Monday, December 20, 2021

FAILING NANAK

Many years back when I last stopped at this rare Dhaba on Sultanpur Lodhi-Kapurthala road, it was operating as one joint. Now a partition in the front verandah indicates two shops. Brothers doing what it appears is the natural thing these days – getting divided.

As I wait for a cup of tea, I catch up on whatsapp messages. There are few messages in ‘Kisan Ekta’ group. This is a group that was formed by my village boys last year to discuss, inform and participate in the farmers movement. It also has been my portal into what does the rounds of social media in rural Punjab. Last night it was the clips of the person attempting sacrilege at Golden Temple, clips of gathered crowd banging on the doors of gurudwara committee baying for his blood and the bloody images of the dead body. There are a few new videos this morning. One is discussing a PIL that asks all pension and perks of politicians to be removed. Then a video starts with a young man beating someone whose hands and legs are tied. After a few seconds the camera turns to someone who starts speaking of how they have caught another person attempting sacrilege. He narrates the story, and the beating continues in the background. The sound of traffic passing by fades. The words of the speaker in the video fade. Only the ‘lathi’ in the hand of one who appears a young handsome turbaned boy swings and meets a young helpless tied young body. Over and over again.

Main us bare apshabad sunda haan,

Usdi pat rakhan layi,

Hathiyar chuk lainda haan,

Usdi pat meri muhtaaj nahin.

(I hear impolite words about him

To keep his honor

I take up arms

His honor doesn’t depend on me.)

The five minute long clip shows the tied man being brutally beaten as the speaker, the granthi of the Gurudwara, narrates how they caught this man early morning and how the ‘sangat’ should reach the place immediately, of how they will not hand over the person to police and of how the religious heads should come and give this man punishment as per religious code and conduct.

Usdi gall karan wale,

sareyan nu sunda haan,

Pujari vidwaan chele yodhe,

Bas ose nu hi nahi sunda.

(Those who talk about him

I listen to them all

Priests, scholars, followers, warriors

Only to him I don’t listen)

This clip is from somewhere in Kapurthala. A short distance away from where I sit and sip my tea. I check the local news. People have ‘listened’ to the call of the ‘priest’ and have gathered at the village of this incident. Police is there as well. The person is still in captivity of the ‘sangat.’  One key Kapurthala road is already blocked. I remember the roads all over Punjab getting blocked a few years back the day of another sacrilege and following police action. I pay for my tea and turn my car back towards home, towards Sultanpur Lodhi, towards Nanak’s town.

It was a day of celebration at Singhu. The sangat was organizing a Nagar Kirtan. The tractor-trolley-tent township was cleaned and decorated as best as possible and everyone was in a positive, cheerful mood. Few friends from Delhi had come that day. We were walking along the lanes of this place of resistance, a place of hope, a place of pilgrimage, when a young girl carrying a small poster with Sukhpal’s Main Te Nank passed by. I stopped her and asked her if she had read the poem on the poster. She said no. I requested her that she should, and I requested her father who was standing next to her that he should read this with her and explain and understand.

I wish I could hit a pause button over Punjab and like that little girl, ask all of them to read Sukhpal (if not Nanak).

The road runs parallel to the solitary train track between Kapurthala and Sultanpur Lodhi. Mostly local trains use this track, with an occasional Jammu Tavi. In 2019, on the occasion of 550th birth purab of Nanak, the one room railway station of Sultanpur Lodhi was renovated and a grand hall built. It played religious movies during the Gurupurab celebration. It was meant to be a reception area of the new station but time stands still in that empty hall now. A new train was started on the occasion from Sultanpur Lodhi to Delhi, aptly named Sarbat Da Bhala. The one time I travelled by it, it took 20 hours for a journey of 8 hours. I was told that it was an isolated incident, and that train usually was on time. In another four hours it will be the ‘right’ time for Sarbat da Bhala to cross from where I am right now. But from where I am right now, it seems Sarbat Da Bhala is now ‘forever delayed.’

Oh aap taan kuch vi nahin,

Na Musalmaan Na Hindu Na Sikh,

Main hi kuch banna jaroori samajhda haan.

(He himself is none

Not Muslim, Not Hindu, Not Sikh

But I think it is important to be one.)

I have driven about a mile when I see a familiar face standing by the road. I slow down and stop, and  reverse about ten meters, roll down the window and greet Bhullar Sahab.

A soft spoken, erudite, well reasoned and well seasoned card carrying communist. That is Balwinder Singh Bhullar. One of those associations made at the Kisan Morcha. It was an easy association to make from the very first meeting and fireside discussions at Singhu border early January 2021. He is district president of Kirti Kisan Union and a state committee executive member. I spent hours listening and debating communism with him. My notes from those long discussions with him only carry three points. “Since we want privatization, why don’t we privatise governance.” “Khanda saadi virasat hai, lal jhanda saadi siyasat hai.” “Communism is sarbat da bhala.” Despite the red blooded comrade that he is, he is easily likable.

