New Canadian Media

As many as 3,325 persons were killed in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, that many view as genocide. Out of those, 2,733 killings occurred in Delhi. This was stated by India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibahi Chaudhary on Tuesday in New Delhi, according to a report in the Tribune newspaper of India. Besides the […]

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Published in India

by Vinita Srivastava in Toronto 

At first, the news of the cancellation of a free yoga class for disabled students by the University of Ottawa Student Federation and the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) due to issues of cultural appropriation read like really good satire. 

Like many others who responded, tweeted and commented with shock and exasperation, I found it amusing. The cancelation of one yoga class seemed like an utter misplacement of energy – ridiculousness and chaos caused by a few students in power.

On the scale of cultural appropriation (where elements of a minority culture are ‘borrowed’ and sometimes misrepresented by the dominant culture), a yoga class seems mild. After all, isn’t it a little late where yoga is concerned?

Yoga has been integrated into the western world for at least 20 years. Is this like saying we should not eat cous cous or chow mein for dinner?

But then, as the public and media voices around me got self-righteous and even angrier about how wrong this politically correct move was, I found myself thinking about the student federation at the University of Ottawa (U of O) and the fact that these students have not backed down in the face of ridicule. 

I imagined myself in the place of those students for a moment. 

In those early days of political awareness, I sometimes said dogmatic things and was accused of being ‘politically correct’. 

Sometimes politics requires us to be extreme even if just to raise an issue. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play.

Then I looked at the situation at the U of O as a faculty adviser and professor, which I have been for many years. 

It is interesting that even though my analysis is imminently more sophisticated than my student days, I am still sometimes called ‘politically correct’ in relation to conversations around race and culture. 

Daring to challenge privilege

Based on the Internet furor this yoga cancellation has raised, challenging the privilege of being able to appropriate someone else’s culture does not sit well with the general public. 

How dare these students challenge privilege? 

But it wasn’t too long ago gangs calling themselves ‘The Dotbusters’ harassed women wearing bindis and saris in Toronto and New Jersey. And only last week a University of British Columbia student was spit at for being Muslim. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play. 

[W]ouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about cultural appropriation?

Perhaps these students are new to their political analysis, making them more dogmatic than necessary. Perhaps they have been badly misrepresented by a miffed yoga teacher. Perhaps we members of the press are simply too eager for a controversial story that we can feed to our hungry audiences. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about this misunderstanding and even about cultural appropriation? 

Instead, the University of Ottawa Twitter feed placed the school in opposition to its student federation. 

The university distanced itself by first tweeting that a student group made the decision to cancel the yoga class, and later tweeting an announcement that free yoga classes would still be available for dates in December. 

Need for universities to host critical conversations

At the heart of the student federation’s investigation into the yoga class and other student activities is the issue of inclusion. I doubt the federation’s members would move to suspend a class simply for the fun of it. 

By taking this action, students have raised these questions about their campus: Who is made to feel welcome within the selection of student activities at the U of O? Who is made to feel excluded? What are the best activities and classes to offer the student body? 

We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them.

Of course, yoga originated in South Asia, but, like pizza, chow mein and cous cous, it is now part of our international, multicultural every day. 

Whether or not the students at the U of O meant to raise this issue with such fervour, the issue has nevertheless, been raised. We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them. 

The student federation at the U of O released a statement last week saying how disheartened its members feel by the rhetoric being used to critique their process. 

They say they feel disappointed and harassed, some by violence. They feel their process has been misrepresented. 

"The CSD in no way thought that suspending this program for the semester with the intention of improving it for a January return would cause this much uproar," read the statement. "Let us please … have a more conducive dialogue around how to make our campuses more accessible to those who do not feel safe.” 

There is clearly a need for university campuses to facilitate open and critical dialogue about difficult and sensitive issues like cultural appropriation, inclusion and exclusion. Perhaps there is no better lesson than this, as the story turns into the latest Internet meme.


Vinita Srivastava is an editor and journalist who has been a university educator for the last decade. She is currently the creative director of Upsari by Pondichéri.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 28 November 2015 16:24

Why Indo-Canadians Succeed in Politics

by Anita Singh in Toronto

With a tour in Bosnia, three tours in Afghanistan and a 15-year career in the Gang and Drug Unit of the Vancouver police, the new Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, has been lauded as an exceptional choice for the post due to his significant experience. 

Despite these qualifications, Sajjan was the target of an inappropriate comment made by a high-ranking member of the Canadian forces on Facebook. The comment pertained to Sajjan’s racial background, and while the post itself was not made public and the department’s response was swift, it did raise the question of how members of the Canadian cabinet were perceived—particularly those that come from ethnic or immigrant backgrounds.

