Destination South Asia

Here’s a taste of some of the talks at Destination South Asia which took place at the University of British Columbia on March 23, 2013.

“Why is Poverty Declining so slowly in India,” Dr. Ashok Kotwal

  1. India continues to be so poor because most of its population continues to be employed in agriculture which pays so little if anything.
  2. Indians need to shift into non-farm jobs, like manufacturing but India does not have enough skilled labour partly because.
  3. Indians are so poorly educated or not educated at all

Some other points from Dr. Kotwal’s paper on the subject ( )

  1. Most Indians (93%) have no job security nor access to credit, infrastructure or skills training as they work under the table (the ‘informal sector’), and;
  2. Unskilled and poor workers have benefited little from the “high growth” because they lack the skills to take part in such skill-intensive sectors as business services (which employ only a small part of the labour force anyway).

How will India reap its “demographic dividend” when its people are unskilled, undereducated, malnourished… ?


“Beyond Political Frames: Literary Voices on Partition,” Nabila Pirani

Short-stories on Partition are written by writers alive at the time of the event, offering the benefit of immediacy to the reader, but can bring out the human and social aspects of Partition more effectively than purely historical or political narratives.

Summarizing the stories “Siqqa Badal Gaya,” “Lajwanti” and “Khol Do” by Krishna Sobti, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Saadat Hassan Manto respectively, Pirani, and the following discussion, revealed the many textures and tones of the Partition era.

In “Siqqa,” Pirani underlines how for many Punjabis, the violence of partition was mostly in the background and how the experience of partition changes through the perspective of a woman writer and protagonist. In “Khol Do,” Manto upsets the apple cart by suggesting that men from a particular community may have raped their own women. Lastly, in “Lajwanti,” Pirani looked at the invisible walls that develop between a husband and a wife who had recently been returned to her husband after being classed as “missing.”

“Pakistan’s Fading Cultural Heritage,” Umair Jaffar

Pakistani singer

The Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC) is a Pakistani non-profit organization which seeks to support struggling artists and ustads and to preserve and propagate the classical and folk musical and artistic heritages of Pakistan.

The soul of Pakistan can be heard in the ballads of Marwari women in the Southern Punjab anticipating the return of their husbands from war as it is in the Nur Sur tradition of Baluchistan, a folk story-telling tradition stretching back to the Greek period. There are the instruments, like the Sindhi “borindo,” have been found in excavations in the Indus Valley from over 4000 years ago. And, we see how ancient instruments like the Baluchistani “banjo” can produce the sounds of the modern electric guitar.

Jaffar points out that public media presentations of folk and classical music performances were banned during Zia’s time resulting in a growing number of Pakistani youth over the years who have become disconnected from those traditions. At the same time, some traditions have also enjoyed an upsurge, such as in Baluchistan where folk music traditions have revived as part of a general cultural revival in recent years. I argued that folk and classical music traditions are bound to decline in a country where the languages held in greatest esteem (Arabic, English and Urdu) are not connected to nor supportive of its folk traditions. On the other hand, the traditions of poetry and music connected to the mother tongue helped produce the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


“History of Intercultural Dialogue and Engagement in Vancouver,” Naveen Girn


Girn’s presentation including rare photographs, news excerpts and audio clips and now part of the public archive, serves as a reminder of the history of South Asians in Vancouver.

The story of South Asians in Vancouver can be said to begin with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. To attend the Jubillee in London, England, the army regiments of the subcontinent had to first pass through Vancouver. By 1907, a sizeable number of South Asians had settled in the city and that year saw the opening of the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara in Kitsilano, the first gurdwara in North America.

More than a sacred space, the gurdwara was a meeting ground for Indians of different communities, including socialists, revolutionaries and members of the Ghadr party. The early community lived through the 1907 race riots in Vancouver and the Komagata Maru, published their own news magazine (associated with the Ghadr movement), forged associations with members of Anglo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities and sent delegates to Ottawa to petition the government to grant South Asians the right to vote. The gurdwara also hosted Rabindranath Tagore, who Girn points out slept in the basement there after being turned away from the Hotel Vancouver and Nehru, who visited in 1949.

Uddari gets (a piece of) the ‘Brilliante Weblog Award’!

