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Upcoming South Asian event organized by Surrey women to break gender-based stigma

Lohri is a traditional festival originating from India to welcome new family members to a home
Lohri festival will be taking place in Surrey in the new year in a different way to celebrate the birth of newborn babies and the marriage of newlyweds, for all genders. Organizing the event are Lovey Pannu (left), Sukhi Sangha and Baljinder Kaur. (Contributed photo)

The birth of a baby is typically one of many happy milestones shared by families, with celebrations to mark the arrival of a newborn.

But in some South Asian cultures, expressions of joy often only ensue if the baby born is a boy. For this reason, a group of Surrey women are working to change things up by holding an inaugural event to recognize the births of baby girls in addition to boys.

Every individual who submits their baby’s name— regardless of gender — with the organizers of the Lohri festival will be recognized at the event with a gift.

Lohri, observed in January, marking the passing of the winter solstice, with the saying ‘Poh ridhi, Magh khadi.’ This represents a rice pudding dish cooked on the last day of winter and then eaten on the first day of warmer weather, in accordance with the Punjabi calendar.

The festival is celebrated by Indians around the world and recognized by Hindus and Sikhs. This year’s Lohri is actually on Jan. 13 but the Surrey event will be on Jan. 8.

This year’s Lohri festival in Surrey will look a little different from the traditional celebration held annually, which is a celebration of a baby boy being born to a family or a man getting married, said Sukhi Sangha, an organizer of the event.

“We want to break the stereotype, so we want to celebrate the girls as much as the boys. Technically, it’s about welcoming a new family member into your family and celebrating together,” said Lovey Pannu, an organizer of the Lohri event in Surrey.

One of the most significant symbols of the festival is a “bonfire,” which the Surrey celebration will have outdoors on Sunday, Jan. 8, before moving indoors to Dhaliwal Banquet Hall.

“You burn the bad, the evil off yourself or off society and you create a new aura which is more positive,” Pannu explained.

Other customs include bringing together various sweet dishes and enjoying traditional folk music and dance.

In spotlighting women this year, the organizers of the event also want to recognize young women by giving out youth awards for entrepreneurship, community work and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“We’re in every sector, every field, we see judges, we see pilots, so we’re celebrating that. Females have more equal opportunities now in our community, but we still have those few who are hell-bent on (only) celebrating the birth of the son,” said Sangha, adding that the stereotypes are more old-school, but still common among the older demographic.

“The girls got married, they left the village and it was the son who would take care of the family, the land, the business, because girls weren’t entitled to it .… We’re trying to change the outlook and we’ve seen the change slowly.”

Another organizer of the event, Baljinder Kaur, remembered a time 20 years ago when she was excited that her baby niece was born. A few others, however, did not share her enthusiasm.

“She was the first girl in the family, so I took some sweets to the hospital and her grandmother gave me a huge lecture. ‘How dare you bring sweets here, a girl was born.’ I said ‘Who cares?’ Everybody’s an equal so I celebrated (her birth),” Kaur said.

“Some people still, in our culture, when a girl’s born — especially if it’s the third or fourth girl in the family — they get (upset).”

Pannu herself sees changes within her own family, with her mom happily celebrating Lohri for girls after 20 years, but stresses that “it does take some time.”

“We do have elders in the family and the more we educate them, the more events we have like this one, it’s easier for me to drag my grandmother to the event and explain why it’s important… paint the picture that this is normal,” Sangha said.

Close to 900 guests will be in attendance for Lohri in Surrey, with a fire outside kicking off the day, then moving indoors at 3 p.m. to Dhaliwal Banquet Hall with lots of food, prizes, vendors highlighting women in business and tons of entertainment.

For those interested in attending Lohri, tickets for $50 can be bought by emailing or calling 604-928-4173.


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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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