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CANADA’S FEDERAL ELECTION AND THE PUNJABI LANGUAGE
(This is an updated version of an article I wrote at the time of 2004 Federal Election. As far as the situation of Punjabi language recognition at the federal level is concerned, nothing has changed. Since then we have gone through the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Here we are with another one in 2015. Some people and organizations like PLEA in Vancouver have tried to raise this issue on various occasions, especially during the federal elections. We feel it is important to continue with these efforts with the hope that one day the federal government of Canada will pay attention to the importance of other languages in this proudly multicultural country. – Author’s Note)
Another Canadian Federal election is in the process. As in the past many elections, people from the Punjabi community are fully immersed in it. In the greater Vancouver area, especially in Surrey, close to a dozen candidates of Punjabi heritage, representing major political parties have entered the field. The situation in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and other large centres is the same. Wherever Punjabis live in significant numbers, they are working to make some Punjabi candidate or helping someone close to the community successful.
Punjabis are contributing enormous sums of money to political parties and offering all kinds of resources and energy to elections. They are raising funds, preparing voter lists, putting up signs, knocking on doors or working the phones. In their homes or at workplaces, people are arguing in favour of their political party’s platform. Big ads are appearing or will start to appear (this time the campaign period is unusually long) in Punjabi newspapers, radio and TV will devote countless hours to election talk. And in all of these activities, they are using Punjabi language. In many places, like Surrey, where Punjabi candidates are running for different parties, the use of Punjabi language is dominant over English. While its exact use may vary in different places, one thing is certain: Punjabi is being used extensively in the current Canadian election campaign as it has been in many previous elections.
However, the reality is that Punjabi is still officially considered a foreign language in Canada.
The respect given to different cultures in Canada is what makes this country unique in the world. This is indeed a remarkable quality and we as Canadians are justly proud of it. Canada’s Multiculturalism is seen as a model in the world. The reality, however, is that multiculturalism in Canada has not advanced beyond a certain stage in the last forty-five years. It is a well-known and accepted fact that no culture can survive without its language. Language is the essential ingredient in the survival of a culture. Yet Canada’s multicultural structure is steadfastly against recognizing any language as Canadian other than its two official languages, English and French.
While in 2004, Punjabi was the sixth most spoken language in Canada, according to the 2011 census, it is listed as the third most spoken language (let me repeat THE THIRD MOST SPOKEN LANGUAGE) in Canada. It has existed here for more than a century and it is not only spoken in the homes but at thousands of workplaces across the country. As a result ,the Punjabi language has contributed immensely to the development of this country, especially British Columbia. To deny Punjabi the recognition of this contribution, and to say that it is not a Canadian language is a form of discrimination known in social sciences as Lingucism. We recognize the fact that with the exception of the two official languages of Canada, all other languages are considered foreign. Should this issue not be raised simply because all languages are treated the same or discriminated against? This is indeed a very complex matter and one that has everyone afraid to talk about it, especially politicians.
In comparison to other languages, the situation of Punjabi is different and consequently, has different needs. Being official languages in their respective countries most other languages receive support to develop and expand in Canada. The proud speakers of those languages themselves contribute necessary resources for the development of their language in Canada. Perhaps for them, comparatively, it is not essential that their languages be recognized in Canada. They themselves give more recognition and respect to their language and look after all its needs. The situation of Punjabi is entirely different. Punjabi is the twelfth most spoken language in the world with some 150 million speakers living in 125 countries around the globe. Yet there is no one single state that is concerned about it. Its speakers consider it less important than religion in conserving their culture. As a community, we continue to suffer from the colonial hangover and consider Punjabi irrelevant in our lives. Consequently, Punjabi needs help to survive and develop in Diaspora. If it is officially recognized in Canada, we in PLEA (Punjabi Language Education Association) believe, it will create more respect for the language among its speakers and also the state, to some extent, will become responsible for it. Punjabi was accepted as one of the six languages to be taught as second language in BC schools in 1994. This has opened many other doors for its development since.
Elections are good times to raise such issues. The question should be put to at least the Punjabi candidates: What will they do to get Punjabi some recognition at the national level in Canada? This language also belongs to all of the candidates of Punjabi heritage including Jinny Sims, Jasbir Sandhu, Amandeep Nijjar and Bill Sundhu (NDP); Sukh Dhaliwal, Randeep Sarai, Harjit Sajjan and Jati Sidhu (Liberal); Nina Grewal, Harpreet Singh, Sucha Thind and Liv Grewal (Conservative). These are the BC candidates in the present election and dozens other are running across the country. Since most of them are using the Punjabi language in their campaigning, the well-being of this language should also be their responsibility.
