Toronto Raptors’ Superfan Nav Bhatia accepts, then turns down Global Indian Award

NAV Bhatia, Toronto Raptors’ Superfan who is officially the Raptors’ South Asian Community Ambassador, turned down the $50,000 Global Indian Award a day after accepting it.

The Canada India Foundation had conferred the award on Bhatia at its virtual gala here on Sunday.

Accepting the award, Bhatia said in his pre-recorded speech that he was greatly honoured to join the company of previous awardees – Ratan Tata, Deepak Chopra, Narayana Murthy, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. As each past honouree donated the award money to charities, Bhatia too pledged it to his ‘Daughters of India Initiative’ to build school washrooms for rural girls in Punjab and Rajasthan.

The Canada India Foundation, the Toronto-based Indo-Canadian advocacy group, has honoured an outstanding Indian each year with its Global Indian Award since 2009.

But a day later, Bhatia refused to accept the award, in support of the farmers’ agitation in India.

On Sunday, the World Sikh Organization had tweeted: “superfan_nav, as someone we have recognized in the past as an advocate that raises awareness on the 1984 Sikh Genocide, we ask you decline the @Cif_Official1 award. The CIF have been steadfast Sikh Genocide deniers and have a history of being Indian state violence apologists.”

Bhatia said, “On Sunday evening I watched my pre-recorded acceptance speech and the show for the first time like many. The past 24 hours were supposed to be a celebration for all those little girls in Rajasthan but it has been far from that. I was made privy at this point to a lot of new information…I even visited the CIF (Canada India Foundation) offices to understand their exact stance on many issues.”

He said, “I stay away from politics to be honest. But I am a proud Sikh. And that is first and foremost. As a result, my heart cannot accept this award at this time. Not while my brothers and sisters across India are in pain. I stand with all of the farmers of India. I pray for a safe and peaceful resolve.”

Bhatia said if the Canada India Foundation “would like to continue with their donation then great, if not then I will personally donate the $50,000 needed to begin phase IV,” of his project in Alwar.

The WSO later tweeted: “@superfan_nav, by declining @Cif_Official1‘s Global Indian of the Year Award you have done the right thing. Attempts to marginalize Sikh Canadians, minimize #DelhiChalo, and deny the Sikh Genocide will never succeed.”

On Monday, the Canada India Foundation said in a statement: “CIF regrets the decision and circumstances under which Nav Bhatia chose to return the Global Indian of the Year Award. Canadians of all walks of life treasure his non-political enthusiasm for sport and for Canada & India.

“The true spirit of this Award is recognizing and celebrating the role, success and contribution of an outstanding global Indian every year. To be drawn into India’s current politics or to pronounce on historical debates is not in the spirit of the Award.

“We will continue the hard and important work of pursuing genuine reconciliation between communities, and of strengthening ties between two great democracies.”

(IANS and other news sources)

Nav Bhatia’s full statement on his ‘Superfan Page’ Facebook:

I am Sikh.
Actually.
I am a proud Sikh.
I came to Canada in 1984 after the Sikh genocide.
Many Sikhs lost their lives. My own father was almost dragged out of a car and a burning tire was almost placed over his head. He was moments from death. He was lucky. We were lucky. Many were not as lucky.
Canada is my haven. It is my heaven on earth.
Many see the glamour of the cars, the celebrity friends, the expensive watch but very few witnessed me cleaning washrooms when I first arrived to put food on the table for my family.
I am a proud Sikh.
We do things with pride and passion; my washrooms were the cleanest washrooms in the city. I then became a car salesman. My story is well known from that point. The dealerships, the discrimination, the Raptors, adopting my beautiful little girl and now doing everything I can to give back to as many kids as I can.
I have but one mission. To bring people together.
I am a proud Sikh.
I made a promise to my mom I would not cut my hair, I would not remove my turban and I would not drink alcohol. May her soul rest in peace but every morning I wake up with that promise kept.
I am a proud Sikh.
Now currently in my life I want to give back to as many kids as possible. Over the years I have accepted many awards, including a few from well known Sikh organizations, each award was encouragement to keep working for our youth. Each award inspired me to do more because to me an award is about a group of people who are acknowledging your service and showing their support for your cause.
This award was to be that also.
Pre-covid In March, I accepted this award from the Canada India Foundation. Coupled with it was a donation in the amount of $50,000 to my passion project – World Vision Canada’s Daughters of India Initiative. Building washrooms for girls in rural parts of India so they can safely continue their education.
I am so proud of my entire team. We completed three phases in Faridkot, Punjab – over 180 washrooms were built or renovated across 36 schools. Over 4000 girls have been impacted. We are now beginning Phase IV focusing on Alwar, in the state of Rajasthan. One hundred washrooms and 2 basketball courts will be built. I get goosebumps thinking about this initiative. This is everything to me.
This is what the award meant to me. A step closer to finishing 100 washrooms.
On Sunday evening I watched my pre-recorded acceptance speech and the show for the first time like many. The past 24 hours were supposed to be a celebration for all those little girls in Rajasthan but it has been far from that.
I was made privy at this point to a lot of new information. I have been quiet. Not because I did not know what to say. I wanted to do my own due diligence. I made countless phone calls. I spoke to many prominent figures. I even visited the CIF (Canada India Foundation) offices to understand their exact stance on many issue. See I am not a political person, I stay away from politics to be honest.
But I am a proud Sikh. And that is first and foremost.
As a result, my heart cannot accept this award at this time.
Not while my brothers and sisters across India are in pain.
I stand with all of the farmers of India. I pray for a safe and peaceful resolve.
As for the girls of Rajasthan, If the Canada India Foundation would like to continue with their donation then great if not then I will personally donate the $50,000 needed to begin Phase IV.
My life has been about changing perceptions and prejudice. I hope we all come together and share in each others pain just as we celebrate in each others happiness.
When one of us is hurting we are all hurting.
All that matters to me is our youth and the examples we set for them.
Keep me in your prayers.
I am a proud Indian,
I am a proud Canadian and
I am a proud Sikh.
Love,
Superfan, Nav Bhatia


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