Wednesday, May 26, 2021

SIX MONTHS IS A LONG TIME

Ravi Choudhary of PTI was nearby as the lathis of the security personnel swung. Of the many images he clicked one will acquire a life of its own. Rahul Gandhi will tweet it – pointing how Modi has pitched Jawan against Kisan. BJP IT cell – Joseph Goebbel’s of our times - will use its superpower of propaganda to declare Rahul Gandhi’s tweet as propaganda. In a rare act of showing spine in Indian context Twitter will flag BJP IT Cell post as ‘manipulated media’.

The farmer in the image could have been any of the lacs of farmers there that day. But thanks to that little twitter battle, Sukhdev Singh Sangojla from Kapurthala Punjab, will find himself a face of farmers movement. Soon the image will travel the world, be part of social media posts and news stories, become profile picture of countless accounts and from the digital space quickly hit the printers. A variety of posters carrying the moment when state’s brutality is about to leave its marks on the skin of common man will appear. Every other trolley at various tractor-trolley townships around Delhi will carry this image.

It is mid of January, nearly 50 days since the reinforced fiber batons left their marks on his arm, back and leg, I sit inside his trolley in conversation with others who have made this trolley their home. Sukhdev Singh climbs into trolley, returning after taking a bath. He wears a white kurta - probably the same that took the beatings with him. He is still in towel and as he steps in, I see the mark. The evidence that the reinforced fiber baton left on his body. Instinctively my phone rises and I click.

Later that afternoon we head out towards the front of the tractor-trolley township, towards the barricades where Ravi Choudhary clicked that vital moment. After showing me the place where he and some other farmers got lathicharged Sukhdev Singh wants a photo with the security personnel. After taking the photo I ask the Rapid Action Force personnel if they recognize him. Negative. When I tell them, he is the farmer whose image went viral – some of them hesitantly declare that it was a fake photo. BJP IT cell is a powerful being!

There is a large poster carrying the image on the trolley next to Sukhdev Singh’s trolley. This is where he stands when folks ask him for a photograph. He is an ordinary individual; this photo makes him extraordinary. Standing next to the photo is when the others see the extraordinary in him. The posters travelled to various corners of Punjab on the returning trolleys. One such poster found its way on the little black gate of his home. This poster makes this ordinary village home extraordinary.

Six months of harsh weather, sun, rains, storms have taken toll on these posters. Very few still occupy the spaces these occupied six months back. But the more durable iron of tractor trolleys is still here - occupying the space that makes these tractor trolley townships. The number of bodies is less than there were six months back, but more durable of these minds, spirits and bodies carry on – lifeblood of these tractor trolley townships, lifeblood of resistance, lifeblood of hope.

Last evening, I called Sukhdev Singh. He was in his usual cheerful mood.

‘How’s the morcha?’

‘All is well. Sab chardhi kala.’

‘It’s been six months. How much longer?’

‘As long as it takes.’

Six months is a long time. Injuries heal. Visible signs where the stick met the flesh disappear.

Six months is a long time. Lest we forget.


#6MonthsOfFarmersProtest #kisanektamorcha #FarmerProtest

Saturday, February 13, 2021

PRELUDE TO A RIOT

The cover of Annie Zaidi’s ‘prelude to a riot’ carries in red letters – ‘A white-hot novel about today’s India.’ White hot! Hotter than red-hot! Extremely hot!

Annie’s gripping novel, brilliantly crafted, is an edge of the seat read. In a peaceful southern town live three generations of two families, one Hindu and the other Muslim. In walks change, in walks Self Respect Forum.

26th January - The Debate with Arnab Goswami - ‘These people who you call farmers they disgraced our tricolor today… a group of rioters displayed their cowardice by replacing the tricolor with their own flag… attacking and beating women in the streets of Delhi. Let us introspect, why did we give these goons these rights… why are we allowing it, you and I… when we know if all of us come together we know how to tackle these anti-nationals… why are nationalist Indians quiet today…’

Self Respect Forum has planned a rally. The posters have appeared, including on the walls of Kadir’s Royal Bakery.

Abu to Farida – ‘Our grandfather (Dada) must be the only person in town who does not see it coming.’

Abu to Kadir – Simply put, the writing is on the wall. My wall. Your wall. Rahmat’s wall.

27th January – Arnab Announces # Nationalist Collective – We cannot allow anti-national elements to plunder our country anymore. Time for Nationalists to come together.

Dada’s Soliloquy – ‘A fuller moon than any that has ever been seen before in my stretch of sky. Blood-speckled. It is a true name, after all. Blood moon. I have lost.’

