New Canadian Media

by Anita Singh in Toronto

 In 1904, there were only 40 immigrants from India living in Canada, mostly from the Punjab.  Largely based in Vancouver and surrounding areas, these pioneers came to Canada as labourers, in farms, on the railroad and in factories, creating a foundational community for South Asian immigrants in future decades – which has grown to nearly 1.4 million since the turn of the century.  

As described in a brand-new podcast called ‘The Nameless Collective,’ produced by Jugni Style, the journey towards inclusion for these communities was not always an easy or welcome one.  

The podcast describes the climate of early 20th century Canada.  Previously-settled Canadians were concerned that new immigrants, particularly those from China and India, threatened jobs, culture and a way of life.  Anti-immigrant public opinion was supported by the government, which established a “White Canada” policy, institutionalizing a preference for immigration from Europe.  On the flipside, those from China and India were subject to the Chinese head tax, the continuous journey legislation and ghettoization when arriving in Canada, spotlighted in the recent government apology for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.  

The hosts, Milan Singh, Paneet Singh, and Naveen Girn, are a self-described team of researchers, time-travellers, detectives and hosts, who tell this history in with an entertaining impression. It unfolds the story of a community, where listeners will be introduced to personalized stories depicting the vividly personal struggles of a small, group of immigrants living and working in a land very different from where they came from. 

The timing and content of this podcast is stunning in its unshakable feeling of familiarity.  In our current political climate, racist killings in Trump’s America, a ban on Muslim immigration, a vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom, make the podcast immediately relevant and scarily contemporary. 

For example, in episode two, the podcast follows the story of two women, Harnam Kaur and Kartar Kaur, wives of prominent members of the Khalsa Diwan society in Vancouver.  In Harnam Kaur’s case, she travelled with her family to from the port of Calcutta to San Francisco enroute to Vancouver.  On reaching the United States, Kaur and her family were held in detention for two months and deported to Hong Kong.  In a second effort, Kaur, her husband and 16 others boarded a ship in Hong Kong destined for Vancouver.   

 

Yet on arrival, Harnam, her son, and the other women on the ship were once again held in detention, while the men on the ship were allowed off to their labour jobs. As discussed by the podcast hosts, the Canadian government was concerned that the arrival of Asian women would begin to settle these unwanted immigrant communities, rather than continuing to be temporary labour migrants. It was several long months of waiting and debating within government, before the women were eventually allowed onto shore.

The strength of the podcast is the willingness of the hosts to go above and beyond to present new evidence and documentation. In episode one, the team makes a huge discovery the archives of the Vancouver public library, diving into a century’s worth of microfiched phone directories.  They found that while ‘mainstream’ Canadians were listed by name and number, the phone numbers and addresses associated with immigrant communities were listed as “Hindoo” “Japanese” or “Chinese” instead of their names. As the hosts explain, “why would anyone want to know where these people lived?” By tracing these addresses, the team is able to identify neighborhoods where early communities settled in Vancouver.  The hosts also acknowledge, that despite these discoveries, they will be limited by a limited evidence based and knowledge of this early community.

Further, the podcast will also be of particular interest to those familiar with Vancouver or the lower mainland.  The hosts do an excellent job showing the connections between existing buildings and communities and key events in immigration history – like Chinatown and Japantown during the race riots, or how communities settled in the Indigenous territory of modern-day Kitsilano.

There are very few flaws in this podcast.  The largest challenge is that the hosts have tailored the podcast towards an audience that is familiar with the basic immigration story of the region.  Yet, if they want to connect with all Canadians interested in how our country became a multiethnic, multilinguistic state, the podcast would benefit with more contextual information for new learners of this history. 

There are only three episodes of the podcast, and as episodes are released (one every week), listeners can anticipate the development of a richer and richer portrait of early 20th century immigration.  With a growing audience, hopefully this podcast will not be nameless for much longer. 

The Nameless Collective podcast can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play for Android and Stitcher.

Anita (@bisu) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations. 

Published in History
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:14

Chunni Project Connects Women Across the Globe

Growing up in Canada, Harman Kaur experienced first-hand the hidden angst that torments many young women in transplanted South Asian families.

