Let's expand the list of influential people of South Asian descent

Today, the Vancouver Sun published a list of 100 influential Indo-Canadians who are making a difference in B.C.

It was a refreshing alternative to what we often see in the media.

Some might object to the term Indo-Canadian over South Asian, which is more inclusive of people who trace their roots back to Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

I was struck, however, by some of the people who were left off the list.

Here are just a few names of people whom I feel are deserving of greater recognition and who should have been on any list of 100 influential people of South Asian descent in our community:

* Aga Khan University president Firoz Rasul and his wife Saida Rasul, who has done so much for Simon Fraser University

* successful actor Veena Sood, who has donated her time for charitable endeavours and who has been a role model for young people of South Asian descent

* B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janice Dhillon, who has an outstanding reputation for dealing with technically complex cases

* retired SFU sociologist Hari Sharma, who has been a mentor to so many young activists of South Asian descent

* Burnaby's popular Sav Dhaliwal, the only city councillor on the Burrard Peninsula of South Asian descent

* Romi Chandra, a leading activist in the gay community and a pioneer in developing gay-straight alliances

* Suresh Kurl, a member of the National Parole Board, a long-time senior civil servant, and a pioneering columnist with the Link newspaper

* Am Johal, Jagdeep Mangat, Imtiaz Popat, and Harjap Grewal,  four intelligent and committed social activists who often challenge conventional thinking in our community

* Immigration lawyer Zool Suleman, who has given up countless hours of his time to raise awareness about racial profiling and to volunteer as the cochair of the mayor's working group on immigration

(Here are some others who weren't on the Sun's list: lawyers Ravi Hira, Palbinder Shergill, and Narindar Kang; Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu's executive officer, Insp. Steve Rai; writer and poet Phinder Dulai; CBC broadcasters Sudha Krishna, Salma Nurmohamed, and Meera Bains; political scientist and political activist Shinder Purewal—to name just a few others.)

Then there are Indo-Canadian media figures who didn't make it such as Radio India's Gurpreet Singh, and editors Raj Paul Dhillon and Rattan Mall, who are stirring up all sorts of controversies and in their own ways. contributing to the betterment of our region.

(Disclosure: Johal, Singh, and Raj Paul Dhillon have all contributed to our paper, as have some of the people on the Sun's list, such as Harsha Walia and Itrath Syed. Many, many years ago Sharma wrote for the Straight.)



Charlie Smith

Mar 31, 2008 at 9:32am

I sent the following note to <strong>Hari Sharma</strong> after reading the list in the Sun on Saturday. I've printed my note and his reply with one minor editing change done for legal reasons.

Hi Hari, I was shocked that you weren't on the list that appeared in today's Vancouver Sun. That got me thinking about others who weren't on the list, but your name was the most glaring omission on the first read through. That's when I decided to post this on our web site. I hope all is well. Charlie

Dear Charlie:
Regarding the Vancouver Sun's selection of One Hundred "Indo-Canadians" in yesterday's paper.

Many thanks for mentioning the "most glaring omission". I am humbled; flattered.

But Charlie: let's face it. Who wants to be in a crowd; and a hundred is a crowd. Especially a crowd like this which contains names of people I wouldn't want to be in the same room with.

That Sun would do such an exercise (devoting so many pages of its precious space and ink) does tell something. One may be tempted to say that the "Indo-Canadians" have come of age, finally. That even the Sun takes note of them. I think, on the contrary, it is the Sun which has come of age. I have lived in this town long enough, and have even probed the Sun's (and of other media outlets') coverage of Indian immigrants all the way back to Komagata Maru and before, to be able to recall its days of "White Canada for Ever". Till very recently - till at least the days some of us held educational classes for the local media to teach them what constituted outright racism, and what responsible journalism was (indeed we did) - the Sun would carry such sensational headlines as : "Gun found in Punjabi Home", "Sikh found guilty", etc. We could also recall the days when the democratic people of this province were having life-and-death struggles to kick out the KKK from this province and the country, and in the process were forced to confront the vicious physical attacks by the fascists, the Sun ran outlandish headlines, and outlandish write-ups, whipping up a racist hysteria. I could cite numerous examples.

Yes, the Sun has actually come of age.

But the credit does not go to it. It goes to the long years of hard work and perseverance on the part of the South Asian immigrants who made tremendous contributions to this province's, and this country's, economy. Today they are a community to be reckoned with. It cannot be ignored.

And let us not forget one more thing. The glitter of the "shining India" component of India's economy is sucking in all the big Corporate bees into profit-smelling petals. Politicians of all hues, academics of all disciplines, universities across the land, are all jumping on the bandwagon to hitch a ride.

