PERSPECTIVE

Monthly Archives: OCTOBER 2018


REVISITING 1984 – RIOT AROUND A POLE
The Comfort of Objects - Walking the streets of Trilokpuri
29.10.18 - SP SINGH
The Comfort of Objects - Walking the streets of Trilokpuri



Senior journalist S P Singh, who anchors the television debate program, "Daleel with SP Singh," wrote a very poignant column in the Punjabi Tribune of Monday, October 29, 2018. It tells the story of 1984, and of the 'Mela Gadri Babiyan Da.' This mela, which coincides every year with the anniversary of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, is a gathering of many progressive forces but the author has underlined the gulf between even this progressive fonthead and some other marginalised voices striving to be heard. 

You can read SP Singh's column by clicking here 

Punjab Today reached out to SP Singh and requested him to narrate in detail his own experience to which his article alluded to in passing. He was kind enough to consent. We bring you this saga of the inanimate objects in the streets of Trilokpuri in Delhi and of the people who lived there, and some who stopped living in 1984 all of a sudden.
Editor, Punjab Today
 
IN HIS SCINTILLATING BOOK, "The Comfort of Things," Daniel Miller explains how objects are constitutive of identity. Objects create subjects more than the other way round. He even suggests that the closer our relationships with objects, the closer are our relationships with people.

Well, if you some day visit Nazar Singh Fauji in his tenement in Block 36 of Trilokpuri, and are nice enough to listen to how his mother died in 1992 after years of not just crying silently deep within, but also of complete silence, you wouldn't know how to deal with your own predicament. 

Should you seek more details? Are you making them re-live their pain? Are you reminding them of something they have spent decades to forget?

And what will you do after that? Go and write a piece in some newspaper?

Nazar Singh Fauji's daughter Kirandeep spent her growing up years listening to the gory tale, stone-faced. There is one member of the family you really, really want to speak to. But it does not speak. It does not extend a hand, does not blink. And you had just passed it by. You cannot recognise it if you had not been properly introduced to it.
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Meet the Electricity Pole outside Nazar Singh Fauji's house. If there are any questions that Nazar Singh Fauji feels reluctant to answer, please ask this pole.
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It is one family member who stood by the family through much of what you cannot even imagine. For years, it remained a rock solid witness to what happened in Delhi when the Indian establishment refused to stop the marauding hordes from burning Sikhs alive in their tens of hundreds.

Meet the Electricity Pole outside Nazar Singh Fauji's house. If Daniel Miller's arguments could not convince you, Nazar Singh Fauji's simple wisdom will. If there are any questions that Nazar Singh Fauji feels reluctant to answer, please ask this pole. Nazar Singh was often reluctant to even tell his growing up daughter what the pole knew. 

Gradually, the tale started to trickle in. A few neighbours told her bits and pieces of it over the years. It was with the pole that her grandfather was tied, killed and burnt. Death came upon the family as the pole watched. When, years later, Nazar Singh was to finally tell her daughter what had happened, he let it slip in little snippets, but first insisted that they all sit near the pole.

In her most poignant moments, the daughter would often stare at the pole, sometimes almost silently talking to it. She knew one fact for sure — that the pole knew much more than even her father Nazar Singh Fauji does. 

In the alley next to the gurdwara, a number of Sikhs were killed by the marauders. A reporter of an English national daily had visited the family and written a very poignant piece about it. I had visited the family after reading that piece. As I stood near that pole, I wondered if it will some day break out of its inanimate identity. 

Nazar Singh was away at his workshop in Mehrauli when an angry mob had pulled his father out, stabbed him and burned him. Since then, he said he had often stood near the pole and wondered why it happened.

At 22, Nazar Singh Fauji lost his mother. He refused to leave the house next to the pole and move to Tilak Vihar's resettlement colony. He told me he could not have left behind a family member. 

I could understand.

It wasn't a safe area to leave a witness, that, too, a family member, to the horrors of an apathetic state all alone at the mercy of blood thirsty hounds.