Discussions with Bhullar sahab turned to debates many times, but reason never left the room (or the trolley in this case). The same wasn’t always true of the flag-carrying-stalwarts of the ‘right’ or the ‘panth’ there. One evening a day or two before the 26th January (the one that could have been!) I found myself among a few youngsters eager in their energy to ‘capture Delhi.’ My boring laments of sticking to what the SKM leaders decide and keeping the morcha non-violent proved a bit too much for one of the group. ‘Aida dadha rakheya, eh kaaton rakheya, sharam karo, Singh Bano.’

A surprised Bhullar sahab steps inside the car. His greeting is warm and his smile sincere and affectionate. He was waiting for a bus to go to Sultanpur Lodhi. It’s only a ten minute drive at my usual speed but with Bhullar sahab and an opportunity for news on SKM I drive slower. On enquiring how is rest and break after morcha, he replies like only a true red could. “Morcha khatam nahi hunda. Kisani Sangharash sampooran inquilab da ik pada si.’ For him the morcha is never ending, the fight an ongoing continuous endeavor. The distance goes by fast with Bhullar sahab. As we reach the bounds of Sultanpur Lodhi we cross Gurudwara Sant Ghat. This is where Nanak appeared three days after disappearing into Kali Veyin. The history board at the gurudwara says his first words after he reappeared were ‘na koi Hindu, na koi Muslim’. The question that no one asks, or answers is – did say he say there is a third?

Oh veyian vich dubda hai,

Khanabadosh ho janda hai

Main osdi bani da gutka fadda haan

Booha dho ke baih janda haan.

(He drowns in rivulets

Wanders from place to place, becomes omnipresent.

I hold the book of his hymns

And hide behind a closed door.)

‘What brings you to Sultanpur Lodhi?” I ask Bhullar sahab as I near the place where he has asked me to drop him. I should have guessed the answer. ‘Inquilab.’ He is here to deliver copies of December 21 issue of their magazine ‘Inquilabi Sada Raah.’ I ask for and get a copy. He walks away, on his continuous endeavor.

The link road to my village is next to Gurudwara Ber Saheb, the place where Nanak sat under a Ber tree and meditated on ‘His’ name for nearly 14 years. I navigate the Sunday crowd, greet those serving chai langar to passing traffic, and exit for the link road. The Darshani Deori to the Gurudwara is on the link road. As I cross, I glimpse at the white structure where we bow in Nanak’s name.

Usde aakheyan rab nu ek manda haan,

Rabb de bandeyan nu ek nahin samajhda,

Udaasiyan karan wale nu,

Main udaas kar ditta hai

(He says and I believe God is one

God’s creation mankind, I don’t treat as one

The unweary traveller of all directions

Is melancholy, worn down, with my actions.)

‘It has been a long wait for justice.’ ‘Hundreds of cases of desecration and sacrilege and no culprits have been punished.’ ‘It’s the system and government that has let us down, these deaths are their responsibility.’ ‘The system and government has failed us.’ The list of arguments and justifications is long.

I enter the last stretch of road before reaching home. Somewhere nearby the lathi swings, somewhere the swords are raised, and the jaikaras issued, the pitch and fervor reach a crescendo and a question goes unsaid, unheard - ‘Haven’t we all failed Nanak?’

Main usda Sikh hon di koshish karda haan,

Oh mere Nanak hon di udeek karda hai.

(I try to become his Sikh

He waits for me to be Nanak.)



(at Singhu - December 2020)



Saturday, December 11, 2021

HUMANS OF FARMERS MOVEMENT

Suresh Chand arrived at Ghazipur border on 26th November 2020. He hasn’t gone home since. It has been a long vigil.

A mattress and a blanket atop the main stage of the Ghazipur border tractor-trolley-tent township of resistance has been his home for almost 13 months. The stage has run all these days, somedays the line of speakers an endless stream and somedays a small trickle. Speakers changed daily, stage coordinators change regularly, even the stage itself changed a few times (from the initial open stage, to hurriedly put up tent, to a stronger wooden structure to this current permanent metal shed), but amidst all these changes Suresh Chand has been a constant. He got on this stage when he sat on a hunger strike. ‘After three days Tikait ji gave me a glass of milk and said, this is a long battle, don’t stay hungry.’ He accepted the milk and the responsibility that came with the call – this is a long battle. At the same place he sat in silence for 30 days. From the stage where speaker after speaker challenged an authoritarian and hostile regime with their words, Suresh Chand joined in his silence. The hunger strike and the silent protest made this stage his home. This is where he has lived for nearly 13 months. He became the caretaker of the stage, the shed and of this Ghazipur tractor-trolley-tent-township of resistance.

When I ask him to summarise his thirteen months experience here he says, niswarth sewa dekhi. He has taken this lesson of selfless service to his heart. ‘Ab to mann hai ke bas kisi gurudawre pe sewa karoon.’

