India Diaspora
From English lecturer to oversight of Toronto cops
Jan 10, 2007 - 8:24:12 AM

New Delhi, Jan 10 - From being a lecturer in English at the Shri Ram College of Commerce here to heading the civilian arm of the Toronto police, it has been a long journey for Alok Mukherjee.

Here to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - 2007 that ended Tuesday, Mukherjee, chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board -, recounted the time from 1971 when he had left for Canada and now.

'I went to Canada to do my Ph.D. I was first in the University of Waterloo and later in the University of Toronto,' he said.

It was then that he got involved in student politics. The reason?

'There was a lot of racism in Canada then and I thought I couldn't just watch silently,' Mukherjee, who hails from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, told IANS.

He soon lost interest in education and got involved in community work.

In 1978, his book 'East Indians: Myths and Reality', which looked into how school textbooks in Canada wrongly portrayed Indians and India, was published.

'The Toronto Board of Education then gave me a job,' he said.

Mukherjee then had an illustrious career in community and race relations at Toronto's school board, and went on to head the Ontario Human Rights Commission and served on Ontario's police oversight body.

In 1995, he won the New Pioneers award, instituted by Skills for Change, an organization that recognizes extraordinary talent among immigrants.

All along, he also worked as a consultant on criminal justice, human rights and equality. It was only in 2004 that he finally got his Ph.D., for which he had originally gone to Canada. He got his doctorate from York University.

The same year, in September, he was appointed chairman of TPSB, the first Indo-Canadian to hold the post. It is the civilian oversight of the Toronto Police Service.

Asked if he is concerned about various social issues confronting the Indo-Canadian community, he said that his top priority in 2007 would be to deal with increasing incidents of domestic violence among the Indo-Canadian community.

A spate of domestic violence resulting in even deaths of Indian women in recent times had shaken the community. Canadian leaders have described this as a social menace Canada can do without.

Although these have mostly happened in British Columbia and not in Toronto, which is the capital of Ontario, Mukherjee said that there were repercussions in his city too.

He said a campaign had been initiated involving temples, churches and gurudwaras.

According to Mukherjee, dowry is not the only reason behind this.

'Another very important reason is that when new immigrants from India arrive, what happens is that the wife usually gets a job like sales clerk before the husband. When the husband does not get a job conforming to his professional skills, he becomes dependant on the wife and this leads to problems,' he said.

'Then, of course, there is alcohol abuse. We have found out that the period when the number of calls to the police from domestic violence victims go up is after the bars close down.'

Coming to the issue of Indo-Canadian youth gang violence, Mukherjee said that last summer was particularly bad. 'The media out there called it the summer of the gun.'

Asked what steps he took as Toronto police board head, he said that apart from increased policing he put a preventive mechanism in place.

'One step was to allocate money to different community organizations so that they could educate the youth and stop them from straying into violence.'

The Toronto police also started a youth employment programme called Youth in Policing Initiative in which around 100 young people took part.

Although Mukherjee's term as TPSB chairman ended in November, he continues to hold the post as no suitable successor has been found till now.

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