An Evening with Saeen Zahoor


Written by Randeep Singh

On May 31, 2014, Pakistani Sufi singer Saeen Zahoor performed at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, sending the audience into trance, dance and inspiring reverence throughout.

The evening brought together local Indian and Pakistani performers, organizers and audience members. Indo-Pakistani band Naqsh IPB opened the evening with their blend of modern Sufi, rock, classical and filmi musical stylings. Through clashing drums, pulsating guitar riffs and the soaring vocals of Daksh Kubba, Naqsh warmed up the crowd for Saeen.

He entered in his long black kurta embroidered in yellow, ghungroo bells jingling around his ankles, carrying his colourfully decorated ektaara (one-string instrument). “I am not an artist,” he began, “I am a dervish who recites the name of His Master.”

Saeen didn’t just sing: he performed in every sense of the word. The spirit of Bulleh Shah poured through Saeen, his songs, his dance, his story-telling. His two hours on the stage was a musical theatre on the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah.

After declaring his devotion to Bulleh Shah in “Ni Mai Kamli Haan” (‘Crazy I Am!’), Saeen sang “Aukhen Painde Lambiyaan Raavan” (‘Hard and Long are the Paths’), of how Bulleh Shah journeyed for miles in search of his teacher. On meeting his teacher, Shah Inayat, Bulleh Shah asks: “how does one find God.” Shah Inayat, planting spring onions, replies: “what do you want to find God for? Just uproot this from here and plant it there.”

Saeen then broke out ecstatically into “Nachna Painda Ae” (‘Dance One Must’) swirling on the stage in his ghunghroo bells just as Bulleh Shah had once for Shah Inayat.

Saeen also sang on Bulleh Shah’s rebukes to legalistic Muslim clerics in “Bas Kare O Yaara Ilm” (‘Enough of Learning, My Friend’). Saeen tells us, Bulleh Shah gave up the shariah for the way of Love just as Heer refused to marry another man according to the shariah because she had been wedded spiritually to her Beloved. On love’s path, Saeen sings “let’s go Bulleh to that place where everyone is blind” in “Chal Bulleha Uthe Chale.”

From his stepping onto the stage, the audience became disciples of Saeen. He sang with abandon, he whirled with frenzy and he ended the night to the boom of the dhol drum bringing the audience to its feet. The air was filled with passion, energy and devotion. People went up to the stage and paid their respects by touching their heads to the stage or folding their hands in reverence: the theatre became a Sufi shrine, a dargah.

Above all, Saeen ensured Bulleh Shah will live on as a shared heritage. His spirit and art were the spirit of love and unity. Says Saeen: “humanity is to love one another.”

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.

Lesbian Author Farzana Doctor launches new novel – Vancouver July 26/11

Join us for a book reading, Q&A and signing with
Farzana Doctor
Author of ‘Stealing Nasreen’ and ‘Six Metres of Pavement’
Tuesday, July 26
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium
1238 Davie Street
Vancouver, British Columbia

Everyone welcome
Books for sale

Farzana Doctor is a Toronto-based author and the recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s prestigious Dayne Ogilvie Grant for an emerging gay Canadian author (2011). Her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2007. She is currently touring her second book, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn 2011), which Publishers Weekly has praised as “..a paean to second chances.” In her spare time, she provides private practice consulting and psychotherapy services and is a co-curator of the Brockton Writers Series.

Watch the book trailer

View Farzana’s interview

Ismail Boxwala made the worst mistake of his life one summer morning twenty years ago: he forgot his baby daughter in the back seat of his car. After his daughter’s tragic death, he struggles to continue living. A divorce, years of heavy drinking, and sex with strangers only leave him more alone and isolated.
But Ismail’s story begins to change after he reluctantly befriends two women: Fatima, a young queer activist kicked out of her parents’ home; and Celia, his grieving Portuguese-Canadian neighbour who lives just six metres away. A slow-simmering romance develops between Ismail and Celia. Meanwhile, dangers lead Fatima to his doorstep. Each makes complicated demands of him, ones he is uncertain he can meet.

