ALBERTA, Canada—The late Manmeet Singh Bhullar, an MLA from Alberta, Canada who tragically died on Nov. 23 while stopping to assist someone in a traffic accident, lived to speak for human rights, especially in South Asia.
Bhullar (1980-2015) earned a reputation for giving voice to the oppressed and the persecuted. Such was the case in an Oct. 28 speech delivered at a Diwali celebration hosted by the Alberta Legislative Assembly just over three weeks before MLA Bhullar’s death. Calling Diwali a celebration of light, Bhullar said it’s also a time to “reflect upon the darkness that we see in our world today so that, over the next year, we can try to challenge that darkness.”
Referencing Jaswant Singh Khalra, a Sikh human rights activist martyred in Punjab, India in 1996 for exposing a police program of secret killings and cremations of innocent Sikhs, Bhullar paraphrased Khalra, saying: “I do not have the power to create light throughout the world, but I can sure as heck promise one thing — that around me, there shall be light. Around me, there shall be light.”
“We need light in India,” said Bhullar. “We need light in Punjab.” Condemning the Oct. 14, 2015 killing of peaceful Sikh protesters by police in Punjab, he exclaimed: “We need light to ensure that those police officers that have the audacity to challenge fundamental rights in a democratic nation — a peaceful protest — that those police officers are brought to justice.”
Bhullar also pled on behalf of persecuted Aghani minorities, asking for them to be given refuge, and concluding: “The greatest light comes from the love of those among us.”
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Namaste. You know, before I begin, I want to first of all recognize the man under whose leadership the very first Diwali program was recognized here in our legislature. He is an inspiration for us. Thank you very much. Naresh [Bhardwaj] is a former member of the legislative assembly that served with incredible integrity and the entirety of the nation has much to be proud of in Naresh. I wish to thank you very much here again and thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for once again hosting this ceremony here in the rotunda. And thank you all other honored guests for joining us here today.
“Diwali is a paramount celebration in the Hindu tradition. It is something that is essentially, as every speaker talked about, it’s about light. It’s about the beauty of light in the name of spirit on our planet. It might be that Diwali is a time where we not only celebrate the triumph of the light over darkness, but we reflect upon the darkness that we see in our world today so that, over the next year, we can try to challenge that darkness.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss a conversation that I had with somebody today. I had a conversation with a young man named Janmeet Singh Khalra. Mr. Janmeet Singh is the son of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, who, 20 years ago on Vaisakhi day, was murdered by the Punjab Police. Twenty years ago, his voice for human rights, his research in thousands of individuals “that were murdered at the hands of the Punjab Police, was brought forth to the world.
“And he brought his research forth to say: “Challenge the darkness, challenge the darkness.” He said: “I do not have the power to create light throughout the world, but I can sure as heck promise one thing — that around me, there shall be light. Around me, there shall be light.”
“So, today as we celebrate Diwali, let us remember the places where we need light. We need light in India to help make sure our sisters, our daughters, our mothers are safe. We need light in Punjab to help ensure that those who choose to protest peacefully are not subject to police brutality. The two innocent protesters who lost their lives in peaceful protests in the last couple of weeks — we need light to ensure there is no more. We need light to ensure that those police officers that have the audacity to challenge fundamental rights in a democratic nation — a peaceful protest — that those police officers are brought to justice. We need light for that.
“We need light to make sure that our brothers and sisters, Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan today — under threat by warlords, Taliban, and ISIS — have a way to get out of Afghanistan. We need light for that.
“We have tremendous things to be thankful for. Canada is the nation of great light. It’s like the divine light of the world has shined upon Canada and given us all so much. Dear God, let Canada’s light shine upon the world.
“The world needs light, they need more rule of law, they need more justice, they need equality.
“So, as we celebrate here today, thank God we are Canadian, thank God we can help spread this light throughout the world, and thank God that we are in the company of one another because, at the end of the day, the greatest light comes from the love of those among us.
“Thank you very much. I wish you a great Diwali. Namaste.”