The last seven days have been like hell for a Hindu-Sikh couple from Adelaide who runs an organisation called ‘Punjabi Aussie Association of South Australia.’
They have been threatened to be physically harmed, their business destroyed and boycotted from the community.
Harmeet Kaur and her husband Rajesh Thakur have been organising Vaisakhi Mela in South Australia’s capital Adelaide for the last several years.
The Mela draws crowds of thousands of people not only from Indian-Punjabi backgrounds but also from South Asian origin and importantly Australians curious and interested in multicultural festivities.
Music, dance, and food are the three basic and most loved staples of most Indian festivals but this time they are targets of alleged extremist groups.
Rajesh Thakur told The Australia Today:
“It all started with a threatening phone call on 22 February from Khalsa Aid’s South Australia Head Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar.”
Rajesh Thakur adds:
“He told me, Change the name of your Vaisakhi Mela because Vaisakhi belongs to us (read- Sikhs),”said Mr Thakur
“When I refused to change the name of the Vaisakhi Mela, Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar became aggressive,” said Mr. Thakur.
“Tussi Mele wich giddha- bhagra pa ke lacharta- kanjarkhana fyalane ho.”
“Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar accused me that we are sexualising the young generation by letting them perform Gidha-Bhangra (Punjabi folk dance for Women and men),”Mr Thakur said.
“I explained to Mr. Jassar, Giddha-Bhangra are the traditional folk dance of Punjab and there is no sexualisation or nudity in any of the programs performed on the stage of Vaisakhi Mela.”
“Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar wasn’t ready to listen to any explanation and threatened me if we would continue with organising Vaisakhi Mela there will be serious consequences,”said Mr Thakur.
“I told Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar, We have been organising Vaisakhi Mela for several years you can simply go to our Facebook page and check how we conduct the whole program.”
“Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar told me we don’t care how you do things, the only thing I am concerned about is Vaisakhi is a Sikh festival and you can’t use this name,”said Rajesh Thakur
“Jassar said to me Australians do the vulgar dance which is not acceptable in the name of Vaisakhi Mela.”
“Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar even proposed to pay us for dropping the name Vaisakhi Mela.”
“At the end of the call, I told him you talk to your group and explain we are not doing anything wrong and I will also talk to our organising committee.”
There was calm for ten days before the storm of hate-filled messages, phone calls, and social media video posts targeting and threatening Harmeet Kaur and Rajesh Thakur started to ruin their life.
Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar decided to take it on social media with veiled threats of disrupting the Vaisakhi Mela. His video can be seen on this link: https://www.facebook.com/749313763/videos/514885516654287/
Harmeet Kaur approached a local media group Raabta Radio to explain her side of the story. Here’s the link: https://fb.watch/c3H7R2qFhf/
Robbie Benipal is the Editor of Raabta Radio. He told The Australia Today, “I did my job as a journalist of giving voice to the community and raising issues but for this, I was publicly targeted.”
“In an Indian program couple of days back they surrounded me and rudely questioned me on why I gave a platform to Harmeet Kaur, organiser of Vaisakhi Mela.”
I told them it’s my job as a journalist and asked them to come and present their side of the story but they refused,”said Mr Benipal.
Link to this Video: https://fb.watch/c3H7R2qFhf/
Here are some examples of the dance which Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar and his group are opposing and calling vulgar Australian dance.
After Harmeet Kaur’s interview by Raabta Radio, the Thakur-Kaur family’s life turned upside down.
Now, Threats were open and direct.
Harmeet Kaur said, “My girlfriend was called by an international student belonging to ‘Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar’ group and was told to convey a message to me: We will cut you into pieces if we find you in the Mela.”
“We will be 300-400 people, some are coming from Melbourne to beat the shit out of you (kuttapa karne). Our group is bringing mike and speaker, we will capture the stage and anyone who tries to stop us will know who we are,’explained Harmeet.
This phone call and threatening text messages made the matter very serious for the Kaur-Thakur couple and they decided to make the police complain to South Australia Police.
Rajesh Thakur told The Australia today, “I received a call from Gurshiminder Singh Mintu Brar on 22 March, he also threatened us saying if the Vaisakhi Mela goes ahead there will be Hindu-Sikh riots.”
“Mintu Brar told me that he is in touch with all three gurudwaras in Adelaide and some Melbourne Sikh groups (Jathebandiya) who are ready to come in Vaisakhi Mela and run amok,” said Mr. Thakur.
However, Two Gurudwaras of Adelaide have categorically denied anything to do with Mintu Brar.
“I will be in the USA on Vaisakhi Mela day now you decide what you want for your program riots between community members or you are ready to change name, Mintu Brar asked me”said Rajesh Thakur.
The Australia Today contacted Gurshiminder Singh Mintu Brar.
He told The Australia Today from Sydney Airport, “I deny all the allegations.”
“I was simply trying to mediate between two groups, I requested organisers of Vaisakhi Mela to come and talk to Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar for resolving the issue,” added Mintu Brar.
However, Mintu Brar agreed that Facebook posts by Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar were inappropriate and threatening in nature.
Vaisakhi or Baisakh has been celebrated as a harvest festival in North Indian state of Punjab where farmers offered thanks for a plentiful harvest.
It became popular amongst the Sikh community after Guru Gobind Singh chose the festival as the moment to establish the Khalsa in 1699.
Amrik Singh Thandi is a Sikh leader in Adelaide and a member of the Sikh Society of South Australia.
Mr. Thandi told The Australia Today, “Vaisakhi Mela is common for Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Muslims of Punjab. Nobody can claim it and in my view, the name should not be changed, Vaisakhi Mela should go on as it is.”
“Before Guru Nanak ji the first Sikh guru was born Vaisakhi month was still there in the Hindu calendar. If it was always there as a festival then why they want to change the name I can’t understand,”explained Mr Thandi.
Harmeet Kaur told The Australia Today, “We are so concerned about these threats that my kids are not able to attend school, we have not cooked and eaten food properly for a few days.”
“We are bringing communities together through this Vaisakhi Mela event, is that a crime?”questions Ms Kaur.
“The whole community is scared of these radical extremists that’s why my own friends are telling me we know you are right but can’t come out openly in your support,” teary Harmeet said.
Mahanvir Singh Grewal is President of Allenby Garden Gurudwara (Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Australia).
Mr. Grewal told The Australia Today, “Everybody does dance in India at the Vaisakhi festival, what’s the problem here in Australia.”
“These people asking to change name of Vaisakhi Mela just want to become famous by creating trouble for others,”said Mr Grewal
There is only one solution inform the Police and they will sort them out,” added Mr. Grewal.
South Australia Police has told The Australia today, “South Australia Police is aware of the upcoming Vaisakhi Mela festival. As with other community events, SAPOL works with organisers and conducts assessments to identify the level of police presence required. These assessments are conducted in the lead up to and during the event.”
“We encourage any person who at any time believes their own; or the safety of others may be at risk, to report that to the police as soon as possible.“
“My message to the community is, please attend Vaisakhi Mela in big numbers and enjoy food and cultural dances,” added Mr. Thandi.
Note: The Australia Today has tried to contact Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar, however, we have not received any response from him. In case he responds to us we will update the story.