BY BALWANT SANGHERA
Punjabi Language Education Association
INTERNATIONAL Mother Language Day (IMLD) is celebrated around the globe on February 21. As a result of lobbying by a number of countries led by Bangladesh, UNESCO declared February 21 as the IMLD on November17, 1999. Since then, this day is celebrated around the globe with a great deal of enthusiasm by people honouring their mother language.
Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) has been celebrating IMLD for the past 12 years. This year again, PLEA, along with a large number of well-wishers of Punjabi, celebrated this event on Saturday, February 21 at the North Delta Recreation Centre in Delta. The audience included a large number of students, teachers, writers, journalists, community activists and other members of the community.
PLEA’s Board members Paul Binning, Parvinder Dhariwal, Parabjot Kaur, Jasmilan Lehal, Dayah Johal, Ranbir Johal, Harmohanjit Pandher, Sadhu Binning and Rajinder Pandher along with other numerous helpers and volunteers ensured that everything went smoothly. PLEA’s youngest board member and Kwantlen Polytechnic University student Parabjot Kaur with guidance from Parvinder Dhariwal and Jasmilan emceed the event. This year, an exciting development worth noting was the proclamation of declaring February 21 as the International Mother Language Day by the Lieutenant-Governor and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of BC. For this, PLEA is very thankful to the provincial government and hopes that it will also financially support teaching of Punjabi in our public schools.
The program started with two melodious Gurdas Mann songs sung by Hardeep Virk. I had the honour of welcoming the guests and giving an update about PLEA’s successes and challenges. On the plus side, PLEA, along with the well-wishers of Punjabi, can be proud of a number of accomplishments over the years. As a result of our efforts, Punjabi classes are under way in various elementary and secondary schools in British Columbia. In addition to that, Punjabi is being taught at the University of British Columbia, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and University of the Fraser Valley. Hopefully, Punjabi classes will also resume at Simon Fraser University before long. In Canada, Punjabi now has the honour of being the third-most spoken language after English and French. In cities like Surrey, Abbotsford and Brampton (Ontario), Punjabi is the second-most spoken language after English.
Due to a very large consumer base of Punjabis, Punjabi is being embraced not only by various government agencies but also by the corporate sector. It is great to see signs like “We Speak Punjabi” at various hospitals, city halls, public places, businesses and agencies. Our Vancouver International Airport has the unique distinction of having Punjabi signage and providing services in Punjabi. The Insurance Corporation of BC’s recently instituted claim service in Punjabi and OMNI TV’s national hockey broadcast in Punjabi are great developments. PLEA has approached a number of airlines to provide services in Punjabi on their flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. Hopefully, if enough Punjabi passengers advocate such services the airlines might be able to oblige. Similarly, PLEA is very pleased about increasing signage in Punjabi by the business community.
PLEA was very pleased to have a large number of well-wishers of Punjabi join it for the celebration. Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains has been one of our strongest supporters . He took the time out of his busy schedule to bring greetings, congratulate PLEA and offer his continued support. Similarly, newly elected member of the Surrey Board of Education, Gurpreet (Garry) Thind assured PLEA of his ongoing commitment to promote Punjabi in the Surrey School District. Students of Punjabi classes, Aionroop Kaur, Navdeep Kooner, Biantveer Dhillon and Mohjeet Chhina, presented their beautiful Punjabi poems and songs. OMNI TV’s veteran reporter / anchor Dilbar Kang emphasized the job opportunities in Canada in general and Metro Vancouver in particular for individuals well versed in Punjabi. He stated that at OMNI TV alone there are close to 10 journalists who are working there as a result of their command of the Punjabi language as well as their abilities in journalism.
Sadhu Binning briefly described the provincial language policy, its strengths and shortcomings. He was joined by three Surrey teachers – Gurpreet Kaur Bains (LA Matheson) , Amandeep Kaur Chhina (Princess Margaret) and Harmohanjit Singh Pandher (Beaver Creek) – to comment on the policy and offer suggestions for improvement. All of them were very optimistic about the future of Punjabi and made a number of very valuable suggestions to promote it.
The formal presentations were followed by a question-and-answer session. A number of participants made excellent suggestions for PLEA and the community. The speakers included poet Mohinderdeep Singh Grewal, Balwinder Singh Chahal, Sukhwant Hundal, Col. Hajit Singh Bassi, Brig. Nasseb Singh Heer, Raj Gill, Barjinder Dhillon and many others.
On behalf of PLEA I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Deepak Binning Foundation for its continued support. This year, Khalsa Credit Union (KCU) also made a substantial financial contribution for this celebration. I would like to offer my thanks to the KCU Board and management for its support. Of course, we are always very thankful to the South Asian media for its continued support.
PLEA has been actively promoting Punjabi for more than 20 years. During this time, there have been various successes as well as challenges. However, overall, we have come a long way in promoting Punjabi not only in BC’s public schools but also at the post-secondary level and in the community at large. These efforts have gained wide recognition not only in Canada but also in many other parts of the world including Punjab. This is a great credit to the community. With its limited resources, PLEA can do only so much. However, collectively we can accomplish a lot. In this context, I would like to urge / invite all well-wishers of Punjabi not only in Canada but also around the globe to act as ambassadors for our mother language in promoting it.