"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Ujjal Dosanjh opens up about caste-based discrimination within the diaspora through his debut novel Featured


Gurpreet Singh

The former BC Premier, who is known for his outspokenness against bigotry and religious fanaticism of every shade, chose to write his first novel about one of the most condemned social orders of Indian society.

The Past is Never Dead reveals the ugliness of the brutal caste system practiced by the Hindus, which has also plagued the progressive Sikh community in Punjab.

Published by Speaking Tiger, the first novel by Ujjal Dosanjh, who has publicly condemned discrimination against Dalits or so-called untouchables, not only in India, but in the diaspora ever since he entered public life.

In a phone interview from India with this writer, Dosanjh, who comes from the privileged Jat Sikh community of landowning farmers who otherwise dominate Dalits in Punjab, credited his forward-thinking elders for bringing him up with a humanist value system, and not to treat anyone with contempt on the basis of caste or creed.

Currently touring India to promote his novel, Dosanjh recalled his childhood days when he spent a lot of time with a Dalit friend without any restrictions from his parents. Although he was aware of caste prejudices against Dalits in Punjab, he never encountered it directly while living in a liberal environment. He was rather shocked to notice how Dalits were discriminated against more blatantly as far as England, where he moved from India before making Canada home.

His novel is based on all those experiences. The setting is in England, where some real-life incidents had frozen Dosanjh to the core. "A Dalit man was slapped and insulted by the self-proclaimed upper caste people. I had only recently migrated to England and was completely traumatized." 

The story starts in the 1930s, when India was struggling for freedom from the British occupation. The Dalit character of the novel leaves behind his wife and kids in Punjab to begin a new life in the UK, where he faces many challenges from his compatriots. 

“I feel Indians are hypocrites. Both the Hindus and the Sikhs claim to be compassionate and kind and often tell the world about great things about their religions, whereas in reality they spew venom against Dalits,” said Dosanjh. He added that while the Indian diaspora asks for equal rights in places like Canada, they do not want to treat Dalits as equal.

Welcoming the recent law passed by the City of Seattle against caste-based discrimination, he called for amendments to human rights codes in Canada to check the growing anti-Dalit hate in this part of the world. He pointed out that the BC Human Rights Tribunal had only in March awarded a Dalit $9,000 for being subjected to caste-based abuse by two of his colleagues, which makes this kind of legislation even more important. Dalit activists have already started gathering signatures on a petition seeking a similar law in BC.  

Dosanjh has survived physical attacks for criticizing Sikh fundamentalism in the past, and has been constantly writing and speaking out against the ultra-Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.

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Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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