During those days of hunger strike and silent protest, Baba Mohan Singh ji, who runs a langar here, tied turban on his head and presented him a portrait of Guru Nanak. Since that day Suresh Chand has made the turban a part of his self. Suresh Chand now sports a long flowing beard along with this turban (some even address him as Suresh Singh now).

A short distance away from the main stage, just outside the shed in front of the main stage a DJ is playing the songs of farmers revolution, where on this unlikeliest of Dance floor - NH-24 Delhi Meerut expressway, the unlikeliest group of dancers are showing that not only sewa, they have picked up some bhangra moves as well from their Punjabi brothers.

Last fifteen months the artists of the region, specifically Punjabi and Haryanvis have delivered songs on demand, fit for the day and occasion. From the calls to get ready ‘ailaan’ and march towards Delhi, to capturing the spirit of the march in farmers anthem, to songs of patshah and patience and sacrifice when the going got tough, to the victory songs of last few days.

Aun waali peerhi dendi rahu gi gawahi,

UP Haryana te Punjab tinen bhai

Barricadan utte rakh ke gulaab chaleya,

Ni tainu dilliye…. dilliye ni jittke Punjab chaleya.

More than winning Delhi, it’s the hearts from all over India and world that they have won that the generations will remember.

Suresh ji (Chand and Singh) asks me to sign in a register. This is his attempt at a record of who all came on this stage. Three thick registers, organized day wise. The header for today’s page says Day 379.

Any estimate on how many people visited Ghazipur border? I ask him.

‘There is no estimate. There is no state in India from where people didn’t come. They came from every state. UP Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand – from here from every village. And a lot from Bihar, Assam, Kerala, others. And Australia, America as well. People came from far. Not possible to estimate how many people came here.’

From among these uncountable people a group set up a metal artwork, a martyr’s flame – but with plants, near the stage. In his simple words he shares a big lesson. “Paude to sab lagate hain, lekin sab paani nahi dete.’ A few days after the installation of the artwork he adopted the plants and like everything at this morcha these came under his care.

As I walked the length of this tractor-trolley-tent township this evening, amidst the skeletons of what were homes for over a year, with the tarpail covers removed and folded, with the bamboos and poles getting disassembled one by one, I looked for a souvenir. Something to take home – a physical remembrance.

It was still an incomplete mission, till I asked Suresh ji for a plant.

‘What will you do with it?’ he asks.

Carry the flame of morcha a little longer, till the plant lives, and maybe a bit longer. ‘morche ki nishani’, all I say.

‘Which one do you want?’ He asks.

‘Any’

He gives me the plant in the tricolor pot.

That’s what this movement have been. Caring for the tricolor, in a far truer way than we will ever know (and what the propagandists will never allow us to understand).

The first homes set-up here at the Ghazipur border were under the flyover. A place that will forever be known as Kisan Kranti Gate. Those were the roots from which this township sprang to spread along the service lanes and atop the expressway. One of the first tents to take root at one corner under the bridge was of Rajbir Singh Pehalwan. Nearly a year back, when I first met him he had said, ‘Bees saal pehalwani ki hai. Peeth nahi lagne di. Morche ki bhi nahi lagne denge. Kisan ke saath Sarkar ki jaayati nahi chalegi. Ye kale kanoon waapis honge tabhi lautenge.’

He has been associated with BKU from Baba Mahendar Tikait’s days. He loves to share the stories of his time with him. There is pride in his words and in his eyes whenever he talks of the past. With such roots, uprooting this township, was never easy – not without the blessings from these roots.

I ask Rajbir ji how he feels today.

‘Mehsoos ye ho raha hai ke Desh mein jeet ka danka baj chuka hai. Beimaan ki haar, aur imaandar ki jeet hamesha hoti hai. Hamesha….’

Does he feel like going back?

‘Nahi ji. Maza aa reha. Jai jawan Jai kisaan.’

‘Nakal haarti hai, asal kabhi nahi haarti,’ he concludes.

He has played his part. Over many decades. He hands over the baton of struggles to the pehalwans of current and coming generations. To keep his pride and to keep theirs. To be the real sons of soil, like he has been.

They leave for their homes now. But they leave behind lessons and legacy. Something we can take care of, and water and see the tree bloom. And even though we didn’t face the jets of water cannons against our bodies, or felt the force of tear gas shells, or had to tackle the iron barricades, concertina wires, concrete blocks, or cross dug up highways, or had to take the blows of lathi charge, or have the cars of arrogant ministers run over us, or spend over a year on roads under harshest the elements have to offer - rainy freezing winters, scorching summers, dust storms, or even see our homes of tents and trolleys burn in fire, or see 700 of our brothers/sisters die for a cause, or wonder about an apathetic citizenry around us, or deal with an inconsiderate and hostile government, or live away from family, friends and most importantly our life - our fields for over a year, we can be one with them. If we choose to take care of the lessons and the legacy, we can become one with all the humans of the farmers movement.

