Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review

It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.

That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.

Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?

Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a  precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.

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Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

While we were still watching television, the future arrived with the idiot box’s own version of twitter, called ‘breaking news’. In this Age, speed is God. Everything, but particularly truth and exactitude, can be sacrificed to propitiate Hurry, the God. Often though, such news turns out to be as much broken as it is breaking.

A case in point is the incident in Vienna, Austria last month where two priests of the Guru Ravi Das sect were fired upon. Within hours riots broke out in the Jalandhar city in Punjab. The media, both print and  electronic variously, and mistakenly, termed it as a clash between two rival Sikh sects, an attack on a Sikh guru or a Sikh priest and Sikh gurudwara without realizing that the Ravi Dasi gurus and gurudwaras are not Sikh institutions. It also showed how much the media is  tied to religious categories and is so little aware not only of a minority religion but also of contemporary ‘low’ caste movements and sects.
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Dalits in Punjab: Silent no more

Little over a year ago, this blog had posed the question:

There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

To which a naive comment from a reader was:

Presumably if Dalit oppression was blunted by Sikh philosophy, if not absolutely at least comparatively, Dalits might not have felt need for a movement.

Over the last two days, my question as well as the comment to the post have been answered loud and clear.

Dalit Assertion- Not always for the better

Caste studies have gained a lot of academic respectability over the last two decades. It is very rare to find, on the other hand, studies around class. This is quite a dramatic shift since the 1970s- 80s. I think it is not a particularly good omen if studies based on political economy and class are ignored. However, the thrust towards caste studies is definitely welcome.

In a fascinating paper on the change in the condition of Dalits in the Punjab (1947- 2008), Dr Harish Puri touches on a number of points .

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Links

Dr Chamal Lal has a collection of some of the favourite Urdu couplets of Bhagat Singh, including a picture of the original in the young revolutionary’s own handwriting (right). Dr Lal reproduces the couplets in the nagari script as well.

achcha hai dil ke saath rahe paasbaan-e-akl
lekin kabhi- kabhi ise tanha bhi chod de

auron ka payam aur mera payam aur hai
ishk ke dard- mandon ka tarz e kalaam aur hai

akl kya cheez hai aik waza ki pabandi hai
dil ko muddat hui is kaid se azad kiya

Dr Manzur Ejaz, writing a series on People’s History of the Punjab, on the life and work of Shiekh Farid, considered to be the first poet of the Punjabi language.
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To the Punjab of Farid and other Poems

Santokh Singh Dheer, whose courageous poems in the 1980s made him known as the “peoples’ poet”, has been a life long left- wing writer whose writings have been marked by an empathy for the downtrodden. As a student during the late 1980s I had the good chance of translating some of his poems which are now available in the form of a book. Dheer, who is now close to 90 years, handed over the manuscript to me few years back, dejectedly remarking that the collection would not be published during his life time. Fortunately, and thanks to publish on demand technology, I have been able to publish his collection. It is available from Amazon.com (or CreateSpace) for US $7 and as a free e- book .

Terrorism under the garb of religion, which is how we know of it today, started in India in the 1980s in the Punjab. It was a by- product of the developments during the emergency in the backdrop of the green revolution that had created it’s own contradictions. Though it is true that much of the violence took place after Operation Bluestar followed by the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, a very strange kind of extremism had arisen before that. Young men, flaunting AK-47s and riding motor cycles would waylay chosen targets as well as unsuspecting ordinary individuals and murder them. Just like that. The Nirankaris were the first to incur their wrath, then came the Arya Samajis like Lala Jagat Narain, followed by ordinary Hindus and then by those Sikhs considered to be renegades to the ‘panth’. Thousands of killings later and with a combination of state terror as well as a fig leaf of “democratic” elections (when less than 10% of the people voted), peace returned to the state after nearly a decade.
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Book Links

There has been a hiatus on this blog as far as books are concerned. Part of the reason is the great financial crisis that has engulfed the world capitalist system, a phenomenon that vindicated my youthful reading of Marx and communist thinkers and has consequently occupied most of the space here. Another is that immersed in another project, I have been relatively away from reading. The only book that I have been able to spend some time on is Ivan Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons’ (correct translation: ‘Fathers and Children’). This time it is not so much as an unabashed reader, but as one trying to understand the narrative structure of the novel. Probably a short post on some of the key observations will follow. As of now, here are a few book related links to stuff I have been surfing.