Surfing the Net last week, i came upon this:
Uddari –  Fauzia Rafiq and other prolific writers collaborate to blog about contemporary Punjabi Literature, art, events and  movements .’
That led me up to this:
Now its my turn to follow the rules of Brilliante Awards by passing it on to the 5 bloggers i admire:’
And down to this:
Folk Punjabi– Deepinder puts nice effort to blog about folk Punjabi boliaan. Punjabi Haiku–  Amarjit Sathi has started a new wave in Punjabi haiku writing, works  of new writers and translation of Haiku from around the world is posted here.  RoopScoop – for doing wonderful job by starting a blog like unchahi on female foeticide. Lafjan da Pul – Deep Jagdeep wants to bridge the divide by making it easy for people who write in Gurmukhi and provide a platform for everything that is Punjabi.’

View it all at Jasdeep’s ‘Parchanve’ blog

By recognizing the contributions of others, Jasdeep is showing us the how-tos of community building. I am delighted to be a part of it also because its Passing The Love, and because Brilliante is grassroots community-based non-monetary initiative that is flexible and versatile, and can not be hogged by anyone.
So, here, Uddari gets a Fifth of The Brilliante Weblog Award
Passes it on to:
A Writer of Punjabi poetry and prose who has inspired many posts at Uddari and Uddari Art, and has initiated the Archives Section at Punjabi Books.
(An easy guess for most of us at Uddari)
An Editor of Punjabi books and magazines who delivers literary excellence in each book or magazine he edits and publishes.
(A bit tough, perhaps)
A Compulsive Reader of Punjabi poetry who bought online the first Punjabi book at Punjabi Books, and so unknowingly, has become the FIRST READER FOREVER (FRF) or PEHLA PUNJABI PARHIYAR.

The three lucky names are hidden in the 10 pages of Uddari Weblog, and whoever finds them by April 11, 2009 the day of Uddari’s first birthday, will be awarded… a BRILLIANTE, of course.

Fauzia Rafique

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‘No Heer please, we’re Sikhs!’

Singing Heer not allowed in Khalsa College!

idu-sharif-muktsar-240309-pic-subhash-pariharIdu Sharif at Khalsa College, Muktasar
Photo by Subhash Parihar

Singer Idu Sharif of Malerkotla gave a performance at Khalsa College Muktsar in India yesterday evening where someone from the audience requested him to sing Heer but the organisers said that singing Heer can not be allowed in Khalsa College.

Both audience and singers were ‘disappointed’, shares Photographer Subhash Parihar (who was present at the occasion) with Author Amarjit Chandan in an email message.

Heer Ranjha is the ever-living folk story of the Punjab presented over ages by various writers including Damodar Daas, Mukbaz and Ahmed Gujjar but when a Punjabi just says ‘heer’ it means Heer by Poet Waris Shah.  Written in 1766, Heer Waris Shah is perhaps one of the most endearing and enduring literary feats of Punjabi language and culture. It also has its own ‘gaiki’, a specific mode of singing, and Punjabi folk singers ‘test’ each other on singing Heer.

Not just that. The legendary devotion of Heer and Ranjha to each other that cut across class and tradition, is one of the strongest symbols of spiritual transcendental love in the sufi poetry of the Punjab. The Sufi poets, especially Malamti Sufis such as Madhulal Hussain and Bulhe Shah who made extensive use of the story and characters of Heer and Ranjha, were also avid critics of religion/s.

Heer herself challenged the laws of tradition in the local court, and ‘mullahs’ (Muslim priests) were held in contempt by both Heer and Ranjha.

As well, its a love story, the religious frameworks are too harsh for it to unfold.

This incident reminds us again to be mindful of allowing any religion be it Sikh, Muslim, Hindu or Christian to take charge of language development efforts. If Khalsa College is intolerant of Heer-singing in a music concert, we will find even worse examples of what may or may not be allowed in a Muslim college. To begin with, singing itself is not allowed in Islam unless the songs are ‘hamd’, ‘naat’ or ‘qawwali’ the three accepted forms of singing to praise Allah and Prophet Muhammad.

Weary of ‘Sikh’ chairs in North America, i am dreading the ‘Sufi’ chairs that are being formed in the universities in Pakistani Punjab because Sufism’s stronger and influential streaks do not adhere to Malamti sufis but sufis of demagogic religious beliefs.