We can be one with Laadi Ismailpuriya who walked and served the morcha barefoot for 13 months.

We can be one with Gurpreet whose little daughter didn’t recognize him when he met her last week after 12 months.

We can be one with Ramesh devi, whose husband will not return, like the fathers/mothers/husbands/wives/sons/brothers/daughters/sisters of the families of the 700 plus martyrs.

We can be one with four sisters – Gurjaspreet (13), Prabhjot (11), Harmanat (7) and Harveer (6) – who helped their father for six months serving water and juice at the morcha.

Suresh ji says - “Paude to sab lagate hain, lekin sab paani nahi dete.’

They have planted the idea. It is for us to cherish it, to nourish it.

We can be one with the millions of stories that made this morcha possible.

It is for us to become a Human of the Farmers Movement.

***

Kab nikal rahe hain waapis, I ask Sureshji.

‘Sabko yahan se rawana karke. Usse pehle nahi.’

His has been a long vigil. It continues. For now.





Saturday, November 20, 2021

A GOOD DAY

 He has written 115 poems for the farmers movement. It wouldn’t do without one today - a day that will go down in the history books. So, he has hastily penned few lines on a page, which seems to be torn out of his grandchildren’s school notebook. A young reporter with a camera and a microphone, as his journalism toolkit, is busy recording and relaying him as he sings his poem for the tenth time to the tenth set of camera and microphone. Another twenty sets of toolkits will follow as the day progresses at Ghazipur border township of farmers, of resistance, of hope (and today of celebration as well).

It isn’t much of a poem, he isn’t much of a singer, the toolkits that relay him don’t have much to do with journalism, but it is such times, and within these times it is such a day. A day when they have to get that ‘byte’ from a farmer at one of the Delhi borders. So, there are hundreds of ‘journalists’ here today. The farmers are in a good mood today and even the usual ‘channels-non-grata’ ‘the Godi media’ ‘the Noida film city crews’ like ZEE, AAJTAK, etc. also roam freely.

His words are a rebuke. A rebuke to the supreme commander.

“Annadata ki baaton ko jo pehle maan gaye hote, Ek saal se jhel rahe, aise halaat nahi hote.’

A rebuke to the supreme commander - who has only a few hours back put on almost 20 minutes of crafty storytelling performance over national television. His has been a govt with heart and soul only for farmers. Small farmers in particular. O fellow countrymen – let me tell you what you don’t know - there are ten crore small and marginal farmers in our country. O fellow countrymen – let me tell you we have been working tirelessly for their upliftment. And in this mega campaign of upliftment of farmers we brought these three farm laws. O fellow countrymen – thank you for such wide acceptance and appreciation of these laws (desh ke kone kone mein, koti koti kisaanon ne iska swagat kiya). But I couldn’t convince some farmers. I tried. Poori vinamrta se, khule mann se samjahne ki koshish ki - Barricades, tear gas shelling, water canons, lathi charge, shooting them, mowing them with cars (not any, our minister’s cars), we tried everything. Anek madhyamon se, vyaktigat aur samuhik - Hostile media (Khalistani, aatankwadi), hostile police (hundreds of arrest, thousands of cases), hostile party cadres (attack on farmer protest sites), hostile govt (andolanjivi, parjivi, bicholiye). We engaged with them to discuss everything in every way - Ye sari baatein desh ke saamne hain, isliye main inpe adhik vistaar mein nahi jayoonga. Despite such hard tapasya these few farmers didn’t understood the bountiful beautiful benevolent blessed laws (4Bs… you know how I like my acronyms!). Diye ke parkash jaisa satya.. kuch kisan bhayion ko hum samjha nahi paye. O my tapasya fell short! I visited mountains for tapasya many times.  You saw those ‘kodak moments’ didn’t you? I think I ought to do more of these! Anyways, my apologies. We are repealing the laws. For the benefit of our country (we don’t ever do anything for any other purpose anyways). Sabhi andolan rat kisan sathiyo (whoever ever said andolanjivi/parjivi) - go home.

A rebuke to the supreme commander. ‘Anna data ki taakat ko jo pehle jaan gaye hote, Ek saal se jhel rahe, aise halaat nahi hote.’

His words are a criticism. A criticism of the mainstream media.

‘Aur media ko bhi jaagna hoga, satya desh ko dikhana hoga.’

A criticism of the ones who choose the side of the powerful, of the state, of mis-dis-information, of outright lies and propaganda. Some of these are here today but are keeping their distance from this poem, and if they accidently record it not sending it across to the studios, to the newsrooms and editors who see what the supreme commander says as the holy gospel. I ask the ZEE reporter- ‘Bahut dinon baad aaye hain idhar?’ A sheepish smile and ‘Nahi hum aate the.’ Can’t help the follow-up - ‘ZEE ka logo utaarke?’ Another sheepish grin. Media cars, vans, cameras along with the robots who carry the newsroom instructions have stormed this place today. There are more reporters and cameras here today than there were any other day since the beginning of the farmers movement. They appear to outnumber the farmers today! I look up at the skies, at the black, winged, scavengers in the sky (the Ghazipur landfill nearby is their home) and text Sandhu bhaji, “The media vultures here are outnumbered only by the real ones.”