No one claims this to be a simple matter and it may take a long time to get Punjabi recognized in Canada. But it should at least become an item on someone’s agenda during the election. For example, in a Municipal elections one of the main parties contesting the Vancouver School Board did put Punjabi language on their agenda and issued a press release. Aa a result the issue was briefly discussed in the media at the time. We hope that political parties or at least the candidates from the Punjabi community will take the step and make it an issue in their campaign.
One thing that should be made clear is that we are not demanding that Punjabi should be placed at par with English or French; nor are we saying that we do not accept Canada’s official languages. We fully respect these languages and their historic place and rights in Canada. The knowledge of English language is essential for surviving not only in Canada but also anywhere in the world. Recognizing this fact, a huge amount of money is spent in teaching and developing English in Canada. No one has any issue with that. The only thing we are asking for is that Punjabi should also be recognized for its contribution to the development of this country and a penny or two from our tax dollars should also be spent on this language. We believe that this is a reasonable demand.
As a community we have lived here for 120 years. We have come a long way from the day Komagata Maru was sent away from Vancouver. The Punjabi community is an integral part of Canadian society now. Yet we have not achieved much for our language in this society. We have been very successful in helping our relatives and friends to come to Canada and permanently settle here. Is it not time that we should also make an effort to have landed status for our mother language Punjabi as well?
Vice President, PLEA
BY BALWANT SANGHERA
THE past year has been a very exciting year for the Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) and well-wishers of Punjabi. Some concerns regarding Punjabi signage at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) were brought to our attention. Consequently, PLEA led a delegation consisting of a number of prominent members of our community and met with YVR officials. They were very receptive to our suggestions. Consequently, Sadhu Binning and I had a very comprehensive tour of YVR including the secure areas .We were accompanied by the YVR officials and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) reps at the airport. Sadhu and I made a number of suggestions for improved Punjabi signage at the airport. The officials agreed to implement those suggestions. It is our understanding that Punjabi signage at YVR has been improved as a result of our lobbying. However, a lot more needs to be done in this regard. PLEA will continue to work on this.
Our efforts in facilitating Punjabi language classes in public schools in Surrey and elsewhere continue. A number of PLEA Board members met with Jordan Tinney, Superintendent of Schools in Surrey, several times and conveyed our concerns about the future of Punjabi, especially at the elementary level. Without our prior knowledge or information, Surrey had declared the three elementary schools – Strawberry Hill, Newton and Beaver Creek – where Punjabi is being offered as district programs. It means that if any student in any other school wants to take Punjabi classes, he / she has to enrol in a class in one of these schools. This is extremely difficult for parents and children. PLEA’s position is that Punjabi classes should be available in any neighbourhood school if there is enough interest.
Chimney Hill elementary school is a case in point. Nearly 40 students have signed up to take Punjabi there. The parents, along with PLEA reps, have met with the school board officials requesting that Punjabi classes should be made available there. PLEA is continuing to work with parents and school district administration in this regard.
Recently, Surrey School District has undergone a review of programs like Punjabi. The Punjabi community and PLEA have actively participated in this process. We are hopeful that as a result of this review Punjabi classes will be available in a child’s neighbourhood school. On behalf of PLEA I would like to thank the Surrey School Board and its administration for their continued commitment to Punjabi language in the district. Also, I would like to congratulate Gurpreet (Garry) Thind for his election as Trustee in Surrey. PLEA is very pleased to work with him in promoting Punjabi language instruction in Surrey schools. At the same time, on behalf of PLEA I would like to thank and congratulate parents, students and teachers of Punjabi throughout the Metro Vancouver area for doing an excellent job in promoting our mother language.
Here it may be appropriate to mention that PLEA has been advocating for Punjabi in B.C.’s public schools as a second language. There is some confusion that we may be asking for Punjabi immersion. This needs to be clarified. Our request is for implementation of Punjabi as a second language as laid out in the provincial language policy.
Every year PLEA celebrates International Mother Language Day (IMLD) in February. This year again, IMLD was a great success. More than 200 well-wishers of Punjabi took the time to join in the celebration at North Delta Recreation Centre on February 21. It is hoped that sometime in late October or early November another function focussed on students and organized mainly by teachers with support from PLEA will be held.
In short, a lot has been accomplished in promoting Punjabi at every level. However, still a lot more needs to be done in this regard. It is only possible with community’s support and encouragement.
It is a pleasure for PLEA to note that last year, ICBC started offering its claim services in Punjabi. Similarly, there is a lot of Punjabi signage around Metro Vancouver’s City Halls, hospitals, banks, credit unions and businesses. ‘We Speak Punjabi’ signs at various places make us all proud.
However, there are still a number of challenges ahead of PLEA. These include lack of resources for teachers, lack of appropriate funding especially at the post-secondary level, Punjabi translation and, above all, a lack of pride in our mother language in some quarters in our community. In some cases, there aren’t enough students to start or continue a Punjabi class.
