Punjabi in BC: Interviews

Welcome!

Join us to explore the history of the Punjabi language in British Columbia!

Over the course of 2019-21, the UBC Punjabi Studies Oral History project is documenting the history of the Punjabi language in BC, and the lives and activities of the people who made it happen, focusing on teachers and institutions where Punjabi has been taught, and on writers who have written in the language and built institutions to support Punjabi language and literature. The project is linked to Dr. Anne Murphy’s ongoing research on modern Punjabi language and literature and involves undergraduate students as interviewers and filmmakers. It is made possible by the Punjabi Studies Oral History Research and Program Development Project, 2019-2021, funded by UBC’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, through their Program for Undergraduate Research Experience.

We will be adding new interviews to this page roughly every week from July 15 to the end of 2020. Come back to explore!

Deep Singh Sangra

Originally from Punjab, India, Deep Singh Sangra immigrated to Canada in 1975. Coming to Vancouver was an entirely new experience for Sangra, but he found a sense of belonging at the Ross Street Gurdwara where he started to take classes and volunteer. Sangra went on to volunteer at the Ross Street Gurdwara for 20 years, pursuing his commitment to the learning and teaching of the Punjabi language. In this interview, Sangra illustrates his passion for Punjabi and his love for teaching. Over the course of his career, Sangra has taught Punjabi at various gurdwaras, night schools, Khalsa and elementary schools. At times, he taught seven days a week. Sangra was so impassioned by teaching he even continued to do so after retirement.  Sangra reflects on teaching Punjabi, and calls it his main passion in life. To quote him, “Punjabi in Canada is a must…Punjabis should take pride in their language and show the world what the language is all about.”

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Parabjot Singh

Parabjot Singh was born in Vancouver and grew up in Surrey BC. From a young age, she gravitated towards Punjabi. In part, her passion for the language resulted from her grandfather’s influence. Singh’s grandfather, Jarnail Singh Sekha, is an award-winning writer and novelist, and he inspired her interest in Punjabi by reading folk stories to her. In time, Singh herself began writing in Punjabi: stories, essays, and poetry. Singh followed this passion, and pursued a career in teaching the Punjabi language. By publishing a bilingual (English and Punjabi) children’s book based on her childhood pet bird, Singh combines her passion for writing and teaching, using this book to teach students the Punjabi language in an engaging manner.

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Harpreet Kaur Swaich

Harpreet Swaich was born in the Patiala district of Punjab to a farming family. Her father was a teacher, and her grandfather was a tax officer. Education was always emphasized within her family. From a young age, Swaich’s grandfather would encourage her to study by bringing home books from the University and selecting excerpts from the prominent Punjabi language literary magazine Preet Lari for her to read. This encouragement, coupled with that from her mother, inspired Swaich to pursue a career in teaching. Swaich became impassioned by teaching, to ensure her students were confident in themselves and their abilities. In 2009 Swaich immigrated to Canada, but she often shifted back and forth from Punjab until early retirement in 2014, when she settled in Richmond, BC. Swaich noticed from her walks in the neighbourhood and parks that Punjabi children could speak Punjabi but often failed to read or write it. She ultimately came out of retirement to start teaching Punjabi again for the community. Initially she taught students out of her house, but after coming into contact with PLEA’s Balwant Sanghera, she was interviewed and hired for a teaching position. Swaich tells us that her approach to teaching Punjabi is student-centred: she recognizes the importance of keeping students interested and engaged through novel ideas and culture. In her words, “it isn’t just about teaching students the history, we have to teach them about the culture and their relationship to it.”

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Gurpreet Kaur Bains

Gurpreet Kaur Bains has been a teacher for 20 years and is the Languages Department Head at LA Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. Bains helped establish the first ever Punjabi Youth Dhahan Prize in BC, an initiative that is allowing winning students at LA Matheson and other schools all over BC to have their work published as an anthology. Bains began her studies in Amritsar in the eventually earning a Master’s in Science and a Bachelor’s of education. She immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. Bains first taught at Khalsa School as a science teacher, but was later hired by the Surrey School District in 2004 as a science teacher. Bains tells us that her interest in Punjabi language arose from how Punjabis in BC were adamant about preserving their culture. She noticed how her students celebrated the culture at school and openly embraced Punjabi classes. This inspired her to teach Punjabi, and she began doing so in 2006.

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Dilpreet Bharaj

Dilpreet Bharaj is a fourth year Pharmacology student at UBC. She was born in India, but immigrated to Canada at a young age. Although she grew up in a Punjabi-speaking household, Dilpreet mainly converses with her parents in English. However, it was because of her grandparents that she was able to get a grasp of the language. Dilpreet tells us that she struggled with Punjabi at a young age, but by attending Khalsa School she learned to read and write the language, and connect further with Punjabi culture. She still felt uncomfortable speaking Punjabi, however. Shortly after coming to UBC, Dilpreet got involved with Punjabi Studies. Her confidence in the language grew after taking Punjabi classes and ultimately participating in UBC’s annual Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Student Essay Contest, which she won. Dilpreet is strengthening her connection to the Punjabi language by participating in the PURE Project, where she plays an active role as an interviewer and technologist undertaking oral history interviews in the Punjabi-speaking community.

