Canada’s Women Heroes : Darshan Mann

Women who Named the Unnamed
Celebrate the (here and) Now

Darshan Mann
theatre actor/activist/organizer

Darshan Mann : From Struggles to Success
By Parabjot Kaur Singh

British Columbia’s Punjabi community saw a surge of cultural production led by Punjabi writers, artists and activists in the 1970s and the 80s when, among other things, about half a dozen full length Punjabi plays were staged addressing various issues impacting the community. Darshan Mann became the face of that socially aware theatre as she enacted different aspects of the lives of Punjabi women in Canada.

In the play, ‘Sharbati’ (woman’s name), Darshan plays the role of a woman who gets married without her consent. When she fails to conceive a baby, she is forced to seduce her brother-in-law to have a child. The role of this female character depicts a victim and a survivor. ‘Sharbati’ was a two-and-a-half-hour play written by Rana Jung Bahadar, directed by Mohan Bagan and produced by Sumat Kendar. In her next play, ‘Ik Kuri Ik Supna (a girl a dream), Darshan projects a woman who suffers emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. She takes the steps to heal by seeking professional help. ‘Ik Kuri Ik Supna’ was a forty-five-minute play written by Ajmer Rode, directed by Ajmer Rode and Bhupinder Dhaliwal, and produced by Sumat Kendar. Darshan played a young, married woman with two daughters in the play, ‘Nirlujj’ (without shame), where she becomes pregnant again, and has to face expectations to have a male child from her extended family. Her husband is advised to marry his wife’s sister. ‘Nirlujj’ was written by Ajmer Rode, directed by Bhupinder Dhaliwal and produced by Sumat Kendar.

Apart from playing various leading roles depicting Punjabi women, Darshan also played an authoritarian male figure in a play that explored how the wife’s health is neglected and ignored by her husband and in-laws. This forty-five-minute play was produced by Jyoti Sanghera and Darshan. In ‘Dhalde PerchhaaweiN’ (fading shadows), Darshan was an elderly married women who is deprived of her son’s love. Since her son settled abroad, both she and her husband wait for his return. ‘Dhalde PerchhaaweiN’ explores isolation and loneliness faced by elderly parents. In another play, ‘Navi PeeRhi’ (new generation), Darshan was a young college girl who falls in love with a classmate. After their families give their consent for marriage, the mother-in-law provides a long list of dowry items to the bride’s family. The bride-to-be objects to this tradition and tries to persuade her fiancé to reason with his mother. ‘Navi PeeRhi’ was collectively written by the team members. As well, Darshan actively participated in the play, ‘TooRi Vala Kotha’ (storage room for hay). This play portrayed the different stages of women’s empowerment. Each character represented progressive and proactive women who were strong enough to challenge and withhold tradition. Her performances, plays and skits include the acclaimed stage play, ‘MahileeN VasdeeyaN DheeaN’ (daughters living in castles). Without fail, her performances liberated women and imparted a sense of agency.

Working on the stage in the Punjabi-Canadian community carved a pathway for Darshan to connect with her cultural roots, especially Punjabi literature. Darshan mentions how she was admitted in the hospital while pregnant with her daughter, Pamela, when her sister-in-law introduced her to the great Punjabi writer, Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari. She gifted her with his book, ‘Ishq Jina De Hadhi Racheya’. After reading ‘Preetlari’ (love string) magazines, Darshan regained her strength and resilience. As a matter of fact, Darshan learned how to read the Punjabi language while reading Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari’s literary works. Darshan gained internal strength and a voice that she continues to use today. Interestingly, Gurbakhsh Singh Preetlari paid Darshan a visit while he was on a tour in Vancouver. Darshan remembers how this meeting was one of the most memorable and life-changing moments of her life. She immersed herself in Punjabi literature for the next ten years, with some detours in other languages including writings by Russian author Maxim Gorky that further strengthened her inner self.