28th January late evening - Nationalist Collective reaches Ghazipur border protest site. Rakesh Tikait – ‘They are conspiring to kill the farmers here. BJP lawmakers are here, they have come here with 300 people with sticks and bullets.’

Garuda’s Soliloquy - ‘You will also hate yourself for hating me. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a slow habit. This hating habit. It’s been coming along nicely, though.’ ‘No big colonial sword needs to come down and slash the fabric of the nation. Muscle by muscle, atom by atom, we are being torn from within. We are our own bomb.’

29th January – Singhu Border – Nationalist Collective gathers at the barricades. Security personnel choose to be part of it. After sufficient sloganeering of ‘desh ke gaddaron ko,’ the Nationalist Collective marches towards the stage of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee. Stone by stone. Stick by stick. Teargas shell by teargas shell. We are our own bomb.

 

Abu to Devaki – Come home. Learn from my grandfather how to grow things. Dada can make rocks bleed green.


(2020 – LOCKDOWN BOOKS REVOLUTION SERIES#5)

#FarmersProtest

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

IN THE COMPANY OF PATRIOTS

As he stood along with his ‘people’ at Shambhu border, a tear gas shell hit him – first his right hand and then his leg. It is over 75 days since, the injury to his hand isn’t fully healed. Yet that hasn’t affected his spirits or his pen. The little diary he always carries with him is full now and a second diary is fast filling with revolutionary songs he has been busy writing and singing at Singhu morcha.

Teri vatt te taaran aa paayian

Bani Delhi aj gaddar ve,

Tu khichle tayari Tikri

Singhu aj rahi pukar ve.

Bapu Jagraj is now in his sixties. He was sixteen when he composed his first song in memory of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Bapu has since written hundreds of songs – some have found space in newspapers and magazines, but Bapu hasn’t made any money of his writings. He sings at various morchas and a few melas.

Bapu says that the present struggle is for farmers and farm labour as the black laws impact both. Himself a farm labourer when asked why is he here? ‘Haq lain layi turna painda hai’ and he sings a few lines.

Mehnatkash lokaan khatir ladna paina hai,

Kadman de naal kadam milake khadna paina hai,

Chup kitiyaan nahiyon sarna

Madho Das ton Banda Bahadur banna paina hai.

Along with his own compositions he sings songs and poems of other revolutionary poets like Sant Ram Udasi and Lal Singh Dil. One evening, as he starts singing ‘Kirti kisano kathe hoke ladhiye, Karaan pranam lahoo rangi madhiye’ the audience starts clapping to the beat. He immediately stops. ‘Giddha nahi pauna, eh sangharsh hai.’ The gathering gets the message. He starts from the beginning. Every time he sings a song, he concludes with ‘Jit Lokan di.’

Along with his diaries, in his pocket he carries a single folded paper. The header in his clear handwriting says - ‘Mahaan deshbhagtan da pind Acharwal (Ludhiana) – jithe Kuka Lehar, Gadhar Lehar te Inquilabi Lehar de yodha paida hoye.’ Kuka Lehar - 1. S. Ram Singh, 2. S Mehtab Singh; Gadhar Lehar - 3. S. Daan Singh, 4. S. Mal Singh, 5. Pandit Godhiram, 6. Shaheed S Kehar Singh, 7. S Amar Singh, 8. S Hazara Singh;  Inquilabi Lehar – 9. Shaheed Comrade S Amar Singh.

As I look at the injury to his hand from the tear gas shell, he says proudly, ‘Satt vaji, par main hath vichon jhanda nahi diggan ditta.’

There is space at the bottom of the page – for a tenth name. Kisani Lehar – 10. S. Jagraj Acharwal will sit in the company of the nine easily, proudly and honorably.



(HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT SERIES#12)

#humansoffarmersmovement

#kisanektamorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#FarmersProtest

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

THE BALLAD OF BANT SINGH: A QISSA OF COURAGE

‘I, Baljit Kaur, daughter of Shri Bant Singh, am a resident of Burj Jhabbar in Mansa district, Punjab. I was gang-raped on July 6, 2002. I did not conceal the incident and along with my father waged a struggle for justice…’ As Nirupama Dutt met Baljit for the first time, this testimony played in her mind and she wondered if she would be able to talk with Baljit about it all, ask her to relive it all again. Dutt writes, ‘I was to realize later that my hesitation arose from the comfort of my own relatively privileged existence. Those who are pushed to the wall find the courage to tell their tale of woe over and again.’

The comfortable living rooms of the relatively privileged wonder - In the coldest winter in decades, amidst pouring rains, surrounded by indifferent citizenry and hostile state, why are the farmers on the roads?

