3rd World Conference on Punjab

Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hall in Jalandhar, Punjab was the site of the World Conference on Punjab held this year from February 15 to February 18. This marked the third conference with the previous two held in 2000 and 2003 in Prince George, British Columbia. South Asian Review and many other organizations co-sponsored and contributed to the success of this important conference on the Punjab nation.

The Reception Committee had planned a welcoming reception for the delegation of close to 30 participants coming from West Punjab in Pakistan. The February 14 reception had to be cancelled when the Indian government denied entry visas for all members of the west Punjab delegation.

The inaugural session began the morning of  February 15 with a moment of silence to remember those Punjabis who lost their lives or were displaced during the partition 60 years ago. Following the solemn moment of silence, the song Main Punjab Han (I am Punjab), written by young Arthur Victor from Jalandhar, was sung by Professor Baldev Singh Narang, former head of the Music Department at DAV College, Jalandhar. The song composed in Rag Bhairavi style was beautifully sung in a heart-rending manner by Professor Narang. The entire audience of around 500 was swept up with the performance.

Students of Amardeep Shergill College in Mukundpur then performed two songs under the direction of Professor Shamshad Ali, head of the college’s Music Department. One of the songs was written by the great Punjabi poet Dhani Ram Chatrik.

Well-known patriot Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga, who is 101 years old declared the conference open and expressed his good wishes and concerns for the proceedings. Bhupinder Malhi, assistant‑editor of South Asian Review warmly welcomed to the conference all those in attendance.

Following Bhupinder’s remarks, the editor of South Asian Review Sucha Deepak presented a short report of the work and background of the Punjabi Conferences. The work has been underway since the 1970s, he said, beginning with the formation in Canada of the East Indian Defence Committee (EIDC) and People’s Front-EIDC under the leadership of comrade Hardial Bains. The People’s Front-EIDC united all the peoples of Canada in the struggle against state-organized racist attacks and in defence of the honour and dignity of the diverse communities, nations and peoples that reside in that country.

In 1989, EIDC passed resolutions to initiate schools in which all education from basic to higher education would be in the Punjabi language.

During the 1990‑1994 period, Comrade Bains led conferences in Canada, Trinidad, Britain and the U.S. and Trinidad under the general title: A Look at Indian Philosophy, under the auspices of the Association of Indian Progressive Study Groups (AIPSG). The theme was to encourage the people of India and South Asia to examine their thought material critically, to develop their ability to use it as a guide to action so as to break away from the snare of Eurocentrism and Brahmanism, and initiate the last reform. By starting with the present, he led the people to break with the past so as to provide the future with a guarantee.

In March 1995, during the Forum on Minority Rights held in Toronto, Hardial Bains and Sandra L. Smith elaborated on the modern definition of rights. They pointed out that minorities have to put themselves in the van of the work to renew their societies along with all others and that everyone together have to create the new societies in their own image in a manner that guarantees the rights of all. The slogan Let Us Take a Bold Step in Defence of the Rights of All was adopted at the conference and became a guide for all subsequent work. The question of the rights of minorities is a question posed for society as a whole. They emphasised that a right is an act of being, which belongs to a person by virtue of being human. A feature of the Forum on Minority Rights was a special session on Whither South Asia, in which judges, activists, political personalities and journalists participated in discussing the problems of South Asia. Besides the issues of languages and cultures, this included how to look at the constitutional and security issues and the distinction between citizenship and national rights amongst other matters.

In 1995 and 1996 conferences on Punjab were held in London, Britain and Sydney, Australia where papers on the Punjabi language, philosophy and literature were presented. Delivering the keynote speech in Sydney, Hardial Bains said that the Punjabi nation is one of the most ancient and largest nations in the world consisting of more than 130 million people, yet the Punjab nation, culture, language, philosophy and literature have no place of honour in South Asia or abroad. Punjabis must affirm themselves, Comrade Bains said, and accomplish their nation-building project relying on their own philosophy and thought material, shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations and peoples of South Asia and the world. The Punjabi nation-building project is an integral part of the struggles of the world’s peoples to affirm themselves. In fighting for their own nation-building project, he said, Punjabis must defend the rights of all peoples and the same applies to all the nations of India, he said.

Sucha Deepak then made reference to the first and second World Conferences on Punjab held in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada in 2000 and 2003. He made special mention of the discussions held on the Punjab nation, language, literature and Darshan.
Following Sucha Deepak’s report the grand old scholar of Punjab, Professor Pritam Singh delivered the keynote speech. He first congratulated all the audience for coming and the organizers for making possible this significant conference on the Punjab nation and Punjabi Darshan. He directed everyone’s attention to the history of the Punjab nation, to its very ancient roots that can be objectively traced. He expressed his disappointment with the successive Punjab governments regarding their policy towards the Punjabi language and called upon the people to be proactive and force governments to make Punjabi a medium of instruction. Professor Pritam Singh’s keynote speech was interrupted many times with resounding applause.

Dr. Joginder Singh Puar, former Vice Chancellor of Punjab University and expert on the Punjabi language, presided over the inaugural session, which was ably directed by Professor Nirdosh Kaur and Dr. Sukhpal Singh Thind. Dr. Puar elaborated on the importance of Punjab history and language in the realm of education.

The first formal session after lunch dealt with the Punjab nation with papers by Sucha Deepak, Dr. Harikrishan Mehta, Dr. Ronki Ram and Dr. Manzur Ejaz. A vibrant discussion ensued on the reality and conception of the nation. Certain participants in the audience identified the nation with religion while others said that in the era of globalization there is no need to talk of nations. The four panellists clarified with great understanding the history and development of Punjab and the importance of modern nation-building in a manner which provides the rights of all with a guarantee.

February 16, panels were conducted on the Punjabi Language, culture, environment and the right to be. Reading papers on those subjects were Dr. Karnail Singh Thind, Kulbir Kaur, Dr. Baldev Singh Dhaliwal, Dr. Satish Varma and Dr. Sukhpal Singh Thind. Their presentations aroused a great deal of questions and concerns giving rise to a broad discussion. Dr. Darshan Singh chaired the session.

Dr. Ronki Ram presided over the third session centred on caste and class problems of the Punjab nation with papers by Dr. Nirmal Singh, Dr. Gurdev Singh Chandi and Professor Nirdosh Kaur.

In the evening three plays were staged and organised by Dr. Ajmer Singh Aulakh and Sanjeevan Singh. The first two plays dealt with the theme of drugs being pushed on Punjabi youth while the third play depicted the insanity of the India/Pakistan war and border skirmishes.

The morning session February 17, dealt with the history and development of Punjabi Darshan with papers presented by Dr. Jaspal Singh, Dr. Harbhajan Bhatia and Gurbachan Singh. Dr. Prem Singh, head of the Department of Linguistics, Delhi University, chaired the session.

Dr. Jaspal Singh traced the history of Punjabi Darshan from Rig to the present. Dr. Harbhajan Bhatia emphasized the need to look into the Punjabi tradition to develop Punjabi Darshan and not be enslaved to philosophies imposed from Europe. Gurbachan Singh insisted on the need to understand the alliance of imperialism and Brahmanism in the development of Punjabi Darshan. The entire audience listened to the presentations in pin drop silence followed by vigorous discussion. Some participants thought it wrong to connect Punjabi Darshan with Rig Veda, as Rig Veda was connected with Brahmanism. During the discussion it became clear that Rig Veda is part of the Punjabi tradition and a product of Punjab and must be dealt with when studying the history and development of Punjabi Darshan. Dr. Prem Singh in his president’s address also emphasized that Rig Veda, Panini and Patanjali etc. are part of the history of Punjab and Punjabi Darshan.

In an afternoon session chaired by Dr. Manzur Ejaz, the Punjab nation was again the topic in papers presented by Dr. Gurnam Singh, Dr. Jatinderpal Singh Jolly and Janmeja Singh Johl.
Later, a Kavi Darbar was held in which dozens of poets participated. Dr. Surjit Pattar, considered to be one of the best Punjabi poets of our times, presided over the event. He thanked the organizers for creating such an important forum where substantial issues could be discussed.

The morning of February 18, witnessed the closing session chaired by Dr. Sardara Singh Johal, former vice chancellor, Punjab Agriculture University and member of the Planning Commission. In this open session dozens of participants contributed to the discussion and expressed their opinions on the conference proceedings. A unanimous view developed that conferences of this type were a positive development and necessity and more should be organised. Safir Rammah suggested the next conference on the Punjab nation be held in Lahore. Dr. SS Johal congratulated the organizers for holding such a successful conference and expressed his full cooperation for future efforts.

The president of the World Conference on Punjab Dr. Karnail Singh Thind articulated the sentiments of participants saying the conference was something unique and the proceedings had confirmed the conviction that the issues of Punjabi Quom and Punjabi Darshan are too important to be left to chance. Dr. Thind presented three resolutions, which were unanimously approved. A fourth resolution was presented by the delegation from Jammu and Kashmir

Dr. Sukhpal Singh Thind and Professor Nirdosh Kaur ably conducted the conclusion of the conference with Dr. Johal offering mementoes and an immense group picture to the participants.

Resolutions of the 3rd World Punjabi Conference Held in Jalandhar February 15‑18,2007

1.    The World Conference on Punjab (Third) condemns in strong words the visa policy of the governments of India and Pakistan. Due to this visa policy the peoples of both countries experience great difficulties in travelling. Therefore it is demanded that visa regulations be relaxed and short‑term visas be granted at the border that would be valid for travel throughout the entire country and that reporting to police upon arrival be removed, so that good and friendly relations amongst the peoples of both countries can be further developed.

2.    The World Conference on Punjab (Third) demands from the Punjab governments that basic education be in the Punjabi language and the medium of instruction be both Punjabi and English from class five, and that this policy be implemented in all government and private schools.

3.    The World Conference on Punjab (Third) demands that the syllabus for all Punjab schools include the teaching of Punjabi tradition, Punjabi culture and Punjabi Darshan.

4.    In 1941, Punjabi and its dialects were the languages of 56 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. In the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjabi is one of the recognized local languages. Unfortunately, due to the Balkanization of Jammu and Kashmir and the politicizing of language, Punjabi has not been given its due place as recognized in the constitution. The State government of Jammu and Kashmir has instructed that basic education in government and private schools be taught in mother tongues, but regarding Punjabi this decision has not being implemented. This conference demands that the government of Jammu and Kashmir give up this discriminatory attitude towards Punjabi and immediately implement its decision and grant Punjabi its due place in basic education and that instruction in Primary schools be in the Punjabi language in Punjabi speaking areas.

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