal, a Bangladeshi-Canadian community newspaper based in Toronto for a year before moving to Ottawa this September. Sharif is now doing his Master’s in Journalism at Carleton University. He continues to contribute to Bangladeshi dailies in English, namely The Daily Sun and Dhaka Tribune.

This commentary was produced under NCM's mentoring program, which pairs immigrant journalists with NCM Editors.

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Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:17

Tamils emerge from the shadows

Written by
by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar
 
If an immigrant community’s coming-of-age needs to be gauged in Canada, the way it is courted by politicians is a good indicator. Leaders of all hues, from the federal to the municipal level, put on an unabashed display last month at the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) gala held in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving Day.
 
Those present to woo the 300,000-strong community concentrated mostly in the GTA included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Ontario PC and Official Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.  The pride of place at the event, however, went to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Heralded as the “future prime minister,” the gathering gave him a standing ovation. Seemingly carried away by the adulation, Mr Trudeau briefly showed off his Bollywood dance moves and regretted not coming dressed in a traditional South Asian outfit.
 
“Thirty years ago, there were a handful of Tamils in Canada, but today this country is home to tens of thousands of them who have established themselves with their values of hard work and determination,” he said. “These are not Tamil values; these are Canadian values,’’ he said amid rounds of applause.
 
Seeking international investigations into human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the last phases of the ethnic war in 2009, the Liberal leader said Canada would stand by the Tamil community in seeking justice on global platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month. This sentiment was echoed by Mr Alexander, who said “Canada will be at the forefront to ensure that accountability comes.”
 
Both the federal politicians were on cue as the session in Geneva is of huge importance to the community. The Canadian Tamil Congress, as part of its advocacy work, will be sending a delegation to Geneva and wants the UN to take decisive action against the Sri Lankan government for violating human rights.
 
Poll calculations
 
While Ms. Wynne said the strides made by the Tamils are “a great Canadian story,” Mr. Alexander said the community has been “a huge success for the Canada’s immigration program.”  That’s a big shift in stance by the Conservative Party, which has been trying hard to undo the harm done by its anti-Tamil rhetoric during the 2011 federal election after two ship loads of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka came ashore on the B.C. coast. Canada’s recent boycott of the Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo was seen by many as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favour with the Tamils.  
 
Its need to garner support of the community along with that of other immigrant groups in the GTA has grown in importance as the 2015 election nears. The area, dubbed as the “905” after the telephone code that sets it apart from Toronto city, is expected to be a major battleground for votes.  The 905 is believed to have helped the Conservatives form a majority government despite the party doing badly in Québec. Significantly, both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have also stepped up their efforts in the area.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A recent opinion poll has suggested that the going will not be easy for the eight Conservative MPs from the area if an election were held right now. The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Technologies and released exclusively to iPolitics, said three could lose their seats and the five others could find themselves in tough battles.[/quote]
 
“It’s not surprising that given the national popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party currently that these numbers are showing this, that there is a Liberal resurgence for sure,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, was quoted as saying. “On the other side, it doesn’t show a complete Conservative collapse as well. The Conservative base is alive and well in Peel region [consisting of Brampton and Mississauga].”
 
Tamil Heritage Month
 
At the CTC gala, almost all the leaders competed to promote Tamil culture. Mr. Hudak said he would be reintroducing a bill in the Ontario legislature to declare January as Tamil Heritage Month. Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River riding, said she would be pressing ahead with her private bill, C-471, to designate the month as such across Canada. She said this month is celebrated throughout the country by Canadians of Tamil heritage, “as we recognize the cultural, political and economic contributions of Tamil Canadians in our communities.”
 
Ms Sitsabaiesan made no mention of her alleged intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities during her recent visit to the island. Her fellow NDP MP from the Toronto area, Prof. Craig Scott, was honoured with the “Leaders for Change” award at the event for his role as the founding member of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
 
 
Apart from this gesture, the Tamil community has been trying hard to reach out to the mainstream. As in the past four years, the CTC once again raised money through its annual walk-a-thon for a Canadian charity. With the cheque for $65,000 presented to the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, the organization has raised over a quarter-million dollars for five charities in the past five years. Only time will tell whether this is yet another sign of an immigrant group emerging from the shadows to gain the “good immigrants” moniker as suggested by Premier Wynne and Minister Alexander or a cynical attempt to gain political clout.
 
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