Achha, naam kya tha us ka?
Chorro, ab mar gaya. Aaj Shardhanjali Samagam hai! Ab jaan kar kya karoge?
Angrezi mein vaise bhee nahi chhapta.
ONE CAN WRITE WITH considerable flourish about a man like him, but is that really necessary? Bare facts should be able to make a simple point. And I will come to that point once you get to know the man. He died about a fortnight back.
His maternal grandfather, nana ji, was Sant Baba Lakha Singh Namdhari, of Bahrowal, who taught him much about patriotism, social service, people's causes, sacrifice and building a just and civil society.
He grew up watching the village Naujawan Sabha organising village-level Sports Mela and Natak Mela in the memory of Bhai Ratan Singh of Raipur Dabba. Bhai Ratan Singh was the international diplomat of the Gadar Movement. (You may not credit someone with such a high-sounding designation but in those days, people sacrificed their lives on the direction of such people.)
His elder brothers, Gurmukh Singh and Jaspal Singh, used to lead the events held in the memory of Bhai Ratan Singh. He would watch, often participate and gradually became an integral part of those events. Along the way, he picked up the same value system, the same crazy levels of dedication and commitment to public causes.
That perhaps was the natural way of a son going after his father and grandfather, and the spirit of those times.
His father was Malook Singh, a front row fighter of the morcha against Khush Hasiyat Tax imposed by the British, often seeing the insides of jails and leading jathas to court arrest as a form of active resistance.
In the heady times when people's movement was infused with the impact of Gadar Lehar, Babbar Akali Lehar, Kirti Lehar, Kuka Lehar, Chacha Ajit Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Vishnu Dutt Sharma, he got sucked into that same spirit. There was no looking back.
The baton had passed on to Baba Boojha Singh and Sadhu Singh Samraon. He had found a clear path and began practicing what he was preaching.
As a fifth grade student of Government Middle School, Karnana, he would help out in distributing handbills and plastering posters on the walls. He did his matriculation from Khalsa School, Banga and then studied at the Ropar College, gaining clarity along the way that what millions of hard-working people of this country needed to really feel the glow of freedom and democracy was this thing called Revolution.
He was clear that this Revolution was not the kind that would be brought about by a bunch of people through some kind of a startling action of bloodshed and sacrifice, but it would have to be an outcome of deep, penetrative work on the ground to raise mass awareness, create a conscious society and get a people's movement going.
His ideas and work was known. And to the ever well-informed police also. So, cops would often knock at his door. They would drag away his brother Hartek Singh and father Malook Singh. He went underground during Emergency. Later, he dedicated himself to creating centres of public imagination by raising memorials to Shaheed Baba Boojha Singh, the martyrs of Mangoowal, Martyr Ravinder of Jagatpur etc.
Sukhdev Singh Raipur Dabba
He was on to something. Revolution. He was working on the ground. Punjab Natak Kala Kender in Banga and Punjab Lok Sabhyacharak Manch or Pulse Manch in Mahil Gehlan became his karambhoomi.
During the dark days of militancy, he played a role that he thought was the best response. He was ensuring that copies of Surkh Rekha reach their readers. When 18 people were killed in the Sewewala Khooni Kaand in April, 1991, he became the 'front' leader in the Banga area. He was a fixture at all the major events at Selbraha, Sewewala, Bhagtuana, Jaito and Moga.
For three decades, he contributed with untiring dedication to either the work of or the events organised in memory of Gursharan Singh, Ajmer Aulakh, Paash, Sant Ram Udasi and the natak melas in the memory of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at Khatkar Kalan.
He was the frontrow leader in Lok Morcha Punjab, active in Banga. He went to ShahJahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, to meet Durga Bhabhi and record an interview with her, thus saving a piece of our history and legacy from the heady days when young people were actually fighting to make it a better world, not spewing hate-filled nationalism.
He was invariably seen at the Desh Bhagat Gadri Mela and Shaheed Master Gian Singh Sangha Yaadgari Samagam, browsing through books and buying them by the dozen.
He was the secretary of Wrestling Coach Organisation, District Nawanshahar, was often seen with a whistle in the arena, refereeing the jousts but all without charging any fee.
He wrestled with death for four years, afflicted by a neuro condition, and eventually succumbed on October 19.
You probably did not hear about him, did not read about him, primarily because our English language media did not publish much about him. Men and women like him who spend their lives in people's causes and movements remain the sole preserve of vernacular media, where, too, they are now increasingly finding the space shrinking. So all news about the likes of him remains confined to a Nawan Zamana or a Desh Sewak or an occasional mention in Ajit or Jagbani. Public spirited men and women have resigned themselves to read about people like him in so-called revolutionary mouth-pieces of Punjab's "jujharoo sansthas". So a photograph and a two-page article in a Kirti or a Mazdoor publication suffices.
Comrade's Antim ardas at Gurdwara sahib
And still there will be a good bunch of people today, October 3, in his village Raipur Dabba, paying tributes to him, his work, his dedication, and to the spirit of Revolution. Expect to see a news item in Nawan Zamana or Punjabi Tribune tomorrow, perhaps a picture, too. If it makes to Ajit or Desh Sewak, that will be a bonus. If Dainik Bhaskar or Amar Ujala cover it, the comrades will be surprised. If the Indian Express or Tribune or Hindustan Times or Times of India cover it, it will be a revolution.
That's the shape of revolution now. It's slightly different from what he worked for all his life, and we have to fight for even this one.
Comrades themselves will not write much about him because, you see, he belonged to a particular banner, and as you know only too well, the worst things that comrades have to say about a comrade that does not belong to their group. It's a trait they share with their brothers across the ideological divide.
So a lot of those who read about him in Nawan Zamana will also stay at home, and if you ask them, they will probably tell you either a juicy negative anecdote about someone associated with him or fill you up with a sense of ennui. Eventually, you'll understand that he wasn't much to bother about. And then you'll feel less guilty about not knowing about him.
And that will suffice. Besides, Amolak will write a book or a tract about him or at least or an article in Nawan Zamana. What more does a comrade need?
His name was Sukhdev Singh. Sukhdev Singh of Village Raipur Dabba, not very far from Khatkar Kalan. Khatkar Kalan is known for ... ("Oh God, where have we landed!"). That’s the simple point I wanted to make.