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South Asian community needs its own infrastructure Baldev Mutta, CEO of Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS)

Posted on 30 June 2011 by admin

Bladev Mutta, CEO of PCHS

“I think among the seniors and my generation (I came in 1968) we like to go back and build a big kothi and it’s just for show…I’m not saying we should forget it [back home], but if the dominant part of your thinking permeates from them there, I’m wondering to what extent you are really integrating and feeling connected to life in Canada? To what extent are they feeling the pain that 33,000 children in Toronto go to bed hungry?”

“One of the things that we spend time on every week is how do you deal with the image of these macho men who think that she’s [the wife] at fault because she called 911..it is very easy to make the statement that in Canada women have too many rights, if only they were back home..we would fix them. That’s the attitude.”

“The bigger challenge for any organization [like Peel Police etc]..is, do they have diversity at all levels or is it just diversity at door..at the front line staff? How many senior directors, CEOs, commissioners are representing the community in the Peel region? I think there is a great deal of discussion beginning to happen now and that’s a debate that will become stronger.”

I remember that a 16-year-old South Asian girl was dating a guy in high school. The parents went to the guidance counsellor to talk about how dating is a taboo issue in the South Asian culture, and that they send their kids to get educated at school. The guidance counsellor’s approach was that your kid is in Canada. She has every right to date like all children in Canada.

It was issues like the lack of cultural sensitivity in delivering services that led to the birth of Punjabi Community Health Services, says Mr. Baldev Mutta, the Executive Director of PCHS.

Back in 1990s the predominant approach was “We [the mainstream Canadian organizations] are saying on the one hand that we value your culture, we would like you to celebrate your culture, but on the other hand, when these kind of issues emerge, we still want everybody to behave in one prescribed manner, which means it is the way the European dominated cultures behave,” says  Mr. Mutta.

The unique issues faced by the South Asian community compelled Mr. Mutta to consider starting an organization that will address these unique concerns of the community. However, it wasn’t an easy task. The mainstream social agencies were opposed to the idea of an agency that will cater to an ethno-cultural group.

While PCHS’s name was not chosen intentionally, it still caters to almost 75% South Asians from Northern part of India and some people of Pakistani origin, says Mr. Mutta. However, now there is a strong push from the community to broaden the horizon from PCHS to be all inclusive not just to other South Asian communities but to broader Canadian community as well.

Twenty years later, while there is generous debate in the Canadian society about multiculturalism and diversity, not enough dollars are spent on encouraging it.

“I think that the most challenging aspect is that we in Canada do not recognize that there is such a thing as systemic racism. We are so polite that we simply ignore that there are systems that perpetuate racism. We don’t acknowledge the historical racism against immigrants generally..in Canada, there is a culture of politeness, not rocking the boat…the federal government is notorious for not hiring visible minorities,” opines Mr. Mutta. Even the corporate sponsors are reluctant to donate to an organization that has an obvious name like Punjabi Community Health Services for fear that their organization will be associated with one particular minority group.

Another challenge is hiring diverse staff.

“The bigger challenge for any organization [like Peel Police etc]..is, do they have diversity at all levels or is it just diversity at door..at the front line staff? How many senior directors, CEOs, commissioners are representing the community in the Peel region? I think there is a great deal of discussion beginning to happen now and that’s a debate that will become stronger,” says Mr. Mutta.

In South Asian media’s tour to Brampton Civic Hospital, one of the doctors accompanying the tours commented that no one in Brampton understands English. Mr. Mutta is critical of such blanket judgments; however in his estimate almost 25 per cent of South Asians in Brampton may not be literate even in Punjabi language.

Last year, it was at PCHS that the Minister of Status of Women Rona Ambrose made a statement that the government is “looking at” adding `honour killing’ as a separate charge to the Criminal Code. This was later denied by the government.

Should cultural practices be taken into account while legislating the crimes?

“It’s a little bit dicey how we answer it. People get very uptight when we say in certain cultures there are honour based killings. The community perceives it as if you are bad mouthing tour community. There is no honour killing in our community. But then what about Aqsa Parvez? Isn’t that coming very close to honour killing? We have to really look into our community and ask how do we label it? Are the existing laws enough to prevent an honour killing from taking place?” says Mr. Mutta sitting at a conference table in his Malton office.

Are they?

“No they are not,” he responds thoughtfully. Citing the example of stalking laws, Mr. Mutta says “if there is reasonable and probable ground to believe that someone may lose his/her life because it is honour based, then there should be some way to protect her in some shape or form. From that base, the laws are not enough. We have cases where families literally take their young girls back home to marry them against their will, and then bring them back here.”

One can argue that sons can be forced into arranged marriages as well. “Not to that extent,” Mr. Mutta believes.

Another thing Mr. Mutta has failed to understand in his years of serving the South Asian community is the community’s fascination with “back home.”

“I think among the seniors and my generation (I came in 1968) we like to go back and build a big kothi and it’s just for show…I’m not saying we should forget it [back home], but if the dominant part of your thinking permeates from them there, I’m wondering to what extent you are really integrating and feeling connected to life in Canada? To what extent are they feeling the pain that 33,000 children in Toronto go to bed hungry?”

 

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