The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program, established in 2009
Celebrating Punjabi language and culture in British Columbia

The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program celebrates the rich life of Punjabi language and culture in BC, in memory of a woman who shared such passions and commitments. The overall goal of the program 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 locally and by students; 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. (See below for more details about Ms. Gill.) Every year, the program features a keynote address by a distinguished scholar, awards for a local writer and student-contest winners, and student performances.

Completing ten years of the program in 2018 enabled us to look back and consider what it has achieved. In those ten years, we brought some of the newest emerging as well as dynamic established scholarly figures in Punjabi Studies to Vancouver: Guriqbal Singh Sahota (University of California at Santa Cruz), Arvind-pal Singh Mandair (University of Michigan), Farina Mir (University of Michigan), Sunit Singh (University of Chicago), and Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (Colby College) to UBC to engage with students and the public, on diverse topics from the formations of Punjabi literature in the colonial period, across scripts, with Dr. Mir, to the history of the Punjabi Canadian community and its connections with the global Left, with Dr. Sunit Singh’s presentation. Our goal here is to highlight new and innovative approaches to thinking about Punjabi language and cultural production. Alongside these scholarly figures, we have invited filmmaker Ali Kazimi, who has done brilliant work in documenting the history of the Punjabi Canadian community within his larger oevre of documentary work, and twice have hosted award-winning Dalit theatre activist and film actor Samuel John. Mr. John, for example, was at the centre of the 2017 Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program, which took place on May 13, 2017. The event was preceded by a special creative workshop on May 7 that was funded by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Mr. John performed with Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre in Surrey to a large audience of more than 300 at North Delta High School, bringing awareness of caste discrimination in the Punjabi community and presenting traditional street-style theatre. In 2018, to celebrate ten years of our celebration of Punjabi, we hosted filmmaker Gurvinder Singh for a multi-day program of screenings and discussions.

With this program, we aim to enrich our Punjabi Studies curriculum, engage a diverse public in unusual and enriching ways, and celebrate the history and continuing dynamic cultural production in Punjabi. The 2020 program will take place on 2 April, with our guest Navtej Purewal of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (UK). For information about all past years’ programs, follow this link.

Harjit Kaur Sidhu (née 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 a 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, three grandsons and one granddaughter.