A criticism of the mainstream media – ‘sahi reporting karte agar tum, na aarop lage hote”

His words are a tribute. A tribute to a farmers leader.

“Arre dhanya hamare Senapati ka, lal hai wo is mitti ka”.

He is of course talking about his union leader Rakesh Tikait. Nearly a year back, in the very first days of setting up of these tractor-trolley-tent townships of resistance someone (from another union), almost at this very same place told me that Tikait will sell out. Much credit to Tikait for defying all odds and through his ‘tapasya’ allowing this poet to pen above line. And much credit to him for his leadership and for his tears.

A tribute to a farmers leader. ‘Hote nahi Rakesh Tikait…’ At the mention of Tikait’s name the gathering behind the poet-singer erupts in claps and shouts.

As I stand at a short distance listening to this elderly poet-singer pump all his energy into singing his words, a young reporter and his smartphone-cameraman walk towards me. Will I talk with them? I point to the elderly farmers standing nearby and ask them to talk to them. ‘We want to talk with a Sikh farmer.’ Such specific demands! But in this township of resistance which sustained with the help of Nanak’s langars, on the Gurupurab day a langar of interviews is on. Few elderly sardarjis are having tea nearby. It took a little convincing and encouragement, but soon they are ready to face the smartphone-cameraman and the young reporter’s questions (Kya aap aaj border pe gurupurab mana rahe hain? Kale kanoon repeal hone pe kya kehna chahenge? kya modi ne ye faisla UP chunav ko dekhte huye liya hai? Aap ghar waapis kab jayenge? …)

My phone rings. And it is a very happy Sukhdev Singh Sangojla on the other end congratulating me. Fate made him a face of the farmers movement and a symbol of state brutality. The image captured by Ravi Chaturvedi on 27th Nov 2020 travelled far and wide. He himself is a simple straightforward shy farmer. He is so shy that despite many requests, despite him being a face of the movement, he never got onto any stage to make a speech. For him that one photo was speech enough. For him having offered his body and having accepted the marks the fiber-reinforced lathis of the state left behind was all the words that were needed to give courage to the movement. How to find the words to thank those who made this small victory of democratic values possible? ‘Sukhdev Singh ji, you deserve all the congratulations today. For taking the blows for the movement. For being the body and soul of the movement.’

Sun is setting beyond the hill that is Ghazipur landfill. Scavengers in the sky are heading towards their resting places for the night. On ground the clamor of microphones and cameras continues. Reports and feeds on youtube /social media channels of small-independent-reporters carry the notes of farmers triumph. The big media reports are adding to shouting matches going on the TV screens by their live-from-the-ground reporting, trying to spin this into a supreme-commander win/master-stroke/something (they are here today, tomorrow they will be spinning some other yarn at some other place).

Last rays of day’s Sun kiss the morcha, the tractor-trolley-tent township. These stand proud today. Like they were yesterday, and like they will be tomorrow. They are indeed relieved today – at this small win. But they will continue tomorrow and for as many days as it is needed, till the black laws are struck down in black and white, till the parliament undo a violation of the parliament. Till then these townships stand guard of the democracy. Till then these not-very-great poets will continue penning not-very-great poetry on the pages of their grandchildren’s notebooks to keep the spirits of resistance high. Till then these-not-so big reporters will continue reporting over their social media channels, sending bits of truth your way through the maze of mis-dis-information and propaganda. Till then the bodies of farmers stand ready for any blows that may come. Till then their sweat and tears will keep feeding this river of resistance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

THE LESSON

In ‘The Lesson’, Sowmya Rajendran’s dystopian novel set in the capital city in not so very distant future, everyone, especially women, have to live by the Conduct Book. Big Brother is watching. Moral Police is prowling the streets – watching you (there is a ‘dupatta regulator’ with a measuring tape ensuring correct lengths of dupatta and how it is worn). Adjustment Bureau is keeping a tab on everything.  From your age - the Conduct Book Chapter 8: Get Married, Stay Married – ensuring timely marriages - the Marriageable Age Notifier sends pink slips to your door well in time. Notices appear at your home if a child is not born within a fixed timeline (Chapter 10 - Compulsory Maternal Feelings). Despite all the efforts there are some whose behavior disrupts the new order. Especially women – asking for divorce, not adhering to dress codes, avoiding marriage and childbearing. For such cases the system calls in a specialist – The Rapist. To teach these women a Lesson.

