By: Devanshu Narang in Toronto, ON
If I was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I would not forgive Indian politicians and the country's media for a long time. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau will forgive, but as a Canadian with Indian roots, I definitely will not. Ever.
But mark my words, Trudeau's India visit will turn out to be a long-term relationship disaster for India and not for Canada. As an honest, liberal, positive and a truly warm Canadian, the prime minister does not need to re-invent himself. On the other hand, Indians could do some re-thinking themselves.
True, Mr. Trudeau went overboard, as he sometimes does. Those heavily embroidered and garish Indian tops called 'Kurtas' were an eyesore even to most Indians. We never wear such fancy attire, except special occasions when it is considered chic to have an "Indian look". Perhaps he was either misguided by his coterie of South Asians who love their Bollywood movies or by the huge applause he gets when he wears such costumes at cultural events in Canada. After all, it is a pleasure for the South Asians to see a white leader wear ethnic attire and dance to Indian tunes. Here in Canada it is genuinely considered a mark of respect to the community and a desire to accept their culture.
Unfortunately, India mistook this for Mr. Trudeau's weakness and showed its boorish side.
In fact, it was evident right from the start that the Indian political elite which hates the liberal agenda and which has turned markedly right-wing and conservative in recent years would not take to the Canadian prime minister. They not only sent a junior minister to officially welcome him, but also ensured that the media coverage he received was low and negative. Slowly the plan was put into effect: his clothing became the object of derision, the motives of his trip questioned, his comments called into question, his guest lists scrutinized, and lo and behold, we had a feel-good trip turned into a PR nightmare.
Treating guests in India
I will not go into the details of how he was treated by Indian and thereafter Canadian and foreign media. How he was made to look like a fool when he was just being a warm human being. I would rather focus on what I think will happen following this trip and let Indians know about the blunder they have just committed.
Here was a guest, who in keeping with Indian traditions was to be treated like a God, who arrived in all humility – always bowing to local traditions, even dressed in their attire to please the locals, showing due respect all all the shrines and institutions revered and loved by Indians, who took his family along and persuaded them to dress the Indian way. Who could ever imagine that he would face ridicule at home, especially from the political opponents baying for blood ready to portray him as a weakling.
But, more importantly, what is wrong with India? How many times have we had world leaders come to India and respect Indian ways? How happy you've been when they occasionally wear Indian attire for an event and grooved with you? How many times have you hoped that they genuinely like your cuisine, your culture, your music and your own self? And when a man, a nation's leader, whole-heartedly opens up his soul and gives you a warm hug, you pull back?
So what if he went overboard. Is it wrong to try too hard?
Canada - India relations
Mr. Trudeau will recover from all this. After all, he did nothing wrong. But chances are India will experience the famous Canadian chill for decades to come.
The relationship between Canada and India may go into cold storage. Not just Canadians, but countries the world over, especially in the Western world, would be less trusting of India, especially if their political views differ. Other world leaders will definitely be more reserved during their Indian visits and never again would any Western leader open up as much as Mr. Trudeau did to Indian traditions and culture.
As for the invitation extended to a convicted would-be assassin for a Trudeau event, let us review the facts there too. First, the guest lists and invitees are not put together by Mr. Trudeau or any political leader himself. Second, if facts serve me right, Jaspal Atwal was convicted as a terrorist and served his sentence for close to two decades and has gone on record saying after his release saying that he regrets his action. He has already faced punishment for his crime and now walks free in Canada and has all the rights as any other Canadian.
He was visiting India because India too removed his name from the blacklist and granted him a visa. So, how long would you keep crucifying a person for an act in the past? Using the same logic, a lot of political leaders in India who were anti-state at one time should also be blacklisted for life. If anyone is to blame, it is India's double standards.
True, the "Khalistan movement" is dead in India, as it should be. It also does not ignite the minds of a majority of Indo-Canadians any more. But, the fact still remains, that a large part of the Punjabi community that resides in Canada came here in the 1980s and early 1990s after witnessing various atrocities committed to their near and dear ones at different times. The wounds have healed, but the scars still remain for children who grew up without fathers, or men and women who suffered in their youth. These can only be healed by love and acceptance and not by hate and segregation.
By turning your back on Mr. Atwal, who has already paid for his crime, you alienate many other Indo-Canadians and rub fresh salt on old wounds. Alas, one should have expected that out from a newly militant India and its biased media.
Put this behind you
I only hope that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party does not take the criticism to heart in the context of Canadian diversity. The party's welcome to immigrants, working towards enabling equality, justice and acceptance in Canadian communities, and enabling greater respect for all humans should continue. Mr. Trudeau's evident love for the Indo-Canadian community must not diminished due to unfair coverage by Indian media, which appears semi-controlled by right-wing Indian politicians.
As an Indo-Canadian, I am ashamed about the way India treated our Prime Minister. My advice: please forget this and move on. Thank you for opening your heart.
