SFU Institute for the Humanities hosts postdoc fellow Ajay Bhardwaj for research on Indian diaspora and activism

November 04, 2022

The Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University (SFU), in partnership with the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation for South Asian Advancement, welcomes Ajay Bhardwaj as he completes his Mitacs Accelerate postdoctoral project on the "History of the Indian Peoples Association in North America (IPANA), 1975–1987.”

Bhardwaj’s research locates IPANA as a stream of the global Left, shaped by a complex interplay between the diasporic experience of the first-generation South Asian immigrants and the revolutionary political movements of the 1970s and early 80s. It seeks to foreground IPANA’s inter-community organizing in anti-racism and labour rights struggles and trace the transnational networks of its Left-wing activists across continents. Thereby, the project will chronicle an alternative history of a cosmopolitan community of South Asians in Canada and North America. 

As the project’s academic supervisor, Samir Gandesha, Director of the Institute for the Humanities, has this to say:

“We are delighted to have someone of Dr. Bhardwaj’s stature with us at the Institute, working on such an important and timely topic. We are also very pleased to be working in close collaboration with the Hari Sharma Foundation, a key partner in our recently-inaugurated “Annual Professor Chin Banerjee Memorial Lecture in Anti-Racism,” which featured our Associate Glen Coulthard and Robyn Maynard, who appeared for the second time at the Institute.” 

Bhardwaj is a filmmaker and scholar whose work meditates on the relationship between aesthetic and subversive, art and identity, and history and memory. In his long stint as a documentary filmmaker, he explored the northwestern state of Punjab in India for a decade. This phase culminated in his Punjab trilogy––a set of documentaries located at the intersection of Dalit religiosity, performance traditions, and memories of partition. Bhardwaj is a recipient of the Public Scholars Award at the University of British Columbia, where he recently completed his PhD on South Asian Left-wing cultural activism in British Columbia. The doctoral documentary, When the Tide Goes Out, accompanying his dissertation that examines representational absences in multimedia archive, has been selected for screening at the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival 2022.

This postdoctoral project builds upon and carries forward Bhardwaj’s PhD research to develop a comprehensive account of the cultural and social life of South Asian diasporic populations. He has this to say about the link between his dissertation and current research: 

“I am thrilled to be formally associated with the Institute for the Humanities, which has been my home for the past eight years. I have participated in many public events organized by the Institute and presented at the Spectre of Fascism: Closing Roundtable, 2017; Panel Discussion: Targeting Universities in Authoritarian India, 2016; and Closing Roundtable at the Conference on “Genocide: The politics of Denial, Forgetting and the Work of Memory,” 2016. It is, therefore, befitting that I carry out my postdoctoral research at the Institute. Progressive Punjabi writers and their literary societies are at the heart of my PhD. It examines how these writers invented a South Asian diasporic tradition of labour cultural activism and imagined a progressive South Asian community, which I call the Desi Left, through their literary production in British Columbia in the 1970s and 1980s. The postdoc extends this chronicling to embrace the activism of IPANA, which spawned a variety of new organizations for fighting racism and securing the rights of South Asian workers. What is unique to progressive South Asian diasporic activists and writers is that they crossed racial and communal boundaries to create alternate subjectivities. Thus, in the postdoc, I continue to develop the contours of a cosmopolitan South Asian diasporic community and develop a deeper understanding of their activities in Canada and the USA.”

Institute for the Humanities

Since its inception in 1983, the Institute for the Humanities at SFU has been dedicated to the exploration of the critical perspectives that relate social concerns to the cultural and historical legacy of the Humanities. The Institute seeks to facilitate the development of attitudes that lead toward active engagement in society. In taking such a role, the Institute hopes to contribute reflective, contemplative, and critical public points of view on the conflicts and contentious issues of our time. Learn more about the Institute and its activities:

Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation for South Asian Advancement

The objectives of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation are to advance education in relation to South Asia and South-Asian presence in Canada with particular focus on labour, contribute to cultural development within South-Asian diaspora in Canada, and contribute to socially beneficial activities affecting the South-Asian community. Learn more about the Foundation and its objectives:


Founded in 1999, Mitacs has grown far beyond its original focus on applied and industrial research in mathematics. Today, Mitacs supports a wide range of disciplines, from STEM to social innovation; broadened its undertaking to include college and undergraduate students, as well as new graduates and postdocs; expanded its network of businesses, hospitals, municipalities, and not-for-profit organizations of all sizes and in all sectors. With close to 400 employees and regional hubs in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver, it is an integral part of Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Learn more about Mitacs and its Accelerate Program:

Media Contact

Ajay Bhardwaj
Email: ajay_bhardwaj@sfu@ca
Phone: 604 655 4892

Samir Gandesha
Phone: 604 726 6704

Huyen Pham, Communications Coordinator