On 10th October, students from AISA were protesting outside Home minister’s residence demanding that Union minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni, accused in an FIR of conspiring to murder protesting farmers, be sacked from his post. How could Delhi Police see their boss’ authority being challenged? Especially by girls! There was a need for a lesson here. Two girls, Shreya K and Neha Tiwari were dragged on road for 300-400 meters. The police lifted their clothes to shame them, threw them into a bus and then kicked in their private parts repeatedly for 20 minutes.

“A politician tells lies to hide the truth. A writer tells lies to show the truth.”

The conduct book is in operation for a while now. Those who resist – are being taught a lesson.

Oct 12, 2021 – Lakhimpuri Kheri – tens of thousands gather to pay homage to four farmers and one reporter crushed to death under the tyres of cars belonging to Ajay Teni and as per eyewitness his son driving one of these. What happened in Lakhimpuri on the afternoon of Oct 3rd , when peacefully protesting farmers were mowed down was a lesson. You dare not challenge the rule of your local leader/don/Bahubali – or you will be crushed.

Oct 12, 2021 - About 420 kilometers away in the heart of Delhi, possibly the biggest Shree 420 of this century, addressed a gathering. “Some people see human rights violations in some incidents but not in other similar incidents. Human rights are violated when viewed via political spectacles. Selective behaviour is harmful to democracy."

There is a lesson in this profound statement by the supreme commander. It would have been wonderful if these words were a lesson to UP police – that a murderer is a murderer even if he is my minister’s son; to Delhi police – let the citizens doing lawful, peaceful protests be and go arrest those who started the riots last year with goli maro slogans; or to NIA to let an old man with Parkinson’s have his sipper. But where’s the fun in that. On the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, foundation day his message was for those who stand up for the rights of the weak and marginalized - it is this behaviour that is dangerous for the democracy.

‘Srinagar Chemist among 3 gunned by militants.’ ‘Massive crackdown in J-K after civilian killings; forces detain 700 ‘terrorist sympathisers’.’ ‘5 Army personnel killed in J&K.’ ‘Encounter underway in J&K’s Shopian – 5 killed.’ ‘2 killed in encounters in J&Ks Anantnag, Bandipora’. It is in the backdrop of these news headlines that Justice Arun Mishra opens the event to mark 28 years of NHRC by saying, "It is for you, Mr Shah, that a new era has now begun in Jammu and Kashmir."

There is a lesson here as well! Justice Mishra of all people knows! No matter what happened on the morning of 26 March 2003 when Haren Pandya was shot dead, no matter if Gujarat High Court observed “that investigation in the case of murder of Shri Haren Pandaya has all through been botched up,” no matter the witness account on how the bullets that killed Pandaya could not have been fired from few inches of open car window, no matter the story that even the police photo of the incident showed, Justice Mishra accepted that botched up investigation report to close the matter. The lesson – close your eyes to the reality, forget your duty to the constitution and do the bidding of the supreme duo (while singing their praises - at an international judiciary conference he said of supreme commander “We thank the versatile genius, who thinks globally and acts locally, Shri Narendra Modi, for providing us inspiring thoughts…”) and you will be rewarded. According to various reports, Justice Mishra appeared to have helped the Central government in many cases including the judge Loya case, Sahara-Birla corruption case, Sanjiv Bhat case, Haren Pandya case and bail for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. Rules are changed to reward the loyal – you are made the chief of human rights body! To further protect human rights! To protect democracy! The lessons! The lessons!

In his tribute and his lament Rabbi Shergill writes and sings -

Mera naam Bilqis Yakub Rasool, Mujhse hui bas ek hi bhool, Ki jab dhhundhhte thhe vo Ram ko, To maen kharhi thhi rah mein.

Mera naam shriman Satyendra Dubey, Jo kehna thha vo keh chukey, Ab parhey hain rah mein, Dil mein liye ik goli.

Mazha nau aahe Navleen Kumar, Unnees june unnees var, unees, unees, unees… unees var.

Mujhe kehte hain anna Manjunath, Maine dekhi bhatakti ek laash, Zamir ki beech sarhak Lakhimpur Kheri.

Oh India and you few adarshwadi Indians – when will you learn your lesson!

Oh Lakhimpur Kheri – when will you learn your lesson!

Shreya K and Neha Tiwari are thrown into the bus, and before she starts hitting the girls in their private parts the policewali says - ‘we will show you your aukaat.’ Oh young girls, oh bright students, oh free thinkers – when will you learn your lesson!

Yesterday a friend asked if there is any hope for the farmers movement. Having breathed Tolkien as life nectar the question ‘is there any hope’ always brings him to mind. Battle of Helm’s Deep is about to start. Tens of thousands of armies of Saruman have surrounded the few hundred Rohirrim in the keep. Every young boy who could lift a sword is asked to join the defences. Young Hanif son of Hama asks Aragorn, “Men are saying we will not last the night, they say its hopeless.” Aragorn takes his sword, checks it for balance. “This is a good sword, Hanif son of Hama,” he says returning the sword to Hanif. Then he places his hand on the shoulder of the boy, looks him in the eyes and says, “there is always hope.”