“I've tried my best to keep my culture alive but as I grew up, I was surrounded by other brown people who completely rejected their culture. I don't understand why. I mean our culture, our language, our music, our religion is so beautiful,” states Harman, a Simon Fraser University student in Greater Vancouver.

She also noticed a lot of girl-on-girl hate in the Indian community and also realized that Indian girls do not have many role models to look up to and little or no representation in the media.
Tired of the Punjabi women stereotyping, Harman, whose family hails from Mohali in Punjab, decided to launch the ‘Chunni Project’ – a digital platform to empower Indian women, especially Punjabis.

The project is aimed at empowering Indian women by sharing inspiring stories and highlighting role models they can relate to.

"I saw a need for this because I believed that creating such a platform would empower Indian women. I was also very troubled by the stereotypes associated with them, and wanted to shatter these by providing stories from the source itself.

Another aim of The Chunni Project was to connect women all over the world. It has been successful in creating an online community where women from Canada, India, UK, Australia, and USA interact and empower each other."

"I started this project with the hope that I would be able to help at least one woman feel empowered, but it has clicked beyond my expectations. What started off as a blog where different women shared their stories, turned into a space of creativity!

Writers and artists started to submit any work related to Indian women, and now The Chunni Project has become a space where anyone can come and discover new and talented female Indian art ists, poets, singers or others.”

“I have received positive feedback from women who are part of the project as well as those who follow it. As there is not much Indian representation in Western media, there should be a space where one can find out how resilient and talented Indian women are," says Harman.

The name of the project is self-explanatory in a way. It symbolises Harman's objective of helping the diaspora remain in touch with their culture.

"Giving a glimpse of her growing up years, Harman says, "When I was younger, my parents made sure that I did not stray from my roots. I learned how to read and write Punjabi at a very young age, and started learning about Sikhi at the same time. These two things kept me close to my roots. I am a writer...and my writing revolves around my religion and culture. Although I have had an easy time sticking to my roots, I recognize that this may not always be the case for every woman. There are many western influences, fear of mockery, and insecurities that may prevent women from visibly showing pride in their culture. I think that being a part of an online community, such as The Chunni Project, can empower women to not be afraid or embarrassed to stick to their roots."

Harman's next step is to advance from the online platform and organize physical events to further female empowerment.

For more information on the Chunni Project go to www.instagram.com/thechunniproject.

Published in Arts & Culture

 FORMER Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh fired off a strong protest letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not being allowed to hold political rallies in Toronto and Vancouver. Ironically, the letter which is bound to generate a lot of controversy among Canadian Punjabis and others will actually garner a lot more publicity for the […]

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Published in India

 Captain Amarinder Singh to visit Vancouver and Toronto  

CANADA’S powerful and rich Sikh community has always been wooed by Punjab politicians – and now former Punjab chief minister, who heads the state’s Congress Party that is in the opposition, is to visit Canada and the U.S. from April 19 to May 7 to try […]

 

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Published in India

Islamabad (IANS): A day after a powerful blast ripped through a public park in Lahore city killing over 70 people, Pakistani security forces on Monday launched an operation against militants, the media reported. The operation was initiated following an order from Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif. The decision to launch the operation was […]

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Published in South Asia

  Police officials studying the cases think that the attackers seem to be choosing soft but selective targets like the sacrilege incidents [...]

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Published in India
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 10:14

Politics a Natural Fit for Many Indo-Canadians

by Simran Singh in Vancouver 

Indo-Canadian representation in Canada’s new government goes beyond the cabinet ministers Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced to the country at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this month. 

In what he called “a cabinet that looks like Canada,” 15 of Trudeau’s 30 ministers are women, two are aboriginal, two have disabilities and four are Indo-Canadian Sikhs. 

The Indo-Canadian representation of Trudeau’s cabinet was noted around the nation and internationally. From India’s Hindustan Times to New Zealand’s Indian Weekender, global news media showcased Canada’s newly appointed Indian cabinet ministers. 

A total of 23 Indo-Canadian representatives were elected into parliament in the recent election, an astounding increase compared to the nine Indo-Canadians elected in 2011. 