Bant Singh is a member of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha. Apart from helping and organizing members of his union, at all union events Bant sings songs of Sant Ram Udasi. ‘Maan dhartiye teri god nu chan hor bathere, tu maghda rahi ve surja kameya de vehre.’ Bant was not one to be cowed down and he waged a battle for justice and in 2004 in a rare occurrence of a Dalit winning a legal battle against an upper caste, got conviction for three. This legal win was to come at an even bigger cost and an even bigger battle awaited him. On the evening of 5th January 2006, Bant Singh was ambushed by associates of the rapists and brutally beaten with iron rods and axes.

Farmers occupied roads and railway tracks for months. Govt ignored them. Farmers were not one to be cowed down and they marched towards Delhi and camped at its borders. A govt. that first refused to talk with them, refused to let them march towards Delhi, refused to acknowledge anything was wrong in the farm laws, and a govt. which used pliant media to paint them in the color of separatists, relented bit by bit (can enter Delhi, can amend laws, can suspend laws for a duration, etc.) These little wins came at a great cost – over 180 lives lost so far. But even bigger battle awaited them. 26th January arrived and the morcha got ambushed. The spirit of lacs of marching tractors was brutally beaten and crushed.

By the time Bant Singh reached PGI Chandigarh, 48 hours after the assault on him, gangrene had set in. when informed that both his arms and one leg will need to be amputated, he said ‘I suppose the doctors know best. Anyway, what use are my arms and legs, I have to sing with my throat. As long as a Comrade’s throat is not slit, it is all right.’ 18 days after his amputation, still in a serious condition, Bant surprised doctors and fellow patients by singing songs of Udasi from his sickbed.

The mob is pelting stones at the gathered farmers as police stands guard, watching, even encouraging and protecting the mob. Someone throws a crude petrol bomb on the ladies’ shelter. Someone smashes the washing machines. A sewadar at the langar is pulled into the mob and along with the mob, the police rain lathis on him. But their throats are not slit, not yet. From the gathering where tear gas is being shelled comes the sound of sangat chanting ‘Satnam Waheguru, Satnam Waheguru.’ From the throat of the sewadar, with his turban removed, his hair loose, his forehead bleeding, erupts the blessed Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal. As the state got ready to amputate the morcha, tears of one man surprised the nation. Morcha began to sing again.

Annie Zaidi in ‘Known Turf’ asks, ‘And what do you do when a man minus three limbs in a government hospital’s trauma ward begins to sing?’ Nirupama Dutt answers – quite simple, really – you salute his spirit.

One evening at Sanjhi Sath, at Singhu, Bapu Jagraj, who has filled a diary with his poems since he has been at the Morcha recites one for all present, ‘Kirti kisano kathe hoke ladhiye, Karaan pranam lahoo rangi madhiye.’ A sea of red flags marches towards the main stage at Singhu border - Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee and Pendu Mazdoor Union members are here in hundreds. Slogans of Kisan Mazdoor Ekta fill the air. Few days back a speaker on the stage said, ‘we are all sitting as one here – kisan-mazdoor, Punjab-Haryana, male-female. We will win this battle with govt, but the real morcha will start when we head back homewards.’ Often in the morcha one hears the slogan, ‘Baba Nanak teri soch te, pehra deyange thok ke.’ Denunciation of caste is one of the primary teachings of Guru Nanak. As and when the morcha heads back, may the teachings of Nanak and learnings from the morcha travel with it.

Nirupama Dutt dedicates the book to the revolutionary poet of Punjab, Sant Ram Udasi, ‘whose songs gave Bant Singh the strength to sing, fight and live with dignity.’ ‘Meri maut te na royeo, meri soch nu bachayeo. Mere lahu da kesar, rete vich na ralaeyo.’

Many revolutionary poets, singers, writers are giving strength to the farmers morcha – ‘to sing, fight and live with dignity.’

Nirupama Dutt’s Ballad for Bant Singh then, in part, is also a ballad for all those struggling for their rights.

Yes, in Punjab, we love to sing

But today we will sing not

Of ‘old and distant unhappy things’

Nor of ‘battles long ago’ –

We will sing, yes we will sing, of

This day, of the here and the now

Of those who refused to bow

Those who can tell us how

Songs of hope are born in want

Why some can have it all

Why some cannot.