The pole was there. It held you. It had a story. It was the story. It was a story that arrested the family. Moving away would have meant shattering the memories. Truth be told -- it was a pole who knew other poles. And other poles knew other stories. 

They were never summoned by any court to stand witness. When investigators pulled out the scientific innovation of Touch DNA to examine if the golf club belonging to Dr Rajesh Talwar had any evidence to settle the Aarushi Talwar murder case, I wondered why no one ever took samples from these witnesses.

When I met Nazar Singh in 2009, he was 46 and was a sevadar at the Trilokpuri gurdwara, getting about Rs 3,000 per month. He seemed a tired man. He had chased the government's promises of jobs and compensation but felt frustrated with the hopelessness of it all. 

They lived on, not sure about their relationship with the pole. Initially, for a few years, they tried not to look at it. But in denial too, the memories did not leave the family alone. Gradually, he mustered up the courage to touch it. Soon he found himself pressing his head next to the pole and crying. I am not sure how the pole responded to his overtures but I know that a stage came when they became buddies. He spoke to the pole, silently. I believed the pole, too, reciprocated. 

In the streets of Trilokpuri, houses have grown taller over the years, and sun's slanting rays reach sporadically in the forenoon. The shadows of poles chase you wherever the rays find an opening and a concrete witness to 1984. 

Trilokpuri used to be on the edge of a jungle in those days. Residents used to walk about 50 metres and enter the forest to defecate. Water supply was scarce. The young ones of the families used to fetch water from the Yamuna, more than 3 kilometres away, even as toddlers went to a school in the colony where they learnt about Jack and Jill going up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

These residents had seen the apathetic face of the state earlier. In fact, that's why they were there. A young man called Sanjay Gandhi had a brainwave that the capital of India must present a better picture of the country, so he had the slums razed and people evicted. As a result, this resettlement colony came up in 1976. Muslims from Turkman Gate, Valmikis from the area near Birla Mandir, and later, some working class Lubana Sikhs came to reside there. These Sikhs had come from Rajasthan where they had originally moved from Sindh in the wake of Partition. It was a cluster of a thousand families of poor, hardworking people living in single storey houses with no schools, no toilets, no hospitals and no water.
----------
In her most poignant moments, the daughter would often stare at the pole, sometimes almost silently talking to it. She knew one fact for sure — that the pole knew much more than even her father Nazar Singh Fauji does.
----------
All they had was togetherness. The festivals were always celebrated together, till the riots came visiting. By then, the electricity poles had come up, but these were used for purposes other than intended.

I had met Gurcharan Kaur also. She was around 60 at that time and knew an electricity pole intimately. Outside the gurdwara stands this pole, next to which they killed her husband, Naik Teja Singh. For years, Gurcharan Kaur ran a tea stall next to this pole, earning a measly income, and had six or seven children. (I'm so, so sorry for not clearly remembering some of the details.) When I met her in 2009, it was the 25th anniversary of the anti-Sikh massacres.  I do remember that one of her sons was studying in Australia and another was working in a private firm. 

I had tried talking to her about her relationship with the electricity pole, and she had cried so much that I was afraid the pole will burst out. Made of concrete, electricity poles of Trilokpuri have a heart slightly less stony than of the Indian justice dispensing system.

I wanted to touch Naik Teja Singh's medals and his uniform in her quarters, and remember how she reminded me if my hands were clean. I knew these weren't as clean as are required before you touch someone's memories.

I have spent many evenings in the streets of Trilokpuri, often a camera bag slung over my shoulder, a notebook in hand. But if you do that in the last week of October, or the first week of November, you will hear people walking behind you, murmuring: "Reporters!" 

There was a "Happy Tailors" in Trilokpuri. Somehow, I ventured into that shop and asked the Sardar ji inside why had he named his shop "Happy Tailors." Harminder Singh told me how his shop sign used to announce: "Sardar Tailors." Then, 1984 happened. 
 
