The Georgia Straight
Toolkit creator Mo Dhaliwal enrages India’s elites
Mo Dhaliwal has been called many things over the years— a B.C. cultural navigator, arts aficionado, bhangra lover, PuSh festival supporter, and the founder of the Skyrocket digital branding agency in Vancouver. He could add the term antiracist media activist to the list in 2019 when he exposed how Global News B.C. covered up a blackface joke by one of its employees.
But it wasn’t until this year that he was accused of being a “terrorist” in the Indian media—an allegation that he adamantly denies. And it arose over a couple of tweets by two of the most famous women in the world—Rihanna and Greta Thunberg—who questioned why there wasn’t more global attention on farmers’ protests in India.
It’s been a painful ordeal for Dhaliwal, who shared his experiences with the Straight of repeatedly being defamed in his ancestral homeland after he delivered a short speech in January in front of the Indian consulate on Howe Street. In an hourlong phone interview in advance of Vaisakhi, Dhaliwal talked about how he and others in the Indian diaspora are being victimized by “psychological warfare” from India’s neoliberal government and its allies. It came as a result of him publicly questioning why the country is oppressing farmers, journalists, women, minorities, Muslim refugees, and those from lower Hindu castes.
“India is exacting a lot of violence against dissenters within its own borders,” Dhaliwal said. “But that violence actually extends beyond its borders now because they’ve got these kind of cybercells set up to engage in things like doxxing—and [engaging in] the degree of trolling that happens.”
He also thinks that India mostly gets a free pass from the West, unlike China, because its government is democratically elected.
Dhaliwal came to the Indian establishment’s attention when Thunberg tweeted a link to an online “toolkit”. It was created by the Vancouver-based Poetic Justice Foundation, which he cofounded with arts and nonprofit advocate Anita Lal. Dhaliwal described the toolkit as an “innocuous PowerPoint deck”.
It showed how to contact politicians, sign petitions, and use hashtags—including #AskIndiaWhy—to condemn state violence and demand that the Indian government listen to protesters.
“We had strategy documents,” Dhaliwal explained. “We had all sorts of stuff that was being worked on in plain sight. The encouragement to everybody working with us in the diaspora was, ‘Share this far and wide. Get this into the hands of whoever needs it.’ ”
He felt that this was the best way to reduce the likelihood of security forces in India from using more violence against farmers, who’ve already faced some attacks. And he emphasized that this is a national movement taking place in many states, even though it appears to the world as mostly