Darshan found an opportunity to work with the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP), and as the Campaign Manager for Penny Priddy, she managed and organized campaign roles and duties for the upcoming elections. After Penny Priddy won the election, Darshan assisted Priddy’s MLA office as the CA. At that point, Darshan was one the few South Asian women to work as a CA for the NDP’s Ministry of Gender Equality. Subsequently, her work in politics and ability to organize people for a cause led to her being sought out to help with many political campaigns.

As Darshan’s involvement increased with BC’s NDP, she was already making a positive difference, not only in the office, but in the wider Punjabi-Canadian community. In the 1990s, the NDP agreed to provide funding for the new Senior Centre on Scott Road and 72nd Avenue in Surrey while the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple provided the land. Darshan was supportive of the project but she noticed that there was no place for women to socialize, organize and meet one another. So, she approached the organizers and created a large gathering room on the top floor that began the long-standing tradition of a ‘Social Thursday’ that is still being practiced today.

Now, sitting in her artful yet humble living room, Darshan Mann reminisced about her life journey from Nainital, India to Vancouver, Canada. Darshan was born in Bhairomunna, a small village near Sahnewal, Punjab. At six months of age, she migrated with her parents to Nainital in Uttarakhand where she obtained her basic, formal education. As soon as she completed her secondary education in 1964, Darshan got married and immigrated to Vancouver in 1964. There, Darshan gave birth to her son, Tishi. She was blessed with two more children, Rajeev and Pamela.

Darshan continued her education in Canada taking specialized courses in bookkeeping, accounting and typing. Darshan began to work as a Community Support Worker with the Indo-Canadian Society, and later with Canada Revenue Agency. But it was while working as a receptionist for a medical clinic that Darshan came across patients where sixty percent were from the Punjabi-Canadian community. Reviewing and analyzing patients’ files, Darshan noticed that a number of South Asian women were being sexually and physically abused by their husbands and/or by the prominent members of the larger Punjabi-Canadian community. These shocking facts prompted Darshan to take a stand against the injustices toward South Asian women.

While working in theatre, Darshan was heartbroken after her oldest son, Tishi, passed away from an asthma attack. She regained her strength through acting and the immense support provided to her by the members of India Mahila Association (IMA) a Punjabi women’s organization that Darshan is a part of, and her close friends from literary and theatre groups.

Darshan acknowledges India Mahila Association (IMA) as the pillar that gave her the strength to rise from the emotional pain she battled with. Darshan believes that the India Mahila Association provided her with the opportunities to gain internal strength and a strong voice. Darshan actively participated in the education committee, culture committee and the victim support groups. Darshan remained an active member and participant with the India Mahila Association for most of her life. Darshan worked closely with women such as poetess/author Surjeet Kalsey by organizing workshops through Battered Women’s Support Services, and with social justice activist, Raminder Dosanjh, Darshan produced talk shows about sensitive issues on Sushma Dutt’s radio programs. Another way Darshan assisted and supported women was through the Rape Relief Services: Women Against Violence Against Women as the executive of the committee.

While serving many different roles and positions in the IMA, Darshan developed strong relationships with survivors, authors, poets, social and political activists from the Punjabi-Canadian community. These relationships gave rise to the the strong, independent, and strong-willed stage actress, Darshan Mann.

At this time, Darshan focuses on her housekeeping business, and through her business, she continues to fight for women’s rights by assisting immigrant women with English language training, life skills, and employment opportunities.