Memories are found in bits and pieces in the streets of Trilokpuri, as I am sure they do in Muzaffarnagar and any other place where the state acts in ways that its citizens start othering their neighbours. 

In a distant country from which flows much of the capital, weapons, knowledge and culture, there is a critical mass of people stepping forward to defend the actions of a man who sent bombs by mail to people he saw opposing his political point of view. In such times, it is a wonder whether you can even convince an electricity pole to continue standing rock solid as a witness.

If you ever find yourself in those streets of Trilokpuri, look for 'him'. Say hi. Be nice. It may not be the same pole, but it will have stories to tell you, may be tears to cry.
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

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_______________________________________________________________


Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT


 








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NAMIMG GAMING
Allah to Prayag
17.10.18 - Amandeep Sandhu
Allah to Prayag




BEFORE VIOLENCE OCCURS in the physical world, it occurs in language. Naming a person, a place, a thing is a hegemony reserved for the rulers, so are statistics, so are reports. Through naming one can make visible or disappear people, places, histories. It is in keeping with the nature of right wing bluster to change the name of a city, a plan, a scheme - the current BJP has merely renamed 19 out of 23 Congress schemes - tinker with statistics, fudge reports, but not do any work on the ground. Naming Allahabad as Prayagraj is just one more such step.

However, the question is: who really did not know the city is also called Prayag? What has the Yogi government achieved by naming an already named place?
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In any case, these lofty leaders can keep playing name games but just like for 443 years no one forgot that Allahabad was also Prayag, now no one is going to forget Prayag was also Allahabad.
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The word Prayag means 'a place sanctified by sacrifices - yagya'. Confluence of rivers are great sites for ritual sacrifices. Even the Kumbh Mela takes place at Allahabad/Prayag which for thousands of years has been considered the confluence of river(s) Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati.

A direct answer to what the Yogi government has achieved is that they have foregrounded the idea of Prayag as a confluence of three rivers over the later Mughal invasions. They are seeking to go back in the mists of time to reclaim their history from mythology. I say mythology because there is no real documented proof that Saraswati exists. Our sub-continent's indigenous traditions were oral and not written, documented. However, in history making, people's memory and imagination plays a great role. Yogi is basically saying that Saraswati was and is real and it forms the confluence of rivers at Prayag.

Pray then would the right wing's supposed scientific wing explain to me why are they looking for Saraswati from Haryana to the Rann of Kutch through Rajasthan? Why in July 2016, did the BJP-led Centre and Manhoar Lal Khattar government in Haryana kick-off the ambitious Saraswati Heritage Project to trace the origin, the disappeared routes, and to bring back to life river Saraswati river that presumably dried-up close to 4,000 years ago? If the source of the mythical river Saraswati is at Adi Badri in Yamunangar, why is the project team building three head-works on river Sutlej, before it enters Panjab, in Himachal Pradesh itself to drain out the river's water and flow it through the canal being dug near Kurukshetra, Sirsa and other places in Haryana? The implication is the draining out the only life line of Panjab - the river Sutlej - which will turn the land once known for five rivers into a desert. 

If Prayag is the right wing story then the river Gaggar or any other being reclaimed as Saraswati can't be their story. Or is the right wing proposing two contesting stories? It tells us that the right wing is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It would twist and turn stories to fit its ideology - do whatever is convenient - disregarding both mythology and history.

That is the problem with re-naming an already named place. It exposes the dual-face of the right wing approach to people's stories. In any case, these lofty leaders can keep playing name games but just like for 443 years no one forgot that Allahabad was also Prayag, now no one is going to forget Prayag was also Allahabad. Through many millennia in the sub-continent, many empires have risen and fallen, many lofty leaders have come and gone, but people retain stories in their consciousness.

How will you erase them?
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

Most shared Punjab Today articles: 

COP Vs. COP IN PUNJAB: Saiyan Bhaye Kotwal Ab Dar Kahe Ka

SURGICAL STRIKE DAY & WE THE PEOPLE The story of the gate is not the story of the house

Akali Dal's attempt to brand Navjot Sidhu as anti-national & ISI agent is ridiculous

UNHOLY HASTE To save the faith

Hua Panthik-Panthik Punjab - How do we reclaim real politics?