And, yes, the next time at Diwali or Gurupurb, please bring out those Bhangra dance moves again.
By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Elsie James (83) pulled into Fernie, British Columbia, with her family when she was seven. The rain-drenched moon raised its Aladdin’s lamp to the stars, conjuring magical shadows into being. The next morning, crimson streaks were smeared across the skyline, mountain topping mountain. Entranced by a magnificent view of the shimmering mountaintops, James — a prairie girl by birth — announced to her mother that she would live among crags when she grew up.
Sure enough, we find her among the mountains, symbols or images of other reality, 74 years later at home in High River, Alberta and, for months at a time, in Nepal — a poor land-locked state between Tibet and India — which features eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains.
“I’ve been hypnotized by mountain ranges ever since that morning in Fernie, so, when I retired after three decades in banking, I trekked to Mount Everest, Nepal, in 1995,” James said on the phone from her Alberta home. “My metaphysical connection with mountains and the Nepali people led to a second career short on financial compensation, but long on self-fulfillment.”
International charities have been working in Nepal since 1951. Elsie James of Calgary, Medical Mercy Canada (MMC)’s Nepal Country Manager, has been making two trips there every year for a total of five months annually, usually in the spring and fall, the timing depending on needs at the other end.
First encounter with Nepal
Her first official trip to Nepal was for an NGO called PartnerShip Canada in 1996; James was there full-time until early 2000, except for brief visits to Canada. She continued to work with village schools and supported her activities by bringing tour and trekking groups to Nepal after PartnerShip downed shutters until 2007, when Medical Mercy Canada, a registered Canadian charity, adopted her projects, taking them under their wing.
(At right, Elsie James with summer intern, David Bobyn, at the opening of Sanskrit High School in Maidi, Dhading District)
James began working with Kanti Children's Hospital in Kathmandu 2008. She organized a fund-raising trek to the Everest Base Camp on her 75th birthday. New plumbing, electrical wiring, the installation of a new kitchen, painting the building inside and out, and replacing the leaking roof, were needed at the hospital’s Shelter House. This is where family caregivers stay while helping their hospitalized children. Everyone on the trek did fundraising in their communities, and a portion of the trek fee also went to the Shelter House Fund. The trek, called "Trek 4 Kanti Kids" (aka Granny's Grunt), raised approximately $29,000. The work was completed in 2011.
MMC also has an emergency fund that helps families unable to pay for extended treatment, blood transfusions and special diagnostic tests. The Shelter House is managed by a Nepali NGO, Social Action Volunteers-Nepal (SAV-Nepal). In 2015, SAV's annual reports showed 6,801 occupied "bed- nights" in the Shelter House Dormitory and 146 children financially helped to treatment and diagnostic services.
Between 2005 and 2014, they were improving sanitation at village schools, organizing annual medical or dental clinics in remote villages, and operating a mobile medical clinic that employed four Nepali health workers who made the rounds to four remote locations where villagers lacked access to health posts or hospitals. The free clinics were served by Nepali and foreign volunteers.
The last, large medical/dental camp was in 2012. Like its predecessors, it included workshops, teaching villagers the importance of clean water, water treatment options, sanitation and hygiene. By 2012, travel and food costs within Nepal had become too expensive for large mobile clinics to continue to be viable.
Road access to centrally-located District Hospitals had also improved, enabling transportation of patients from villages to District Hospitals for medical care. “We are now concentrating more on health education and prevention than active treatment,” says James.
Providing education and water
Beginning in 2006, MMC trained and paid four village youths in Tipling Village Development Council (VDC) to act as Classroom Assistants in three schools, to help the overworked teachers. The Tipling villages are in a high valley just south of the Tibet border in northern Nepal. The attendance of teachers and students had been irregular, and the villages unable to solve the problem. One teacher had three grades with a total of 105 students in ages ranging from 5 to 14 — and was expected to teach them all. Attendance and parental support of the schools improved with the provision of help for the teachers. “We supported this project for five years until the situation improved, and then moved on with the local government taking more responsibility,” says James.
MMC did its first major water project, bringing water to taps serving 84 homes in Khare Village Development Council, Dhading District, in 2013. Three reservoirs were built, and an electric pump raised the water from a spring 500 feet into a storage tank above the village. Gravity-fed pipelines from the reservoirs distributed the water to 14 tap stands conveniently located to clusters of homes in the local villages.
This was a joint project funded by MMC and a partner, the Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup, Washington. Before this, the village women carried water cans from the spring in baskets on their backs, 500 vertical feet to their homes over a rough, steep trail. This was a project that made a sustainable difference to everyone in the villages served — especially the women who no longer had to carry water to their families at least twice each day.
School for the deaf
That same year of 2013, MMC joined hands with the founders of the Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children in Dhading District. The school opened in 2012 in borrowed quarters, an unfinished farm house, but needed to move from there. There was no educational facility available to children with profound hearing loss anywhere in the District. One was sorely needed.