Darshan lives an independent, and simple life. She enjoys spending quality time with her son, Rajeev Mangat, daughter-in-law, Tej, granddaughters, Reyana and Maya, daughter, Pamela Gill, son-in-law, Ranjit Gill, three grandsons, Avani, Ishan, Yashin and granddaughter, Ashni. Darshan spreads positive vibes with her friends and continues to support causes that she cares deeply about: social justice, human rights, literature, theatre, and political activism.
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Parabjot Kaur Singh is a writer, radio host and activist. Her poems have been published in the PULP, a literary arts magazine of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), and in RAINBOW: Anthology of South Asian Writers by South Asian Literary Society of Canada. She has presented her work at Surrey Muse, Surrey Muse Writers, and at KPU’s poetry gatherings and year end readings.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Huma Safdar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Huma Safdar
theatre director/producer/actor

The Revolutionary Act of Staging Punjabi Literature
By Faiza Rna

Painter, actor, director, poet, and founder of Sangat Theatre, Huma Safdar combines her many talents to create a people-centric awareness-raising theatre that is steeped in Punjabi literature and culture. She has staged classic Punjabi texts such as Heer Damodar, Heer Waris Shah, Mirza Saheban; countless modern Punjabi texts including ‘Alfo Pairni di Vaar’, a six-hour stage play; and, classic and modern poetry presentations. She chooses diverse venues in the City, from girls’ schools and colleges to the shrines of Sufi saints; from big cities to small towns.

When Huma joined Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 1981, three things had happened: because of the colonial practices of the British and then the local power holders, Punjabi language in the Punjab had been relegated to a subservient role in favor of the two ‘national’ languages, Urdu and English; Pakistan’s Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) had instituted discriminatory laws against women and minorities; and, the living conditions of the under-privileged and less-privileged population groups had become worse. Huma decided that the cumulative impact of these conditions was unacceptable to her. Politicised by the authoritarian nature of the time, she emerged from her shell of society-imposed restrictions to showcase her art and her commitment to freedom and resistance.

That year, she acted in her first play, Hawa aur Zindgi: Air and Life, that was performed for the women’s movement with arts activists Madeeha Gauhar, Faryal Gauhar, Rubina Saigol, Rabia Nadir, and Sabah. ‘I was a first year student of National college of arts at that point’, Huma said in an interview. ‘We performed at Lahore Museum’s library hall on International Women’s Day.’

Later, Huma joined Lok Rahs, an alternative theatre group that had emerged to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Huma worked as an actor and director. Here, she imparted her knowledge to new and emerging artists, and she organised theatre workshops for young people. She saw theatre as a powerful cultural medium to bring about change in Punjabi societal mentality, and she found ways to integrate it with Punjab’s many local cultural and performing art traditions. Evolving and constantly learning, she formed her own group, Sangat Theatre. Progressivism, cultural activism and social justice are the core values of her work. Her plays depict the struggles of the common people, mostly written by Punjabi poet and playwright Najm Hosain Syed, they portray the truth of the lives of the majority of people by reviving our faith in ourselves, one another and in our mother-tongue.

Huma believes that Punjabi is the language of resistance, love, art and the people. Her actors sing Punjabi classical revolutionary poetry, dancing and performing plays to a variety of audiences including rural and urban workers. Her team of versatile performers can act in a variety of arenas and sets, as well as in open air. Sangat Theatre has presented hundreds of Punjabi plays, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Huma draws inspiration from, and is keeping alive, centuries of unbroken yet ever-evolving traditions of Punjabi poetry and prose through the traditional and modern techniques of Punjab’s performing arts. In doing so, she has changed the nature of popular Punjabi theatre from slapstick-sexist-racist-ableist ‘comedies’ to a profound contemplation of a shared and evolving experience.
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Faiza Rna Faiza Rna is a writer, teacher and a poltical/social activist. She edits the Punjabi monthly magazine ‘Pancham’. She is the vice president of Punjab professors and lecturers association.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Sheema Kermani

Women who Named the Unnamed
Honor/Cherish the Continuity

Sheema Kermani
dancer/activist/mentor

Of Dance and Dissent
By Mahnoor Kazmi

Her limbs move with ease and grace, in perfect harmony with the melody and rhythm. She takes another step forward. With each delicate movement, the sound from the paayel anklet on her feet echoes on the stage, creating music of its own. There is a tender and loving quality to her dance; it is, at the same time, fierce and bold. It is enticing. Challenging. It is, in these ways, a perfect reflection of her own self.