From Trikone Vancouver
Information provided by Randeep Purewall.

Third Annual Celebration of Punjabi at UBC, Vancouver, April 2/11

The Third Annual Celebration of Punjabi
at UBC
In honour of the memory of Harjit K. Sidhu
Saturday, April 2, 2011

2 p.m.
Welcome and introductions
Lecture by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, University of Michigan
“Beyond Secular and Religious Apologetics: Re-evaluating the Concept of Shabad Guru”
Lifetime achievement award for local Punjabi-language writer Ravinder Ravi and
awards for student essay contest winners.
Tea and coffee
Student performances from the Punjabi 200 class at UBC, and short documentary video projects by Punjabi 300 students

Today’s lecture
Beyond Secular and Religious Apologetics: Re-evaluating the Concept of Shabad Guru
Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, University of Michigan

Arvind Mandair is Associate Professor and S.B.S.C. Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan. His recent publications include: Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation (Columbia University Press, 2009); Secularism and Religion-Making (co-edited Oxford University Press, 2011); and Teachings of the Sikh Gurus (Routledge, 2005), co-authored and co-translated with Christopher Shackle. He is a founding editor of the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory and is Assistant Editor of the journal Culture and Religion, both published by Routledge.

Lifetime achievement award for local writer Ravinder Ravi
Every year this event honors a local writer either for overall contribution to Punjabi literature or, every other year, for a recent contribution to Punjabi literature. This year, we are proud to honor Ravinder Ravi for his overall contribution to Punjabi letters and the Punjabi literary world both in BC and abroad.

About Mr. Ravi
Ravinder Ravi was born on March 8, 1937 in Sialkot, in present-day Pakistan. His first book in Punjabi “dil dariā samundarõṅ ḍūṅge” or “The River of Hearts is Deeper than the Ocean,” was published in 1961. During his long literary journey, he has written 18 poetry collections, 12 poem-plays, 9 collections of short stories, one travel narrative, and two literary autobiographies, and has written or edited a dozen or more books of criticism or prose. He taught in Kenya, British Columbia and Punjab and retired from teaching in 2003. Today he lives in the British Columbia city of Terrance.
The decision to award Mr. Ravi this honor was made by a committee made up of representatives of the University and the B.C. Punjabi language literary community.

Harjit Kaur Sidhu
This program has been established in loving memory of Harjit Kaur Sidhu (nee Gill), devoted wife, mother, and strong advocate for education, Punjabi culture and language, and women’s issues.

Mrs. Sidhu was born in Amritsar in 1937. She grew up in what is now Pakistan and resettled with her parents, brothers and sisters in Ludhiana after partition. She received both an MA and MEd. She went on to lecture at Sidwa College in 1966 and 1967. She immigrated to Canada with her husband, Balvindar Singh Sidhu, in 1968. The couple lived in the Yukon for 32 years, during which time Mrs. Sidhu’s passion became early childhood education. After the birth of her sons Ravindar (1971) and Rajvindar (1972), she worked as a teacher in multiple early childhood settings: preschool, prekindergarten programs and in kindergarten.

In 2001, Harjit and Balvindar moved to Vancouver where there youngest son was a practicing dentist and where, later, their oldest son started a career at UBC as a surgeon in the Faculty of Medicine. During her time in Vancouver, Harjit rediscovered her passion for Punjabi language and culture. She was a strong advocate for Punjabi culture, and for women in Punjabi society.

After two and a half year courageous battle with cancer, she passed away in her home on July 23, 2007. She is survived by her husband, two sons and their wives, two grandsons and one granddaughter.

