How Indians in Canada were not allowed to vote for 40 years

A new exhibition looks at a darker part of Canada’s history when for 40 years, Indo-Canadians were denied the right to vote.

world Updated: Feb 21, 2017 20:00 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Indians in Canada,voting rights of Indo-Canadians,(Dis) Enfranchisement 1907-1947
From the exhibition, (Dis) Enfranchisement 1907-1947: The Forty-Year Struggle for The Vote.(Diego Slosse)

As Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of its nationhood this year, one exhibition which forms part of the mosaic of observances through the country focuses on a darker period of that history – the 40 years that Indo-Canadians were disenfranchised.

That exhibition, (Dis) Enfranchisement 1907-1947: The Forty-Year Struggle for The Vote, was launched on Sunday at the premises of the Gur Sikh Temple’s Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Funded by the federal government through the Canada 150 grant, the exhibition is curated by the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“The vote is kind of a lightning moment in the 1900s. There was so much discrimination. This was a good commemorative marker for us,” CCIS director Satwinder Bains said.

As four Indo-Canadians are part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet and over 20 elected to the present House of Commons, she said these achievements may have been impossible without the pioneering effort to win back the vote during those 40 years. She said, “A lot of kids here don’t even know what their struggles were.”

Satwinder Bains (centre), director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, speaks to visitors at the inauguration of the exhibition, (Dis) Enfranchisement 1907-1947: The Forty-Year Struggle for The Vote. (Diego Slosse)

The exhibition will run for a year. “That will give us a good amount of time to speak to this issue,” Bains said. Indo-Canadians finally achieved the vote in 1947, a decision “connected” to India becoming an independent nation.

Visitors to the exhibition, (Dis) Enfranchisement 1907-1947: The Forty-Year Struggle for The Vote. (Diego Slosse)

The exhibition features panels of information, along with pictorial elements, including documents, acts and images. Also on display is the character of Bishan Singh, a composite of a pioneering immigrant through those decades. The exhibition is in English and Punjabi. It also looks at institutions and individuals that played an integral role in the campaign for franchise. Among them is the historic Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver, the country’s oldest gurdwara, which also served as a hub for the mobilisation of the community. There’s also DP Pandia, a Vancouver-based lawyer of Tamil origin, who represented the Punjabi community in the effort to get the vote at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

While announcing the exhibition, Bains said, “As Canada commemorates its 150 years of confederation, we mark this anniversary with the development of a history that is very often erased, omitted, or ignored in the Canadian record. The Indian immigrants to the west coast were denied rights that were automatically extended to those of European origin arriving on these shores at the same time, the most important of which was the right to vote.”

First Published: Feb 21, 2017 13:22 IST