The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program celebrates the rich life of Punjabi language and culture and its importance in BC, in memory of a woman who shared such passions. Our goal is to call attention to important new scholarship on Punjabi language and culture and bring it to our students and the broader Vancouver area audience; encourage and recognize achievements in Punjabi language cultural production; and honor students for their work in learning and using the Punjabi language.
The program was 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. Every year, the program features a keynote address by a distinguished scholar, awards for local writers and student-contest winners, and student performances. In alternating years, the book/writer award either honors a BC-based Punjabi-language writer with a “lifetime achievement award,”or a “best book” published in recent years by a writer from the region.
Kahani da Rangmanch: A Theatre of Stories
May 13th, 2017, at the North Delta Secondary School
In 2017, we welcomed Samuel John, award-winning actor and theatre activist, back to UBC to perform for the public. Hundreds of Punjabi language enthusiasts gathered in North Delta to watch Mr. John’s performance, in collaboration with Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre, of two works in Punjabi: “Dulatti” (The Hidden Power) and “Ghasea Hoea Aadmi” (Worn Out Man). In keeping with the Sidhu Program tradition, we honoured a local Punjabi writer at the event, as well as student winners of a Punjabi language essay contest. This year’s winner of the lifetime achievement award for a BC-based Punjabi writer was Nadeem Parmar, a local writer and community historian.
Mr. John was also a key part of a theatrical workshop held prior to the Sidhu program at UBC entitled “Luna’s Voice: Restaging a traditional Punjabi narrative in the Lower Mainland,” which was funded by an Arts-based Workshop grant from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC. The workshop made it possible to bring together Mr. John, Sohil Bhatia (a performance artist based in New Delhi), and BC-based Punjabi language and/or Punjabi culture based theatre artists to explore ways of reimagining a traditional Punjabi narrative in British Columbia, building on prior reimaginations of the narrative in Punjabi literature.
Early Punjabi Migration to British Columbia and the Call of Freedom (Azādī dī Gūnj)
March 16th, 2016, at the Asian Centre, UBC
A brief address by Sunit Singh, Ph.D. University of Chicago.
We gathered to hear a short talk on the early twentieth century revolutionary Ghadar movement, which sought to establish a free and secular India and an end to British colonial rule, by Sunit Singh (University of Chicago); present awards to student winners in a Punjabi-language essay contest; honour BC-based Punjabi-language author Jarnail Singh Sekha with a life-time achievement award; and view performances in Punjabi by students in Punjabi 200 and films by students from ASIA 475, “Documenting Punjabi Canada.” The event was well attended by students and members of the community.
Western Clarion: Canadian Socialists and Indian Migration to British Columbia
March 17, 2016, at the Asian Centre, UBC
with Sunit Singh (University of Chicago).
Around 1905, British Indian subjects, primarily Sikhs from the Punjab, started to venture to the western shores of Canada and the United States in search of employment. At first, Indian labor was absorbed in British Columbia, as was that of the Chinese and Japanese. Yet a forceful backlash after 1907 interrupted their welcome, when a deepening economic crisis fanned anti-Asian and anti-Indian sentiments, and established unions attempted to stem the “Tide of Turbans.” The backlash coincided with the emergence of a new spirit in the electoral life of British Columbia—the socialist party. And though generally ostracized by the unions, a small but influential group of these Indians migrants made inroads with the Canadian Socialist Party, which, after some hesitation, took up their cause. The object of this talk is to unpack how the Canadian left and the Indians themselves understood the exigencies of the labour market and the relationship of race and imperial subjecthood.
At the Juncture of Theatre and Activism
March 5th, 2015, at the Dorothy Somerset Studios Theatre, UBC
A presentation by Punjabi actor and activist Samuel John, in dialogue with Margo Kane (Cree/Saulteaux), an interdisciplinary performing artist and founder of the Talking Stick Festival for First Nations Performing Arts.
An evening with Ali Kazimi and the film Continuous Journey
May 1st, 2014, at Centre Stage, New Surrey City Hall
A conversation with the filmmaker Ali Kazimi and screening of his 2004 documentary, "Continuous Journey", which explores the history of the Komagata Maru ‘incident’ of 1914, when a ship carrying over 350 would-be immigrants from South Asia was turned away from Vancouver.
Performing the Post-colonial: The political work of theatre
May 3rd, 2014, at St. John's College, UBC
A symposium associated with the theatrical and scholarly program "Performing the Komagata Maru: Theatre and the Work of Memory." Featured a panel discussion by the playwrights of the plays included in the program (Sadhu Binning, Sukhwant Hundal, Sharon Pollock, Ajmer Rode), talks by Rahul Varma (playwright and founder of Teesri Duniya Theatre or "Third World Theatre"), Nandi Bhatia (University of Western Ontario), and filmmaker and York University Professor Ali Kazimi. We commenced with a key-note address by Professor of English at Panjab University, Chandigarh and well-known translator of modern Punjabi literature, Rana Nayar.
Performing the Komagata Maru: Theatre and the Work of Memory
May 3rd & 4th, 2014, at the Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
May 9th, 2014, at the Surrey Arts Centre
This performance event explored three plays written about the Komagata Maru incident by Canadian authors: Sadhu Binning and Sukhwant Hundal’s “Sumundari Sher nal Takar” (in Punjabi), Sharon Pollock’s “The Komagata Maru Incident” (in English), and Ajmer Rode’s “Kamagata Maru” (in Punjabi). We developed a single program that integrated sections of the three plays to explore how and why we remember the Komagata Maru, and how the creative arts augment and enhance the traditional historical archive. Students in the Department of Theatre and Film at UBC performed short selections from Pollock’s play; members of the theatre group “Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre” performed selections from the two Punjabi plays. The event was entirely bilingual through the use of Surtitling, and sets for the production were produced by students from Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore in association with artist and Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre member, Raghavendra Rao K.V.
Rajinder Singh Bedi as Moral Philosopher: Domesticity as Political Frontier
March 7th, 2013 at the Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
with Guriqbal Singh Sahota, University of California, Santa Cruz
Rajinder Singh Bedi’s literary and filmic oeuvre captured the conflicting imperatives of a decolonizing society, on the one hand, and customary gender relations in the domestic sphere, on the other. How did the domestic sphere begin to figure as a formidable challenge for radical politics for the generation that came of age in decolonization? What moral shape did those conflicts take in Bedi’s work? To what extent do India’s contemporary debates around the question of gender reflect the unresolved and muted struggles of an earlier postcolonial moment? What did Bedi’s status as a member of the Sikh minority have to do with his articulation of widely popular treatments of these themes over the course of his career?
Invited Scholar: Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (Colby College)
Writer/Book Award granted to 2012 Dr. Sadhu Singh, for his book “paṃjābī bolī dī virāsat,” “The legacy of the Punjabi language.”
Invited Scholar: Arvind-pal Singh Mandair (Michigan)
Writer/Book Award granted to 2011 Ravinder Ravi (for lifetime achievement)
Invited Scholar: Farina Mir (Michigan)
Writer/Book Award granted to 2010 Sohan Singh Punni, for his book “kaneḍāde gadarī yodhe,” “Canada’s revolutionary fighters”
Invited Scholar: Alyssa Ayres, Ph.D. Chicago now with the U.S. State Department
Writer/Book Award granted to 2009 Gurcharan Rampuri (for lifetime achievement)
Harjit Kaur Sidhu (nee Gill) was a devoted wife and mother, and a 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.