(2020 – LOCKDOWN BOOKS REVOLUTION SERIES#4)

#kisanektamorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#FarmersProtest

AKLAN WALEYO CHAKLO KALMA

A few miles inside the Singhu tractor-trolley township, a group of elderly sit holding chart papers with slogans. S. Avtar Singh, S Sarabjeet Singh, S Harminder Singh, S Jaswinder Singh, S Vihara Singh, and S Hakam Singh are all from same village in Ropar district. Each poster they hold delivers a message to the state. ‘Asi atwadi nahi, asi satwadi haan’. ‘Na darde, na dabde, singh delhi vich gajde.’ ‘Sun modi te shah, sanu na koi parwah, aayi te aa gaye putt jattan de, tainu pa denge rah.’ Each of the posters they hold bear the same signature – Simar.

A short distance behind the Singhu main stage, Simarjeet sits with a pile of chart papers and a set of permanent markers. A few posters are pasted on the tent just behind him. One of these posters reads – ‘Jo dil karda likhwa sajna, raj lahanta modi nu paa sajna.’



Simar came to Singhu mid of December. He got a chart paper and wrote a slogan on it. As he stood with the poster, someone asked for the poster and took it with him. He made another poster for himself only for someone else to carry it away into the sea of tractor-trolleys. That’s when he knew what was needed of him, what his contribution to the morcha will be. He went to the market and got himself a pile of chart papers and a set of markers and sat down to put on paper the slogans of the morcha, by the morcha, for the morcha.

Tau Sukhveer Singh walks to Simar’s table. ‘Ik poster likh mera,’ he demands of Simar. Simar writes what Tau says. Tayu wants a photo also. He walks behind Simar’s chair. The person holding his camera says, ‘Tayu poster pakadiye haath mein.’ Tayu rebukes him, ‘Nahi, aise kheench.’ And he places his hand on Simar’s head in a blessing.

Kanwar Garewal in Pecha exhorts ‘Aklan waleyo chacklo kalma.’ Walk along the length of Singhu and one finds posters in Simar’s kalam on trolleys, tractors, tents, and in hands of people sitting, and walking around. ‘Jo dil karda likhwa sajna, raj lahanta modi nu paa sajna.’

(HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT SERIES#11)

#humansoffarmersmovement

#kisanektamorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#FarmersProtest




Sunday, January 31, 2021

WORTH FIGHTING FOR

Gurwinder Singh volunteers in the security team at Singhu tractor-trolley township. It is almost two months since he left his home in Tarn Taran to come join the morcha.

As he prepared to depart from his home, his wife handed him his aadhar card.

‘I won’t need this,’ he said.

‘Please take it and keep it with you all the time,’ she said.

‘Why?’ he asked.

Holding back her tears she said, ‘In case the morcha requires your sacrifice, they will know the address where to send your body.’

-------------------

It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

What are we holding on to, Sam?

That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.


(HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT SERIES#10)

#humansoffarmersmovement

#kisanektamorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#FarmersProtest


Saturday, January 30, 2021

MAKING OF A HEIRLOOM

Charan Singh is 70. He travelled on Kisaan Express, his bicycle, a non-stop service from Tanda to Delhi, a journey of 400kms bearing a message – all journeys will end, if farmer is finished.

His friends are taking him around Singhu tractor-trolley township, on what appears to be a lap of honor. Surinder Singh, 70, was an educator. He says, ‘Tell the youth if Charan Singh can reach here on cycle, they should be able to reach here on tractors.’ It is 19th Dec – within a few days, youngsters would have more than fulfilled his wish, with Singhu’s strength increasing manifold.

I ask Charan Singh if he will participate in the rally on his cycle. ‘I will be getting a tractor here with my life savings. Dedicated to the movement and the tractor rally. Going to book it today, arrangements have been done.’

For someone who is 70 and has pedaled 400kms, he doesn’t look or sound tired – there is a silent determination in his being.

Surinder Singh adds, ‘He has decided that this cycle and the tractor will not be used again once we are back. These will not be sold but kept in the family in the memory of the morcha.’

All four of them are looking into future and in this moment see it as well – and find themselves alive in this proud heirloom for generations.

‘Will you be driving the tractor?’ I ask Charan Singh.

‘Yes, of course.’

I already know who all will be accompanying him on the tractor in the rally. Looking at the tractor riders the words escape me - ‘Then the victory is guaranteed.’

Surinder Singh ji says, ‘If willpower is strong, then we can win all battles.’ He takes a short pause and then asks me, ‘You agree with the words?’ 

I could not agree more.






HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT SERIES#9

#humansoffarmersmovement

#kisanektamorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#FarmersProtest

SIX MONTHS IS A LONG TIME

Ravi Choudhary of PTI was nearby as the lathis of the security personnel swung. Of the many images he clicked one will acquire a life of its...