2nd World Punjabi Conference Successfully Held,
June 28 to July 1, 2003
The 2nd World Punjabi Conference was held at the University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George from June 28 to July 1, 2003, focusing on the theme of “Nation-Building in the 21st Century and the Punjabi Nation.” More than 200 delegates, mostly from India, Pakistan, Canada, Britain and the U.S. but also from other countries including Sweden, deliberated for four days on various aspects of the Punjabi nation and the present situation.
The historic nature of the Conference was evident; for the first time since the division of India in 1947, workers, scholars, writers, poets and artists met together to share their work and reflect on their experience as a divided nation. Exhilarating discussion took place on the significance of the Punjabi nation, its ancient roots and contributions to all fields of human endeavour and the need to pay attention to its own thought material, coupled with superb musical performances and poetry readings.
Sharon Smith, the President of University of Northern British Columbia Students’ Union, welcomed everyone to the UNBC campus for this important conference. She introduced Ron Seymour, a spokesperson for the Lheidli-T’enneh First Nation, who pointed out the need for preserving cultural identity, heritage and language. Frank Everitt, President of the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers Union (IWA) Local 1-124, welcomed all the delegates on behalf of the wood workers who hosted the conference. He observed that a sizeable number of wood workers are of Punjabi origin but are part and parcel of the Canadian working class and so share weal and woe together.
A presidium comprising of Dr. Prem Prakash Singh, Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, Dr. Nirmal Singh, Dr. Manzur Ejaz, Nazir Kahut, Sucha Deepak , Bhupinder Malhi was also elected by the organizing committee. Dr. Prem Prakash Singh was elected as the Patron of the conference and Dr. Karnail Singh Thind was elected as the President of the conference.
Sucha Deepak, editor of South Asian Review, introduced the members of the Prince George Sahit Sabha and pointed out that since the last conference three years ago many organizations, scholars and individuals had participated in the discussion about the Punjabi nation. A seminar was also held in Jallandhar, Punjab on the Punjabi nation in which more than 100 scholars participated. Deepak underscored that this conference was being hosted by wood workers who had collected all the funds for the conference because wood workers were concerned about nation-building and the question of the Punjabi nation.
In his keynote address, Bhupinder Malhi, co-coordinator of the conference, noted that at the last conference held in 2000, the theme of “the Punjabi nation” had emerged in all the resolutions and deliberations, leading to the choice for this year’s conference focus. Malhi observed that the conference was being held at a time when, nationally and internationally, the peoples are facing a serious situation.
On the one hand the peoples of the world want peace, justice, prosperity and dignity and together have raised their voice, calling for “One Humanity, One Struggle”; on the other hand, those who have usurped power by force are claiming that “benevolent hegemony,” a “unipolar world” and “Might Makes Right” should be the norms between nations. If one does not accept this rule of lawlessness and the dictate of those in power, peoples, nations and governments are being told: Either you are with us or with the terrorists. They are being told: If you do not submit to this dictate, aggression and terror will be unleashed upon you. They are being told that the policing of the world by the only global superpower is good for the peoples of the world.
Malhi emphasized that in these circumstances, it is crucial to maintain one’s bearings and develop a thoughtful discussion on the problems of nation-building. How can nations and peoples achieve their cherished aspirations for peace, freedom, liberation, dignity and justice? What mechanisms and alliances can they develop to affirm their rights? What vision do they require to achieve these aims?
Malhi argued that this was a fundamental problem faced by the Punjabi nation in South Asia along with other nations. Although the Punjabi nation is one of the largest nations in South Asia and the world, its very existence is not even acknowledged. The Punjabi philosophy, language, culture, music, art etc., are not recognized. Punjabis have no control over their natural resources and they cannot develop them to fulfil their needs.
Sucha Deepak, Dr. Manzur Ejaz (National Coordinator of the Academy of Punjab in North America, Washington, DC), and Dr. Ronki Ram (Professor of Political Science, Punjab University, Chandigarh) presented papers on the Punjabi nation in the first session. While Deepak delineated the historical development of the Punjabi nation over the centuries and its suppression by British colonialism, Dr. Ejaz emphasized the need for common aspirations — “Sadhran” — of all Punjabis for further progress of the Punjabi nation. Dr. Ram focused on Dalit emancipation and the Punjabi nation and pointed out that the affirmation of the Punjabi national identity is closely connected with Dalit emancipation.
A vigorous discussion followed these presentations. Questions about the history of the Punjabi nation, its development, the definition of a nation, common aspirations, language, religion, etc., were raised. It was pointed out that in the discussion that the Punjabi people are part of one Punjabi nation irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, citizenship or place of residence.
