New Canadian Media

Commentary by John Delacourt in Toronto

With just a few notable exceptions, the historical roots and complexities of South Asian politics here in Canada are barely covered in our mainstream media. What we miss are factors that can weigh heavily on current leadership races, and eventually on the federal election campaign in 2019.

Jagmeet Singh’s decision to enter the NDP’s federal leadership race, for example, has the potential to trigger a strong demographic shift among millennials. Here are two scenes from previous campaigns that speak to this possible breakthrough:

In the first, it’s 2014, and Olivia Chow has entered the mayoral race in Toronto. I’m sitting in a downtown restaurant with two South Asian NDP organizers who have offered to help her. Hailing from Brampton, they have both worked very closely with Jagmeet Singh.

One organizer has a theory about Trudeau and what he predicts will be the ultimate demise of the Liberal party in the 2015 campaign. It’s his view that no one really took a close look at who Trudeau was attracting to his events in the 905 area and in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. It’s only members of an older generation of South Asians, he affirms — those who had come to Canada in the 1980s and felt loyal to Pierre Trudeau and his progressive immigration policies — embracing the younger Trudeau’s candidacy with such enthusiasm. To the children of this generation, he says — the ones coming of age and becoming active in gurdwara politics — Trudeau’s Liberal bona fides are questionable.

Trudeau was tainted, he claims, by his party’s rejection of a groundswell movement of activism that was seeking redress for the pogroms the Indian government carried out against Sikhs in the eighties. It was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s charisma and support for these efforts, given validation by Jagmeet Singh’s work on the ground, that fired up this younger generation, he tells me.

It’s Singh’s ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

Trudeau and his growing number of South Asian candidates only appeal to the less engaged “uncles and aunties,” the organizer assures me — and are doomed to lose in the face of the NDP’s new organizational strength out in Brampton and Surrey.

The second scene takes place a little more than a year later. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is having his first official campaign rally at the Variety Village community centre in Scarborough, Ontario. There I am fully expecting to see a strong contingent of young South Asian campaign workers in the front row, cheering in a full house. But the room is, by and large, made up of faces I recognize — people from the same core Toronto labour union and activist base that Chow initially rallied together in the early days of her mayoral campaign. These supporters are older — mostly “old stock,” as was the phrase-du-jour in those days. It seems a sign of things to come.

Indeed, four weeks out from election day, I’m on the phone with a pollster who offers me a salient read on what might have happened to that once-engaged South Asian NDP vote. He tells me that his numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of those who voted provincially for the NDP in Ontario, back in 2014, were not going to vote for the federal NDP in 2015.

The emerging demographic split of South Asian Canadian voters my organizer friend had predicted just one year before failed to materialize. It was my contention that the South Asian candidates running — people like Navdeep Bains, Kamal Khera and Sukh Dhaliwal — could easily transcend generational biases and connect with all their constituents by addressing middle class issues.

One thing was clear: Mulcair was not appealing to a younger, engaged, activist demographic with all the fire and charisma that Singh is capable of inspiring.

For all the ways in which Singh’s rise to prominence has been profiled in the mainstream media, it’s his ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism and aspirationalism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

And if Singh does win, that charismatic appeal to a younger generation might catch on well beyond South Asian communities — if the Liberal party’s mandate for the middle class loses credibility. And that might turn out to be the sleeper theme of the next federal election.


By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Politics
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

by Melissa Shaw in Vancouver 

The latest instalment of the Institute of Ismaili Studies’ Muslim Heritage Series aims to provide a deeper understanding of Shia Islam, the Muslim religion’s second-largest community. 

About 100 people gathered at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, B.C., for the launch of the series’ fourth volume, The Shi'i World: Pathways in Tradition and Modernity. 

Simon Fraser University (SFU) Department of History professor Derryl MacLean said the essay collection explores the memory of tradition, present influences, and implications for the future. 

Dr. Bashir Jiwani, honourary secretary for the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for Canada said the book helps fill a knowledge gap. 

“[The book aims] to enliven the idea of Shia Islam in particular and the multiplicity of ways in which it is expressed,” Jiwani said. 

Reinventing old traditions 

The Shi'i World's cover features a painting depicting a music lesson from a Persian book of philosophical ethics, the Akhlaq-i Nasiri. One of the book’s co-editors, Dr. Amyn B. Sajoo, said this image was chosen because religion and culture are entwined. 

Sajoo said the observance of Ashura, a day of mourning for the murder of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Husayn during the Battle of Karbala in the seventh century, is an example of how culture can be linked to religious expression. 

“[The book aims] to enliven the idea of Shia Islam in particular and the multiplicity of ways in which it is expressed.”