PLEA is also very concerned about Rogers’ decision to discontinue OMNI Punjabi News. This news program has been a great and valuable resource for our community for many years. At the school level, it has been widely used as a teaching tool by the teachers of Punjabi. PLEA fully supports any efforts by the community to lobby Rogers and the CRTC to restore the OMNI Punjabi News as it was prior to May 7 as soon as possible.
PLEA is also in the process of arranging a meeting with B.C.’s Minister of Education to discuss changes in the provincial language policy. Finally, I would like to thank my fellow board members, the Indo-Canadian media, well-wishers of Punjabi and our community for their on-going support and encouragement.
PLEA’s 12th IMLD, Feb. 21, 2015. Surrey – report by Balwant Sanghera
February 25, 2015
International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is celebrated around the globe on February 21. As a result of lobbying by a number of countries led by Bangla Desh, UNESCO had declared February 21 as the IMLD on November17, 1999. Since then, this day is celebrated around the globe with a great deal of enthusiasm by people honouring their mother language.
Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) has been celebrating IMLD for the past twelve years. This year again, PLEA, along with a large number of well-wishers of Punjabi, celebrated this event on Saturday, February 21 at the North Delta Recreation Centre in Delta. The audience included large number students, teachers, writers, journalists, community activists and other prominent members of the community.
PLEA’s Board members Paul Binning, Parvinder Dhariwal, Parabjot Kaur, Jasmilan Lehal, Dayah Johal,Ranbir Johal,Harmohanjit Pandher, Sadhu Binning, Rajinder Pandher and other numerous helpers and volunteers did an excellent job in ensuring that everything went smoothly. Bhupinder Lalli and her family were kind enough to provide tea and mouthwatering refreshments. PLEA’s youngest Board member and Kwantlen Polytechnic University student Parabjot Kaur with guidance from Parvinder Dhariwal and Jasmilan did a great job as the MC. This year, an exciting development worth note was the proclamation of declaring February 21 as the International Mother Language Day by the Lieutenant Governor and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of BC. For this, PLEA is very thankful to the provincial government and hopes that it will also financially support teaching of Punjabi in our public schools.
The program started with two melodious Gurdas Mann songs sung by talented singer Hardeep Virk. I had the honour of welcoming the guests and giving an update about PLEA’s successes and challenges. On the plus side, PLEA, along with the well-wishers of Punjabi ,can be proud of a number of accomplishments over the years. As a result of our efforts, Punjabi classes are under way in various elementary and secondary schools in British Columbia. In addition to that, Punjabi is being taught at the University of British Columbia,Kwantlen Polytechnic University and University of the Fraser Valley. Hopefully, Punjabi classes will also resume at Simon Fraser University before long. In Canada , Punjabi now has the honour of being the third most spoken language after English and French. In cities like Surrey, Abbotsford and Brampton Punjabi is the second most spoken language after English.
Due to a very large consumer base of Punjabis, Punjabi is being embraced not only by various government agencies but also by the corporate sector. It is great to see signs like “We Speak Punjabi” at various hospitals, city halls, public places, businesses and agencies. Our Vancouver International Airport has the unique distinction of having Punjabi signage and providing services in Punjabi . Insurance Corporation of BC’s recently instituted claim service in Punjabi and OMNI TV’s national hockey broadcast in Punjabi are great developments. PLEA has approached a number of airlines to provide services in Punjabi on their flights from Vancouver,Calgary,Edmonton and Toronto. Hopefully, if enough Punjabi passengers advocate such services the airlines might be able to oblige. Similarly, PLEA is very pleased about increasing signage in Punjabi by the business community.
PLEA was very pleased to have a large number of well-wishers of Punjabi join it for the celebration. Surrey Newton MLA Harry Bains has been one of our strongest supporters . He took the time out of his busy schedule to bring greetings, congratulate PLEA and offer his continued support. Similarly, newly elected member of the Surrey Board of Education , Gurpreet (Garry )Thind assured PLEA of his on-going commitment to promoting Punjabi in the Surrey School District. Students of Punjabi classes , Aionroop Kaur,Navdeep Kooner,Biantveer Dhillon and Mohjeet Chhina, thrilled the packed hall with their beautiful Punjabi poems and songs. OMNI TV’s veteran reporter/anchor Dilbar Kang emphasized the job opportunities in Canada in general and Metro Vancouver in particular for individuals well versed in Punjabi. He stated that at OMNI TV alone there are close to ten journalists who are working there as a result of their command of the Punjabi language as well as their abilities in journalism.
Sadhu Binning briefly described the provincial language policy, its strengths and shortcomings. He was joined by three Surrey teachers-Gurpreet Kaur Bains (LA Matheson) , Amandeep Kaur Chhina(Princess Margaret) and Harmohanjit Singh Pandher(Beaver Creek)to comment on the policy and offer suggestions for improvement. All of them did an excellent job in emphasizing the importance of Punjabi and challenges facing them in schools. They were very optimistic about the future of Punjabi and made a number of very valuable suggestions to promote it.
