Punjab-born Raj Chouhan took oath as the Speaker of British Columbia, Canada, becoming the first Indian to occupy this post anywhere outside of India.
Chouhan, who came to Canada from Gauhar village near Ludhiana in 1973, was Deputy Speaker in the outgoing assembly.
He is the five-time MLA of the New Democratic Party (NDP) which retained power in last month’s election, winning 57 seats in the 87-member House.
“It is difficult to describe how thrilled I am with this honour. The feeling has yet to sink in,” Chouhan told IANS after he took oats on Monday.
“This is the first time that an Indian-origin person, and a Punjabi and a Sikh, has been elected Speaker anywhere in the world outside of India (maybe except the Caribbean). I am humbled.
“When I landed in Canada in 1973, I never imagined that one day I will contest elections because we were a very small community and there was so much racism in those days. Today I have reached this milestone because the pioneers of our community paved the way for us.
“I have spent my career advocating for the rights of every person and working to end discrimination and inequality, and I look forward to continue serving the people of British Columbia by ensuring our Assembly operates in a fair and just manner,” Chouhan added.
Known as a fierce advocate for equality, Chouhan is the founder president of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union.
He has also been associated with the Hospital Employees Union in British Columbia.
Premier John Horgan said Chouhan made history standing up for the rights of his fellow farm workers in the 1970’s
“He is making it again today as the 1st person of South Asian heritage to be elected Speaker of the British Columbia legislature,” he tweeted.
Apart from Chouhan, the British Columbia Cabinet also has four Indo-Canadian ministers.
While Harry Bains is the Minister of Labour, Ravi Kahlon serves as the Minister of Jobs and Economic Recovery. Rachna Singh and Nikki Sharma are parliamentary secretaries.
In response to Chouhan’s election, Chandigarh-born Rachna Singh said it was a historic day, adding that “from the time of being disenfranchised to today, the South Asian community has come a long way. Definitely a momentous moment for all of us”.
Civil Rights and Human Rights Lawyer Amandeep Singh, who lives in Vancouver, wrote on his Facebook page: “What a beautiful day… The first Sikh/Punjabi speaker in Canada. What a momentous day for our community and our province.”
Eight Indo-Canadians were elected as MLAs in last month’s elections.
Indo-Canadians make up about 10 per cent of British Columbia’s population of about 3.5 million.
Just like Chouhan, Ujjal Dosanjh also created history in British Columbia in February 2000 when he was elected as Canada’s first-ever non-white Premier.
British Columbia’s Manmohan ‘Moe’ Sihota was also the first-ever Indian-origin MLA, elected in 1986, in Canada and the whole western world.