More than 100 people protested a recent concert in Abbotsford by a famous Indian music and acting star for controversial comments he made on a Canadian Punjabi radio show.
Gurdas Maan performed at Abbotsford Centre on Sept. 21. A few days prior, he made comments endorsing a single national language for India.
“This is necessary that one nation must have one language.” Maan said on the radio show. “France has one language and its people speak it. Similarly, Germany has one language that the entire country speaks. And if our country speaks (one language), what is wrong with it? It should be spoken.”
During the concert, more than 100 members of the Lower Mainland Punjabi community protested outside the arena with large banners. One the signs reportedly said, “Traitor of Punjab’s Mother Tongue.”
At one point, protesters inside the concert carrying signs and shouting slogans interrupted Maan’s performance, causing him to swear at them from the stage. The protesters were escorted out of the arena by police.
A meeting of over a dozen Punjabi groups was organized in Surrey to protest Maan’s comments.
The concept of “one nation, one language” is a policy recently promoted by an Indian cabinet minister. It is a worrying notion for many Sikh immigrants living in Canada, according to University of the Fraser Valley professor Dr. Satwinder Bains.
The Punjabi language is spoken by 33 million Sikhs in India.
The policy induces a fear that their culture is threatened by a large 528 million Hindi-speaking majority, said Bains, who is director of UFV’s South Asian Studies Institute.
“People feel [their language] is always under threat from being subsumed by another larger language. And because the language is part of culture and religion, it has even more stress on it,” Bains said.
Language in India is a political “lightning rod” because of the many ethnic minorities that exist in the country’s very diverse 36 states and territories, said Bains, who earned her doctorate on language policy in India.
India’s current government has promoted many nationalist policies which endorse a Hindu-state ideology, Bains said.
Those nationalistic trends are increasing the local anxieties of many Canadian Sikhs who have maintained close family and cultural connections to India, she said.
“There’s more tension, there’s more fear, there are more people who feel under attack.”
Opinion on the subject of Maan’s comments varies widely and the opinions of the protesters should not reflect the entire Sikh community, Bains said.
Maan has since apologized for his comments on the radio show.