Gurpreet Singh: Former editor who took on fundamentalists is now fighting cancer

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Dr. Darshan Gill, a progressive and secular Punjabi writer who opposed religious fundamentalism in Vancouver, is battling cancer. He was first diagnosed with his disease in 2007.

Gill is the former editor of Canada Darpan, a Punjabi biweekly that gave a voice to moderates who were condemning extremism within the Sikh community during 1980s.

Although his right kidney had been removed, he remained healthy until last summer. But the cancer has since invaded his right lung. A 67-year-old, Gill lives in Surrey with his wife and three children.

He founded Canada Darpan on November 1, 1982. "This date was deliberately picked as it coincided with the anniversary of the founding of Gadar (a newspaper launched by secular Indian revolutionaries who fought against British imperialism)," Gill told the Straight.

He comes from a progressive background and worked at Nawan Zamana, a leftist newspaper published in Punjab, India, before he immigrated to Canada in 1972. After his arrival in this country, he was employed at sawmills in the B.C. Interior. He moved to Vancouver in 1982.

His newspaper was critical of Sikh fundamentalism and published articles written by prominent moderates, including Ujjal Dosanjh, who went on to become B.C.'s premier and a Liberal MP.

Dosanjh was physically attacked for his liberal views in February 1985. During that era, Gill received threatening calls asking him to stop running Dosanjh's articles.

Undeterred, Gill continued to publish them. He also testified in a trial against suspects in the Dosanjh beating case.

Gill remembered how the fundamentalists tried to dissuade people from reading his newspaper; often copies of Canada Darpan were stolen and destroyed during those days.

"My name was on their hit list and I was told that there might be an attempt on my life," he recalled

He narrowly escaped a physical assault when he went to attend a function at a Sikh temple in New Westminster. In 1987, his Surrey home was attacked with a firebomb, but nothing untoward happened to him.

In 1989, he sold Canada Darpan due to financial challenges. "Our community was very small then, and we were not getting enough revenue through advertisements," he said.

Gill also hosted Sahitnama, a literary program on Radio India every Sunday. He has edited 20 books and also translated three books from English into Punjabi. Among them is Balde Bol, a collection of poems on racism.

Last year, the government of Punjab granted Gill a literary award for his contribution to Punjabi literature abroad. Gill, who is still in high spirits, spends most of his time these days reading and listening to the radio.

"I will always be opposed to fundamentalism till the end of my life," he said.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

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