Celebrating 35 years on Canadian air with Punjabi heritage

Credited with being the first Canadian of South Asian descent in the broadcast industry, Shushma Datt, 75, celebrates an important year of her legacy.

This week marks 35 years of Rim Jhim, a radio with difference that made history in 1987 when it became the first 24-hour radio station in the world outside of India to broadcast to a South Asian audience.

When Shushma established it, she was the first South Asian woman to step into a male-dominated territory breaking the glass ceiling and becoming a trailblazer for many young women of colour.

Both racism and sexism remained a huge challenge for her and yet, Rim Jhim has on its team promising young women from visible minority communities.

Shushma, who is of Punjabi heritage, came to Canada with a broadcasting experience from BBC London.

In a Eurocentric environment, she could not make a place for herself in the Canadian mainstream media, but she never gave up her passion and eventually launched her own radio station in Metro Vancouver.

A recipient of many awards, including Order of British Columbia, she has grown into a living legend. Her travel, however, remained rickety with times when she received death threats from Sikh fundamentalists in the 1980s for interviewing the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“I was just doing my job as a broadcaster when I interviewed Mrs. Gandhi,” Datt, popular among her fans as Shushma, told IANS in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, she never lost her objectivity and remains critical of religious extremism of any shade, including the one coming from right wing Hindu groups.

With the signs of growing danger of White supremacy, she started a campaign against racism in 2015 on the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Thus, Rim Jhim isn’t just a source of entertainment and news, but has transformed into a platform for social change,” she said.

Born in Kenya, she moved to Vancouver in 1972. Being the first Hindi and Punjabi announcer at CJVB Radio in Vancouver until 1978 when she started her own venture, she has been a source of inspiration for aspiring broadcasters in the Indo-Canadian community.

Ironically, Shushma, who has interviewed big names like Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, was partly influenced by the rainy weather of Metro Vancouver to pick the name for her station.

When she looks back now, it does not feel the same.

“Once known as Wet Coast or Raincouver, the lower mainland is now constantly grappling with drought-like conditions and heatwaves from summer through fall, due to climate change,” she explained.

Shushma, who launched the Hands Against Racism campaign in 2015, has now created a space for discussions on environmental racism on both her stations, Rim Jhim and Spice Radio, taking her initiative to another level.

Since environmental catastrophes affect racialized groups disproportionately, it has become impossible to ignore the issue.

“With its anti-racism mandate, Rim Jhim marches ahead to make everyone look into the intersectionality of environmental degradation, which remains the biggest threat to humanity,” Shushma candidly added.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

20221116-112803

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