Considering this, what explains why Indo-Canadians have had such success in elections and in receiving Cabinet positions?  

In a “cabinet that looks like Canada", seven of 28 Ministers in Prime Minister Trudeau’s new Cabinet are members of a minority group; four of those seven come from Indo-Canadian backgrounds. This proportion isn’t surprising, given that more than half of all immigrant MPs elected into the Liberal caucus come from Indian backgrounds. 

Why Indo-Canadians?

There are a few reasons why this may be the case. 

Indo-Canadian immigrants have been long familiarized with the political system that exists in Canada. Since India’s independence in 1947, Indians have operated within a bicameral British parliamentary system. In fact, India’s political system has complexities that make Canada’s elections seem like a walk in the park.  

India has 1761 registered political parties, six of which have official status at the national level and 23 of which are represented in the current government. Its elections are massive affairs, demonstrated by the fact that 8251 candidates ran for a mere 545 seats in India’s last election.

In addition to this complexity, a total of 131 seats are reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Two additional seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community, and if Women’s Reservation bill finally passes, eventually 33 per cent of the lower house will be reserved for women.

If you can navigate India’s democracy, Canada offers a welcome simplicity within a familiar political system.

Seven of 28 Ministers in Prime Minister Trudeau’s new Cabinet are members of a minority group.
 

History also makes a compelling case for Indo-Canadians' current involvement in Canadian politics. While others have rightly noted that Indo-Canadians were not actively contesting elections until later in the 20th century, the community has been very politically active since the arrival of the first Indo-Canadians in the early 1900s.  

One hundred years ago, Indo-Canadians formed the first ethnic political organizations in the country to contest the restrictions against Indians in those early days. They challenged race-based immigration policies, landing fees charged to Indian immigrants arriving by port, in addition to the rights to own property, run businesses and of course, to vote. 

Needless to say, there is a deep history of engagement from the Indo-Canadian community in the Canadian political system.

What explains Indo-Canadian success in cabinet? 

In some ways, there is evidence that success has indeed bred success. 

In the 1990s, Herb Dhaliwal made history as the first Indo-Canadian cabinet minister, holding significant portfolios such as National Revenue, Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources.  

Similarly, Ujjal Dosanjh held the Ministry of Health in the Paul Martin government, but only after serving as the first (and only) Indo-Canadian provincial premier in Canadian history.

Canada offers a welcome simplicity within a familiar political system.

Further, Indo-Canadians have exhibited a high level of political success, but this is not limited to electoral politics. There is significant integration of Indo-Canadian interests in non-profit, community-based and interest group organizations.

Organizations like Seva Food Bank in Peel Region, VIBC in the Greater Vancouver Region and the India-Canada Women’s Association have provided important platforms for social engagement for Indo-Canadians.It has resulted in a community that is engaged, comfortable and active in Canadian political and social environments. 

What's more, increasing numbers of second generation Indo-Canadians have run for federal office, combining their familiarity with Canadian politics and community activism with significant professional experience. 

Numerous examples exist within the current Liberal caucus, including Amarjeet Sohi, Anju Dhillon and Kamal Khera. From this group of young, ambitious Indo-Canadians, Bardish Chadder, a first time MP, has become the Minister of Small Business and Tourism in the Trudeau cabinet.

What does this mean for other immigrant groups in the country?

There’s no ultimate answer as to why Indo-Canadians have been successful in the Canadian political environment and more significantly, in Cabinet. 

Instead, the explanation lies in the congruence of numerous historical, experiential, political and personal reasons. There is no reason why Chinese, Filipino, Middle Eastern or Eastern European communities could not be similarly successful. 

There are hopeful signs that other communities have started on this trajectory. In particular, the accomplishments of first-time MPs Ahmed Hussen and Maryam Monsef from the Somali-Canadian and Afghani-Canadian communities demonstrate that the Canadian parliament is well on its way to truly becoming a representative institution for Canada’s immigrant communities.

But representation in parliament does not mean much unless it translates to representation in cabinet. At least Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet is a solid step in the right direction.


 Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Monday, 09 November 2015 00:36

Education Saving Difficult For Newcomers

by Dilnawaz Qamar in Brampton, Ontario

For newcomers to Canada from countries like India, who may be struggling to become financially secure, the government has a number of plans that may be of assistance. The catch — people have to be aware of the programs in order to consider participating in them.

The Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is one such plan, which provides a tax-free option for parents and families to save for their children’s post-secondary education. 

For Mississauga, Ontario resident Pareet Jagdeep, a single mother of three who emigrated from India two years ago, the RESP represents a relief from some of the numerous challenges she faces as a recent immigrant. 