Moreover, 20 of the Indo-Canadian MPs speak Punjabi, making it the third most-spoken language in Canada’s House of Commons after English and French. 

Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history.

Punjab: A political hotbed 

Although this year’s Canadian cabinet announcement appeared to draw a lot of attention to Indo-Canadians’ representation in politics, their involvement has remained steadfast in all levels of government across the nation. 

Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history. Their political inclination is embedded in their cultural background and heritage. 

"[Y]ou are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded."

“The first thing you have to look at is that Indo-Canadian politicians are mostly Sikhs and [they are] a small, yet highly motivated, religious sect that developed a kind of reformation movement,” explains Shinder Purewal, a professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. 

Purewal adds that the geographical positioning of Punjab in India has made it a political hotbed for centuries. 

“Every invader from Alexander the Great down to the Ahmad Shah Abdali came through the Punjab,” explains Purewal. “So you are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded. It moulded that spirit of trying to resist oppression and exploitation and that kind of unity created is highlighted [in the] Sikh diaspora.” 

Gradual political participation in Canada 

That sense of unity remained for Punjabis when they first settled in British Columbia in 1903. 

In 1907, the province of B.C. disenfranchised not only Punjabis, but all of the South Asian diaspora. They were not allowed to vote in federal elections or participate in politics. 

After 40 years, the voting restrictions against South Asians were lifted in 1947, but their political involvement developed slowly. 

“The numbers didn’t warrant for [Indo-Canadians] to actually be successful at either provincial levels or federal levels,” says Purewal. “But they did work for the parties mostly as volunteers and also raising funds. They were doing this from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s onward.” 

“My activism started almost right away when I came to Canada."

Although political participation was gradual, Indo-Canadians were motivated and outspoken on many issues impacting their communities. 

Ujjal Dosanjh, the first Indo-Canadian provincial premier and a former Liberal federal cabinet minister, began his community activism by advocating for the wellbeing of B.C. farmworkers. 

Many of these workers were South Asian and Chinese immigrants, who were being underpaid and mistreated. 

Like Dosanjh, Raj Chouhan, a long-time member of legislature in B.C., explains how he was driven by advocacy for farmworkers during his early days in Canada. 

“My activism started almost right away. When I came to Canada, I saw people working in the farms – they were treated so badly,” says Chouhan. In 1980, after speaking out on the issue, he became the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union. 

Inspiring the next generation 

Both Chouhan and Dosanjh point to the political culture of India as a nation playing a large role in motivating early Indo-Canadian politicians. 

“I had this sense of pride in our history and our civilization, and in the morals and values of the independence movement,” Dosanjh recalls. “There was politics all around as I was growing up.” 

“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature.”

India’s democratic system is the largest in the world. It fosters a feeling of responsibility to get politically involved amongst Canada’s South Asian diaspora. 

“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature,” Dosanjh says. “It is a very comfortable position for [Indians] to be in when they come to Canada – to be part of the political system.” 

That political voice has grown stronger as the South Asian representation in Canada’s highest level of government serves as inspiration for the next generation of young Indo-Canadians. 

But Dosanjh highlights that no matter who you are, politics is about believing in yourself and your values. 

“You don’t do it for glory. I did it because I believed in it […] Winning or losing isn’t the issue. In the end you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you have been true to yourself,” he says. 

“I would say to young people, if you believe Canada can be a better place, and you want to make it better, go into politics.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

Amritsar (IANS): Radical Sikh leaders from in and around Amritsar in Punjab were arrested to prevent a religious showdown at the Golden Temple complex on Wednesday, police sources said. Mokham Singh, separatist leader and former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann and Amrik Singh Ajnala were arrested late Tuesday, the sources said on Wednesday. While Mokham […]

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Chandigarh (IANS): Hundreds of Sikh activists lined up along highways and roads across Punjab on Tuesday with black flags protesting against recent incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. However, unlike the roadblocks put up by the Sikh activists during protests last month, no roads were blocked on Tuesday. The activists organised protests in […]

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  CHANDIGARH – The US has no immediate plans [...]

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