The Yuba City Attack on Manjit Singh GK & General Sambit Patra

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In Pakistan, a donkey pays for democracy – bleeding, its nostrils ripped apart

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TRUDEAU VISIT AND RIGHT-WING MEDIA MACHINE

J&K – RAM MADHAV LEAVES SPACE FOR MEHBOOBA’S POLITICS

SHEKHAR GUPTA'S HALF-BAKED TRUTHS 

OF NIRMAL SINGH'S EYES - Karze Ne Layee Ikk Hor Kisan Di Jaan...

PNB Scam: Who is Nirav Choksi and what he is doing In the name of God?

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MANJIT SINGH CALCUTTA– THE DISSENTER

PUNJAB FARMERS AND IPL CRICKETERS - Finally, they can stand like equals

Mr. CHIEF MINISTER, PLEASE CALL OFF JANUARY 7 FUNCTION. My teacher is not alive, but you please call it off!

SUKHBIR IS RIGHT – On 97th anniversary  Panth Khatre Vich Hai. Where does this threat come from?

THE FINAL HONESTY CERTIFICATE: ISSUED BY THE TRIBUNE

NO TIME TO READ THIS STORY? – That’s OK - Please do not feel guilty 

BAD, BAD WOMAN! – Punjab’s top playwright slams woman complainant against Langah

MR PRESIDENT, PLEASE TAKE BACK HIS GALLANTRY MEDAL – On Amod Kanth’s badge of shame

RELAX! ALL 30 WERE DERA PREMIS – Panchkula says something stinking about its conscience

PUNJAB: AN IDEA IN SEARCH OF WORDS: Punjab, more than a poster boy of progress or a renegade from modernity

_______________________________________________________________


Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT


 




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SURGICAL STRIKE DAY & WE THE PEOPLE
The story of the gate is not the story of the house
02.10.18 - Amandeep Sandhu
The story of the gate is not the story of the house



Wikipedia carries a long article on the September 2016 Uri attack. I scanned it to see if it mentioned Punjab. I drew a blank. 17 soldiers lost their lives and 19 were injured to the pre-dawn attack by allegedly Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad when four infiltrators lobbed 17 grenades in less than three minutes. Ten days later, the attack was followed by a ‘surgical strike’ by India. The nation erupted into cheer. Immediately after the strike, the Centre asked the Punjab government to get the 553 kilometres of the Punjab border vacated ten kilometres deep. If anyone was tangibly discomfited by the surgical strike, it was Punjab. From the wiki entry, which will hang forever on the internet, it is clear Punjab has not made it to the narrative. Neither Punjab nor I are surprised. This is passé. Punjab not being acknowledged is part of its cultural memory for the past few millennia since it has served as a gate to the sub-continent and been invaded countless times.

Towards end of February 2017, the right-wing hooligans of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) sabotaged a seminar in Delhi’s Ramjas College. It became a battle over freedom of speech. A 20-year-old first year student of Lady Sriram College took a stance through a poster on social media: #studentsagainstABVP. When that happened, someone pulled out her last year’s mute placard campaign in which she tells the story of her reconciliation with the loss of her father. When she was 2 years old, on August 6, 1999, Gurmehar Kaur’s father, Capt Mandeep Singh, was serving in a counter-insurgency operation, Rakshak, providing security to Amarnath pilgrims. Terrorists attacked his company post in village Chak Nutnusa in Kupwara district. He along with six personnel was martyred.     

Gurmeher displays her understanding that it was not Pakistan but ‘war that killed her father’. A senior cricket player and a mostly out-of-work cine actor trolled her for her stance. Later, serving ministers jumped in to moralize her. A whole lot of paid right-wing hooligans besmirched and trolled her. Using the same name-of-the-nation for which her father had sacrificed his life, these neophyte nationalists were now discrediting her, abusing her in the worst language. A war erupted on social media and engulfed the country for days. I wondered how shallow we were making our nationalism.