Caribbean Muslims have a culture of celebration and observe Ashura through private recollection followed by a party involving Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians and atheists. In parts of Europe and North America, Shia Muslims commemorate the martyrdom through a blood drive, he said. 

MacLean introduced Pomona College religious studies professor Zayn Kassam's essay, “Remembering Fatima and Zainab”, as an example of Shia identity linked to memory. 

Sajoo said after Saddam Hussein's repression in Iraq, Iraqi women in Norway, Sweden and Denmark formed mourning circles, similar to the ceremonies held during Muharram to remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a relative of two female figures in Islam, Fatima and Zainab. 

“They imagine what Zainab must have felt when she lost her family at Karbala,” said Maclean. “So you are now going to empathize with her and then you will mourn what you lost in your country because of the dictator in Iraq.” 

Challenging stereotypes 

“We have to acknowledge that it's easy to box Iran as Shia and box Saudi Arabia as Sunni.”

In The Shi'i World, University of Edinburgh Persian and Film Studies professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz analyzes how religious themes challenge society through film. 

The 2001 film Baran tells the story of a girl who dresses as a boy to work on a construction site in Tehran. 

Pak-Shiraz argues that the scene where a boy accidentally sees the girl's long hair has the spiritual meaning of unveiling and accessing the individual behind the screen. Sajoo said the film is a comment on women's roles in Iranian society. 

He said another example is the 2004 Iranian film Marmoulak, which is a comedy about a prisoner pretending to be a priest who fools the guards into listening to his fabricated sermons. 

Sajoo said the film was banned in Iran a week after its release due to its “tough social commentary,” which contributed to its popularity amongst the Muslim diaspora. 

“[Globalization is] empowering the periphery. It doesn't work anymore to say the centre is Iran and Lebanon and so on, and everybody else is out there in the margins,” Sajoo said. 

According to a 2009 study from the Pew Research Centre, 10 to 15 per cent of the world’s total Muslim population are Shia Muslims, while 87 to 90 per cent are Sunni Muslims. Over 60 per cent of the global Muslim population lives in Asia and about 20 per cent live in the Middle East and North Africa. 

SFU student Shazia Nanjijuma said events like the book launch engage with the history of Islam, addressing the knowledge gap and challenging people's assumptions and stereotypes about the faith. 

“We have to acknowledge that it's easy to box Iran as Shia and box Saudi Arabia as Sunni,” said Nanjijuma. “That makes it easy for us to kind of grapple with it, but the truth is there's so much more behind that.” 

Addressing centuries-old rifts 

Shias are a minority and should embrace “cosmopolitanism.”

Sajoo's essay in the book discusses the creation of Aligarh Muslim University in India. He said the community criticized a Shia imam, Aga Khan III, for advocating and fundraising for the creation of a university instead of a Shia college. 

“He was arguing, ‘Why don't you make the case for respecting pluralist Muslim identity within Aligarh?’” Sajoo said, adding that the Aga Khan expressed similar thoughts during his speech to Canadian Parliament in 2014. 

“What he was saying is, you are not more or less Canadian if you are a Muslim or Shia. That your Shia identity essentially has to be part of your Canadian identity and vice-versa.” 

Sajoo adds that Shias are a minority and should embrace “cosmopolitanism.” 

“It's a genuine acceptance of other people's ways, ethical ways, of looking at the world,” he said.

Editor's Note: This is an updated version of the story as the previous one contained factual errors. NCM regrets these errors and apologizes for any inconvenience.


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 Books

by Vinita Srivastava in Toronto 

At first, the news of the cancellation of a free yoga class for disabled students by the University of Ottawa Student Federation and the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) due to issues of cultural appropriation read like really good satire. 

Like many others who responded, tweeted and commented with shock and exasperation, I found it amusing. The cancelation of one yoga class seemed like an utter misplacement of energy – ridiculousness and chaos caused by a few students in power.

On the scale of cultural appropriation (where elements of a minority culture are ‘borrowed’ and sometimes misrepresented by the dominant culture), a yoga class seems mild. After all, isn’t it a little late where yoga is concerned?

Yoga has been integrated into the western world for at least 20 years. Is this like saying we should not eat cous cous or chow mein for dinner?

But then, as the public and media voices around me got self-righteous and even angrier about how wrong this politically correct move was, I found myself thinking about the student federation at the University of Ottawa (U of O) and the fact that these students have not backed down in the face of ridicule. 

I imagined myself in the place of those students for a moment. 

In those early days of political awareness, I sometimes said dogmatic things and was accused of being ‘politically correct’. 