*

Iceland is in the news for the wrong reasons- for the country’s total economic collapse. But Iceland is also the home to a very rich Nordic tradition in story telling, and the most famous name that comes to mind is that of Halldor Laxess, who wrote 51 novels in his lifetime, very few of them available in English. This is a review of one of his recently translated novels- the Great Weaver from Kashmir.
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What’s good for the goose?

Apparently, what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander in the time of the free fall of the free market:

The IMF’s advice to Pakistan (and its no different for the rest of the third world) is to privatize the government’s assets and raise funds from the market. At the same time, the IMF chief wants the markets, in turn to raise money from the US federal government. Why not then give a handout from the US federal government directly to the rich world’s ‘burden’?

The IMF said it was encouraged that the (Pakistan) government was committed to measures to improve its financial position, including privatizing assets and raising funds from the international markets.

Four days ago, the IMF chief had the exactly the opposite take on the United States’s .7 trillion “bail out” plan to stop the free market’s free fall:

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Suharto- ‘Water will wear away the Stone’

Death, even of dreaded criminals like Suharto who died today, comes as a shock. It is also a reminder of events- in this case, the slaughter of at least a million Indonesians in the 1960s- mostly communists in a predominantly Muslim country. Outside the officially communist countries, Indonesia had the largest communist party in the world before Suharto brutally decimated it. (news report at npr)

Closer home, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Modi- he brought ‘economic development’ and ‘stability’ to the country.

Here is a poem by the great Indonesian poet, WS Rendra written during the 1998 student demonstrations that brought down Suharto.

Because we have to eat roots
while grain piles up in your storeroom…
Because we live crowded together
and you have more space than you need…
Therefore we are not on the same side.Because we’re all creased and crumpled
and you’re immaculate…
Because we’re crowded and stifled
and you lock the door…
Therefore we are suspicious of you.

Because we’re abandoned in the street
and you own all the shelter…
Because we’re caught in floods
while you have parties on pleasure craft…
Therefore we do not like you.
Because we are silenced
and you never shut up…
Because we are threatened
and you impose your will by force…
therefore we say NO to you.

Because we are not allowed to choose
and you can do what you like…
Because we wear only sandals
and you use your rifles freely…
Because we have to be polite
and you have the prisons…
therefore NO and NO to you.

Because we are like a flowing river
and you are a stone without a heart
the water will wear away the stone.

Source

As to the barbaric political repression under the former general, Tariq Ali quotes the Indonesian writer Pripit Rochijat:

Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn’t sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients–and prostitutes–were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals–like bananas hung out for sale.’

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The Deafening Silence of Dalits in Punjab

One of the striking aspects of Punjab politics is the near absence of caste as a major factor during elections. It is not that the factor is wholly absent, but in contrast to even its neighboring states like Haryana and Rajasthan, it is much less in evidence, to say nothing about states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra or Tamil Nadu, where caste is most visibly present, politically and otherwise.It would seem that this apparent non- chalance about caste in the state is because of the influence of a ‘casteless’ Sikh religion. Sikhism was certainly a most strident attack on casteism in the medieval period. The Guru Granth Sahib, for example, contains the writings by many saints including Guru Ravidas, a chamar. Guru Nanak also initiated the practice of langar- collective feasts where people from various dined together and thus helped blunt caste antagonism.The last guru, Gobind Singh initiated baptism and gave the new adherents the common suffix of Singh/ Kaur, further dealing a blow to identification by caste name. Guru Nanak, like most Sufi/ Bhakti saints, makes no reference to the Gita, that many consider upholds the caste system. So different is the treatment of caste from mainstream Hinduism that Dr. BR Ambedkar seriously contemplated conversion to Sikhism much before he decided in favour of Buddhism. It is not certain why he changed his decision, but one of the conjectures is that the (upper caste) Sikh theologians were appalled at the thought of millions of converted Dalit Sikhs taking over their religious institutions and thus changing the power equations.Like any other conjecture, this may or may not be true. But the main idea certainly deserves a discussion. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the twelve warring misls in early 19th century, it is a fact that the jats more or less controlled both the political and in the last half century also the religious institutions (via the SGPC).

