By Joe Bongiorno
Park-Extension’s Pakistani community gathered at Howard Park last Saturday to celebrate Pakistan Independence Day. Leaders from various Pakistani-Canadian organizations, local politicians and candidates, as well as members of the public joined together to commemorate Pakistan’s 74th year of freedom.
The event kicked off in the late afternoon with a recitation from the Quran. Commemorative speeches and the singing of both Canadian and Pakistani national anthems followed.
74 years of freedom
Arif Naik, president of the Pakistan Association of Quebec addressed the crowd. “It’s a great day for the Pakistani community of Quebec [and] Canada,” said Naik.
“The 14th of August is very significant for our community, for the Muslims of Pakistan and Pakistanis all around the world,” he said. “That very day, the Muslims of India got a separate homeland […] where […] they could practice their religion, have their cultural events, and live in peace and harmony with their neighbors.”
For Zaheer Khan, co-chairman of the Canada Pakistan Affiliated Chamber of Trade, celebrating Independence Day means honouring the sacrifices of those who perished in the birthing of the nation.
“At least 800,000 people got killed during the partition,” said Khan. “The goal [of creating Pakistan] was for the protection of all minorities, and Muslims being a minority in United India, were at risk, which has been proven subsequently, [and] they are still at risk.”
For one of the speakers, Shahida Mirza, independence means controlling one’s destiny. “We got Liberty,” she said. “We can do whatever we want.”
Québec Solidaire MNA Andrés Fontecilla was one of the political figures who attended the event.
“I think it’s important to remind ourselves the circumstances of [Pakistan’s] fight for independence, and celebrate the Pakistani community of Park-Extension, […] and at the same time, invite them to be part of Quebec’s future,” said Fontecilla.
Villeray—Saint-Michel—Park-Extension Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli was also in attendance.
“I think it’s important to be in solidarity with the community,” said Fumagalli. “It’s a community that has taken root here in park extension and in Montreal. They’ve come here with their dreams, with a rich heritage, and they want to share it. It’s sharing that heritage, sharing that knowledge and embracing it.”
Remembering Rajinder Kaur
On a somber note, a moment of silence was held for Rajinder Kaur, the 32-year-old Park-Extension woman who was murdered by her husband in July.
Dolores Chew, founding member of the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, took the stage to speak about the need to be vocal about violence against women.
“It’s a tragedy for Rajinder Kaur, for her family, for her children,” said Chew. “What is really, really important is to get the message out [that] if you know somebody in distress, it is important that you make contact, that you inform groups like us, so we can come forward in languages and from cultures that people are familiar.”
Breaking colonial chains
The partition of August 15, 1947, resulted in British India being carved into the independent nations of Pakistan and India.
Minoo Gundebia, originally from India, wanted to be there for the celebrations before attending India Independence Day on Sunday.
“I definitely have a certain solidarity with people in Park-Extension who are from South Asia,” said Gundebia.
A near century of economic exploitation and colonial control resulted in famine and millions of deaths in what was then British India.
“[The British] wanted the raw material from India [and] whatever else they could lay their hands on,” said Gundebia. “It has been shown with evidence, with data, that the English Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have happened without India being a colony, without [resources] from India going to England.”
Although both India and Pakistan were formerly part of a single state, tensions have escalated between the two over the years and remain at a boiling point.
“It’s really an unfortunate legacy of their colonial history because people on either side of the border speak the same language, wear the same clothes, [and] eat the same food,” said Chew, who also originally hails from India.
“People don’t have clean drinking water or education,” she said. “Why are we spending money on fighter [jets] and all this sort of stuff?”
Despite the conflict, Chew and Gundebia hope that the borders will eventually give way in a way similar to how member states formed the European Union. “Countries that were at one time at war have come together because they see that they have a common destiny, and by actually breaking down barriers it’s improving the lives of all the people there,” said Chew.