Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature – 2013 to 2020

In 2013 when Dhahan Prize was in the process of being established in Vancouver, I saw it as a progressive and uplifting force for Punjabi literature and language. It was a happy occasion for me when Anne Murphy (University of British Columbia, Asian Studies) and Barj Dhahan (Canada India Education Society), the two initiators, accepted my definition of ‘Punjabi’ to then include Shahmukhi writers, representing 60% of the World’s Punjabis, to be eligible for the Prize. I facilitated it by providing contacts in the Pakistani Punjab, and by serving on the inaugral advisory committee in Vancouver. My appreciation to Barj, Anne, Harinder Dhahan, and many others for their accomplishments and contributions in pulling it together. Indeed it is the only literary award that offers meaningful monetary reward to fiction writers of both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts residing in Pakistan, India and the Diaspora- a beautiful placement for community building in our literary landscape!

In seven years, however, that vision, that hope, has been consistently eroded by the political and social interests guiding Dhahan Prize, and now, the project has become more of a conservative push that further debilitates our literary environments with money and undue influence leading to the formation of cliques (‘narrow exclusive circles’, mw) in both India and Pakistan. It seems that the prize structure follows regressive systemic values where personal likes/dislikes and clan-based interests guide literary decisions. It is interesting, for example, that in seven years, not a single Shahmukhi writer, or a woman writing in either script, was allowed to win the main prize.

I also know that Dhahan Prize is not the only one employing discriminatory values and structures to get desired results, that all literary prizes, more so the big ones, operate on similar basis. For example, we see here in Canada and the USA that most big prizes are awarded to straight middle class white men, protecting the systemic values of racism, sexism, class privilege and homophobia. That it may take years of lobbying, bribes, favors and/or public pressure for someone to win a Sitara-e-Imtiaz in Pakistan or a Sahitya Akademi Award in India, and, that the more ‘outstanding’ talent may never get either. That the Nobel is only awarded when it serves the political interests of the so called ‘Western’ governments. Periodically and as needed, exceptions are made to save the credibility of a program, to increase its profits or to enhance its influence.

Knowing this, why did i expect this prize to be any different? The unique possibility with Dhahan Prize is its physical location where it does not have to work with or through the bureaucracy or the politics of either of the governments of the Punujab. They are independent of the social, religious and financial constraints and limitations of both India and Pakistan. In so being, the Dhahan Prize is in the very best position to build non-discriminatory, non-prejudicial, democratic structures that can spearhead the nurturement of leading-edge literature in Punjabi; to provide a pathway for authors tackling themes tabooed by prevalent South Asian value systems, and to support authors coming from historically disadvantaged groups. But would they or can they do it? I hope that the Dhahan Prize recognizes this as the unique opportunity it is, and resolve to do different and better instead of adding more of the same to an already toxic mix.

I was distraught last year to find that in their media releases and events, the Dhahan Prize stage was repeatedly handed over to an English language fiction writer of Punjabi origin- in the presence of three (of their own) award winning authors. It made me feel disrespected as a Punjabi writer, and in my small way, i responded by changing the emphasis of their media release by choosing another photo and rearranging the text in my event information post on Uddari, and, by participating in the discussion in one of the events. I wonder if, like many others in our community, the organizers also are inwardly ashamed of Punjabi writers writing in Punjabi.

Earlier this year, when i was submitting my novella Keerru to Dhahan Prize, i asked Maqsood Saqib (Pancham and Suchet Kitab Ghar) who had published his second short story collection, if he had submitted it. His first collection, containing the story ‘Pappu’, is a tone-setter for the narrative of modern short fiction in Shahmukhi. He hadn’t; i asked him why not, and he said something like: ‘literature is not written to win prizes’, and i said, yes indeed it’s not but if a book is already written and there’s a prize then why not submit it. He did not agree. This points to another discomfort. If authors are asked to submit to the prize themselves, not only that it sets up a relationship of ‘patronage’ with the prize but it also means that works by authors such as Saqib, and now myself, will stay out of Dhahan Prize’s lists. I don’t know how in the long run, this ongoing process of ommission will serve Punjabi literature, language or culture.

This is sad, and at this rate, within the first decade of its existence, Dhahan Prize will become well known for generously rewarding mediocrity and opportunism in Punjabi literature- instead of encouraging excellence and ingenuity.

Earlier this month, my novella ‘Keerru’ was shortlisted for Dhahan Prize but I hesitate to accept it as a compliment or to take it as a credit. My work does not need to be endorsed by compromised juries working through processes marred by favoritism and personal career agendas. I would rather continue with my walk.

