Du­rai Pal Pandia de­voted life to serv­ing pub­lic

Bri­tish Columbia lawyer fought to change gov­ern­ment views on the rights of Indo-Cana­di­ans

The Province - - NEWS - KEVIN GRIF­FIN kev­in­grif­fin@post­media.com

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.”

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Du­rai Pal Pandia fought tire­lessly for the rights of In­doCana­di­ans.

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