Durai Pal Pandia devoted life to serving public
British Columbia lawyer fought to change government views on the rights of Indo-Canadians
To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians.
In 1946, a major development occurred in the political fight to get the vote by Indo-Canadians.
Durai Pal Pandia, along with pioneers Kapoor Singh, Mayo Singh and other Sikhs, went to the annual meeting of B.C. mayors at Harrison Hot Springs. Initially snubbed by municipal politicians, several Indo-Canadians thought they should leave and go home. Pandia wasn’t having any of it. “Oh no, Sikhs don’t give up,” he is reported to have said. “This is the time to fight when you are against all odds.”
After several meetings, Pandia was given five minutes to speak on closing day. He was so persuasive that the mayors soon passed a resolution to give immigrants from India the vote in municipal elections. Within a year, Indo-Canadians could vote in provincial and federal elections.
Although Pandia was a Hindu from southern India, religious affiliation made little difference in the campaign for voting rights. Immigrants from India — whether they were Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Muslim — all depended on the Khalsa Diwan Society, the main organization at the time for South Asian immigrants.
Pandia is credited with being a key player in getting the vote for Indo-Canadians and making immigration policy more equitable.
“He was a wonderful man,” Karm Singh recalled in 1991 in The Vancouver Sun. “He was entirely public spirited.”
Educated as a lawyer in the United Kingdom, Pandia came to Canada in 1939. At the time, the federal government wanted to deport more than 200 who had arrived in Canada as sons of original Sikh pioneers. Because of immigration rules, Sikh immigrants had been barred from either leaving Canada or bringing in wives until the 1930s. Pandia went to Ottawa and argued the legislation was unfair. He said many immigrants couldn’t have children of their own. As a result, they brought in nephews and other family members.
The federal government eventually agreed with Pandia’s argument. Officials relented and the newcomers were allowed to stay.
During the Second World War, Pandia urged Indo-Canadians to help the war effort by joining the military, even though they didn’t have full Canadian citizenship.
Pandia, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, was the author of a report in 1947 calling for the federal government to recognize Indo-Canadians as full citizens and give them the vote.
“The denial of the franchise withheld from our people many opportunities which would otherwise have enabled them to better their social and economic conditions,” Pandia said. “The fact that some were able to forge ahead in spite of many handicaps is a fine tribute to their initiative, tenacity and character.”
Durai Pal Pandia fought tirelessly for the rights of IndoCanadians.