When the girl finds out that The Rapist has received the order to teach her The Lesson – she considers running away. To another city, another country. Disappear (or better become an NRI!). But the Conduct Book makes it clear – The Lesson will be served. If she disappears – it will be served on her sister. If no sister, then some other loved one. But the lesson will be served.

That is when she decides, she can’t be that person, the one who runs. She will stand her ground and face her lesson.

She decides that her body will be her sword. She will not be forced into surrender without a fight. She will face the hordes of Saruman. She will wait for the Sun to rise.

She will face the lesson when the jeeps and SUVs run over her.

She will face the lesson when in her Parkinson’s old age, she is denied a sipper

She will face the lesson when she is kicked there.

“There never was much hope,” Gandalf tells Pippin. “Just a fool’s hope.”

She decides she will be that fool.

*** *** ***

Rabbi’s lament continues its echo – more sorrowful every passing moment -

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain…   Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain… Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain…

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

TERROR, DRUGS & A MEANINGLESS SPIRIT

A van mows pedestrians in Barcelona - Indian MainStreamMedia shouts Act of terror! A truck is driven into crowds in Stockholm – Indian MSM shouts Act of terror! A car hits pedestrians over a bridge in London – India MSM shouts act of terror!

Few cars mow down farmers. Here in apna desh. Indian MSM - Mujhe drug do. Mujhe drug do. Mujhe drug do. Indian MSMs proverbial vans drive over the dead and the injured in chase of few boys with few grams of drugs, in chase of their very own drug - obfuscation and propaganda. 

Wonder what Khan family would talk at dinner table as Indian MSM ripped apart Rhea’s life last year! Whatever they discussed, we can safely assume that they never thought the day would come!

At the moment when one set of judges in Supreme Court were listening to the propaganda of the central govt and wondering ‘why protest’, ‘is protest an absolute right’, a spirit from our past walked into the vision (through the power of zoom) of Justice DY Chandrachud (sitting in another room of the same Supreme court). Looking at the painting of Bal Gangadhar Tilak's trial in the Bombay High Court in 1907, Justice Chandrachud repeated the last words that Tilak said during his trial, "In spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations and it may be the will of providence that the cause which I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free." It would be wishful thinking to hope the spirit visited the other rooms in the court. It would be equally wishful to hope the spirit means anything to much of India today.

India, especially the privileged one and the politically blind one, don’t worry – no car is coming for you. Not today atleast. For the moment, please continue to enjoy the drug you are on. There is someone keeping that car at bay, standing between you and that car, for now. Their suffering keeps you free, for now. Till they are mowed down. Till it’s your turn.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

THOSE WHO WISH US DEAD

One of the two gates at the expressway exit toll plaza is not working and shows a red cross. There are about five cars in the line in front of me at the other gate. There is a truck trying to squeeze in from the non-working gate into the row of moving cars. The truck’s efforts slow the movement and number of cars behind me increase rapidly. New arrivals are getting in the moving line till someone used to his ways, lets call him a bully, ignores this line and the red cross he can see from distance and drives straight behind the truck which has now managed to get in the line. This car acts like a magnet and the no. of cars in the wrong lane add up fast. The smooth movement of cars through the only working gate has reduced to a trickle by the time the truck exits. And with the bully leading the charge of cars in the non-working row it will remain a trickle now for a while. The bully manages to squeeze in his car’s nose right in front of my car.

Maybe because I am just returning from Singhu tractor-trolley township of resistance, or maybe I am just pissed that he squeezed in front of me forcefully, I step out of the car and walk to the front of his car and with my arms show him the queue that folks were following and ask him to get back. In about five seconds everyone is honking, those in the correct line and those who have formed a line by following the bully. They are not honking in demand or support of the right thing. They just want me to get back in my car, let the other guy cross and get a move on. So that they can get a move on. Move on to whatever…

The sun is nearing the western horizon, dotted with Ghazipur land fill and crows and kites that the landfill and the meat mandis there invite. Its rays are illuminating the sweat soaked backs of a small gathering of farmers facing the stage at the Ghazipur morcha. The speaker in his white kurta pyjama is at the end of his speech. He is the last speaker for the day and is requested to sing Azaadi, a poem he has sung in the past as well. He obliges.

Kaid kab tak rahogi batado hamein,

Hum tadapte hain kewal tumhare liye.

There is an earthly deep sadness in his voice as he sings. It is as if he is singing for a long lost lover.

Lakhon deewane tum pe jo kurbaan huye,

Fansiyan chad gaye hain tumhare liye.

The sun-kissed gathering claps to each line. There is romance under this little shed, in the hearts of this gathering and in the words of this farmer turned poet turned singer.

This is the side of road that leads to Delhi, to the powers that be. The powers they sit here challenging.

