UBC confers honorary doctorate on Teesta Setalvad

Several well-known artists and activists also honoured


On Monday, June 22, The University of British Columbia conferred an honorary doctorate on human rights defender and journalist Teesta Setalvad. Due to the coronavirus outbreak the ceremony could not be held in person and the announcements were made online.

Setalvad, who is secretary Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) as well as editor and co-founder, SabrangIndia, was chosen for a long history of defending the rights of people from religious minorities and oppressed socio-cultural backgrounds. From 1993 until 2012, she along with her partner, Javed Anand published the highly recognised monthly, Communalism Combat.

The UBC honoured her saying, “Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist, author and award-winning journalist in India who played a prominent role in the campaign for justice for the victims of the 2002 massacre of close to two thousand Muslims in the state of Gujarat. She has worked in the field of human rights and law to expose majoritarianism and religious fanaticism in India and other parts of the world, deepening human rights jurisprudence on victimology and access to justice. She has also been influential on issues concerning rights of women, religious minorities, Indigenous persons, and forest dwelling communities.”

Speaking about the honour Setalvad said, “It is both humbling and a challenge. A lot of my work has evolved around the check on the arbitrary access of power (realisation of the Rule of Law first principles) and access to justice ( when vast sections of Indians especially our Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians and Women are so far from dignity and non-discrimination in their lived lives). In the India we live in today, the challenge is greater, the risks higher. I hope we are all able to live up to the task. Today more than ever, I remember and miss my father, Atul, who mentored in me a human rights commitment and vision.”

Setalvad finds herself in august company. Some of the human rights defenders honoured this year include:

Keiko Mary Kitagawa, O.B.C., who with her family was among the more than 22,000 Canadians of Japanese descent uprooted, disposed, dispersed, incarcerated and enslaved during and after the Second World War. Kitagawa is a tireless social justice and anti-racism leader and activist, whose efforts led to Japanese Canadian students who had not been able to complete their education due to forced removal and incarceration in 1942, ultimately being conferred with honorary undergraduate degrees in 2012.

Tantoo Cardinal, C.M., a celebrated Canadian actor of First Nations/Métis descent who has been widely recognized for her contributions to the growth and development of Aboriginal performing arts in Canada, especially breaking barriers for onscreen representation of Indigenous peoples and has challenged negative stereotypes throughout her career.

Tracy Porteous, a Registered Clinical Counsellor and leader in the Canadian anti-violence movement who for the better part of four decades has worked to address gender-based violence through cross sectoral policy, program, training and legislative development.

Paul Thiele who overcame his own visual impairment to study comparative literature and complete his Bachelor of Arts degree. He subsequently became the co-founder, architect and head of UBC’s Crane Library, an invaluable resource centre for visually impaired students for over 50 years. His knowledge regarding visual impairment issues has helped to shape legislation and inform library management throughout Canada.

Other recipients include first ever Principal Dancer of Chinese-Canadian heritage at The National Ballet of Canada, Chan Hon Goh, one of Canada’s most celebrated and respected authors, Lawrence Hill, member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Doug Johnson, advocate for the rights of people with lived experience of dementia, Jim Mann, and UBC Chancellor Emeritus Sarah Morgan-Silvester who is known for championing diverse and inclusive environments, particularly for women.




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