[CANCELLED] A Celebration of Punjabi at UBC

Thursday April 2, 2020
6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Liu Institute for Global Studies
6476 NW Marine Dr., Vancouver

Notice: In light of the current situation of COVID-19, the Department of Asian Studies has made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s “A Celebration of Punjabi at UBC”, which was to be held on April 2nd.

The Department of Asian Studies is pleased to invite you to our 12th annual Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program. Join us in celebrating over 30 years of Punjabi language at UBC on April 2nd!

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.

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. 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.

Thursday, April 2, 2020
6:00pm Reception with refreshments
6:30pm Welcome followed by Event Program
Place of Many Trees, Liu Institute, 6476 NW Marine Dr, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2

Free & open to the public.  Registrations are essential via the form below.


  • Performances and films by UBC students, including the UBC Bhangra Club
  • Guest lecture by Dr. Navtej Purewal, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London: Challenging gender/caste society in Punjab: Outlining a feminist praxis This lecture will explore a recurring question in Punjab: is it possible to conceive of equality and justice in a society steeped in egalitarian discourse alongside caste and gender ideologies? Through an exploration of competing and colluding discourses, state laws, cultural practices and policy frameworks, Navtej Purewal will highlight how barriers to altering and challenging the conundrum of gender and caste inequalities in contemporary Punjab require an approach which goes beyond a narrow focus on ‘rights’, egalitarian religious discourse, and laws. By drawing on illustrative examples, the talk will outline and consider tools and strategies for a caste-ending feminist praxis.

Speaker bio: Navtej Purewal (PhD in Development Studies, Lancaster University) is an inter-disciplinary social scientist whose work focuses on the political sociology of South Asia. Her research interests and publications span a range of disciplines. methodologies and methods. She focuses on the dialectical relationship between the political and the social, with a strong interest in gender, structural violence, social change and the on-going bordering processes across the region of South Asia. Her new co-authored book Beyond Religion in India and Pakistan: Gender and Caste, Borders and Boundaries (Bloomsbury, 2019) is based on extensive field research in the region of Punjab, spanning India and Pakistan, where gender and caste frame social structures through patriarchy, caste ideology and evolving social and political forms.

  • Awards to student essay contest-winners and a lifetime achievement award to a BC-based Punjabi-language writer (to be announced)

Organized by the Department of Asian Studies with the support of the Centre for India and South Asia Research and the Office of the Dean of Arts.

Made possible by the generous support of the Sidhu family, in loving memory of Harjit Kaur Sidhu (née Gill), devoted wife, mother, and strong advocate for education, Punjabi culture and language, and women’s issues.

Thanks to our media partner Spice Radio 1200AM.

Harjit Kaur Sidhu (nee Gill) 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.

Why is Punjabi Studies Important at UBC? 

At the University of British Columbia, the Punjabi language occupies a central place in our South Asia program, and represents one of the largest and longest-standing Punjabi-language programs in the world, outside of South Asia. In this video, hear from students why Punjabi Studies has been integral to their experience at UBC.

Past Events

On March 14, 2019, the Department of Asian Studies hosted the 11th Annual Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program to celebrate over 30 years of Punjabi language at UBC. This year, we celebrated the memory of Gurcharan Rampuri (1929-2018), the first recipient of the UBC Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Award in 2009.

Photo Gallery:
2019 Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program

Born in Punjab on 23 January 1929, Gurcharan Rampuri began to write poetry at the age of 15. His first published poem appeared in 1950 in the famous literary magazing Prītlaṛī. Before coming to Canada in 1963, he had published three collections of poetry: Kaṇakāṅ dī Khushbo, Kaul Karār, and Kiranāṅ dā Ālhṇā. His first book published after coming to Canada, Annhī Galī, appeared in 1971. Other well-known books by him include: Kaṅchanī, Katalgāh, Agnār, etc. A large number of his poems have been published in Russian, English, Urdu, and Hindi.

Mr. Rampuri also contributed greatly to the establishment of Punjabi literature in Canada. He was the founding President of the Punjabi Literary Association, later known as the Punjabi Writers’ Forum. He remained connected with many other cultural associations in the Lower Mainland, such as the Punjabi Likhari Sabha Rampur, the International Literary Trust Canada, International Punjabi Author and Arts Canada, the Urdu Association of Vancouver, the Writers’ Union of Canada, and Indians Abroad for a Pluralist India. Gurpreet Singh (journalist, editor of Radical Desi, and host on Spice Radio) and Nadeem Parmar (author and community historian) spoke eloquently about Rampuri’s work and contribution, and five former and current Punjabi language, culture, and history students read poetry by Mr. Rampuri. Mr Rampuri’s family was in attendance to share in the memorial program.