Dr. Swaraj Singh, a well known writer; Nazir Kahut, a writer and activist; and Mazhar Tirmazi, a prominent Punjabi poet residing in Britain, read papers in the second session on the Punjabi nation. Dr. Singh pointed out in his paper how the Punjabi nation is being denied its affirmation due to colonialism, the imperialism of the past and its current incarnation as globalization. He also pointed out the historical contribution of the Sikh gurus to the development of the Punjabi nation. Kahut elaborated on the miserable condition of the Punjabi language in Western Punjab (Pakistan). The Punjabi language is not given any status. It is not being taught in the schools. But he said that in the coming times, Punjabi nationalism will demand its affirmation in a powerful movement.
Tirmazi further elaborated on the situation of Punjabi in Western Punjab and said that the relaxation of visa requirements for Punjabis to meet each other in India and Pakistan will help ease the tension in South Asia. A vibrant and vigorous discussion followed these presentations. There were so many questions and comments on this issue that a third open session was held by decision of the delegates. As a result, the next panel on the Punjabi language had to be postponed to the next day.
The next day opened with papers on the Punjabi language by Dr. Prem Prakash Singh, Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, Sadhu Binning and Ajmer Rode who read a paper sent by Gurbachan Singh. Dr. Prem Prakash Singh and Dr. Karnail Singh Thind have trained thousands of students during their tenure at different universities in East Punjab. In his paper, Dr. Prem Prakash Singh pointed out the ancient Prakrit roots of Punjabi and pointed out that in this sense, Punjabi is older than Hindi. Dr. Karnail Singh Thind discussed both the development of the Punjabi language and Punjabi culture. He also made the point that the Punjabi nation or Punjabiyat are concepts that attempt to bring all Punjabis of the world together.
Sadhu Binning talked about problems of teaching Punjabi in Canada. He insisted that learning one’s mother tongue, in this case Punjabi, was one’s right and it was the duty of the state to provide facilities for this. These papers led to a spirited discussion on these subjects.
The Technical Needs of the Punjabi Language in Modern Times” was the topic of the next panel in which Dr. Kulbir Singh Thind, Kirpal Singh Pannu, Dr. Gurpreet Singh Lehal and Janmeja Singh Johl talked about the computerization of the Punjabi language and transliteration from Shahmukhi to Gurmukhi, and vice versa. They showed demonstrations of their work such as Font Converter and Spell Checker in Gurmukhi, and transliteration from one script to another. Dr. Kulbir Singh Thind also demonstrated his work on a Gurbani CD and various search options.
All the delegates highly praised these efforts and wished further success to the panelists in their innovative technological projects, emphasizing the need to standardize all programs so as to give all Punjabis the greatest possibility to participate in those developments.
After the lunch break, the conference reconvened for the session on Punjabi Darshan (Philosophy) and Environment, chaired by Dr. Rashpal Singh of APNA. Two papers were presented, one by Dr. Jaspal Singh on Foundations of Punjabi Thought and one on the Environment of East Punjab by Dr. Nirmal Singh, the President of the Punjabi Sath Lambra in India. In his paper, Dr. Jaspal Singh shed light on various themes of Punjabi Darshan such as Ontology, Epistemology, Ethics, Economic Theory, Political Theory, Aesthetics, Linguistics etc., tracing it from the Rig Veda to modern times. He pointed out that in doing so he was hoping that more scholars will join in this work of developing Punjabi Darshan. He also said that at the moment Punjabi Darshan was in a sorry state of affairs and that it was not taught at any university in Punjab as a subject. He further stated that at the moment Punjabi Darshan was in the grip of Eurocentrism and that claims are being made that there is such thing as Punjabi Darshan.
Dr. Nirmal Singh described the worsening condition of the environment in East Punjab. He pointed out that water and land have become contaminated, posing a serious danger to the people. In his estimation, the “green revolution” had proven to be a curse for the people of Punjab, as the land, air and water had been polluted to the great detriment of the people who are struggling with infirmities. He called upon Punjabis everywhere to join hands to face this challenge of pollution, and also hinted at the problem of a larger sense of pollution in cultural, social and ethical spheres.
Due to time constraints, it was decided by the delegates that the next session would be held without questions and that all the questions would be taken together after the panel on Punjabi Painting and Music. Artist Jarnail Singh delineated the development of painting in Punjab and described various styles and mediums that the painters used over the centuries. He also talked about contemporary Punjabi painting and individual painters and their style. After artist Jarnail Singh, Ustad Lachman Singh Seen of the Punjab Gharana presented a paper on Punjabi Music. In his paper, he elaborated on the ancient history of percussion, dhol and tabla, and pointed out that there are several thekas which are original to Punjab and which have migrated from Punjab to other parts of South Asia. He also said that some of the greatest musicians such as Pandit Harivalabh and Tansen belonged to Punjab and had developed Punjabi music.
After this session, Ustad Lacman Sing Seen, Jaspal Singh Randhawa, Manu Kumar and Abhirbhav presented a musical concert. Jaspal Singh Randhawa, a disciple of Ustad Sultan Khan played two ragas on sarangi accompanied by Abhirbhav and Ustad Lachman Singh Seen. After them Manu Kumar Seen played three Ragas on sitar accompanied by Abhirbhav and Ustad Lachman Singh Seen and three Punjabi folk songs concluding with Heer in Bhairavi. The audience was mesmerized by such highly talented musicians and dinner was postponed till 10:00 pm. Delegates were heard saying that the music hadrefreshed them and they had forgotten about food.