Photo by Hafsah Durrani

Fauzia Rafique
Surrey BC
October 18, 2020

Novella ‘Keerru’

Gurmukhi ebook

Shahmukhi : Sanjh Publications, Lahore

Urdu ebook

Novel ‘Skeena’

Shahmukhi, Gurmukhi and English Editions
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2019 Dhahan Prize Awards Ceremony – Vancouver November 2nd

‘Kon’ Who, novelette by Mudassar Bashir

Saturday November 2, 2019
Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, University of British Columbia
Doors open at 6:00, ceremony begins at 7:00
Followed by a catered reception
Download PDF Poster

 

First prize : Jatinder Singh Haans
(Aloona Tola, Punjab, India), short story collection, title in translation ‘Jyona satch, Baqi Jhoot’ Living is Truth, All Else is a Lie.
Finalist, Shahmukhi : Mudassar Bashir
(Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan), novelette, ‘KonWho.
Finalist, Gurmukhi : Gurdev Singh
(Rupana, Punjab, India), short story collection, title in translation ‘Aam Khaas’ Ordinary Extraordinary‘.

‘In 2014, the Dhahan Prize took flight, and in 2019 we return to recognize the achievements of Punjabi writers at our 6th annual event. For work in the Punjabi scripts of Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi, this prize recognizes one outstanding writer with a $25,000 award, as well as two finalists with awards of $10,000. Forging meaningful relationships with writers, community organizations and educational institutions in Pakistan, India and the diaspora, the Dhahan Prize is the world’s signature prize for Punjabi literary works.’

The Keynote Speaker is Balli Kaur Jaswal, an award-winning author of four novels, including ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’.

Tickets can be purchased at
https://dhahanprize2019awardsceremony.eventbrite.com

More information
The Dhahan Prize
1058–2560 Shell Road
Richmond, BC V6X 0B8 Canada
contact@dhahanprize.com
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Dhahan Youth Prize in Creative Writing in BC High Schools – Launching Surrey Feb 28/2017

Dhahan Logo in all scripts

Uddari welcomes the launch of Dhahan Youth Prize, a province-wide creative writing contest where EIGHT British Columbia students of Punjabi will be awarded a CDN$500 prize, four in each of intermediate and advanced language skill levels.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
10:45 am (SHARP)
LA Matheson Secondary School
9484 122 Street, Surrey

The contest is open to all secondary school students of British Columbia who are studying Punjabi in grade 11 or 12.
The writing submitted must be in both Punjabi and English.
Submissions will be accepted from March 1st to May 31st, 2017.
The awards will be given out at the Dhahan Prize Awards ceremony at the end of October 2017.

Coast Capital Savings is the presenting sponsor for the new Youth Prize, and L.A. Matheson Secondary is a supporting partner with Founder Barj S. Dhahan.

Punjabi is the 2nd most spoken language in British Columbia. This youth initiative will be recognized along with the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature.

For more information about Dhahan Prize visit
dhahanprize.com
facebook.com/DhahanPrize

Contact: Carolyn Treger
Dhahan Prize
604-831-6831
admin@dhahanprize.com
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Call For Submissions: Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize – March 15/14

For months, i have watched with apprehension and excitement the development of Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize, and now after its launch(es) i am happy to report that it is indeed a giant(!) leap(!) forward for Punjabi literature. Not just because the prize money is substantial at $25,000 (all scripts, and with two runner-ups of $5,000, one each for Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi), but also because it is one of the few initiatives that recognizes Punjabi in it’s totality and so claims the history and development of its literature across scripts, national/ethnic boundaries, and religious divides.

Submission Guidelines
Date January 15 – March 1 (online), with hard-copies due by March 15.
Format PDF version and a Printed Copy
Genre Fiction – novels, novellas, short story collections
Edition Original first editions only. Reprints or translations are not eligible.
Publishing Date During 2013
Books Published by ‘recognized’ and ‘independent’ publishers only. No self-published books.

Download Call for Submissions
English
Gurumukhi
Shahmukhi
(Note revised date: Jan 15 – March 1 (online), with hard-copies due by March 15)

Uddari fully supports this wonderful initiative as it is one of the fruits of our labour. Dhahan Prize is so valuable because it recognizes:
. Punjabi writers anywhere in the World. In South Asia and outside.
. Punjabi literature in both its major scripts, Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi.
. Importance of fiction, long and short, in the development of a literature.
. Rights of Punjabi writers by offering them the first yearly living wage.

The Prize will for sure get some serious attention from Punjabi writers around the world where only a few can or have depended on their creative writing for a living. I am talking about those stubborn people who insisted on writing in Punjabi when their world was pushing it aside and saying that there’s no future in writing in Punjabi; the people who were told by non-royalties-paying Punjabi publishers that their work is not good enough for money; and, that not many wanted to read them anyway.

Dhahan Prize will create a surge in the readership of Punjabi books because writers are the very first readers of books.

At Uddari Weblog, we are in a celebratory mode because Dhahan Prize strengthens many of our goals and objectives.

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
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Related posts on Uddari
Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize – Launch Vancouver Oct 8/13
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