Balwinder Singh Grewal wins Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature at ceremony in Surrey, B.C.

From left, 2022 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature finalist Javed Boota, prize winner Balwinder Singh Grewal and finalist Arvinder Kaur. (Submitted by The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature - image credit)
From left, 2022 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature finalist Javed Boota, prize winner Balwinder Singh Grewal and finalist Arvinder Kaur. (Submitted by The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature - image credit)

A trio of international authors were celebrated for their contributions to Punjabi literature at a ceremony in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday night.

The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature was founded almost a decade ago in Metro Vancouver and awards a total of $45,000 to three writers: the winner takes home $25,000 and two additional finalists get $10,000 each.

Balwinder Singh Grewal's short story collection Dubolia earned him the top prize this year.

"The Dhahan Prize is a huge tap on my shoulder," he said in a news release. "I am happy and inspired to continue my creative journey with a greater sense of gratitude and responsibility."

Javed Boota and Arvinder Kaur were the other finalists, honoured for their respective works Cholan Di Burki and Jhanjraan Wale Paer.

Grewal and Kaur hail from India, while Boota lives in the U.S.

Submitted by The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature
Submitted by The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature

The prize was founded almost a decade ago by Barj Dhahan, founding president of the Canada India Education Society, with the purpose of promoting Punjabi literature and to encourage writers working in the two Punjabi scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi.

This year, organizers say they received a record number of international submissions, from countries including India, Pakistan, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia.

Punjabi is the most widely spoken language in B.C. after English, according to Statistics Canada.

"Punjabi is a Canadian language now," said Dhahan during an interview on CBC's The Early Edition.

Submitted/Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature
Submitted/Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature

Dhahan said about 11 high schools in the province offer the language to Grade 11 and Grade 12 students.

He said the awards this year honoured eight stories written by youth, as well as three poems written by Indigenous students.

The three poems tie into the theme of the 2022 prize, which is to highlight the similarities between the treatment of Indigenous people by colonial governments in Canada and the Indian caste system.

"Our First Nations, their experiences under colonialism and in the experience of the lower caste people of India and Pakistan ... there are parallels and colonialism had a role to play in it,' said Dhahan.

The ceremony's keynote speaker was Lynda Gray, a member of the Tsimshian First Nations, who wrote the 2011 non-fiction book First Nations 101 that provides an overview of historic and contemporary Indigenous lives and the impacts of colonization.

Dhahan says the theme sheds light on how stories can shape society and enact change.

"Through truth-telling, we can address the historic issues of injustice and oppression and suffering and move toward healing," he said.