Vancouver journalist says he was threatened by Hindu nationalist at UBC event

Click to play video: 'At least 20 dead after riots in Indian capital'
At least 20 dead after riots in Indian capital
Warning: This video contains violent content. Discretion advised. The death toll from riots that took place on Wednesday in India's capital of New Delhi over the amended controversial citizenship law rose to at least 20 people, authorities said. The deaths occurred during clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups – Feb 26, 2020

A Vancouver-based independent journalist says tensions over a controversial policy move in India that critics describe as discriminatory against Muslims have found their way to Canada as well.

Gurpreet Singh, who is a spokesperson for the group Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), says he was threatened while giving a talk criticizing the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Act at the University of British Columbia.

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Singh said the Feb. 25 talk, put on through UBC’s Department of Asian Studies, attracted among its attendees a crowd of about 15 people who he said were trying to “intimidate” the three panel members.

“[They] were very disruptive and were part of one particular group. They were trying to bully and the organizers repeatedly told them to be respectful, and they had to call in security,” Singh said.

Singh said one man approached him directly after the event and brought up a “controversial” interview Singh had conducted with Hindu nationalist politician Sadhvi Rithambra at Surrey’s Hindu temple in 2002, another year of heightened religious violence against Muslims in India.

“This is what he said: ‘You asked inconvenient questions and you were able to save yourself at that time. This time you won’t be able to save yourself,'” Singh said.

“How serious is the threat? Only he knows what he means. But to tell someone ‘you won’t be able to save yourself’ calls for some alarm.”

READ MORE: Local South Asian group holds protest against India’s Narendra Modi Government in Holland Park

University RCMP told Global News on Wednesday they are investigating the incident, and are in the midst of determining whether what was allegedly said constitutes a threat.

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Singh said when there are tensions “back home,” it often spills over to diaspora populations — and he wants people to be aware that there is a population in Canada that supports the Hindutva, or Hindu nationalist, movement in India.

“People should be vigilant and should be concerned. The way they came to the event yesterday, they were all prepared and I was told by the UBC [security] that this was not the first time they came,” Singh said.

Acting director of UBC campus security Ali Mojdehi confirmed to Global News that there was an incident at the Feb. 25 event held by the Centre for India and South Asia Research and the Institute for Asian Research.

“UBC Risk Services were aware of the event and the potential for disruption and developed a comprehensive security plan and risk assessment. The university also staffed the event with two security officers,” he said in an emailed statement.

“During the event, our staff intervened to ask several audience members to be respectful in their interactions with speakers and other audience members. The event ended on time without any further disruption.”

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Singh said the Indian diaspora in Canada has a duty to speak out about discrimination in their homeland — and said the stories coming out of India right now are familiar to Indo-Canadians.

“There is a Canadian context. This particular law, CAA, is like a copy of the continuous journey regulation that culminated in the Komagata Maru episode,” Singh said.

“So in a way this government is trying to repeat the history of Komagata Maru and people should be aware of it and people should talk about it.”

READ MORE: Here’s why people are protesting India’s citizenship bill

Singh said the IAPI is holding a rally in Surrey’s Holland Park on Sunday to protest the CAA — and he is expecting the opposing side to appear there.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, signed into law in late 2019 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, expedites citizenship for illegal migrants coming from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — unless they’re Muslim.

Ongoing protests expanded this week, coinciding with U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India.

Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had heard about the violence but had not discussed it with Modi. Instead, Trump gloated about his reception in India.

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READ MORE: At least 22 dead as India citizenship law protests swell during Trump’s visit

India has been rocked by violence since Parliament approved the citizenship law in December. Opponents have said the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test, but Trump declined to comment on it.

“I don’t want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they’re going to make the right decision for the people,” he said.

On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the clashes, tweeting that “peace and harmony are central to (India’s) ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.”

At least 22 people had died in New Delhi as of Wednesday.

— With files from The Associated Press

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