But the roots of the caste consolidation within Sikhism go further back- to the time of the gurus. This needs to be understood well so that one does not make the same mistake as three Sikh organisations recently did, when they termed the vision of the Sikh gurus as the creation of a casteless society:

Three organizations also want to make use services the sants and dera heads to ensure assimilation of Dalits in rural areas in the mainstream. At many places, Dalits are denied entry into gurdwaras and also denied access to Guru Granth Sahib for religious ceremonies, including marriage and antim ardas. This problem has been creating rift among rural Sikh masses and need to be stopped as the Sikh Gurus were for a caste less and classless society. (news report ) (Link via Surinder S. Jodhka’s article in Seminar January 2008: Of Babas and Deras)

The claim of Sikhism as a ‘caste less’ religion needs to be critically examined. Historian JS Grewal has pointed out, for example, that “Guru Nanak does not conceive of equality in social and economic terms.” (quoted in Scheduled Castes in the Sikh Community by Harish K. Puri). Guru Nanak’s rejection of caste was thus mainly in religious terms.

The Sikh gurus’ attack on caste ism, though admirable by medieval standards, did not go far enough, and was a far cry from modern sensitivities towards caste.

For example, till the SGPC was formed, the Sikh religious institutions were by and large controlled by the Khatri castes (the mahants). Much before that, the Sikh gurus, including Nanak had ensured that the guru- ship remained within the hands of the Khatris. No doubt it was a great achievement for the first four gurus to pass on the gaddi outside their family- something that is difficult to even conceive today with politicians and film actors passing on the baton to the next generation within their family. The trend changed significantly after the fifth guru who switched to the practice of retaining the guru- ship within the family.

However, even the first four gurus including the greatest of them all- Nanak, ensured that the guru ship remained within their own caste. All marriages in the guru families were within the Khatri sub- castes. A major, if not the determining aspect of the caste system- endogamy, therefore was retained in Sikh practice.

Even contemporary Sikhs have not taken any major reforms for eliminating the caste system. There have been probably more marriages between Hindus and Sikhs within the same caste than within Sikhs across the castes- this is likely to be true about the Khatris and the Dalit Sikhs/ Hindus, two castes that overlap between the two major religious communities in the state.

Caste distinctions are relatively stronger in rural Punjab. With the economic rise of some sections of Dalits, there has been a spate of separate Dalit gurudwaras in the state. In urban areas probably the distinction is less antagonistic, though not absent. In some places like Jalandhar, for example, the leather trade and production of leather related sports goods for a long time ensured that it was possible for at least some sections of Dalits to wade themselves out of extreme poverty and concentrate on economic development.

However, it is a different story in the rural areas where majority of the landless and agricultural workers are Dalits. The only Dalit leader in the state Communist Party of India in the past many decades was the one heading the agricultural workers front. Indeed, most Communist leaders in the state have and continue to come from among the Jats and Khatris with perhaps the sole exception of Mangat Ram Pasla who was shunted out of the CPI(M) few years ago (he is not a dalit, but a nai, a backward caste). Most of the key Akalis are Jat Sikhs. Relatively the Congress party has offerred slightly more space to backward caste and dalit Sikhs- like Giani Zail Singh (a tarkhan, a relatively backward caste) and Buta Singh, a Dalit Sikh. A majority of the SGPC members are Jats.

Given the continuing presence of caste antagonism, it is indeed quite spectacular that caste remains not only relatively subdued during election time, but is also not very powerfully expressed in other areas. For example, though there was a strong literary movement in Punjabi between the 1950s- 70s, there has been an absence of an identifiable Dalit literary stream in Punjabi. There have been, indeed, poets from a Dalit background- Lal Singh Dil and Sant Ram Udasi come immediately to mind, but both identified themselves with the jujharu or the naxalite influenced movement rather than as dalits (though they are contemporary with the Dalit Panthers movement in Marathi literature.)

