Seva Phagura Dhaliwal immigrated from India to Port Alberni in 1976, but her passion for her home country has not diminished over the years. Which is why she says she cannot stay silent any longer after hearing about the gang rape and death of 23-year-old student Jyoti Singh Pandey in India last month.
When news of the attack first surfaced, “I cried,” Dhaliwal said.
The same week another young woman committed suicide after she said her claims of rape were not taken seriously by law enforcement in India. Dhaliwal watched footage of the young woman’s funeral, and said some of the reactions of public officials angered her. “They were laughing,” she said.
Dhaliwal was born in Talwandi Aryan, Hosarpur district, in Punjab. She attended college as an athlete and studied physical training. She has always been outspoken on women’s issues, she said, and credited her upbringing.
“My family made me this way,” she said. “My father didn’t make any distinction between my brothers and me.”
She raised two daughters and one son the same way: supporting their sports and after-school activities and not favouring any child over another.
Dhaliwal says she is not naive about societal pressures in her home country; she has opened her home in Port Alberni to young Indian women who have found themselves in untenable situations within the Indian community on Vancouver Island. However the culture of violence and rape against women in Indian society is unacceptable and must end, she said.
“The widespread acceptance of rape and violence towards women for reasons of revenge, pleasure and entertainment taints the international reputation and dignity of the nation of India,” she said.
“Women aren’t toys. Women are human beings, the same as men. They should not be treated as objects.
“If we want a healthy society here we need to make it equal between men and women,” she said.
The time for keeping silent about such behaviour is over, she added.
“We need to stand up and make a voice.”
That’s why she ran for municipal council in the last election, and it’s why Dhaliwal is speaking up now, she said.
Dhaliwal hopes to organize a rally in Port Alberni to end violence against women, but acknowledges she can’t do it alone.
Anyone who would like to help her organize it, or who is interested in learning more, may e-mail Dhaliwal at firstname.lastname@example.org.