I asked myself: what if Gurmeher was not a martyr’s daughter. What if she were an ordinary Punjabi Sikh girl? The answer is obvious: the same right-wing would have called her a Khalistan supporter. The Sikh community would have been demonized once again like in the 1980s. The nation would have again denied Punjab its geography, its history, its role as a gateway to India. It seems that to talk of peace in this would-be-youngest nation of the world is a crime. The nation’s hormones are bursting and Pakistan is the perfect enemy. It celebrates the 56-inch chest of its supreme leader. It shouts, screams, and imposes its nationalism on everyone. Yet, I doubt any of these right-wingers or their families have ever served in the defence services, ever been posted at Siachen or the deserts of Rajasthan or the jungles of Nagaland, or have ever faced the bullets from the enemies. In Punjab, where Gurmeher comes from within the last three generations, every third family would have someone who has served in the forces.
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Is this how Punjab looks into the eye of war or is it an I-care-a-damn attitude – what will be will be? It is Baba’s mela, we just have to go. The nation can sort itself out.
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In 2016, within four days of the Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal’s orders to evict the border belt, I was at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur. From this border post, on a clear day, one can see the Gurdwara at Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. Next to the post is a huge board which reads: "Sikhs are petitioning the government to construct a bridge three kilometres long across the river Ravi so the community can have unhindered access to the site from where Baba Nanak departed for his heavenly abode.”

The Border Security Force sentry allows me entry only when I show her my press pass. Not sternly but cautiously she forbids me from climbing the post from where the Gurdwara is visible. She hastens to send me away. I notice her name tag, Manjeet Kaur, ‘Kithe pind? Where is your village?’

‘It is nearby. Because Delhi has started its television war, our family had to vacate home,’ she says.

‘You didn’t go with them?’

‘Duty. So their TV channels can run.’

‘No Army movement here?’

‘How can I tell you? See for yourself. Now go!’

I know a village nearby, Ghanike Bet, within Indian territory, but across the Ravi. There, the river meanders along the India-Pakistan border. I had visited it a few weeks back to learn its story of extreme neglect and how in monsoons it is almost cut off from the mainland. I know visiting it would be futile. To check, I call Ravinder from the village. ‘Kithe ho? Where are you?’

‘Where will I be? Sent family away. But, some of us men are here. Cattle is here. Paddy stands in fields. We can’t leave.’

‘Can I come over?’

‘The security won’t allow you. Now even the boatman is hardly there.’

‘What if there is war?’

‘Then there is war. We shall see.’

‘See what?’

‘Maybe swim across? After all, the Army would need to send forces here. They will do something.’

‘Do you have some liquor etc.?’

‘Poora ji. All set! Come if you can.’

I can’t. I know I can’t. The Director General Military Operations, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, my school senior, had given the news of the surgical strike in his brief three-minute statement. Delhi-based newspapers are reporting, debating, and fighting over the genuineness of the surgical strike. This is what the Army officer said; this is what he did not say. Since then, Delhi television studios are running campaigns saying ‘a jaw for a tooth’, congratulating the government, running opinion polls on whether India should go to war or not. A Rajasthan civil services officer is on a twitter campaign counting how many people are willing to opt for a nuclear strike. The war has become a middle-class video game. Life on the border has never been lonelier. That is where reporting from Punjab differed so much from the reporting from Delhi – but who reads when the lens itself is nationalism?