Sometimes politics requires us to be extreme even if just to raise an issue. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play.

Then I looked at the situation at the U of O as a faculty adviser and professor, which I have been for many years. 

It is interesting that even though my analysis is imminently more sophisticated than my student days, I am still sometimes called ‘politically correct’ in relation to conversations around race and culture. 

Daring to challenge privilege

Based on the Internet furor this yoga cancellation has raised, challenging the privilege of being able to appropriate someone else’s culture does not sit well with the general public. 

How dare these students challenge privilege? 

But it wasn’t too long ago gangs calling themselves ‘The Dotbusters’ harassed women wearing bindis and saris in Toronto and New Jersey. And only last week a University of British Columbia student was spit at for being Muslim. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play. 

[W]ouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about cultural appropriation?

Perhaps these students are new to their political analysis, making them more dogmatic than necessary. Perhaps they have been badly misrepresented by a miffed yoga teacher. Perhaps we members of the press are simply too eager for a controversial story that we can feed to our hungry audiences. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about this misunderstanding and even about cultural appropriation? 

Instead, the University of Ottawa Twitter feed placed the school in opposition to its student federation. 

The university distanced itself by first tweeting that a student group made the decision to cancel the yoga class, and later tweeting an announcement that free yoga classes would still be available for dates in December. 

Need for universities to host critical conversations

At the heart of the student federation’s investigation into the yoga class and other student activities is the issue of inclusion. I doubt the federation’s members would move to suspend a class simply for the fun of it. 

By taking this action, students have raised these questions about their campus: Who is made to feel welcome within the selection of student activities at the U of O? Who is made to feel excluded? What are the best activities and classes to offer the student body? 

We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them.

Of course, yoga originated in South Asia, but, like pizza, chow mein and cous cous, it is now part of our international, multicultural every day. 

Whether or not the students at the U of O meant to raise this issue with such fervour, the issue has nevertheless, been raised. We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them. 

The student federation at the U of O released a statement last week saying how disheartened its members feel by the rhetoric being used to critique their process. 

They say they feel disappointed and harassed, some by violence. They feel their process has been misrepresented. 

"The CSD in no way thought that suspending this program for the semester with the intention of improving it for a January return would cause this much uproar," read the statement. "Let us please … have a more conducive dialogue around how to make our campuses more accessible to those who do not feel safe.” 

There is clearly a need for university campuses to facilitate open and critical dialogue about difficult and sensitive issues like cultural appropriation, inclusion and exclusion. Perhaps there is no better lesson than this, as the story turns into the latest Internet meme.


Vinita Srivastava is an editor and journalist who has been a university educator for the last decade. She is currently the creative director of Upsari by Pondichéri.

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 Commentary

BY MEERA GILL Our Global Village A group of friends of Indian and Pakistani heritage living in Canada recently held an informal gathering in honour of a friend, Nain Sukh, a Punjabi writer who was visiting from Pakistan, to talk about peace, love and belonging to one another. He had come to Canada […]

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Published in South Asia

QUITE obviously as an election sop to South Asians in Canada from southern parts of India, federal minister Jason Kenney announced on Tuesday that a re-elected Conservative government would open a new visa application centre in Chennai in south India. Most South Asians in Canada come mainly from Punjab and other regions of India. […]

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Published in Politics

News East West

In yet another disgraceful incident in which VIPs in India exploit their subordinates, a West Bengal minister was caught on camera making his bodyguard to tie his shoelaces.

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Published in South Asia

NEWCOMER women of reproductive age are invited to participate in a new health study about their environmental exposures to developmental toxicants such as lead and mercury. The Study of Newcomer Women and Developmental Toxicants (SEED) is conducted by environmental health researchers at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The SEED study will explore whether, […]

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Published in Health

by Themrise Khan in Ottawa 

While the mainstream media definitely covers stories of local politicians’ victories and foreign leaders’ visits to Canada, what is sometimes missing from the coverage is the 'ethnic' story angle relating directly to the many Diaspora communities settling in Canada. That's why ethnic media outlets are vital to our country's media make-up. In this edition of PULSE we explore five headlines relating to the Pakistani-Canadian diaspora making waves in ethnic media outlets. 

Pakistani-Canadians Unsuccessful in Mississauga Ward 4 By-Elections 

After earning a total of 1,565 votes, John Kovac was the winner of the Mississauga Ward 4 by-elections held in April, reported the Urdu Post. 

Several candidates from the Pakistani community also contested the by-elections, but unfortunately, did not fare as well. Rabia Khedr garnered 850 votes, Arshad Mahmood received 265 votes and Ameer Ali received only 95 votes out of a total of 9,000 votes cast.