In addition to awarding prizes to students from UBC, Dashmesh Punjabi School Abbotsford, and Khalsa School Mission who won a Punjabi language essay contest, UBC awarded Punjabi-language writer Jogindar Shamsher with a lifetime achievement award. Shamsher is an author of both prose and poetry, and a translator. He has been active in Punjabi letters for seventy-five years. His first book, published in 1943, was a biography of the Ghadar revolutionary activist, Baba Harnam Singh Kala Sanghia. He has til now written approximately one dozen books. The names of some of his books are: From London to Delhi by Car (A Travelogue), Martyrs of London, Punjabi Lives and Literature in Britain, Punjab in 1919 (A history), Overtime People, The Letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Begum Sarfraz Iqbal (A translation).

The highlight of the evening, as always, was the performances by UBC Punjabi language students, under the careful direction of UBC's Punjabi Language Instructor, Sukhwant Hundal. Students created short skits that addressed issues of importance in the Punjabi Canadian community, and particularly for young people: such as son preference, the valorization of fair skin, and the need to accept children's diverse interests -- not just in science!

As UBC Professor Anne Murphy noted at the program, Punjabi language and literature have created a family at UBC, made up of all the people at UBC who learn Punjabi and read Punjabi literature. That family had a wonderful time together on March 14, celebrating the people and words that make the life of Punjabi in BC so rich.

The Tenth Annual Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program was held 2-4 March 2018. It was held at a larger scale than usual this year with the support of additional partners: the Dean of Arts Office, the Centre for India and South Asia Research, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Department of Theatre and Film at UBC, & the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation/Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture. The three day program, organized by Anne Murphy, Sukhwant Hundal and Sarbjit Randhawa, hosted Gurvinder Singh, award-winning Punjabi-language filmmaker, for a series of film screenings and conversations. The first screening took place at UBC West Point Grey, with a screening of the film "Awaazaan" (2016) about UK-based Punjabi language poet, Amarjit Chandan. This was attended by a community audience as well as attendees at a conference organized by the Centre for India and South Asia Research, the South Asia Conference of the Pacific Northwest, 2-3 March 2018. On Saturday, March 3, we held a screening at UBC Robson Square of the film "Anhe Godhe da Daan (Alms for a blind horse)" (2011), which portrays caste and class marginalization in the Indian Punjab today. The film featured a good showing of students, film buffs, and those interested in the content of the film, including Jai Birdi of the Chetna Association.

Special guest, award-winning Punjabi language filmmaker Gurvinder Singh

On Sunday, we had our main event in Surrey, where we awarded Inderjeet Kaur Sidhu, a local Punjabi language author, with a lifetime achievement award, and gave awards to students in our annual essay contest. Students from Dasmesh School Abbotsford, Khalsa Secondary School, and UBC participated. At that event, we screened "Chauthi Koot, (Fourth Direction)" (2015) a haunting film that explores the violence of 1984 for individuals and families in the Indian Punjab. The University of Toronto also supported these events in part, because they held a screening of the latter film in Toronto, after the events here came to an end.

From left to right: Sucha Singh Claire, Anne Murphy, award winner Inderjeet Kaur Sidhu, Nadeem Parmar and Sarbjit Randhawa.

More details from the event >>

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.

Photos from the event >>

Early Punjabi Migration to British Columbia and the Call of Freedom (Azādī dī Gūnj)

March 16th, 2016, at the Asian Centre, UBC

This year the UBC community 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. Dr. Singh also gave a separate scholarly talk entitled "Western Clarion: Canadian Socialists and Indian Migration to British Columbia" in the Department of Asian Studies, which was also well attended by faculty and students.

Photos from the event >>

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

The 2015 program featured 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.

Samuel John uses his theatre not to make money but to spread social awareness among his audiences. His plays deal with the daily experiences of dalits, small farmers and other marginalized people of Punjab, dealing with caste discrimination, the boycott of dalits in villages of Punjab, and the suicides of indebted small farmers. Mr. John has also appeared in three Punjabi films – Mitti, Aatoo Khoji and Anneh Ghore Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse). The last film won multiple awards at the 59th National Film Awards in India.

