Punjabi in BC

Punjabi Studies Oral History Research Project and Program Development


See our emerging results here!

Part of the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE)

With Filmmaker Ali Kazimi (York University), who provided guidance on film techniques

The Punjabi Studies Oral History Research Project and Program Development Program, funded by the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) from 2019-2021, will further develop the fledgling Punjabi Studies Oral History Program at UBC, which is now housed in the Department of History at UBC. The Punjabi Studies Oral History Program has proceeded sporadically in different forms as an undergraduate teaching initiative at UBC since 2010 with minimal and occasional targeted funding support. PURE funding was secured to allow for enhancement of existing curricular resources that enable undergraduate research participation, and to involve UBC undergraduates and recent graduates in hands-on research. Curricular materials developed in the project will be carried forward in future teaching and research initiatives through established classes that have, til now, provided for preliminary work along these lines. This initiative will bring these initiatives to larger scale and allow for greater development, and will link the work directly to ongoing faculty research, through Professor Anne Murphy’s SSHRC-funded research project on modern Punjabi cultural production.

Year One: S2019 and W2019

In its first year of implementation (S2019 and W2019), the project focused on the history of Punjabi language advocacy and mobilization in the lower mainland, with the aim of interviewing activists, teacher, supporters, and leaders in the Punjabi language community. In the second year of the project, in W2020, with additional support from the UBC Work Learn program, the focus will shift to literary production in Punjabi. In this way, the project aims to document broadly the history of the Punjabi language in greater Vancouver, and the lives of the people who have given the language life in this region.

The first training program took place from July 1-11, 2019 at UBC under the direction of Professor Anne Murphy and the coordination of recent graduate (and minor in Asian Studies) Lovneet Aujla. Student participants took part in an intensive 38 hour-long training program that included lectures on the history of the Punjabi Canadian community and its cultural production by Sukhwant Hundal (soon to retire as UBC’s Punjabi language instructor); Sadhu Binning (a writer and former UBC instructor who recently received an honorary degree at UBC); and UBC Ph.D. candidate, Ajay Bhardwaj. Jai Birdi, of the Chetna Association of Canada, engaged students in an extended conversation about caste discrimination and how it impacts commitments to language and culture; his workshop/discussion with the students encouraged them to think carefully about unconscious  bias and how politics form language choice. Ali Kazimi (York University), documentary filmmaker and recent recipient of a UBC honorary degree, engaged in an extensive workshop with students on methods of shooting, recording, and interviewing for documentary purposes. The students engaged in exercises in interviewing and filming, to enable them to gain comfort and skill with the technology and research approach of oral history, and gained crucial background related to the history of Punjabi. They also critically evaluated oral history film projects, to understand in concrete terms how to film and interview.

Thirteen interviews were completed in W2019 until Covid-19 containment efforts forced all in-person research to be suspended.

With Jai Birdi and Members of the Chetna Association with students in Year One

W2020 & S2021

The second year of research, which focuses on Punjabi literary production, will also include the completion of the interviews cancelled due to Covid-19. The bulk of interviews were meant to take place in Summer 2020, but research was delayed due to Covid-19 containment. A group of 5 students were hired in September 2020, and undertook intensive training entirely remotely through the fall of 2020 and early winter of 2021. The team commenced Zoom interviews in April 2021, and is continuing to conduct interviews through Summer 2021. We hope to pursue in-person interviews when Covid-19 containment efforts allow. Students working on the program in W2020 and S2021 are supported in part by the Work Learn Program at UBC.


This PURE project is based in a commitment to community-based learning and its importance at the University. By committing to the comprehensive documentation of the Punjabi language literary and advocacy community in BC (with the goal of completing up at least fifty interviews with members of this community over two years), we demonstrate vividly UBC’s commitment to community engagement. By engaging UBC students in these interviews, we promote the engagement of Punjabi-speaking students with Punjabi-speaking communities in concrete and substantial ways. These students also engage in and support primary research through such activities, bringing together the research and pedagogical commitments of the University.

Lecture by author and activist (and former UBC Punjabi Instructor) Sadhu Binning in Year One