Amritsar, May 16
Migration from Punjab has touched a record high, turning a trend into a crisis. While a section of youngsters keep flying away to foreign countries in search of a better future, better life, something that they cannot flee from seemingly, is caste. Caste is one such obstinate chaser and Ujjal Dosanjh, Indian-origin Canadian lawyer, politician and author talks about the issue of casteism among diaspora with his debut novel, The Past Is Never Dead. Dosanjh, who was born in Dosanjh Kalan in Jalandhar and spent his early years at his parents’ village before migrating to the UK, has served as the 33rd premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001 and was active in politics in Canada till recently.
In conversation with Preeti Gill, founder, Majha House, and Deepa Swani, he spoke about the book, the prevalence of casteism in Punjab and diaspora and several other related issues at a special session hosted by Majha House. You can leave India behind, but not your ‘caste’. The Past Is Not Dead is Dosanjh’s tribute to a man he witnessed being subjected to caste-based violence back in the UK when he had just migrated there in 1965.
“I have carried this story with me since 1965. I was 18, a young turbaned boy, who had just migrated to the UK and was living with some cousins of mine. There was a man, who was an acquaintance of my cousin and used to do hawala transactions at the time. He was having an argument with another guy, who was accusing him of not remitting money back to his family in Punjab. Amid the argument, I saw the guy stand up and give a slap to the man’s face, hurling casteist slurs. This incident has remained with me,” he shared.
The protagonist in his novel, Kalu, goes through incidents and experiences in his life as an immigrant, most of them inspired by real-life incidents from Dosanjh’s life. “I worked in a crayon factory as a lab assistant and I know circumstances that people go through in the UK as immigrants. So, I had to give Kalu experiences that I had,” he said. Dosanjh said that contrary to what people in India or Punjab may believe, but casteism is a reality abroad. “I have had many friends, among whom are Dalits. I have seen people go numb or crazy if they know their child is marrying a person from lower caste. There are so many incidents in Bedford (UK) alone to believe that. It’s not as brutal as in India, but it’s ugly.”
He also gives another reason for growing sense of irrelevance among diaspora. “When people migrate to another country, not quite familiar with the culture or society of that country, there are chances that they get ghettoed, physically and mentally. The tragedy is that as the diaspora grows there are more chances of being ghettoized. Look at Surrey and Brampton, we are building ghettos there to overcome the stigma or feeling of being irrelevant in foreign society.”
Caste-based politics destroyed India’s secular fabric. Talking about caste-based politics, something that has always remained at the helm of affairs in India, Dosanjh said there was a need to break this cycle, neutralize this concept. “It would be great if we do it in Punjab. But in doing so, all the emperors will be naked. Congress destroyed the secular fabric of the country long before BJP, they are just doing it in blatant fashion, ” added Dosanjh.
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