A bit of glorification of some of the members of the community is only a small bit in this multi-faceted process.

Thanks again, Charlie, for thinking of me when you saw the Sun list. My exclusion from the list didn't bother me; I was on the contrary grateful.

hari sharma

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Todd Wong

Mar 31, 2008 at 11:50am

Great comment - that the Vancouver Sun has finally come "of age" - gee... maybe we could pull out some of the comments about Indo-Canadians that the Sun published in the early 1900's for comparison.

When I first saw the list, it recalled the problems of the Vancouver Sun's list of 100 influential Chinese Canadians - which included somebody who had only been in Canada for 1 year!!! How Canadian is that???

The list appeared to many of us that it was a blatant attempt to woo the Chinese-language community to buy a copy of that's Saturday's paper.

If the Vancouver Sun stopped segregating Vancouver news events into "ethnic news" and relegating it to the backpages or not worthy enough categories - then we would all have something to celebrate.

It's a telling situation when the Vancouver Sun published a story about whom THEY thought were influential Chinese-Canadians on page one - when the REAL INFLUENTIAL Chinese Canadian story of the FIRST Head Tax ex-gratia cheque given to Charlie Quan, standing beside Sid Tan and Gim Wong was relegated to a the backwater pages of the West Coast section.

Even the Globe & Mail had made it the lead story in their BC edition. Chinese Language newspapers all had the 1st head tax cheque story on page one.

AND.... I agree - lots of names left off the new 100 Influential Indo-Canadians list.

First names missing to my mind are Ravi Hira - a brilliant lawyer whose name gets mentioned in the Vancouver Sun frewquently, and Raj Sihota - the NDP organizer.

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Harri Singh2

Mar 31, 2008 at 11:18pm

Totally agree with your comments gentlemen.. this list should be called "Kim Bolans friends". There are so many prominent individuals whos names weren't mentioned, maybe they weren't in Kim's good books?? Others, if you asked the South Asian community, they haven't even heard of....?? How could they be influential? This is a sad attempt by Kim to appease the community she so often ........ It's a shame that the real leaders who are out their tirelessly working to improve the lives of others who are in the hearts of both the South Asian and mainstream communties such as the one's you've already mentioned especially Mr. Sharma; Jai Birdi, Dr. Goel, Amrik Nijjar, Ninu Kang, Jas Cheema, Vinay Sharma, Mr. Kandola, Dr. Gurm all your average people who are great mentors and an inspiration to our youth...no one's paying them to do the community service they're so passionate about.... just plain old good honest people couldn't even count the countless hours they've put in year after year in the community ... and what's with the politicans, why have some and not others...? You're right Mr. Sharma better to not have these gems associated with some of the names on the list!!

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Apr 1, 2008 at 3:45pm

Today, the Sun posted the following apology in relation to the list:

Setting it straight
Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In the March 29 edition. the Malek brothers, Peter and Shahram, were included in our profiles of 100 influential Indo-Canadians in British Columbia. The Maleks are in fact of Iranian heritage. Also, Iqbal Grewal is an employee of Cafe Roma in North Vancouver, not an owner as previously stated.

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Alex Sangha

Jan 20, 2011 at 11:08am

Hi Georgia Straight,

Here is my list of influential South Asian or part South Asian people from around the world.

I would like to inject a fresh dose of South Asian culture in the press because this may help inspire and provide hope for the next generation of South Asian youth.

Below is a Top 15 list of my favorite South Asian role models in alphabetical order. This list is designed to help educate and inform the wider public about some of the contributions South Asians have made around the world.

1. Aishwarya Rai - Bollywood actress and former Miss World
2. Deepak Chopra - Personality development and health author
3. Freddy Mercury - Lead singer of Queen
4. Frieda Pinto - Indian actress
5. Guru Nanak - Founder of Sikhism
6. Jay Sean - British singer
7. John Abraham - Bollywood actor
8. Lakshmi Mittal - Richest man in Europe
9. Mahatma Gandhi - Helped lead India to independence
10. Norah Jones - Grammy award winning singer
11. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Pakistani singer
12. Salman Rushdie - British author
13. Sanjay Gupta - CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
14. Siddhartha Gautama - Founder of Buddhism
15. Sir Ben Kingsley - British actor

And as honourable mentions I would like to include Manmohan Singh in the list as one of the best Prime Minister's that India has ever had and of course banker to the poor and Nobel prize winner Mohammed Yunnis as a model social entrepreneur!


Alex Sangha
Registered Social Worker
Delta, British Columbia Canada

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