BY DALJIT SINGH BAINS (Richmond)
LOCATED in the district of Hoshiarpur, the village of Mahilpur is famous from the Doaba region of Punjab. Historically, Mahilpur was known throughout India for its production of mangos. It then claimed fame for being the first village in Punjab to build a post-secondary institution, and later became legendary for producing prominent footballers (soccer players). The term “nursery of football” always follows when the name Mahilpur appears. Mahilpur today continues to thrive in its historic roots and has become a city centre for its many neighbouring villages.
Today, nearly 300 families with ancestral roots in Mahilpur are currently settled in the beautiful province of British Columbia, with around 200 families comfortably residing in the Lower Mainland region itself. Since 1989, these families have been celebrating an annual Mahilpur reunion, which is hosted by all Mahilpur brothers. Invitations are also extended to all sisters, who are married, and their families participate annually. This year, on Saturday, October 18, the Mahilpur Brotherhood will be celebrating their Silver Jubilee, 25th Mahilpur Reunion, at Grand Taj Banquet Hall in Surrey.
Mahilpuri migration to Canada and the USA can be traced back to the early 1900s, and many of those who came worked hard to contribute to the development of their adopted country and their families continue to do so today.
In 1906, Bookhan Singh Bains arrived in Canada and later enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces and fought for Canada in World War I. His family currently resides in Abbotsford.
Baba Harjap Singh Bains came to Canada in 1909 and played a prominent role as a freedom fighter seeking independence for India, and was instated as a member of the Gadar Party by Founding President, Sohan Singh Bhakna, at its earliest stages. Baba Harjap Singh later travelled back to India in 1937 and was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from the Mahilpur area. His victory prompted a visit to Mahilpur from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who would later become the first Prime Minister of India.
Another prominent early settler, Baba Prem Singh Bains, purchased property between Duncan and Paldi on Vancouver Island, where he claimed to establish Mahilpur near Paldi because they are neighbouring villages in Punjab. Baba Prem Singh’s family continues to live in Victoria and the Vancouver area. His descendants own the Bains Travel Agencies.
Mahilpur’s prominence in India can be attributed to the vision of Principal Harbhajan Singh Bains. In 1945, with the support of Mahilpur and neighbouring villages and the advice of Sant Hari Singh Ji, he established the very first post-secondary institution in a Punjab village. Sri Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College, Mahilpur, produced top level graduates that went on to serve in high level positions in all sectors in Punjab and the rest of India.
SGGS Khalsa College also produced several top level athletes; this is when the phrase “nursery of football” was coined. It was not rare to see every professional club in India with a player from the Mahilpur area on its roster. Jarnail Singh Dhillon of Panaam and Gurdev Singh Gill of Kharar Acharwal are just two of the legendary Indian footballers to have been produced by the college.
Since 1928, residents from Mahilpur and its neighbouring villages have been hosting an annual football tournament where professional clubs participate. Formerly known as the Mango Tournament, in 1962 it was renamed the Principal Harbhajan Singh Memorial Football Tournament, to recognize and honour the man who brought education to the area. In 2004, the All India Football Federation gave the tournament official status and it is now recognized as an all-India-level football tournament. The next tournament is set for February 1 to 7, 2015.
Mahilpur area descendants have been major contributors to the progress and success of this tournament by establishing three trusts which assist in funding and organizing the tournament. The Principal Harbhajan Singh Sports and Education Society; Principal Harbhajan Singh Memorial Trust; and Principal Harbhajan Singh Memorial Football Club have all been formed by Mahilpur area descendants who reside in Canada, USA, and the United Kingdom. These trusts also fund summer leagues for school children and development camps for 11- to 14-year-old youth in the area.
In addition to the tournament, Mahilpur area descendants are actively engaged in the continued development of the area, and have successfully lobbied all levels of government to partner in projects relative to Mahilpur. An All India Football Federation-affiliated football academy has been established in Mahilpur, complete with living quarters and a mess hall for youth aged 14 to 19. The planning phase for a national stadium has been completed, and all three aforementioned trusts have provided partnership guarantees to all levels of government for construction to begin.
Furthermore, Mahilpur area descendants also host free medical camps periodically. All of these projects and initiatives would not come to realization if it were not for descendants from not only Mahilpur, but also the neighbouring villages who have felt the need to give back to a place which gave everybody so much.