April 5, 2023

Hari Sharma Foundation Honours Archana Datta

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Archana Datta also affectionately known as Archana Di, was a founding member of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation. She had been a close friend and comrade of Dr. Hari Sharma and Dr. Chin Banerjee.

Archana joined the Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA) in 1976. She had come to Canada as an international student on a scholarship in 1967.

She joined the University of Saskatchewan where she did her PhD in Physiology. She is possibly among the first few Indian female scientists in Canada. She moved to Vancouver in 1975. She faced many hurdles in Vancouver, but she did not compromise her ideals.

She chose to move away from her professional field in science and started working with children. She preferred to be known as Archana Datta and not as Dr. Archana Datta because she used to say that “I cannot recognize myself when I see the Dr. in front of my name.” This is true humility.

Later she joined BC Organization to Fight Racism and also supported the formation of the Canadian Farmworkers Union. Part of Archana was an activist and she fought for social justice and racism alongside her friends and comrades Chin Banerjee, Hari Sharma, and Raj Chouhan.

In her lifetime she helped many women when they faced domestic crisis. She stood beside them and supported them unconditionally and her generosity was unparalleled.

She was born and raised in Calcutta and was a Bengali in every way. When some of us in IPANA sang progressive and revolutionary Punjabi songs, she joined us. She even taught us a Bengali song.

Memories of major historical movements are often carried forward through songs, poetry, and visual art forms that can be transmitted to future generations orally and through performances. The song she taught us relates to Tebhaga Peasant Movement and belonged to the cultural political formation called the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), which came into existence with the conscious objective of using culture to articulate politics in the last few years before India’s Independence. Here are the words to the song and their translation:

Hei samalo, hei samalo, hei samalo, hei samalo
Hei samalo dhan ho
Kaste ta dao shan ho
Man kobul ar jan kobul
Aar debo na, aar debo na
Rokte bona dhan Moder pran ho!

Hey comrade watch over, hey watch over
Hey watch over the paddy ho
Hone your sickle ho
Life and honour, we pledge
No more we’ll give, no more
The paddy sown with our blood
Our life ho!

In 1989, Archana survived two car accidents, an hour apart from one another, neither her fault. These accidents gave her a permanent brain injury and permanent chronic pain in her entire left side. And still she rose. She rose to every occasion. She marched in spite of her pain. She volunteered in spite of her head injury.

In last two decades of her life, Archana was concerned about the climate change. She used to volunteer at the David Suzuki Foundation. She was active in the Bengali Society where she tried to raise awareness about the climate change and environment by forming a children’s group.

Archana Datta came from a well-known family of Kolkata. Her interest and knowledge in fine arts and culture manifested her background. She was an avid reader. She directed and took part in stage plays for over twenty years in the Bengali society. She was outstanding in both. Her love for theatre inspired her to volunteer at the Bard on the Beach for years.

Archana believed in fairness. She believed in communication. She believed that it is possible to see beyond our differences to find where we have connection. In fact, she believed it is our responsibility in this life to seek out that connection and to build bridges. Her method to fight the power was kindness. Empathy. With her lion’s heart. And a lion’s roar — but only when needed. Given the world we live in, there is much we can learn from such a quiet, gentle and dignified comrade.

An independent soul and a trailblazer, Archana Datta left this world on her own terms on February 3, 2023, this year. She will be deeply missed.