In a first, a separate Punjab pavilion was introduced at Canada’s oldest cultural festival, Carabram in Brampton this year. Despite heavy opposition from other South Asian groups a separate pavilion highlighting the ‘culture of Punjab’ was allowed by organizers.
While other groups feel that at a festival which celebrates cultures and promotes unity, demanding divisions and separations, “is in bad taste”, what happened at Brampton this year is an example of South Asia’s culture complexity and ‘separatist sentiments’ reaching west.
Indo-Pak Punjabis Come Together
The theme of the Punjab pavilion was “East or West, Canada is the best” and included the traditions of Punjabis from both India and Pakistan. It was an indication of how Punjabis living in East and West Punjab, separated by Radcliffe Line find much more in common than with people from North India or Bengal. The three-day festival had stalls that were named after different cities of East and West Punjab.
The Indian officials in Canada who raised objection to a separate pavilion wanted a single Indian pavilion like the previous years. Around 12 countries participated in the festival.
“There’s nothing cultural in it (Punjab pavilion)” Sanjeev Malik, president of the socio-cultural group of Uttar-Pradeshis in Canada told Brampton Guardian.
“It’s a deliberate attempt to divide the Indian community and is part of the Liberal government’s plan of using the Sikhs as vote bank by appeasing the radical group of this community,” he added.
The festival, which celebrates cultures, should steer clear of religion and politics, both of which are being flaunted by those running the Punjab pavilion, said Peeyush Gupta, a Brampton businessman told Brampton Guardian.
Need for Separate Pavilion
However, Carabram president Angela Johnson stood by the decision of launching the Punjab pavilion. “This is Canada and we’re trying to do something that’s celebratory and educational,” she said.
According to Prithpal Chagger, chair of the Punjab pavilion, Punjabi culture was sidelined at the Indian pavilion in the previous years as there were many other groups and getting adequate time and space was a problem. So, he had raised his concerns with the organisers of the festival and that’s how the Punjab Pavilion was introduced to ensure proper representation of Punjab, Chagger told Brampton Guardian.
Protest by other groups
Gupta feels that the Punjab Pavilion ignores that there are more religions other than Sikkism which is highlighted by the pavilion. “I explained to Carabram board members Joe (Pimentel) and Paul (Vicente) recently that Punjab has two parts, one in India and the other in Pakistan. Most people from northern parts of India, like myself, are Punjabis and we each follow different religions. Punjab is not a land of one religion.”
Other South Asian groups have also felt ignored and have questioned that Punjab is not the only state in India so why ignore the other states.
Not the first time
Such a controversy is not the first time for Carabram festival. In 2013, Carabram faced criticism for its Ealam (Tamil) pavilion.
Mahinda Gunasekera, honorary president of the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada requested the not to legitimize the word “Ealam” by allocating a pavilion to the Canadian-Tamils.
A pavilion for Canadian-Tamils called “Eelam of Tamil culture” was seen at the festival this year, reported Times of India.
“We celebrate cultures, not countries,” Johnson told Brampton Guardian.
“I think India’s big enough and diverse enough that we can have the two together (Indian and Punjab,” she added.