On Sunday 7th June, CERAS (South Asia Centre) and SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Community Centre) held in Montreal, a joint memorial meeting for Daya Varma.


Daya was one of the founders of CERAS, and an ardent-supporter and life-time associate member of SAWCC.  The memorial began with recitation in Braj of several Kabir dohas, which aptly reflected Daya’s concerns and perspectives.  After each doha, an English translation was read out:


This world is a strange place where people pray to stones.

But nobody prays to the mill-stone that produces the flour that they eat.

When talent and capability are recognised and appreciated, they flour and flourish.

When it is not, they lie dormant and become worthless.


Slowly, slowly my friend, things happen at their own pace.

A gardener may water a plant as much as she likes, but it is only when the appropriate season comes that it bears fruit.


A learned person is like a winnowing fan –

Separating the wheat from the chaff, the useful from the useless, the worthwhile from the worthless.


The meeting was attended by members of CERAS and SAWCC, family members of Daya – his wife Shree, his son Rahul and daughter-in-law Dipti — long-time and relatively more recent political comrades and associates and others who had come to know of Daya and wanted to be part of the gathering, pay their respects and learn a little more about this very remarkable man and human being.


Those who spoke shared personal memories as well as talked about Daya’s pivotal role in building and sustaining organizations, his grasp of politics and his vision.  Shree shared some of Daya’s personal writings that he had penned to let his grandchildren know something of his past and his ideas.  Dipti shared and commented on some aspects of the remarkable father-in-law—daughter-in-law relationship they shared. People of Pakistani and indigenous origins in South Asia origin shared how they had numerous discussions with Daya relating to South Asia as well as specific issues such as indigenous rights.  We heard of Daya’s involvement in the formation and support of the British Columbia Farmworker’s Union, till today, a pioneering labour institution in Canada.  We heard of Daya’s views and involvement with the Indian left and his assessment that a unified movement was the way forward.  We heard of the pre-CERAS formation, Canadians for a Secular India (CSI), at the time of the destruction of the Babri mosque; a packed public meeting, with Praful Bidwai as main speaker was held. Daya’s role in the founding and development of CERAS was remembered, and his participation in peace initiatives between India and Pakistan, spearheaded by grassroots organizing by people, not governments.  His unwavering support of SAWCC, based on his understanding of patriarchy and its manifestations was spoken about.


After formal remembrances as a part of the memorial were over, tea and refreshments were served and everyone broke into smaller groups to talk to one another, remember and to continue sharing stories and memories of Daya.


Copies of Daya’s two books were on sale — Reason and Medicine, Art and science of healing from antiquity to modern times and Medicine (Three Essays Collective, 2013), Healthcare and the Raj –The Unacknowledged Legacy (Three Essays Collective, 2015)


It was a warm and moving memorial.  People were glad to have come together to remember and honour their remarkable friend, comrade and mentor, Daya Varma.

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