Our religions, whenever possible, will ‘develop’ a stern Punjabi language bound by a culture of righteous suffocation to promote a form of Punjabi literature and art that may not be much to look forward to.

Fauzia Rafique
Subhash Parihar
Amarjit Chandan

(Title inspired by stage play No sex please, we’re British‘)

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Bhagat Singh Shaheed: ‘Nee mayaiN mera rung dae basanti chola’




Bhagat Singh Shaheed Day

March 23/09


Two Punjabi poems




Bhagat Singh de NaaN 1
By Mudasar Punnu


Rat. laal nee

Paalan rut mhaal nee

Jind haaloN behaal nee

Kufr dae ghhaeray

Haq dae gaeRay

Keh parwah jo

Sangi saaDae naal nee


Bhagat Singh de NaaN 2
By Mudasar Punnu


KidhroN aye

Kidhar langh gaye

Yaar peyareyaN sangdi

Rut karni

Rab honi toN

Khair ishq de mangdi

Soohae saaway naal gulabi

Vich bzareiN bhatti chaaRhay

Basanti malmal cha’ naal

Ghar ja ke rangdi

Mudasar Punnu

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Painter Manjit Bawa Moves ON


Punjabi Painter Manjit Bawa passed away today (29th December) in New Delhi. He was in a coma for the last three years following a heart stroke.

Bawa was known for his miniature-style paintings using lucid colors and folk motifs.

View Bawa’s profile and some of his paintings at Uddari Art:
Manjit Bawa

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MukhtaraN Bibi: A (the) Great Punjabi Woman!


Yes, its hard for me to just say ‘A Great…’ for the likes of MukhtaraN Bibi aka MukhtaraN Mai, and its not just because she makes me unashamedly proud of being a woman, a Punjabi, a Pakistani, a South Asian, a human.

Her story is known to us but it is not certain if it has been told. We know that a woman was punished by a jirga for the actions of her younger brother, June 2002 in Meerwala. On the orders of the jirga, MukhtaraN Bibi was gang-raped by the men of the aggrieved (influential) family to avenge the sexual liasons of her (lower status) brother with one of ‘their’ women.

MukhtaraN Bibi would have taken the rap of justice however hard but not that forced play on the ugly set of a live porn show. As is usual in such cases, the set that was erected to mount that gang-rape was conceived, staged and protected by local male elders, politicians, and law enforcers. It was an ‘honour’ kill without the dead body.

In the pit of physical pain, shame and humiliation, MukhtaraN Bibi may have come to  know the meaning of many words but we are certain of one: ‘Ignorance’. (‘My slogan is to end oppression through education‘).

It is not unusual for women to receive punishment for the actions of their male family members in a country where ‘honour’ means ‘male revenge’ tied to property, and killing for it is an acceptable social practice. Even in that environment, the punishment given to MukhtaraN Bibi by that local court of ‘justice’ was unacceptable for the larger society. Yet this was not the most unusual thing about this case. The most unusual thing was what MukhtaraN Bibi did after the porn show was over. Instead of going insane with shame, despairing to the point of committing suicide or accepting the status of a whore in the area, MukhtaraN Bibi stood up, gathered support, fought the system-backed aggressors, and won!

Oh victimized she was and survive she did as she changed the meaning of both ‘Victim’ and ‘Survivor’!

Even when the real criminals have still not been punished, MukhtaraN Bibi is victorious at many different levels. She has reclaimed her honour in her area and beyond, opened schools in her community to fight ignorance with the money she had received for her strengths and leadership, has become a continual source of inspiration and strength for women, and is one of the major reasons for creating an atmosphere for the jirgas to be declared illegal in Pakistan.

