Skip to content

Richmond-based literary prize aims to bridge Punjabi geographical divide

The Dhahan Prize was founded by Richmond businessman Barj Dhahan and recognizes literature written in either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi
Barj Dhahan founded the Dhahan Prize

A Richmond-based international book prize for Punjabi literature has released its finalists for awards totalling $45,000 that will be handed out next month.

The Dhahan Prize, which was founded by Richmond businessman Barj Dhahan, recognizes literature written in either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi — the two Punjabi scripts.

Writers Deepti Babuta and Balijit from Mohali, India and Jameel Ahmad Paul from Lahore, Pakistan, are vying for the $25,000 top prize of best book of fiction.

The remaining two finalists will also be awarded $10,000 each during a ceremony in November in Surrey.

Each of the three finalists wrote books of short stories: Babuta for Hunger Breathes Like This, Balijit for Uchian Awazan and Paul for Mendelian Rules.

Since launching in 2013, Dhahan said the annual awards are meant to draw attention to the rich, thousand-year long history of Punjabi literature and the global prominence of the language.

“What happened to Punjabi over the last two centuries, especially leading up to 1947 where the land (was) divided between two new countries,” said Dhahan.

“Where you have now a script divide between Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi, then you have a religious divide where the British and others start saying Punjabi is the language of the Sikhs, and they impose Urdu as a language of largely Punjabi Muslims.”

“All of these divides existed, and we wanted to use a literary prize to become a bridge so that all these divides that … exist, we (can) unite them. We try to bring them together.”

Dhahan added he got the idea to create the awards after seeing there was no literary prize of this stature for the Punjabi language.

He said a panel was asked to look at five qualities when judging the submissions: newness, depth, language, milestone, which means the stories expand on Punjabi literature or could become classics, and social relevance.

Dhahan said this year’s panel-selected books “speak to the core of our humanity with all of its internal conflicts and each of us trying to make sense of our own lives.”

The stories explore topics such as the role of women in Punjabi culture, identity, heritage and human behaviours.

Dhahan said he hopes the finalists will use the recognition from the prize to be inspired to write even more.

Dhahan added he would like to see the broader community become interested in Punjabi literature through the prize.

“Quite a few people who are not Punjabis, they attend our ceremonies …. We want Canadians, we want non-Punjabis to become familiar with the growing new productions of literary works in Punjabi.

“That is what we’re trying to do, and I think it’s beginning to happen.”

The 10th Dhahan Prize ceremony will take place Nov. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Northview Golf & Country Club in Surrey.

Besides awards, dinner and performances, the B.C. government will declare that week as “Punjabi Literature Week” at the event.

For tickets, visit

For more from this author and to contact her, go to

Got an opinion on this story or any others in Richmond? Email your thoughts or story tips to [email protected].