Sincere thanks to the Sidhu family for making this program possible, and to the students, writers, and Punjabi cultural enthusiasts who contribute so much to the life of Punjabi in British Columbia.
Special thanks to Ranbir Johal of Kwantlen University; the Punjabi Language Education Association, its President Balwant Sanghera, and all its members; and to the members of the Writer’s Award Committee for their support, collaboration, and for making this event possible.

Organized by
The Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
1871 West Mall
UBC Asian Centre
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z2
Anne Murphy

Prof Hari Sharma (1934-2010)

Southasian activist, academic, visionary
Prof Hari Sharma (1934-2010)

‘It is with deepest sorrow that we announce the death of our friend and comrade, Hari Prakash Sharma, on March 16 following a prolonged battle with cancer. Hari took his last breath in his home of 42 years at Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver), British Columbia, surrounded by his comrades Harinder Mahil, Raj Chouhan, and Chin Banerjee. All of them had come together in 1976 to form the Vancouver Chapter of the Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA), which had been founded by Hari and many others at a meeting in Montreal in 1975.

‘Hari was born on November 9, 1934 at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh though his family came from Haryana. His father was a railway employee, so he moved from one place to another wherever his father was posted. Hari received his BA from Agra University and his Master’s in Social Work from Delhi University. The insight into the social life of India Hari got from his travels by train enabled by his father’s employment in the railways and his extensive travels by foot through the villages of India stimulated Hari to start writing short stories in Hindi. Hari is regarded as one of the finest writers of short stories in Hindi and many people had urged him to resume his writing in Hindi. One of his stories was adapted as a play and staged in New Delhi.

‘Hari moved to the US in 1963 for further education and did his Master in Social Work from the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in 1964 and Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY in 1968. He taught briefly at UCLA before accepting a position at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia in 1968, where he stayed till his retirement in 1999. He was honored by the University as Professor Emeritus.

‘Hari, like many enlightened academics of the 1960’s plunged in the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US and Canada. This is also the period when he espoused Marxism, which ideology he held dearly and steadfastly until his death.

‘As a member of the Faculty of Simon Fraser University he became a champion of the academic rights of colleagues who were faced with the threat of dismissal for their support of the student-led movement for democratizing the university. He became an associate and friend of another Marxist Kathleen Gough, who was suspended for her political activities. Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma co-edited the 469-page book, Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, which was published in 1973 by the Monthly Review Press, New York. The book was sought by political activists of that time and many people know of Hari as an eminent leftist scholar because of that book.

‘The 1960’s were a period of international revolutionary upheaval. The Naxalbari peasant uprising happened in the spring of 1967. Hari was greatly inspired by it. He went to India and visited Naxalbari area. It is then he got committed to the path opened by Naxalbari and retained his faith in its ultimate success until his last days, while many of his comrades had simply written off Naxalbari as a thing of the past. Hari developed contact with peasant revolutionaries and maintained a living contact till his last days.

‘While associating with the Naxalbari movement in India, Hari carried on anti-imperialist work in Vancouver through the weekly paper, Georgia Straight, published by the Georgia Straight Collective, of which he was a founding member. In 1973 Hari went to the Amnesty International in London and the Commission of Jurists in Geneva and sent a written representation to the UN Human Rights Commission to publicize the condition of more than thirty-thousand political prisoners in Indian jails.

‘In 1974 he and his comrade Gautam Appa of the London School of Economics organized a petition of international scholars to protest the treatment of political prisoners in India, which he handed to the Indian Consulate in Vancouver, BC on August 15 of the same year.

‘In 1975 Hari enthusiastically accepted an invitation from his friends in Montreal. He along with many others founded the Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA) on June 25, 1975, exactly on the same day on which Indira Gandhi declared the State of Emergency in India. Hari’s tireless work against dictatorship in India and in defense of political prisoners and oppressed peoples, and his energetic organization of progressive people across North America in the struggle against imperialism and for social justice, led to the revocation of his passport by the Indira Gandhi government in 1976.

