Dr. Chinmoy Bannerjee
Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee was born near Calcutta, Bengal, India on January 10, 1940. He is a passionate member of the community, advocating for a variety of different rights and is particularly interested in human rights and justice. He was married in India and his son was born there. He completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at St. Stephen’s College in the University of Delhi. He then moved to North America on a scholarship for his PhD, which he completed in four years at Kent State University, Ohio, USA. He was joined by his wife and son during his stay in the USA. He moved to Canada in 1970 with a job offer from Simon Fraser University. His daughter was born in Vancouver in the same year. He taught in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University for thirty-five years. Dr. Banerjee made the long journey from Ohio to Vancouver by car. His academic career took him to many different places and he has fond memories of his teaching.
In moving to North America he did not find the adjustment to be difficult although he missed home food. After his wife and son joined him and they could eat their own food their adjustment to the new environment became easier.
While a student at Kent State University Dr. Banerjee became very interested in anti-war movements and protests against the Vietnam War. After Operation Menu, when Nixon’s government bombed Cambodia he became passionate about the movement and joined the thousands of students at the university who were protesting. After coming to Simon Fraser University he joined a colleague to submit an international petition to the Consulate of India demanding the release of political prisoners in India.
Coming from large cities in India, Dr. Bannerjee found Vancouver to be comparatively one large village. He recalls being sheltered from direct experience of racism by his workplace, Simon Fraser University. However, he was aware of the racism around him and worked to make fellow faculty sympathetic to the anti-racism movement. He enjoyed his time as a professor and enjoyed working with all of his students.
He recalls visiting the Gurdwara on some Sundays, eating langar and meeting new people. He used to go to a store called ‘Famous Foods’ on First Avenue and Clarke to get his Indian groceries as it was the only place where Indian groceries were available. Later, he started going to ‘Patel’s’ on Commercial Drive which he considered to be a big leap in Vancouver for obtaining Indian groceries.
He became passionate about advocating against the exploitation of South Asian farmworkers after learning of their plight. He joined some friends close to the unions and the Punjabi community in helping to form the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union. He believes that as some South Asians farm owners have become more prosperous they are using their power poorly and continue to exploit minority workers. Dr. Banerjee feels that the South Asian community needs to come together and fight against injustice and oppression to uphold the common interests of the South Asian people.
He recalls experiencing racism personally although what he faced was minor in comparison to what he knew others experienced. He became deeply engaged in the fight against racism and was a founding member of the BC Organization to Fight Racism. For this work he received phone calls at night giving him death threats Dr. Banerjee would fight against racism in many ways, including organizing, public speaking, joining demonstrations, speaking and writing to the media, and producing news-letters and pamphlets. He often challenged the racism in the newspapers in letters to the editor.
Dr. Banerjee would travel to different places during his weekends off work, including visiting Stanley Park, Burnaby Mountain, the local zoo, Grouse Mountain and other places in the surrounding area with his children.
He frequently returns to India- his longest gap was nine years, which was the first time he went back after moving to North America. Dr. Banerjee feels that the community has greatly changed. He recalls Surrey and Richmond as being completely farmland when he first moved to Vancouver.
Dr. Banerjee would like to send the message to South Asian youth to not get ‘sucked into mainstream society’, and to stand up against the injustice and oppression. Furthermore, he hopes young people will fight against toxic masculinity and stand up for gender equality. He believes the caste system needs to be addressed so that a just society can be established.
Dr. Bannerjee is currently the director of the Hari Sharma Foundation and the president on the board of the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD).
-Written by Dr. Bannerjee