By Balwant Sanghera
Jasbir Sandhu, Surrey North Member of Parliament Jasbir Sandhu, and his NDP must be commended for their campaign to get designation of the month of April as the Punjabi Heritage Month.
The Punjabi community has been in this country for almost 125 years. During this time it has made excellent contribution to the growth and development of Canada. Punjabi pioneers faced extreme hardships in their adopted country. They were subjected to a lot of discrimination, abuse, racism and ridicule. Despite such obstacles, they kept moving on with determination and fortitude. These brave souls were never deterred by the dark days of the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, their loyalty to Canada never wavered. The hard work and contribution of these fearless men has been continued by their successive generations. Like their ancestors, now more than 700,000 Punjabis in Canada take great pride in being the citizens of this wonderful country.
Canada is well respected internationally for its policy of multiculturalism. To-day, more than 200 communities representing every corner of the world call Canada their home. Not only that, Canada has also become a multilingual country with more than 200 languages spoken from coast to coast to coast.
As a matter of fact, our multiculturalism and multilingualism have become Canada’s greatest strengths. In this regard, the Punjabi community, since its arrival in Canada, has never looked back. The Punjabis have done everything within their means to make Canada a better place to live. Despite all of the hardships they considered themselves to be proud Canadians and gladly contributed in whatever way they could. In a sense, the Punjabi community has been a trailblazer in many ways.
The first Indo-Canadian elected as a mayor in one of BC’s Fraser Valley community was a Punjabi. Similarly, the first Indo-Canadian elected to a provincial legislature in Canada was a Punjabi.
Again, the first Indo-Canadian to occupy the premier’s chair in this province was a Punjabi. The first Indo-Canadian to become a member of the federal cabinet was a Punjabi. Not only in politics, Punjabis have excelled in many other areas as well. Due to their hard work, dedication, resilience, resourcefulness and generosity, the Punjabis are excelling not only in politics but also in business, media, technology, education and sports to name just a few. Cities like Surrey, Abbotsford, Calgary, Edmonton, Mississauga and Brampton have now become great centres of the Punjabi language,culture and diaspora. Celebrations like Vaisakhi have now become part of the mainstream. Furthermore, the Punjabi language has now become the third most spoken language in Canada.
It behooves well for the federal government to recognize the Punjabi community’s contribution to Canada. To designate the month of April as the Punjabi Heritage Month in Canada will be a very well deserved tribute to the Punjabi community in this country.
Incidentally, this is the month when Vaisakhi is celebrated not only by the Punjabi community but also by other communities throughout the world with a great deal of enthusiasm. This year also happens to be the centenary of the Ghadar Movement that came into existence in April 1913. Nearly all of the of the members of the Ghadar Movement were Punjabis-Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. They put their religious affiliations and other interests aside to focus on the common goal of fighting for India’s independence and human rights in Canada.
Thus, it will be a nice gesture on the part of the federal government to declare April as the Punjabi Heritage Month. It will be a great tribute not only to the contribution of the Punjabi community in Canada but also to our Freedom Fighters. The entire Punjabi community would greatly appreciate such a gesture.
(Balwant Sanghera, who has been honoured with the Order of British Columbia, is a retired school psychiatrist and community leader who lives in Richmond in British Columbia)