Though jirgas still thrive and continue to generate an ‘official’ form of community violence against women and men of lower social groups, a strong blow to this entrenched system of religio-feudal oppression has been dealt by MukharaN Mai; and, here comes a Punjabi poem for her in roman:

Sohn MukhtaraN!
By Fauzia Rafiq

Terae pairaN haiThhaN jutti
jutti thallae nissaldi mitti
soohae rang vich ghol
mathae tae lawaN
Ek mitti Punjabi
utae tera parchhawaN
Inj laggae Bibo
ajjo dil.dlairee pawaN

Sources and Links to more information:
Chronology of Events
Mai’s Profile on Wikipedia
‘Whose Justice? MUKHTARAN MAI: Punishment of the innocent’: Amnesty International
Mai’s Blog: Poland Travelogue
Interview with Mukhtaran Mai
A film ‘Mukhtiar Mai: The Struggle for Justice’ by Journalist Beena Sarwar

Though women were being killed each day by jirgas to avenge male ‘honour’ and protect their properties prior to 2002, the demand to declare jirgas illegal had never gained centrality in the movements for protection of rights in Pakistan. Most women who get killed for male ‘honour’ belong to lower classes while the leadership of women’s and rights movements comes from middle and upper classes. MukhtaraN Bibi by taking a stand against the ‘ignorance’ of jirga-led perpetrators allowed rights activists around the world to support her case to the point where rights movements in Pakistan were enabled to put forward the demand to illegalize jirgas.

All through the years when MukhtaraN Bibi was fighting for her court case and against the value systems that have perpetuated such woman-abusing traditions, she never looked into the camera. It must have been hard to look at all that the world had come to represent to her.

Not here…

Or here…

mukhtar_mai_press1Or for the Press…

For Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year? Almost!


Leading protests… somewhat.

Now she may find that because of what she did and made other people do, the world has become better, and so, behold a glorious folk hero as she raises her eye at the world.

mukhtaranmai-smA folk hero raises her eye!

Fauzia Rafique

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Kikli 13 July

July 13, 2008: Paklistan vich ek jirgae dae hukm te punj zananiaN nooN maar maar ke zinda poor ditta geya te jehrae lokaN eh keeta ohnaN vich zananiaN dae peyo, bhra, chachae te ek minister dae sukae sun.

In honor of the five Baloch women buried alive on July 13 in Baba Kot

Anarkali aj zinda hoi
Nangi phhirae bzaraN
Zulm de laaT ch pinda lishkae
Shahwat dee akhh draaRaN

Akbar Rajae jewndi chhori
Lhore dae komal dil vich guDi
Ravi ro ro mukeya pani
Keha ishq te kehi kahani

DaiTaaN mainuN yaad nahiN rehndeyan
jo hoya, oh chaita ae
Meri agli nasal dae uThhdae siraaN nooN kupdae aye naiN
eh nikae moTae akbar asghar mullaN jirgae dadageer

Teen age vich gayak maneendi
punj gunaN de guthli
ZorawaraN dae durbaraN vich
apna huq jitawan paaroN jan bejani hoi

13 July
Anarkali tooN vul kyoN aaye
kithae tera dera

Jhok BalochaN dharti tuRfae
kukhheeN jewendiaN suTeyaN
pichhae na koi Akbar Raja
na durbar bagana

Peyo bhra
merae maaN-peyo ja
bun khaRae sarkaraN
pathar Babakot dae, jind-khhichwaiN hathiaraN

ef ai ar durj krawn
muqbrae banawn, lection jatawn
shayr chhapawan toN pehloN
bachRiyaN roohaN uD, huDaN toN paaraN

MaiN te badshahaN de ghulaam saaN
badshaahaiN ditti chunwa
eh kaun khhaRae poordae
merae apnae peyo bhra

Kikli kleer dee
Pug merae veer dee

KehRa tera abba nee
te kon tera bhra

MaiN jind se aap vari
koi yaar bachawan mari
Aithae vudh hyati nochdae
merae sujjan saak peyarae

Pug merae veer dee
Dopatta merae bhai da

Kinnae terae putar nee
te kinnae chaachae taa

Shahzaadae salim saarae, eh akbri dae maarae
qabraN swaniaN te aa muqbrae ussaran
Maarkae jo maran
vunjh GuruwaN nooN saaRan

Kikli kleer dee
Pug merae veer dee
Dopatta merae bhai da
Te fiTae munh jawai da

Kikli kleer de
Pug meri Heer de
Dopatta Shah BhaTai da
Te jugg meri Mai da

A punjabi poem by Fauzia Rafiq

Related Content:
Kikli 13 July Punjabi Sahmukhi
Swal Jannat da NahiN
Mir Wah de Benaam Chhori Number One
Mir Wah de Fauzia
Fauzia of Mir Wah
Kikli 13 July
Vaen (mourning)
Love Life: The Story

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