Today, the school is in new quarters on land donated by a local farmer. A partnership of several donor agencies, including MMC, the local community and municipal government, made this dream come true. The school now has three floors — incomplete, but functional. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language and standard curriculum courses. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language. There are plans for parents’ sign-language workshops and vocational training for students not wanting to pursue academics.
Much of Nepal, including its capital city Kathmandu, was savaged by earthquakes in 2015. Says James, “The April 25 and May 12 earthquakes of 7.8 & 7.3 magnitudes on the Richter scale, did not physically affect the whole country. About 14 of 75 districts were affected, with the brunt falling on seven districts, including Dhading, where we were working. There were more than 400 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or more since the initial quakes.”
MMC reacted immediately after the quakes. Emergency supplies were gathered and delivered to devastated villages in its service area, putting other projects on hold temporarily. Then, in the following 10 months, with the help of many donors, including Canadian Nepali organizations, nine villages’ schools were rebuilt and ready for occupancy for the new school year, beginning April 2016.
Families hope to vacate their temporary shelters in resettlement camps before another monsoon starts in mid-June, but their future is still a question mark and recovery a long, dark, winding road into the unknown.
A school at Muralibanjyag, the first of nine to be built by MMC, was completed in November 2015 in partnership with the Calgary Nepali Community Association (CNCA). They did not respond to e-mails sent by New Canadian Media.
Another school was inaugurated in Dhading 10 May 2016, in transitory sunshine and clear skies. District, VDC, and political party leaders thanked the sponsors, organizers, volunteers and construction team. The last three speakers had, however, to shout to be heard over thunder and lightning. This project was also in partnership with the CNCA.
Ramesh Dhamala, district president of the Nepali Congress Party, unveiled a donor plaque with James.
Mules were the only carriers that could access many places MMC worked, till recently. That changed with the introduction of jeepable roads.
(At right, micro-enterprise trainer Bimla Dhakal teaching menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills.)
MMC inaugurated the Single Women's Hostel in Dhading Besi in partnership with the local chapter of Women for Human Rights, Single Women's Branch , in May 2014. The hostel provides a temporary dormitory for women in transition, and vocational training rooms. (Micro-enterprise Trainer, Bimala Dhakal, teaching the girls menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills, picture at right)
“Currently, we are sponsoring a start-up program jointly funded with a US NGO, ‘Project for a Village,’ for a micro-enterprise group that is producing menstrual hygiene kits to be distributed in conjunction with an education program for girls in Grades 5 through 10 in the District’s government schools,” continues James: “This program was founded by ‘Days for Girls’ and is being expanded into Nepal.”
The Karuna Girls’ School and Women's College in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, was a project that was brought to MMC by Trevor Ironside of Calgary, who was sponsoring it, and raising money to establish the school in partnership with a Canadian Engaged Buddhism Association (CEBA). MMC adopted the program. Ironside is now president of its Board and MMC still very involved in the project. “Trevor is the one who manages this one,” continues James: “ It is a great project and they are now hoping to expand on property they have acquired, to build a hospital and nurse training program in conjunction with the school one day.”
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. He has won three journalism awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel unilaterally, triggering global protests and rejection of the US as a peace broker.
About 60 Winnipeggers protested on December 10 on Portage Avenue, near the Polo Park Shopping Mall. That day happened to be International Human Rights Day as well.
Many vehicles honked enthusiastically while passing along Portage Avenue, one of Winnipeg’s main thoroughfares.
Rana Abdulla, a Palestinian-Canadian organizer, said, “The protest was diverse, and full of positive energy. It included many community and social justice organizations.”
The event was organized by:
· The Canadian-Arab Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
· Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
· Peace Alliance Winnipeg
· The Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
“The first objective of our public leafleting and rally action was to condemn and rail against United States President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — this, alongside, his fatuous declaration of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel,” said Krishna Lalbiharie, Event co-organizer and member of the Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg): “The second objective of our action was to educate Winnipeg shoppers, media and the larger Manitoba citizenry as to the illegality of Trump’s decision, and the resistance to it — commensurate with International Human Rights Day.”
“I would say the objective was achieved. There was a good turnout, the action received some accurate media attention, and the public response was generally positive,” said Harold Shuster of Independent Jewish Voices.
“We received an overwhelmingly positive response from receptive, kind Polo Park patrons and drivers along Portage Avenue,” continues Lalbiharie: “There was widespread, favourable media coverage too.”
It’s important to recognize, according to Lalbiharie, that President Trump’s ill-conceived decision may be to distract from the hot issue of Russian collusion during his election, and his need to prove his gratitude to Zionist contributors and lobbyists in the US and Israel.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
By Justin Trudeau This year on Canada Day I attended a citizenship ceremony in Toronto where many new Canadians swore allegiance to their new country. Watching the ceremony, I was reminded that Canada’s new citizens have been central to our success and story. I was reminded of one of our earliest Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfred
The Philippine Reporter
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit