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International Mother Language Day Celebration

March 20, 2015


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 Bangla Desh, UNESCO had 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 twelve 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 large number students, teachers, writers, journalists, community activists and other prominent members of the community.

 PLEA’s Board members Paul Binning, Parvinder Dhariwal, Parabjot Kaur, Jasmilan Lehal, Dayah Johal,Ranbir Johal,Harmohanjit Pandher, Sadhu Binning, Rajinder Pandher and other  numerous  helpers and volunteers did an excellent job in ensuring that everything went smoothly. Bhupinder Lalli and her family were kind enough to provide tea and mouthwatering refreshments. PLEA’s youngest Board member and Kwantlen Polytechnic University student Parabjot Kaur with guidance from Parvinder Dhariwal and Jasmilan did a great  job as the MC. This year, an exciting development worth note 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 talented singer 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 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 . 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 on-going commitment to promoting Punjabi in the Surrey School District. Students of Punjabi classes , Aionroop Kaur,Navdeep Kooner,Biantveer Dhillon and Mohjeet Chhina, thrilled the packed hall with 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 ten 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 did an excellent job in emphasizing the importance of Punjabi and challenges facing them in schools. They  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 prominent members of the community made excellent suggestions for PLEA and the community. The speakers included poet Mohinderdeep Singh Grewal, Balwinder Singh Chahal, Sukhwant Hundal, Col Hajit Singh Bassi, Brigadier 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) has also been kind enough to make 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 –both electronic and print –for its continued support. All of the Punjabi newspapers as well the community’s English newspapers have been very generous in conveying PLEA‘s message to the community. Our TV outlets including OMNI Punjabi, Des Pardes, Sur Sagar TV and many others have been very kind in their on-going support. Our radio stations have also done a marvelous job in conveying PLEA’s message to our community. For this we are very thankful to all of them including Radio Red FM 93.1, Mediawaves 1600 AM, Radio KRPI 1550AM, Spice Radio 1200 AM,Sur Sagar Radio Gurbani Channel 91.5 FM , My FM 106.9FM and many others.

PLEA has been actively promoting Punjabi for more than twenty 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 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.

Balwant Sanghera/ President, Punjabi Language Education Association





Balwant Sanghera
President, Punjabi Language Education Association . He is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist in British Columbia ,Canada.