ISAS Founders receive Hari Sharma Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award

The Hari Sharma Foundation’s 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients included our co-founders Laura Byspalko and Sirish Rao, who were recognized for their contributions to the cultural fabric of our community. Other recipients were noted educator and politician Dr. Raj Pannu who is the former leader of the Alberta NDP, iconic social justice scholar and activist Dr. Sunera Thobani, and long-time trade unionist Chelliah Premarajah. 

 The Foundation chose to bestow the awards on April 2, a significant day as it was on this day that the South Asian community won the right to vote in British Columbia in the year 1947, after decades of struggle and activism by the community in the face of racist and discriminatory laws. 

 Zahid Makhdoom, President of Hari Sharma Foundation, who hosted the event said that Hari Sharma Foundations’ objective is for the advancement of the South Asian community in Canada and elsewhere. The Foundation supports education regarding South Asia, particularly as it relates to labour, and the development of cultural activity within the South-Asian community in Canada. Over the years, the Foundation has supported scholarships, public lectures, seminars and events and the creation of cultural work. It has extended annual grants to Indian Summer Festival to support the visits of such artists as Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Vandana Shiva, Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan to name a few. 

Speaking on the occasion, MLA and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Raj Chouhan gave a rich yet concise history of the community struggle against racist and discriminatory laws that prevented many people including Indigenous people, Chinese people and South Asian Canadians the right to vote. He recounted how for forty years, 1907-1947 South Asian Canadians were not allowed to vote in any sphere of political life and were restricted from taking up certain professional occupations and posts. More information on the struggle is available here thanks to UFV. 

A long-time festival friend and supporter Sandy Garossino presented the award to Laura Byspalko and Sirish Rao. “Indian Summer Festival is a magic act,” she said, “one that has transformed the cultural landscape of British Columbia so significantly.” Sandy recollected moments at the festival including the conversation between Booker Prize-winning writer Yann Martel and Indian film icon Tabu and the event ‘Taj Mahal Foxtrot’ in which writer Naresh Fernandes recreated Mumbai’s jazz age, and spoke to the connection between the movement for Indian independence and the civil rights movement in the United States. Finally, she said, the festival has also been a place that has platformed academics and social justice activists. The feminist scholar Urvashi Butalia, whose seminal work on the partition of India was featured at the festival, took the opportunity to visit some of the last remaining survivors of partition in the Lower Mainland and record their memories and stories. 

Sirish and Laura accepted the award, recognizing that their work in founding the Indian Summer Arts Society would not have been possible without many hands. Sirish said “It’s really very kind of all of you to see fit to recognize us. It should be said that a festival is a collaborative project. It is a garden of sorts. It exists and thrives when the labour and the vision are shared, and owned by the community. The soil is prepared by some, seeds planted by some, watered by some, harvested by others, and then a feast prepared with the bounty by yet others. Laura and I feel that the work we have been able to do has been enabled by our amazing team and board, and indeed, by the decades of work by many people in this room. So many of you have built so much through social justice movements, anti-racist movements, and fighting for beautiful spaces in our minds and communities. We are very conscious that we stand on your shoulders.”