Sheema Kermani was born in Pakistan in 1951 in the city of Rawalpindi. Her family migrated from India following the partition in 1947, and her childhood was spent travelling to and from India on a regular basis. She comes from a middle-class and educated upbringing, and takes pride in the fact that her parents always laid emphasis on the role of performing arts in their children’s lives. She became acquainted with classical music and dance in her early years, and consequently developed a deep and lasting bond with art in its many forms.

Her decision to pursue the medium of dance was influenced by her politics. During the 1970s, in the Bhutto era, Kermani worked with women who were factory workers, helping them to form trade unions and increase awareness about their own rights. She founded the Tehrik-e-Niswan as an organization that aimed to provide women with basic skills which would allow them to enter the work force. The organization also developed adult literacy programs, as well as educational programs for children whose mothers could not afford to send them to school.

The 1980s in Pakistan, under General Zia Ul Haq, saw a surge of Islamization, of the infiltration of right-wing, and Islamic fundamentalist mindsets in all strata of society. The state became increasingly draconian in its laws, and the performing arts began to be seen as inextricably tied to moral degeneration and anti-religious beliefs. Dance, in particular, was detested by this new moral order and was banned by the state. It was in this social and political climate that Sheema made the decision to take up dancing as a form of resistance. Her dance symbolized her defiance and her rejection of the establishment. It laid claim to her ownership of her own body, and became her way of exploring and sparking dialogue about women, their agency and their sexuality.

Sheema continued to dance in the Zia era, and for each public performance she had to obtain a No Objection Certificate. This was a time when fundamentalism and religious extremism was quickly becoming ingrained into the very fabric of Pakistani society, and as a result anything considered ‘un-Islamic’ was a direct threat, one that needed to be eliminated at all costs. Sheema chose to dance, even when death was a likely consequence. She risked her life to defy and question established notions of public and private space. She claimed public space for women, in a time when it was only acceptable for men to inhabit it, and through her dance attempted to engage with and change people’s relationship with the space itself. Through her dance, she became the voice of the voiceless and the unheard.

Her dance is intricately tied to her feminist and socialist politics: Sheema focuses on the significance of the spine, more specifically the straightening of the spine, in her teaching. She sees dance as acceptance and as an embrace; it is to feel confidence in your body, it is an assertion that no oppressive structure can make women cower and become weak. To stand straight is to stand against those modes of oppression and subjugation that attempt to silence women, and to make them invisible. Sheema sees dance as a way to subvert the ways in which women interact with and view their own bodies, and their own selves.

In 2015, Sheema co-edited a book titled ‘Gender, Politics, and Performance Art’. She has worked extensively for women’s rights, and has made major contributions towards the feminist movement in Pakistan by raising awareness about multiple issues faced by women across different socio-economic classes. She has performed at hospitals and for women training to become midwives. Through these performances, Kermani highlights the specific health issues that arise from child marriages, forced sexual intercourse and the violence – physical, sexual, psychological – that women face in the domestic and public spheres. Her work has inspired many women to take up dance and to make it their mode of resistance: resistance against the patriarchy and against the State that has continually existed as an oppressive structure, causing and reinforcing this violence against women.

Asked, in an interview, about how circumstances have changed since she first started performing, Sheema stated that today it is even more difficult to reach people through the medium of dance. Religious fundamentalism has seeped into people’s way of life in subtle but more concrete ways than ever before. She says the ‘enemy’ is now obscured; where as it was the State in previous times, it is now more abstract and latent, and so more difficult to address. This difficulty has not hindered Sheema’s efforts; she continues to boldly and bravely perform her subversive art in public spaces.

