Vigil in Memory of Phooln Devi
On Saturday, July 28, 2001 members of Indo-Canadians held a very sentimental vigil in memory of MP Phoolan Devi at Robson Square, in downtown Vancouver, BC. Canada. The vigil was organized by Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha (Vancouver), a religious organization based at 7271 Gilley, Avenue, Burnaby, BC and was attended by Balwant Singh Gill of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Gurdev Singh Johal of Ross Street Temple, Ratan Singh of Akali Sikh Gurdwara, Dr. K.P. Singh of Washington University, Dr. Hari Sharma of South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, Imtiaz Popat of Bulend-e-Awaz, L.D. Bali of Minister's Advisory Council on Multiculturalism (BC), Kamlesh Chandar of Okanagan Sikh Society, Premnath of Amnesty International and Tamil Society of BC, Mohan Singh Baria of India Congress (Vancouver), Amrit Diwana of Chetna Society of Canada, Kamlesh Aheer of International Bahujan Organization (Vancouver), Hardeep Sangherha of South Asian Review, Kamal Bhullar, Makhan Chamba, and other individuals from organizations around British Columbia. In his opening statement Sital Dass Kaler, a board member of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha denounced merciless assassination of Sister Phoolan Devi and called it a "cowardly act".
Dr. Hari Sharma, who has been a strong voice for secularism, stated that it is not important to know why Phoolan Devi has been assassinated; what is important is that we understand that a woman who has been a symbol of caste based oppression has been assassinated.
Gurdev Singh Johal, president of Ross Street temple recalled his meetings with Phoolan Devi and said he found Phoolan Devi a sincere person who took the sword in response to the injustice she faced. Johal further stated that Phoolan Devi's turning into a dacoit was consistent with teachings of Sikh Gurus who had taught us that it is not only sinful to commit atrocities, but it is also sinful to accept atrocity. According to Johal, Phoolan Devi was thinking about going to Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar) and adopting Sikhism. By hearing the life that Phoolan had lived and then thinking about adopting Sikhism, Johal said he was encouraged and inspired to invite Phoolan Devi to visit Vancouver and attend the Baisakhi 2001 Nagar Kirtan. Unfortunately, due to health considerations, Phoolan Devi was unable to attend the Nagar Kirtan and Vancouverites had missed the opportunity of meeting the eminent personality. The candle of eternity was lighted by Balwant Singh Gill, president of Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and the photo of Phoolan Devi was garlanded by Kamlesh Aheer of International Bahujan Organization (Vancouver). Aheer was regretful that her dream of meeting Phoolan Devi will now never come true.
In yet another touching tribute, Dr. KP Singh described Phoolan Devi as a "simple"` person of very high caliber. According to Dr. Singh, although Phoolan Devi had no formal education and was pulled in various directions by some of her advisors, she was very sincere and committed to uplifting and improving the dire conditions of India's poor and illiterate.
Jai Birdi, a member of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, stated that although the loss of Phoolan Devi will never be recovered, it is imperative to continue to take forward the mission of Phoolan Devi and strive for greater social and economic equality for everyone. "With this in mind, stated Birdi, "I propose the following declarations:
1. That the government of India must launch a full inquiry into the assassination of Phoolan Devi and ensure that the culprits are punished for the heinous crime of Phoolan Devi's assassination. 2. That the government of India review its stand and support the inclusion of castism in the upcoming World Conference on Racism international conference on racism and xenophobia planned to take place in South Africa in August/September 2001.
In his closing statement, Bill Basra, president of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha thanked Dr. KP Singh, Gurdev Singh Johal, Balwant Singh Gill, Dr. Hari Sharma, Kamlesh Chander, and all guests for attending the vigil and helping the community in this phase of grieving. Inspired by the strong support received from various community organizations, Basra said it is evident that we need to build bridges and stronger solidarity to overcome caste based and other sources of atrocities faced by people in India and other parts of the world.
The following day, July 29, Sunday, vigil was continued at the Shri Guru Ravidass Community Center, Burnaby and prayers were held. Spiritual music was recited by Giani Bakhshish Singh Khalsa (Bathindawale) and the dhadi Jatha. Raminder Bhullar and Spokesperson of India Mahila Association, Mrs. Sangherhaalso attended this religious vigil and paid homage to Phoolan Devi.