Culture as a Strength: Addressing Problems with Alcohol in the Punjabi Community

The field of mental health has historically been based upon colonial ideals. As the field of mental health integrates intersecting diversities into its work, how has culture been included? In the mainstream, culture is often implicitly understood as a deficit that inhibits wellbeing, existing as a singular entity that does not encompass the vast lived realities of groups. Through our work at Asra, The Punjabi Alcohol Resource, and Broken Punjabi, a transnational conversation series, we aim to problematize singular understandings of culture by illuminating the porous borders of its definition and the danger of categorizing minority groups as monoliths. Our website,, moves beyond simple “English to Punjabi” translation, and instead translates with colloquial language to truly make it accessible to communities. Understanding how colonial ideals are implicitly perpetuated helps individuals engage in mindful work within their wider communities and recognize the strength of culture.

Presenters and slide deck

Ravia Dhaliwal

Ravia Dhaliwal (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Alberta where completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with a double major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her undergraduate thesis researched the intersections of addiction, masculinity, and the Punjabi community. She is a facilitator for Broken Punjabi, a series hosted through Asra: The Punjabi Alcohol Resource aiming to engage the Punjabi community in conversations about alcohol.

Manvinder Gill

Manvinder Kaur Gill is a community-based researcher whose work is centered on religion, culture, and health equity. She holds a BSc. and a BA (hons.) from the University of Winnipeg. Her MA thesis in religious studies from McMaster University interrogated the intersections of alcohol and Sikhi, particularly considering influences of colonialism, gender, and trauma. She has held research fellowships at Delhi University and the University of Victoria. She is currently pursuing her Master of Social Work at the University of Toronto and is interested in understanding indigenous Panjabi and Sikh forms of healing for addictions treatment. Her work aims to reimagine colonial narratives and direct energy towards frameworks of love and justice, fostering spaces of co-learning. She is the co-founder of Asra: The Punjabi Alcohol Resource (, a youth-led grassroots initiative bringing her research into practice.

Bavenjit Cheema

Bavenjit is co-founder of ASRA: The Punjabi Alcohol Resource. She is passionate about providing culturally informed health care to marginalized communities. Currently, she is a 4th year medical student at UBC.

Monica Cheema

Monica Cheema is a filmmaker and educator based out of Vancouver, BC. She grew up in a predominantly Punjabi community in Surrey, and has witnessed the cultural stronghold addiction has had on her community. She is interested in engaging with the sociopolitical and psychological dimensions of ‘problem drinking’ — specifically in its relationship to generational trauma within the family unit.


Key Learnings

  • In mental health practice, culture is used and understood as a marker of difference: as separate but also a replacement of race as the preferred trope of difference
  • Culture is a multifaceted, heterogeneous construct that can enhance, rather than impede mental health and addictions services.
  • We (Asra) understand that including culture into our programming, directly increases the chances Punjabi communities will engage with these resources. For example, often organizations feel that a direct “word to word” translation ticks the box of making something “culturally competent”. Understanding direct English to Punjabi translation doesn’t make sense in the colloquial Punjabi, we use it as a strength when we speak in day to day Punjabi instead.

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