As the farmer-poet-singer serenades the stranger azaadi – Aisi mashooq ho ajnabi tum suno… I gaze towards the other side of the road, to the hundreds of vehicles returning from Delhi. It is a relatively new expressway, and the cars fly by the romantics gathered on this side. Maybe the occupants of the cars looked at them occasionally ten months back wondering at this tractor-trolley township which mushroomed here out of nowhere. The speeds of their cars now say that they don’t register this presence any longer. They just want to cross this road and move on. Move on to whatever…

The powers that be first barricaded the highways, then they barricaded the little openings left for some vehicular movement and now have barricaded the small opening in the path where locals and farmers would walk through from main Samyukt Kisan Morcha stage to the Kisan Majdoor Sangharsh Committee stage to Guru Teg Bahadur memorial to waiting autos and buses. Everyone takes a much longer detour now, through broken walls and waterlogged streets. MainStreamMedia and BJP IT cell (Joseph Goebell’s of our times) will report that farmers have inconvenienced locals. Locals know the powers that be are inconveniencing the farmers and them.

On this detour, at a section still not submerged under rainwater, a young boy stands and looks at every passerby, if they look at him he looks into their eyes and says, ‘modi daku hai, modi lootera hai, modi chor hai.’ He says this to everyone. Everyone smiles or laughs or makes some comment and move on. The boy appears to have some mental handicap, someone who doesn’t have 100% grip on his bearings.

We walk along the edge of the street, which is the only walkable area. As I pass him he repeats ‘modi daku hai, modi lootera hai, modi chor hai’ to me. I continue walking (not possible to stop in this single file, edge of the street moving humanity) and wonder, if he doesn’t have a grip of his bearings then what should be said of these annadatas sitting on Delhi borders for nearly ten months?

And then the understanding hits me. He is not a retard. He is crazy. Just like all these farmers are. Crazy. Just like that version of me stepping out of the car to question the bully at the toll plaza. Lakhon deewane tum pe jo kurbaan huye, fansiyan chad gaye hain tumhare liye.

They are all here, serenading azaadi in their own unique ways.

Yesterday evening during a zoom call with friends, as usual all things politics made their way into the discussion. I am billed ‘an idealist’ in this gathering (probably because they are yet to visit, or even consider visiting, the crazies sitting at the Delhi borders). At one point a friend said that irrespective of the system of governance or party in government there will always be bullies. I agreed with him. But insisted that the system should be such that I can call a bully a bully and if I want to stand up to the bully, I should be able to and hope that system is fair and just.

Many years back, after watching a late-night movie at a Gurgaon theatre, we were in my friend’s car and in line of cars waiting to pay the parking at the exit and head home. Everyone was in one row till this rich brat is his open-top-fancy-jagauar decided to drive pass tens of cars waiting in line and make for the exit counter. The idealist stepped out of the car (we were not at the front but a few cars behind) and walked to the front of the jaguar who had not made into the line yet. He looked at me. I pointed to the tens of cars in line and towards the back of the queue. Before he could say anything the elderly couple in the car at front also lowered their windows and spoke in my support and told him to get in line. The empathy of one towards the crazy idealist won against the bully that day. No one honked the horns at me for wasting their time. One elderly couple’s empathy was all that needed to defeat a bully.

A powerful nexus of politicians-corporates-mafia is out to kill two individuals. They get one and the second makes a run for his life. His young son is with him. But the father knows that his time will soon be over. He writes few pages for his son and tells him to read these when he is not there to take care of him. He tells him to give these papers only to someone who he can trust. And he tells his son to always know and remember that his father did the right thing. ‘Those who wish me dead’ is reel life. They get his father. But the boy finds someone whom he could trust. In reel life, he found empathy.

It’s always a battle of empathy vs apathy.

Your Empathy… the bully retreats…

Your Apathy… the bully wins… the crazies die.

And death here doesn’t necessarily means the end of life (which has also happened to 607 farmers since the farmers movement started), but the end of a certain way of life – where by wishing us dead they mean we wither away sliently and invisibly, without a whimper, without a trace. Behind the walls they would create to welcome the foreign dignitaries painted with green and golden fields and laughing village folks on their side (and the other sides of the walls reflecting the ghettos left behind by their greed).

Next to the ghetto, Ghazipur landfill, created by the waste of the city of power, the farmer-poet-singer holds us all in the grip of his words.

Naam azaadi bataya unhone hamein

Jaan dedi jinhone tumhare liye.

Lakhon deewane kasmein ab kha rahe,

Dil mein armaan hai kewal tumhare liye.

Jung jaari rahegi suno jab talak

Tum na aayogi jab tak hamare liye.

Kaid kab tak rahogi batado hamein

Hum tadapte hain kewal tumhare liye.

The gathering of crazies clap like crazy. In Empathy.

The cars drive past. In Apathy.

Those who wish us crazies dead – they bank on your apathy.

And in your apathy, you become one of Those who wish us dead.

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

FAILING NANAK

Many years back when I last stopped at this rare Dhaba on Sultanpur Lodhi-Kapurthala road, it was operating as one joint. Now a partition in...