Next day, a friend from Amritsar insists I address his students. We enter the fancy English medium school. It is open today because it is twelve kilometres from the border and not less than ten kilometres. As if a nuclear radiation or even tank shells will care about the distance. I ask the children if they support war. They are overwhelmingly against it. I ask if their families have had to move away from border villages. Yes, some of them have had to do that. I ask if they watch television. They say, ‘yes’, and are scared about the war-mongering. I ask them why they don’t write to the newspapers about their fears, why they don’t call up television studios about their concerns. They tell me they never thought of it. They do not know how to do it. Honestly, even I do not know how to do it. Yet, as an adult, I ask myself what can be done, must be done. I wonder if for the television channels the TRP ratings are more important than the psyche of the next generation. Is the neo-nationalist market so big or are their testosterone levels so high?
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The nation is not defined in the cosy sofas of India’s middle class homes or in the shakhas of the right-wing organizations or in the fantastic speeches during election rallies or in the Parliament. To me, the nation is defined here. On the ground where a completely stupid line – the border – has divided our people from each other.
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We come to Amritsar via Ajnala. I ask in the nearby villages, slightly away from the border: there is no war. Every shopkeeper, every friend I meet there says it is just a rumour. The business is on, so are their regular activities. Next day, I leave towards Ferozepur. On the way, I spot many tractors and trolleys full of people alongside my car. Where are they going? Is this exodus? Why do they look cheerful? The mystery is soon revealed: it is a mela, fair, at Gurdwara Beerh Baba Budda Sahib ji, named after the grand old man of the Sikh religion, who anointed five Sikh Gurus and had visions of seven of them, the first high priest of the Durbar Sahib. The villagers are converging. I am partly amused and party surprised. Is this how Punjab looks into the eye of war or is it an I-care-a-damn attitude – what will be will be? It is Baba’s mela, we just have to go. The nation can sort itself out.

At the village Khalra near Bhikiwind, the border is less than 500 metres away. Close to the village, I spot an old man. He looks over seventy years of age. I ask him, ‘Baba, have you been here all along?’ He replies in the affirmative. I stop the car and get out. ‘Can you tell me how many times have you had to evict your homes in your life?’ We start counting: Partition, 1965, 1971, Operation Brasstacks, Kargil War, Operation Prakram, now. A few more villagers gather. ‘During which of these was the eviction smoothest?’

‘Well, 1971 was the worst,’ he says. ‘We were moved around for three months and then asked to settle. Indira said no war. Then suddenly there was war.’

‘But you supported the army …’

‘Of course we did. We will always do. They fight for us, we stand by them. But nuksaan – damage is of fields, of crops, of homes, schools … So much is lost,’ he speaks slowly, with pauses.

Another voice comes in. ‘During Kargil, they planted mines in the fields. The war ended, the Army went away. It took them three years to clear the mines. We were compensated for only one crop.’

‘And now?’

‘This is the most fuddu – stupid operation. Five days and the Army is nowhere!’

‘But which was the best operation?’

The old man answers, ‘1965. By around 8 pm, we had dinner and lay down to sleep. Our eyes opened by 2 am with bomb-baazi, sound of tank fire. We didn’t even realise when the Army tanks had crossed over our villages. So, we too dug in our heels. Our Gurdwaras started preparing langar, we started feeding the troops.’

‘So …’

‘It is not a lie. Lal Bahadur Shastri was the best prime minister we ever had.’

A man around 35 years of age, each of whose legs are covered in green and white plastic sacks, butts in, ‘Le, even now I fed the BSF.’ I turn to him. ‘On September 29, the Gurdwaras asked people to flee. I packed my six-member family off to relatives. I only have a bike so I did two rounds. Next day, I came back. My cattle were hungry and thirsty. We could not feed it the previous day.’

‘Then?’

‘That is when the BSF jawans asked me for milk. I told them my cows were thirsty, she isn’t milking today. Then they asked me for food. They told me they hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. Naturally, I cooked for them. Next day, I again came. My wife had sent rotis and subzi for the jawans. But you know, even among relatives, these days it is difficult to stay long. Homes are small. Hearts are even smaller.’

‘So you came back?’

Sonara Singh says, ‘After three days. What other choice did we have? Badal says he has set up provisions. Nothing he has set up. The stupid thing is, our home does not have a toilet. We all go to the fields. Now the same BSF is not allowing our ladies to go out. I have a mother, a wife, a daughter. What should we do?’

