TORONTO: Andhra-born Dipika Damerla, who is the first Indian-origin woman minister in Canada’s biggest province of Ontario, is blazing a trail in community service.
If thanks to her efforts Indian-Canadians in the neighbouring Mississauga just enjoyed their first-ever Diwali fireworks, the community may soon have dedicated places for cremation and disposal of the ashes.
“Now I am working with the authorities for getting dedicated cremation grounds for Hindus and Sikhs and the spots where they can scatter the ashes. Though the Indo-Canadian population is increasing rapidly, there is no community-specific cremation place and spots for disposing of the ashes,” says Ms Damerla, who is Ontario’s associate minister for long-term care with a budget of almost $4 billion.
Secunderabad-born Ms Damerla is the first Andhra woman to hold any ministerial position in North America. “Maybe perhaps I am the first Andhra woman to hold a ministerial position outside India,” says the young minister who was appointed to the position last year after her Liberal Party was re-elected to the office.
Daughter of an armyman, she came to Canada in 1991 after finishing her under-graduation. On completing her MBA from the famous Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, she served as a corporate executive with the country’s two top banks – the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia – before quitting to raise her daughter.
She is also a former TV journalist who has worked with Toronto-based OMNI TV channel which serves Canada’s south Asian communities. In fact, it was her interaction as a journalist with politicians which led her to joining the office of the then Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2007 and then enter politics.
“We Indians have robust interest in politics. Look how many Indo-Canadians have been elected as MPs this time. The reason is that it is very difficult for middle class people to break into politics in India. But when these same people come here as immigrants, they can enter politics easily,” says Ms Damerla, sitting in the office of her constituency of Mississauga East-Cooksville on the outskirts of Toronto.
In 2011, Ms Damerla says, she decided to enter electoral politics and seek elections to serve the community. “It was not easy, particularly when you are a first-generation immigrant and a woman. But I grew up confident in my identity and I had that strong robust self-esteem,” she says.
She won her first election to the Ontario provincial parliament (equal to state assembly in India) and got re-elected in 2014.
Ms Damerla says she is excited to visit India in February with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. “We will be going to Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Amritsar from February 1. Canada and our Ontario province have so much to offer to India for its smart-city concept, water management, and clean technology needs. When we met Prime Minister Modi here in Toronto in April, he asked our Premier: ‘When can you come?’.’