‘Having engaged in various anti-racist struggles in the 1970s, IPANA in Vancouver, under Hari’s leadership became a primary force in the formation of the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism (BCOFR: 1980), which proved to be an extremely effective instrument against the tide of racism in the province at the time. Hari and IPANA also played a leading role in the formation of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union (CFU: 1980), which for the first time took up the cause of farm workers who had been historically excluded from protection under the labour laws and any protective regulation.

‘From the 1980s Hari’s work also began to focus on the condition of minorities in India, which came to a crisis with the attack on the Golden Temple and the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Hari stood firm in his defense of the human rights of Sikhs and, increasingly of Muslims who became the primary targets of the rising Hindutva forces gathered under the banner of the Bhartiya Janata Party. He organized a parallel conference on the centralization of state power and the threat to minorities in India to coincide with the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver in 1987.

‘In 1989 Hari brought large sections of the South Asian community together to form the Komagata Maru Historical Society to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident, in which Indian immigrants traveling to Canada on a chartered ship were turned away from the shores of Vancouver by the racist policies of the Canadian Government. As a result of the society’s work a commemorative plaque was installed in Vancouver. In 2004, during a screening of the documentary film on this incident by Ali Kazimi, Continuous Journey, the Mayor of Vancouver presented a scroll to Hari dedicating the week to the memory of Komagata Maru.

‘Following the attack on Babri Masjid in December 1992 Hari became the prime mover in the formation of a North American organization dedicated to the defense of minority rights in India called, Non-resident Indians for Secularism and Democracy (NRISAD). This organization brought together Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians of origin in South Asia through educational and cultural activities. It had its most significant moment in Vancouver in 1997, when it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the independence of India from colonial rule by bringing together people from the entire spectrum of the South Asian community to focus on how much remained to be done on the subcontinent and the urgent need for peace between Pakistan and India.

‘Recognizing the need to build a North American front against the growing menace of Hindutva fascism in India, Hari travelled to Montreal in September 1999 to join the founding of International South Asia Forum (INSAF). He became its first President and organized the Second Conference in Vancouver from August 10-12, 2001.

‘Hari’s leadership again led to the development of NRISAD into South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) in Vancouver to embrace the necessity of going beyond a focus on India to the entire South Asian region in the quest of peace and democracy based on secularism, human rights and social justice. SANSAD has pursued these goals vigorously, condemning the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 (for which he was denied a visa to go to India), championing the human rights of Kashmiris, promoting peace between Pakistan and India, supporting the rights of women in Pakistan, condemning violence against journalists and academics in Bangladesh, supporting the movement for democracy and social justice in Nepal, and defending the human rights of Tamils under the attack of the Sri Lankan state.

‘Besides being an able political organizer and a gifted writer of short stories, Hari was also a talented photographer. He photographed the common people of India, their lives and struggles. His photographs hang in many homes and have been displayed in many exhibitions. He proved himself to be an excellent director of political drama.

‘Political ideals remain steadfast. However, there has, naturally been, divergence of opinion on the strategy and tactics of achieving these ideals. During the course of long political activity of more than 50 years, Hari made many friends and comrades. It is natural that among these comrades there also arose disagreements on many issues. Nevertheless, Hari remained a comrade or a friend of all of them and they all are deeply saddened by his passing away.

‘Hari leaves behind him a legacy of activism in the service of the oppressed. He is an inspiration to engagement in the struggle for a better world, to a never-flagging effort to create a world without exploitation, without imperialist domination, without religious, caste, ethnic or gender oppression, a world that Marx envisioned as human destiny.’

Chin Banerjee
Harinder Mahil
Raj Chouhan
Daya Varma
Vinod Mubayi
Charan Gill

From Ijaz Syed at

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Professor Hari Sharma Moves On

Vancouver scholar and civil rights activist Hari Sharma passed on yesterday at 75. He was suffering from cancer.

