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Breaking the caste barrier, ex-Canadian Premier style

Vishal Gulati/IANS | May 25, 2023 08:56 AM

CHANDIGARH: A hard critic of the Khalistan movement and the survivor of a brutal attack in Vancouver in 1985, this 76-year-old former Canada's British Columbia premier of Punjab origin, who first emigrated to Britain at the age of 18 and then to Canada, has pain for a Dalit, the curse of the caste system.

For Ujjal Dosanjh, born to a Jat Sikh family of landowners, racism and casteism, both man's inhumanity to man, still exist unabated in the 21st century.

In his debut 256-page novel, 'The Past is Never Dead', published by Speaking Tiger, Dosanjh told IANS on Monday that casteism is still a reality among the diaspora.

The fiction is the escape of father and son to Britain in 1940s and 1950s to escape the shadow of caste discrimination which clings to their compatriots and bruises the family lives.

"The novel is a glimpse of racism with focus on caste. The caste-based discrimination is not only prevalent among the first generation of Indian diaspora but also persists in the hearts and minds of the second or third generation, " he told IANS, adding: "You can leave India behind, but not your caste."

It's about how caste is inseparable from an Indian life in many cases. "It does not matter what faith you are, what region you have come from, the caste follows."

Although progressive-minded, both Hindus and Sikhs, claim they are free of this social evil, it is still practiced covertly or overtly, not only in India but across the globe.

It is a critique of the distorted reality of Sikh immigrants who revere their sacred text but conveniently forget the tenets of Bhagat Ravidas enshrined therein.

The novel is the life story of a young untouchable child whose father leaves India in 1942 for Britain, and then returns in 1952 to take his son and wife with him.

Currently touring India, Dosanjh says the fiction, the first of the five series, is based on his personal experiences with settings in Bedford in Britain.

"A Dalit man was slapped and insulted by the self-proclaimed upper caste people. At that time I had just migrated to England and was left traumatized."

Recalling his childhood days of Dosanjh Kalhan in Jalandhar where he spent a lot of time with a Dalit friend, Dosanjh, who believes in the inspiring quote of B.R. Ambedkar 'Caste is a notion, it is a state of mind', said he was rather shocked to see how caste discrimination was more prevalent in England when he moved there.

"Indians are hypocrites. They talk about equal rights in distant lands like Canada, but they do not want to treat Dalits as equal."

Dosanjh, who was born in Dosanjh Kalhan in Jalandhar in 1946 and narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985, the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, was Premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001 and a Liberal Party of Canada MP from 2004 to 2011.

In 2003 he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred by the government to overseas Indians.

His autobiography 'Journey After Midnight' is the story of a life of rich and varied experience and rare conviction. He writes about life in rural Punjab in the 1950s and early 60's, the Indian immigrant experience -- from the late 19th century to the present day, post-Independence politics in Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora, including the period of Sikh militancy, and the inner workings of the democratic process in Canada, one of the world's more egalitarian nations.

He also writes with unusual candour about his dual identity as a first-generation immigrant.

And he describes how he has felt compelled to campaign against discriminatory policies of his adopted country, even as he has opposed regressive and extremist tendencies within the Punjabi community.

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