In 2017, the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (a Sufi saint) became the target of a terrorist attack, which killed 88 people and left several hundreds injured. Darbaar shrine/court culture forms an integral part of sub continental heritage: it has historically transcended barriers of class and religion and existed as a unifying force in this part of the world. The attack left the entire country heartbroken, stunned and scared. Following the attack, Sheema visited the shrine and in her characteristically fearless manner, performed the tradition dhamaal, a dance form linked to Sufism and shrine culture. Through this simple yet deeply courageous act, Sheema once again demonstrated her passion and vigour towards the cause of social justice, towards her struggle for peace, for harmony and for love.

Her art is how she chooses to converse with the world: through it, she talks of pain, and of loss, and of hope. Sheema Kermani continues to be an inspiring force of resistance and opposition. She embodies, in her art and in her being, the message of hope.
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Mahnoor Kazmi is pursuing a B.A. (Hons) in History at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, with a special focus on South Asian History, post-colonial studies and feminist politics. She has a keen interest in the performing arts, particularly music and dance.
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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..

Pakistan’s Women Heroes : Madeeha Gauhar

Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance

Madeeha Gauhar (1956-2018)
theatre director/producer/actor

By Hina Imam & Saroop Soofi

She did not just swim against the tide, she turned the tide.

Born in 1956 in Karachi, Madeeha Gauhar was an actor, director, playwright and women’s rights activist who co-founded Ajoka (present day) Theatre. She studied English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore, and later went to England to pursue a degree in theatre sciences from University College London.

Madeeha created platforms for human rights activism at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive, dictatorial regime had blocked all avenues for political expression in Pakistan. In 1983, she began Ajoka Theatre with her partner playwright/director/actor Shahid Mahmood Nadeem (quoted above), where she combined conventional Western theatre techniques with local performing traditions and cultural nuances to produce her work. The group began operating out of the homes of its members, using money raised from personal contributions and donations by activists, supporters and audiences. Soon, it built up a reputation for taking up bold and topical themes, including the eroding rights of women, the plight of bonded labor, minorities facing an assault on their rights, and religious intolerance that had been given official patronage.

With censorship in force, Madeeha and her band lived with the fear of arrest, and worse, she had to quit her job as lecturer at a girl’s college because her theater activism was intolerable to the regime. She was also briefly jailed for demonstrating, along with other women activists, against the discriminatory Law of Evidence in 1984.

Ajoka, mainly operating in Urdu language, became one of Pakistan’s foremost theater groups with 40 original plays and adaptations to its credit. The list includes Bullah (on Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah) first performed in Lahore in 2001, Kaun Hai Yeh Gustaakh (Who is this Arrogant?) Lahore 2012, Lo Phir Basant Aayi (Spring is here again) Lahore 2014, and, Kaun Banega Badshah (Who will become the King?) Islamabad in 2015. Madeeha’s play ‘Burqavaganza’, a satire on the society, was banned by Pakistan’s parliament and Ajoka was threatened with sanctions. The local non-governmental cultural organisations and activist, however, went ahead, translated it in other languages, and it was performed in several other countries.

Madeeha was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, was awarded Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands in 2006, the International Theatre Pasta Award in 2007, and she received the country’s highest award, Pride of Performance for the revival of Pakistani theatre.

Madeeha lost her battle with cancer in April 2018.
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Hina Imam is a journalist living in Vancouver who previously worked in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before moving to Canada to pursue a master’s degree at UBC. Hina writes about social justice, race and representation, gender, and urban issues.

Saroop Soofi is a visual artist, researcher and an art educationist born in Lahore, Pakistan. She has exhibited her work in solo and group shows in Canada and Pakistan where she has received awards and distinctions.

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Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes

Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Centre Stage
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Phone: 604-591-4011

Buy your ticket online at this link:
tickets.surrey.ca
Tickets $25
Box Office : 604-501-5566

More information
Women-who-named-the-unnamed
In-gratitude-we-celebrate-our-women-heroes
View our objectives and goals.

We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

..