Friends who met him in August of last year, found him enjoying every aspect of his life ‘whether in a seminar or while chanting in a rally or being in a debate over a social issue at his home in Burnaby.’

Funeral information:
Monday, March 21, 2010
3 pm
Riverside Funeral Home, Delta
7410-Hopcott Road
Delta B.C.
Phone: 604-940-1313

Photo: Fraser Valley Peace Council

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Punjabi MaaNboli and the Punjabis-3

Punjabi Literature Conferences

In the past couple of months, two national conferences on Punjabi literature have been announced in Canada, one to be held in Toronto in the Summer of 2009 and the other in Ottawa on the 16th tomorrow. I received information for both but could not get much out since the organizers had sent circulars in Gurumukhi alone.

First, it reminds me of my own inability to read Gurumukhi script, and prompts me to finish learning it in haste to overcome this ‘diversity barrier‘ of being a Punjabi. Second, and at the same time, it gives me the realization that this is not all that needs to happen to develop Punjabi language and literature in Canada.

Literary conferences are a great way of bringing people together to share new work, discuss issues faced by literary communities, and to reach consensus where needed. I am positive that the two conferences scheduled in Toronto and Ottawa plan to, and will, do that.

However, just as i have to keep impressing upon some White Canadians that the term ‘Canadian’ does not stand only for a ‘White Canadian’ person; so, i need to keep suggesting to some Punjabi event organizers to not use the term ‘Punjabi Literature’ to mean  ‘Punjabi Gurumukhi Literature’ or ‘Punjabi Literature in Gurumukhi script’; and, to not use the word ‘Punjabis’ only for ‘Sikh Punjabis’ or for ‘Punjabis of Sikh family origin’.

I do that not just because i am a non-Sikh Punjabi and can not read or write Gurumukhi but also because 60% of Punjabis the world over are NOT of Sikh orientation, and most of the published Punjabi literature is NOT written in Gurumukhi. Indeed, the first Punjabi literary work was written in Shahmukhi or Persio-Arabic script by a Muslim Punjabi named Baba Farid (1173-1265).

My suggestion to organizers of literary and cultural events would be to do either of the following:

– For Punjabi literature conferences that are catering only to Punjabis of Sikh orientation, please write ‘Gurumukhi Punjabi Literature’ instead of just ‘Punjabi Literature’.

– To claim that an event is dealing with ‘Punjabi literature’, a fair representation of Punjabi literary works in Gurumukhi, Shahmukhi and Devnagri must take place. The same holds true for representation of Punjabi authors of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh orientation; and, of corresponding communities and issues.

Before i finish, there are lighter things to discuss since the two conferences are generating some activity in areas where Punjabi literary communities have flourished; and, that includes Surrey and Vancouver, the (Lovely) Lower Mainland.

Here, i want to tell you The Story of Four Friends, three of whom are on a committee delegated with the task of deciding who is/was going to present papers on various issues of literary importance for one of the two conferences. The Three members of the committee met, and decided to send three papers to the conference from BC, and then proceeded to elect themselves as the three presenters.

The story does not finish here even when it is a powerful end.

The Fourth friend objected to it, and in return, was awarded with a fourth paper and another space for presentation at the conference.

I have objections to the process where presenters were ‘agreed upon’ and papers were ‘allocated’ by a three-member committee to its own three members. In other words, the three decision makers who were to send three representatives of BC Punjabi literary communities to a conference in Eastern Canada, ended up electing each other for representation by awarding the three papers to themselves. On top of that, the objections raised by the Fourth friend were not based on the critique of the process but spoke to the exclusion of an individual and another denominator; and so, was readily satisfied and silenced upon receiving the hand out.

My problems are with the process and not the people. In my view, all the four people well deserve to be at the conference to present their work and views but not in this way. Next time, please get others to nominate you or at least resist being the sole membership of a self-nominating decision-making committee.