The formal presentations were followed by a question and answer session. A number of prominent members of the community made excellent suggestions for PLEA and the community. The speakers included poet Mohinderdeep Singh Grewal, Balwinder Singh Chahal, Sukhwant Hundal, Col Hajit Singh Bassi, Brigadier Nasseb Singh Heer, Raj Gill, Barjinder Dhillon and many others.
On behalf of PLEA I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Deepak Binning Foundation for its continued support. This year, Khalsa Credit Union(KCU) has also been kind enough to make a substantial financial contribution for this celebration. I would like to offer my thanks to the KCU Board and management for its support. Of course, we are always very thankful to the South Asian media –both electronic and print –for its continued support. All of the Punjabi newspapers as well the community’s English newspapers, have been very generous in conveying PLEA‘s message to the community. Our TV outlets including OMNI Punjabi, Des Pardes, Sur Sagar TV and many others have been very kind in their on-going support. Our radio stations have also done a marvelous job in conveying PLEA’s message to our community. For this we are very thankful to all of them including Radio Red FM 93.1, Mediawaves 1600 AM, Radio KRPI 1550AM, Spice Radio 1200 AM,Sur Sagar Radio Gurbani Channel 91.5 FM , My FM 106.9FM and many others.
PLEA has been actively promoting Punjabi for more than twenty years. During this time, there have been various successes as well as challenges. However, overall, we have come a long way in promoting Punjabi not only in BC’s public schools but also at the post-secondary level and the community-at-large. These efforts have gained wide recognition not only in Canada but also in many other parts of the world including Punjab. This is a great credit to the community. With its limited resources, PLEA can do only so much. However, collectively we can accomplish a lot. In this context, I would like to urge/invite all well-wishers of Punjabi not only in Canada but also around the globe to act as ambassadors for our mother language in promoting it.
President, Punjabi Language Education Association
Punjab language Education Association (PLEA) usually holds two major functions every year. International Mother Language Day is celebrated in the third or last week of February. For a number of years PLEA was also sponsoring Punjabi Jashans in November in collaboration with the teachers of Punjabi in Metro Vancouver. However, due to a number of reasons, it was unable to do so for some time. This year, PLEA is pleased to start this process again. For this, it is very thankful to a number of teachers as well as PLEA members Ranbir Johal and Parvinder Dhariwal for putting on an excellent student focussed program at Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey.
On November 27thPLEA held its first Creative Writing contest at Princess Margret Secondary School. The contest was for high school students who are currently learning Punjabi in the Public School System. We were very pleased to receive a range of submissions from over forty students, including, letters, shorts stories and poems. The submissions were judged by Kwantlen Polytechnic’s Punjabi Instructor Ranbir Johal and the contest was hosted by Princess Margret’s Punjabi teacher Amandeep Chhina. The event was organized very well and Prabhjot Sekha did a wonderful job of introducing the students who had won a prizes. The students read out excerpts from their winning submissions and were awarded with cheques (cash prizes) from the Deepak Binning Foundation. Sadhu Binning and I had the honour of presenting the cheques as well as PLEA pens to the winners. Every participant received a certificate of participation/appreciation.
An honorable mention was made for Japreet Singh Lehal an exceptional former student from Princess Margaret who had written a story a few years back. Japreet is also a wonderful singer and he shared a few of his songs with the audience. This young man has an excellent future as a writer and singer. On behalf of PLEA I would like to congratulate Japreet and wish him well.
PLEA would like to take this opportunity to thank the Deepak Binning Foundation for providing the award money to the winners. It would also like to thank and acknowledge all of the teachers and students from Princess Margret, Panorama Ridge, Queen Elizabeth and LA Matheson for participating in this Creative Writing Competition. It is very encouraging to see the young generation take an interest in Punjabi literature and create wonderful marvels of their own. PLEA will host this contest annually and next year hopes to create an anthology of creative works which will include creative writing submissions from students currently learning Punjabi. Also, in February, PLEA will be celebrating the International Mother Language Day. Details will follow early in the New Year.
Winners 2014 Writing Contest
“Kyoon Bapu?” Jasdip Gill, Queen Elizabeth Secondary
“Phul” – Gurjot Dhaliwal ,Panorama Ridge Secondary
“Dost” – Rameesha Panorama Ridge Secondary
“Nakal Mardi” – Sukhpreet Shergill , Panorama Ridge Secondary
“Azaadi” – Kamaljit Singh Bhullar , LA Matheson
“Zindagi Da Ant” – Aainroop Kaur ,Princess Margret
“Navi Soch di Zaroorat” – Kiran Bains , Princess Margret
“Paro” – Satwant Brar ,Panorama Ridge Secondary School