Remembering Hari Sharma


By Charan Gill, Chief Executive Officer, PICS Society

I knew Hari Sharma for 37 years. I first met him at one of his lectures at the Vancouver Library where he spoke with me briefly and asked me join him to do some community work. At the time though, I wanted to take some time off to relax because I had just come to Surrey from Prince Rupert. I wanted to settle down and work on my farm to be self-supporting with my food supply.

Hari was persistent though. He insisted on me joining him to do some progressive community work. Along with a couple of other friends, Hari came to see me again and asked me to join them in working on improving the conditions of farmworkers in BC. I agreed because I saw firsthand the poor conditions farmworkers were exposed to: no water supply, no shade, and no fresh water to wash their hands before they eat their lunch in the hot sun. This was something I was passionate about and Hari saw that.

My own children and wife went to work in the farms to subsidize a trip to Disneyland. We ended up going and my family enjoyed it, but the next year I asked them if they wanted to go to Disneyland again, they said no because they knew that going meant they had to work in fields. This is when I knew I had to do something to change the conditions that farmworkers worked in.

In 1976, a group of us put together an organizing committee called the Canadian Farmworkers Union and Hari gave us his unconditional support for this project. He encouraged us to work diligently and reminded us that our passion for this stems from it being a humanitarian issue.

Hari believed in many causes, and in 1980, he developed the BC Organization to Fight Racism and he asked me to get involved. Soon enough, I found myself taking the leadership role as the President of the organization.

Hari truly loved to work with the poor, disadvantaged and exploited segments of the population who were at times helpless and didn’t have a voice. He was the spokesperson for them and helped them fight for their rights. He did this on a national and international level as he was involved in a revolution in India and was a great follower of Mao Leftists. He was always an advocate for social change and worked for the oppressed people in India, Canada and for many marginalized groups including First Nations, Palestinians and many others who struggle in their own fights for change.

Hari’s passionate teachings and directions were my motivation to get involved in community development and to fight for the causes that were dear to me as a social worker and remain to be today. I concentrated my efforts and founded Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society in 1987 and we remain to work the same goals we started 35 years ago.

Hari was a lovely man and he knew when to take a break. Once he told me, “Work hard, do work for people and when you get tired, have a drink of Scotch.”

He certainly was a leader who was liked by many people and remained at the centre of social movements we started together in the last 25 years. His commitment and loyalty to the cause of people in need impressed me most. His untimely death was a great loss to the community and to us. Hari was a man of principle and a man of action; he’s dearly missed by all of us today.