I see a tar and gravel laden dumper approaching. ‘So why are you dressed up in these sacks?’

‘We are making the road. What if the Army finally comes? They would need a road. These leaders are big people. Who knows what they will decide.’
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On the ground where a completely stupid line – the border – has divided our people from each other. ‘Do you know folks across the border?’ Many of the gathered say, yes they know them. We even see them farming every days, even in these days. Out fields are adjacent, our families are near each other. Not so long ago there were no barriers.
-----------
My instinct was to drag down a TV reporter to this village. Show him what to me seems like the greatest nationalist one could ever find. All of them. All the people in these villages. The nation is not defined in the cosy sofas of India’s middle class homes or in the shakhas of the right-wing organizations or in the fantastic speeches during election rallies or in the Parliament. To me, the nation is defined here. On the ground where a completely stupid line – the border – has divided our people from each other. ‘Do you know folks across the border?’ Many of the gathered say, yes they know them. We even see them farming every days, even in these days. Out fields are adjacent, our families are near each other. Not so long ago there were no barriers.

I move to Khem Karan, the site of the famous tank battle in 1965. Here too, villagers sitting on the platform near the Gurdwara show me paddy standing ripe to be harvested. They curse Badal and Narendra Modi in the choicest language. They tell me, they are not leaving. Next day, I am at the Hussainiwala border near Ferozepur. It is more than a security post. It hosts memorials from the previous wars. It also features the Prerna Sthal memorials to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru and an eternal fire (Amar Jyoti) to B K Dutt. Here, Monu, the parking lot contractor, says, ‘I paid Rs 6 lakh per annum for the contract and took charge on September 25. Four days later, the tamasha – circus started. My year is ruined.’

It seems clear that the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government had goofed up big time. The Centre, probably Home Minister Rajnath Singh, must have asked them to bend and the government crawled. The Congress MLAs, whether in Dera Baba Nanak, Dina Nagar, Firozepur, Guru Har Sahai or any of the other border constituencies, came and addressed the villagers, asked them to not become refugees of an un-fought war. These orders were only for Punjab when even Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, and Gujarat share a border with Pakistan.

Further southwards, near Baje Ke, I again stop and check with ordinary village folks. It is dusk, the street corners have the aroma of fresh gobi and palak pakodas. People are unhappy with the eviction orders but they have defied them. After I have spoken to a cluster of men, Rakesh, a thirtyish man with a polio-affected leg stops me from getting into the car. ‘Bhaaji, patrakar hon? Brother, are you a journalist?’ I nod. ‘If you can please, get the war started.’ I am like no, no way. ‘But see nothing happens in our lives. So much noise all the time, all this poverty, all this unemployment, and these drugs. If there is a war, at least we will be able to tell our children we saw a war. Would that not be magnificent?’ I burst out laughing and ask what if he dies. ‘Then khel khatam. It will be the end of the game.’

The story of gates is never the story of the house. While the right-wing manufactures its own brand of hooligan nationalism, Punjab, which has been in the cross-fire forever and will bear the pain of war on its chest, defines it differently. When she should have been playing in her father’s arms, Gurmeher dealt with grief. She rose above the blame game of nations and dared to see the larger picture. While her episode was on, a student group, called Students for Society from Panjab University Chandigarh, wanted to hold a seminar on the ‘Rising Head of Fascism’. The university tried its best to curb it but failed to prevent it from taking place. The speakers who spoke and who were arrested from the university gates belonged to a spectrum of thought – extremist to centrist to Leftist. This was unique because the various factions in Punjab have not come together in the last half century and eventually the state went into a decade-and-a-half long militancy. In Bathinda, citizens marched in a huge rally called by around fifteen forward-looking organizations concerned with human rights and agrarian issues. The home grown right wingers do not know this about Punjab: the gate does not parrot the house but eventually the house needs the gate. They better keep their pettiness to themselves and not peddle it towards Punjab.
 
 

Amandeep Sandhu is working on a non-fiction book on Panjab.

 
 
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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