Kovac, won slightly over 17 per cent of the popular vote, with a result that came as a surprise to many voters. Kovac ran a stellar campaign to become the youngest councillor to be elected in Mississauga with a winning margin of almost 100 votes over opponent Antoni Kanto who received 1,467 votes.

From a total of 27 candidates, only seven ran campaigns that could be considered as well organized as Kovac's.

Modi’s Visit to Canada: Kashmiri People Must be Allowed to Decide Own Future

Until the Kashmiri people are given the right to decide their own future, the struggle for freedom will continue.

This was the message put forward by Dr. Ghulam Abbas at a meeting held in Toronto in light of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to Canada in April, reported the Weekly Urdu Post Canada.  

The meeting protested Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada and declared that in accordance with international law, India and Pakistan must withdraw their forces from Occupied Kashmir and allow the Kashmiri people to decide their own future.

Thousands of Kashmiris have been killed in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir due to India’s forced occupation of the region and the Modi government has been accused of creating its own colonies to be able to crush the Kashmiri independence movement, reports the newspaper.

Members of this meeting further demanded that Canada should end all its agreements with India to convince it to allow the (disputed) state of Jammu and Kashmir to decide its own fate.

The meeting protested Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada and declared that in accordance with international law, India and Pakistan must withdraw their forces from Occupied Kashmir and allow the Kashmiri people to decide their own future.

Why are Pakistani-Canadians not Politically United? A Commentary.

The weak performance of Pakistani candidates in Canadian politics has prompted many in the community to question why they have not been able to achieve success.

A commentary by Masood Khan on this topic appeared in the May 6 edition of the Urdu Times, using the Mississauga Ward 4 by-elections as an example of this, where the few Pakistani-Canadians who contested, fared poorly.

Unlike the Indian community who are very politically and socially united, several Pakistani community members have made many attempts to contest in local ridings, but have not been very been successful in winning, despite their contributions to the community.

One of the reasons for this, the article suggests, is perhaps that many Pakistanis contest for nominations without having much experience in politics or, for that matter, working for the community. 

The analysis further states that thousands of people vie for nominations on local seats so candidates now need at least between 2,500 and 4,000 votes to win, which is far beyond the scope of the Pakistani community in many cases.

Alleged Irregularities Discovered in Selection of Brampton South Nominations

Unusual circumstances have prevented Nasir Hussain, the Liberal Party candidate in Brampton South, from securing a nomination for his party recently, reported the Urdu Times. Coming third place in the race has raised serious questions for all those who recognize Hussain as being a long-standing member of the local community and the Liberal Party for several years.

A sudden blackout on the day of polling at the station and unusual traffic conditions that blocked roads leading to the polling station were incidences that have raised suspicion amongst Hussain’s supporters. Investigations revealed that the reason for these occurances was a traffic accident close by that damaged an electrical pole.

These incidences have raised many concerns amongst [Nasir] Hussain’s supporters, who feel the need to find out exactly why someone as popular as him was unable to secure the riding nomination. They want to protect the Liberal Party from such attacks in the future.

But even if this was the case, the article continues, it still raises questions as to why there were not adequate measures made at the polling centre for backup generators, or an alternative route was not provided to those driving to the polling station.

Another major concern that raised suspicion of irregularities in the process, was the removal of Hussain’s chief polling agent on accusations of wrongdoing, which provided the opposing candidate the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, and ultimately, win.

This was followed by an altercation between the winning party and supporters of Hussain who claimed they were abused verbally in ways that did not reflect Canadian values.

These incidences have raised many concerns amongst Hussain’s supporters, who feel the need to find out exactly why someone as popular as him was unable to secure the riding nomination. They want to protect the Liberal Party from such attacks in the future.

The 100-Year Journey: A Story of South Asian Pioneers

With the help of funding from the Government, a project showcasing the contributions of South Asians in building Canada has been initiated to create awareness on the subject among the public at large.

According to The Canadian Times, Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney and state minister for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal (pictured to the right) announced that under the 100-year Journey Project, the Government of Canada would provide $200,000 to produce a book chronicling this journey. 

The book will contain stories of prominent South Asians who came to Canada in its early years and made significant contributions to the development of the country.


Themrise Khan is a freelance social policy research professional and a recent immigrant to Canada. She has a keen interest in issues of migration and migrant diasporas, as well as foreign policy and international relations.

 

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 South Asia

A report – Improving Children’s Lives, Transforming the Future — 25 years of child rights in South Asia – was released recently by the United Nations’ children agency, Unicef, to commemorate 25 years since the 1989 U.N. adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The report outlined the progress made over the […]

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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