The next morning, the conference opened with a slide show by Janmeja Johl depicting the life of Punjab. With a thoughtful narrative, Janmeja transported the audience to Punjab. After the slide show, the question, answer and discussion session on the issues raised in the previous day’s sessions was held. Questions about Punjabi Darshan, Punjabi language and Sanskrit, Indology, the environment, painting and music were discussed. This session lasted until the lunch break.
After lunch, a panel on Conceptions of Eurocentrism and Civilized Nations was held. Sandra L. Smith, Director of Research at the Ideological Studies Centre and also the national leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), and Splitting the Sky, a Mohawk warrior and activist, presented papers. Sandra L. Smith pointed out that citizenship and nationality must not be confused. One can be a citizen of any country still remaining part of one’s own nation. A Punjabi can be a citizen of India, Pakistan, Canada, Britain, the U.S., but still will be a Punjabi, part of the Punjabi nation, she said. She also pointed out that in the 19th century the empire-builders in Europe, who had given rise to the European nation-state, developed colonial notions such as the conception of “civilized nations” to politicize the term civilization, and to dominate Asia, Africa and Latin America.
They also negated the history of other peoples and nations by arguing that only those nations that have European nation-states have “history” which is to say only they have “memory” and “intelligence.” This is for purposes of negating entire peoples and their struggle for their affirmation, she pointed out, and emphasized the necessity to open a path for the future by paying attention to one’s own thought material. Splitting the Sky eloquently described the struggles of the First Nations peoples over the years for their identity, culture and language. Autobiographical at times, he used examples to show how the First Nations have been deprived of basic rights such as learning their own language. He emphasized the need for nations to affirm themselves to maintain their identity and culture. Both these papers were received with a great deal of enthusiasm and led to questions and discussion on these issues.
Many delegates pointed out in the discussion that clarifying the relationship between citizenship and nationality is crucial and admired the struggles waged by Splitting the Sky and the First Nations.
The next panel was entitled Punjabi Theatre, Culture and Literature. In this panel, papers by Professor Nirdosh Kaur, Dr. Sukhpal Singh Thind, Sanjeevan, Surjit Kalsi, Asif Shahkar and Dr. Baljit Kaur were presented. All of them dealt with the contemporary problems of literature and culture in Punjab as well as writers writing in Punjabi abroad. Sanjeevan, Prof. Nirdosh Kaur, Dr. Sukhpal Singh Thind and Dr.
Baljit Kaur drew attention to the commercialization of life and its reflection in literature. Sanjeevan drew upon the history of Punjabi drama and theatre and expressed concern about the quality of plays and lack of an audience in East Punjab.
A Kavi Darbar was held following this session in which more than 30 poets recited their poems. The Kavi Darbar was conducted by Surinder Dhanjal, a well known Punjabi writer residing in Kamloops, B.C.
The fourth day began with an open session in which all the delegates could express their views, give comments about the sessions, the conference in general and other matters. Many messages from individuals and organizations to the conference were also read. The delegates expressed their appreciation of how the conference had unfolded and thanked the people of Prince George for their hospitality. They also thanked the organizers, South Asian Review, and Sahit Sabha Prince George for all the arrangements they had made to make their stay enjoyable and comfortable. Some delegates expressed the feelings that in these four days they had made many new friends and were sad that they were leaving.
Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, the President of the conference, briefly summed up the deliberations of the conference and presented the resolutions which were passed unanimously.
1. The Second World Punjabi Conference held in Prince George, B.C., Canada from June 28-July 1, 2003, deliberated on the question of the Punjabi nation. Many views and ideas were expressed on this topic. It is resolved that a committee be formed to further develop this discussion.
- The Second World Punjabi Conference held in Prince George, B.C., Canada from June 28-July 1, 2003, realizing the importance of Punjabi Darshan, demands from the Punjab governments and other educational institutions, that Punjabi Darshan (Philosophy) be taught as a subject.
- The conference takes note of the fact that delegates from West Punjab (Pakistan) were not given visas to attend this conference, and since the purpose of these conferences is to build bridges and bring Punjabis together, it calls upon all the governments, specially the Canadian government to facilitate issuing of visas to delegates to such conferences.
- The Second World Punjabi Conference held in Prince George, B.C., Canada from June 28-July 1, 2003, expresses grave concern over the pollution of the environment in Punjab and calls upon the government and other people’s institutions to take steps to stop this pollution.
- This conference emphasizes the need to standardize the Punjabi language in a methodic and systematic manner to meet the needs of modern times and bring it on par with other languages.
This conference appeals to all the cultural and musical institutions and organizations to preserve and further develop the rich musical tradition of Punjab and make efforts to promote it.
Some of the papers and pictures of the conference can be found at: www.worldpunjabiconference.com