Opportunities for education

Like many newcomers, Jagdeep came here for a better future for her children. As Jagdeep explains, many people are very happy after landing in Canada because education for children is free. They often forget they need to think about post-secondary education, which can be expensive. 

Not wanting to fall into that trap, Jagdeep says that soon after arriving and getting her children admitted in school, she applied for the RESP. She came to know about the savings plan from a housewife she met in neighbourhood. 

The RESP represents a relief from some of the numerous challenges Jagdeep faces as a recent immigrant.

Jagdeep shares with New Canadian Media that she is satisfied and relieved with this decision, as she can see her dream of her children’s education becoming fulfilled through the savings plan. 

Indian immigrant Bhavan made the same decision. He landed in Canada five years ago from Gujarat, India with his wife and son. 

Both Bhavan and his wife work for banking institutions, so they were well informed about the RESP. The couple applied for their first son soon after arriving in Canada, and again for their second son later on. 

“Savings for education is specifically important,” explains Bhavan’s wife, “because in the years to come you are relieved that your needs for children’s education are taken care of.” 

Barriers to access

While many agree that RESPs are beneficial, for Ramanjeet, his two children were too old to benefit from the savings plan when he arrived in Brampton, Ontario four years ago from India with his wife.

For this reason, he and his wife didn’t apply for an RESP and instead relied on student loans for their children’s education. Ramanjeet says education savings are essential for newcomers because jobs are especially uncertain when you first arrive in Canada.

For some new immigrants, though, even if their children are younger, they don’t pursue a RESP due to a lack of awareness. According to Anachal Chawla, who works as a financial services representative, when many newcomers hear of the RESP their response is, “Wow! We never knew it existed.”

“Savings for education is specifically important."

Language barriers add to this ignorance, says Chawla. What's more, although banks typically have a welcoming environment and often hire bilingual staff to serve a diverse clientele, immigrants are still reluctant to open up and share their concerns with bank officers.

To contrast, according to banker Nabeel Khan, some immigrants may receive too much information when trying to figure out their best option moving forward. 

“Everyone has individual experiences and individual challenges and people guide others according to their unique experiences,” explains Khan. “As a result, the new immigrants become at a loss of whom to listen to. It is good to guide a new immigrant, but one should realize that one’s experience [is] not necessarily true for the other immigrant.”

Saving despite little money

Brampton resident Neelam Chauhan, who arrived in Canada two years ago from India, says she recently applied for the RESP for her younger son. 

“Saving is important, but [sometimes] there is no savings at all,” says Chauhan. “Because we are offered menial jobs after we land we cannot even think of saving, even the Child Tax Benefit that we receive from government is used for running the house.” 

All of the interviewees reported that opening up an RESP is quite simple. The only document required is a social security number. 

According to Chawla, despite a family’s financial constraints, saving money is very important for parents who have arrived in Canada. “Money does not grow on trees. The RESP is therefore very beneficial so that parents are relieved of the burden of children’s education.” 


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

This is the third in a five-part education series (click for part one and part two) on New Canadian Media looking at the experiences of different families with saving for education in Canada. November is Financial Literacy month across Canada and November 15 - 21 is Education Savings Week. 

Visit SmartSAVER.org to learn more about Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) and to start an RESP with your choice of six major banks and credit unions. RESP information is available in 16 languages. Apply online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered to win one of nine $1,000 weekly prizes! Learn more here

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

BY MEERA GILL Our Global Village A group of friends of Indian and Pakistani heritage living in Canada recently held an informal gathering in honour of a friend, Nain Sukh, a Punjabi writer who was visiting from Pakistan, to talk about peace, love and belonging to one another. He had come to Canada […]

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Published in South Asia

The group of dancers from across the nation beat 14 countries in the final and became the first-ever Indian crew to win the championship.
The crew [...]

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The Link

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Published in India

Abu Dhabi/Thiruvananthapuram (IANS): Thousands of Indian expatriates in the UAE have registered for a mega event in Dubai on Monday to be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit the Gulf country in 34 years. Organisers of the event to be held at the Dubai Cricket Stadium are expecting […]

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Published in Arab World

By Subhash K Jha

MUMBAI: When Adnan Sami sang Bhar de jholi meri ya Mohammad in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he had no clue that the gods were really listening.

A week before his 42nd birthday,

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Published in South Asia

New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois and New York top investment destinations     WASHINGTON, D.C.: Indian based companies are responsible for creating tens of thousands of jobs and $15 billion in investment across the U.S., according to a new report released Tuesday by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Grant Thornton (GT). CII […]

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Published in India

India’s double Special Olympics medalist Sita Sahu. Picture source: TedxGateway

News East West

As the above picture shows, barring cricketers most other athletes in

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Published in India

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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