Held at the Dorothy Somerset Studios Theatre at UBC on Thursday March 5, 2015, the Sidhu program for 2015 was presented in partnership with the Hari Sharma Foundation/Gursharan Singh Memorial Lecture, and made possible with the generous help of UBC’s Department of Theatre and Film. Former UBC Punjabi instructor Sadhu Binning received the writer's award for this year, in honour of his tremendous contribution to Punjabi language education, advocacy, and literature in British Columbia.

An evening with Ali Kazimi and the film Continuous Journey

May 1st, 2014, at Centre Stage, New Surrey City Hall

Our 2014 Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program featured “An evening with Ali Kazimi and the film “Continuous Journey” (2004)” at the New Surrey City Hall on Thursday May 1, 2014. The event featured 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. It represented a partnership with the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, Surrey Art Gallery, and Surrey Civic Theatres, as a part of a major region-wide commemoration of the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident in the summer of 2014. It also formed the opening component of our Komagata Maru Project, which was comprised of a series of theatrical productions (May 3-4 2014 at UBC and May 9 in Surrey) of Canadian plays in Punjabi and English about the Komagata Maru incident, and a related symposium on theatre and the postcolonial at UBC (May 3 2014).

Well-known writer Surjeet Kalsey was awarded the Harjit Kaur Sidhu Writer’s award in 2014, in recognition of her profound contribution to Punjabi language literary production, and in particular for her attention to gender issues in broad terms, and her efforts to bring Punjabi-language and Punjabi-influenced materials to a wider English-speaking audience through translation and new work written in English.

Photos from the event >>
Video of the Q & A following the screening >>

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.

Photos from the event >>

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.

Photos from the event >>

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

In 2013, we invited Guriqbal Singh Sahota, now Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Sahota spoke about how 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. Professor Sahota addressed the following questions: 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?

Prominent poet, playwright, and critic Ajmer Rode received the Writer's Award for his overall contribution to Punjabi literature.

Photos from the event >>

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh joined us in 2012 in association with her new book, Of Sacred and Secular Desire (I.B. Tauris, 2012), which explores in an introductory fashion key texts of Punjabi literature; it represents one of the first popularly-oriented secondary works on Punjabi literature in English. Kaur Singh delighted a large audience at UBC's Asian Centre with a deep exploration of major figures from the Punjabi literary canon, modern and early modern. The Writer/Book Award was granted to 2012 Dr. Sadhu Singh, for his book paṅjābī bolī dī virāsat, “The legacy of the Punjabi language.”

In 2011, our guest was Arvind-pal Singh Mandair of the University of Michigan, whose presentation focused on the secular commitments of modern Punjabi literature, with the suggestion that the religious/secular binary--which is so central to the imaginary that has fed modern Punjabi literature--itself does violence to the ethos of Punjabi literature overall, which exceeds such a distinction. The enforcement of this distinction ends only in alienating the religious, he argued, setting up false opposition between religious and secular modes of being. This year the Writer/Book Award was granted to 2011 renowned playwright Ravinder Ravi, for lifetime achievement.

In 2010, we welcomed Farina Mir of the University of Michigan, whose book The Social Space of Language (2010) beautifully details the ways that the Punjabi language thrived in the colonial period outside of direct patronage of the state. This work provides a powerful portrait of how Punjabi flourished in the colonial period, drawing on traditional early modern narrative and poetic forms. Her research counters the preoccupation that has held in scholarship with reformist and religiously agonistic literature, to reveal the shared literary and cultural ethos among Punjabis of diverse religious backgrounds. The Writer/Book Award was granted in 2010 to Sohan Singh Punni, for his book kaneḍā de gadarī yodhe, “Canada’s revolutionary fighters”

We opened our program in 2009 with Alyssa Ayres (Ph.D. University of Chicago) who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations and formally the US State Department, who spoke on "Punjabiyat"--or, a Punjabi cultural and literary ethos--in Pakistan. She argued cogently that advocacy that is visible in Pakistan for the Punjabi language demonstrates a need for a reconfiguration of the generally accepted scholarly formulation of the direct relationship between state formation and language politics. The first recipient of our Writer/Book Award was granted in 2009 to Gurcharan Rampuri for his lifetime achievement in Punjabi letters.