As well, the first three and the fourth presenter all write in Gurumukhi, and all hail from Punjabi Sikh community. This in itself would be misleading for the participants of the conference in the East as it gives the impression that there are no Shahmukhi or Devnagri Punjabi writers in BC or that there are no Muslim, Hindu or Christian Punjabi writers in BC. My four friends are well aware that that is not the case.

If the purpose of the two conferences is to develop Punjabi language and literature than the conferences must be way more inclusive in representation than they are now or have been in the past.

In this, there are reasons other than the development of Punjabi language and literature that may help us to become inclusive. It is inevitable that public funds are accessed to organize national and international literary and cultural events, and because of it, the organizers and decision makers of such events must take responsibility to represent in diversity the communities they undertake to represent; and, to not view and define Punjabi communities in Canada from the standpoint of personal or single-group interests.

There is hope that the Punjabi Literature Conference in Ottawa tomorrow will address these issues of diversity in Punjabi language and literature; and, will decide upon a policy of outreach to and inclusion of Punjabi writers of all scripts, gender, abilities; and, of diverse religious, social and economic backgrounds.

I must also stress that such discrepancies are found in all communities where a section has more power or influence in relation to others. There are similar scenarios in Punjabi Muslim communities in Pakistan where such events are organized without assuring rightful representation, for example, of women, gay people, writers in rural areas, and non-Muslim Punjabi writers.

Also, living in Surrey (12.67% South Asians) for the past decade, i can not help notice the activities of organizations such as Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SIWC). Over 25% of Surrey’s ‘visible minority’ population is South Asian (Punjabi Sikh majority) yet the representation of Punjabi and South Asian writers in the SIWC has been none or negligible. See the presenting authors’ list for the SIWC 2008.

Now view one of the strongest reasons for this non-representation:


Surrey International Writers Conference (SIWC) sports an all ‘white’ organizing team in a multicultural city (46.1 ‘VM’), and year after year, produces a conference promoting English language writers of Anglo-Saxon origin while using public funds endowed to it by Surrey Board of Education through its Continuing Education program.

I wonder if the decision makers at Surrey Board of Education are aware of Surrey demographics, and if the mandate of the Board does include equality of representation when allocating public funds for literary and cultural development of the people of Surrey.

Also, the SIWC Team may not be aware of literary groups and organizations of Surrey Punjabi writers that are operating here for over thirty years, and of the fact that Surrey South Asian communities do have published authors in them.

If my expectations are unrealistic, the situation needs clarification from the SIWC, Continuing Education program and Surrey Board of Education.

Failing all else, my usual suggestion would be to at least change the name if not the essence of the Conference. Instead of just ‘Surrey International Writers’ Conference’ (SIWC), it could be ‘Surrey International White Writers’ Conference’ (SIWWC) or ‘Surrey International White English Writers Conference’ (SIWEWC).

I will not worry about the increased length of the proposed names and their abbreviations as to my estimation, it may not require much additional Continuing Education funding to implement a name change.



‘As of 2006, the population of surrey is 394,976, a 13.6 percent increase from the 2001 population. The foreign-born population is 150,235, constituting 30.28 percent of the city’s population. Visible minorities number 181,005 or 46.1 percent of the population, while Aboriginals constitute 1.9 percent of the population. [2]

‘As of 2006, visible minority groups in Surrey are as follows[3]:

• 27.5% South Asian

• 5.1% Chinese

• 4.2% Filipino

• 2.4% Southeast Asian

• 2.0% Korean

• 1.3% Black

• 1.1% Multiple Visible Minority

• 1.0% Latin American

• 0.5% Japanese

• 0.5% Arab

• 0.5% West Asian

• 0.2% Other Visible Minority’,_British_Columbia

‘Newton has the largest population of all the city’s town centers, as well as the most ethnically diverse population; over half of the population is considered visible minority (predominantly Sikh)[1]. According to the 2001 census, the population of Newton was 91,595.’

Fauzia Rafique

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