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Harinder Kaur Dhahan:

Harinder Kaur Dhahan immigrated to Canada in 1969 shortly after completing Bachelor’s of Arts and Bachelor’s of Education degrees. Settling in South Vancouver, Dhahan spent two years at Langara and secured a job in finance, a field she would work in for the next thirty years. While balancing her family life, raising two daughters, and working, Dhahan found time to volunteer for the Khalsa Diwan Society, starting in 1975. It is through volunteering that she began to teach Punjabi. Starting as a volunteer Punjabi teacher, Dhahan would later begin teaching Punjabi at Khalsa School in 1992. After retirement she hoped to teach full time, an aspiration that she fulfilled in 2005. Dhahan’s love for the Punjabi language manifests in her teaching, and is also manifest in an annual literary award her brother and herself founded, the Dhahan Prize, an international prize for short stories and novels written in either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. Dhahan tells us that that her purpose, and the purpose of the Dhahan prize, is to connect people to their language.

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Lovneet Aujla:

Lovneet Aujla grew up in a multi-generational household in Surrey, BC, speaking Punjabi, both to his parents and grandparents. However, by not having access to the Punjabi language in a formal setting, Lovneet’s Punjabi soon began to diminish, and as a result he lost confidence in his ability to speak the language. Although opportunities to learn Punjabi did arise (e.g., in high school), it wasn’t until he arrived at the University of British Columbia that his interest in Punjabi would be rekindled. Dr. Anne Murphy and Mr. Sukhwant Hundal’s Punjabi classes inspired Lovneet to relearn his mother tongue and become involved in Punjabi at UBC. Most recently he is the project assistant for the PURE Project, “Punjabi in BC,” led by Dr. Murphy. He and Mr. Hundal were collaborators on the project from its inception. Lovneet tells us that this project cements the legacy of Punjabi in Canada, and specifically, Punjabi in British Columbia. Lovneet received his B.A. in Sociology, with a minor in Asian Studies, at UBC and returns to the University’s Allard School of Law this September.

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Jasbir Singh Gandham:

After spending eighteen years in England where he worked part-time and studied, Jasbir Singh Gandham immigrated to Burnaby, British Columbia in the summer of 1977. Eventually, Gandham found work as a real estate agent. However, he recognized the importance of preserving one’s heritage and culture, specifically through the medium of language. After enrolling his daughter in a Punjabi class at the Ross Street Gurdwara, Gandham himself became heavily involved in teaching Punjabi, teaching at Gurdwaras, and setting up classes in the Lower Mainland. As a member of the Khalsa Diwan Society and Canadian Sikh Study & Teaching Society, Gandham wishes to further preserve the legacy of Punjabi here in Canada: as he describes in his interview, “people nowadays are starting to come to respect Punjabi more, but as we reach the end of our life it is on the youth to further the legacy of Punjabi, we have put our entire effort, now it’s up to the next generation.”

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Balwant Sanghera:

Before immigrating to Canada, Balwant Sanghera had obtained a BSc from Punjabi University. He had wished to become a teacher and to fulfill this hope he enrolled in a teaching program at Simon Fraser University, after working some time at a mill. Sanghera describes the state of Punjabi programs in BC during the late 60s, and how they had yet to become formalized. While living in Hope, away from the Punjabi community, he came to two realizations, one, that he missed speaking Punjabi, and two, that he had to do something for his mother tongue. After moving to the lower mainland, Sanghera became active in educating as well as advocating for the Punjabi language, which was furthered by establishing the Punjabi Language Education Association.

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Dilpreet Kaur Ghtaura:

Dilpreet Kaur Ghtaura was born and raised in Richmond BC. Her father immigrated to Canada from Punjab in the 1970s in search of a better life. Ghtaura has been learning Punjabi since she was five years old, however, it was in a high school Punjabi class where she really found success in learning the language. Punjabi continued to play a role in her search for a teaching career. Although her teaching background primarily focused on the sciences, Ghtaura argues Punjabi was the reason she managed to secure a teaching position during the 2008 recession. Having found this opportunity to teach, Ghtaura hopes to inspire Punjabi students in the same way her own high school teacher did.

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Aman Kaur Dosanjh:

Aman Kaur Dosanjh was born in Surrey BC in a Punjabi-speaking household. After studying Psychology and Education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the University of British Columbia, Dosanjh now teaches at the elementary level in British Columbia. Her passion for teaching stems from an interest in social work, psychology, and working with children. Alongside the regular curriculum, she teaches Punjabi in the sixth and seventh grade. The presence of Punjabi language education in the schools, Dosanjh argues, has helped to create a positive attitude towards the Punjabi language among her students.

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Sadhu Binning:

Sadhu Binning is a bilingual author who was born in Punjab, India, and has lived most of his life in the Vancouver area since migrating to Canada in 1967. He was central to the foundation of the Punjabi language studies program at UBC and taught at the University from 1988 to 2008. He has published more than eighteen books of poetry, fiction, plays, translations, and research. Mr. Binning is a leader in the Punjabi arts and writing community and was named one of the top 100 South Asians making a difference in BC. Twenty years ago, he founded the Punjabi Language Education Association and has been actively promoting Punjabi language in educational institutions in BC.

Short Promotional Video (Bilingual):

 

Part 1: Personal History & Teaching Punjabi

Part 2: Advocating for the Punjabi Language

Learn more about Punjabi Studies at UBC!