The Bahujan Samaj Party, whose founder Kanshi Ram, incidentally was a Dalit Sikh, has made little headway in the state. One tactical mistake that the BSP made was to ally with the Jat dominated Akali party, the party of their immediate oppressor, during the late 1990s. Its electoral debacle and the subsequent disillusionment among its cadres has ensured that it remains a marginal political force in the state, though of late it has gained ground in terms of percentage of votes polled.

Many dalits from various parties including the communist and the Congress parties who joined the BSP have returned to their original ones or have at least left the BSP- disillusioned with its culture and factionalism though, happily, some have come back with renewed assertion as dalits.

The Dalit question has recently come into limelight in context of the controversy around the burgeoning deras and baba cults in the state. As Surinder Jodhka cautions in the article quoted above, though these deras are certainly manifestation of a pluralistic culture in the state and attract many dalits, it is too optimistic to see them as places of dalit assertion. One of the footnotes in his article highlighting the contradiction between the interest of the deras and the dalits is quite illuminating:

The following statement of my taxi driver who took me to visit some deras in the Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts of Punjab is instructive. ‘I am a Scheduled Caste fellow. I do not own any land. Most of our people own no land. Everyone should have some land. If not more, at least two acres for each family. It would give people a sense of security and dignity. Look at these deras. They own so much land; some even more than a thousand acres. There should be some law to limit the amount of land that a baba keeps and the rest should be distributed among people like us.’My driver Buta Singh did not mean any disrespect to the babas. He not only paid obeisance to all the deras we visited, but was upset that I did not show sufficient reverence for the babas we visited. He firmly believed in their supernatural powers and ability to do good.
Whether because of super natural reasons or otherwise, there is certainly no identifiable dalit assertion in the state, politically or otherwise. Most of the attention to their identity has been highlighted by academicians and journalists. There seems to be neither a political, literary or any other manifestation of their assertion in the state despite having the highest proportion of scheduled castes in the country (almost 30% of the state’s total population.)There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

*****

Notes:-
(1) It needs to be remembered that Brahmins in the state are not the dominant caste, a role usurped by the jats in rural areas and the khatris in urban areas. In this, the state does not adhere to the pattern in many other regions in the country.

(2) Sikhs in Punjab constitute aout 63% of the population. About 30% of the population is classified as Dalits (mainly scheduled castes, there are no scheduled tribes in Punjab.) About 80% of the Dalits live in rural areas. The share of Sikhs in rural areas is 73%, implying that Punjab villages are predominantly Sikh and Dalit. (All statistics from Harish Puri’s article linked in “Related Articles”.) The Dalits also have one of the lowest percentage of land holdings,a measly 2.34% (Quoted in Ronki Ram, article linked in “Related Articles”.)

Related Posts:
Dalits and the Left: A Troubled Relationship
Wadali Brothers: Sufism and Dalit Emancipation
Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization
Dr. Ambedkar and Sikhism
Significance of being Kanshi Ram: An Obituary

Related articles (.pdf files):

Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community by Harish K Puri
Punjab Census- Scheduled Caste Data by Surinder S. Jodhka
Of Deras and Babas b Surinder S. Jodhka


Myth of Casteless Sikh Society by Ronki Ram

Caste and Religion in Punjab by Meeta and Rajiv Lochan
Dera Sacha Sauda by Lionel Baxas
Split Dalit Votes- Punjab Elections 2004 by (unsigned in EPW)

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“Perhaps This was not Barbarity”

Santokh Singh Dhir, now 88, is one of the veterans of progressive Punjabi literature and the only one of his generation to have earned a living solely from his writings. Best known for his short stories, he has nevertheless published a number of collections of poetry.

While it is too early to speak of a current of Dalit literature in Punjabi- it remains on the margins of Dalit literature in India, the writers of the progressive movement like Dhir and others have articulated similar concerns in their writings over the years.

This is what Ashwini Kumar Mishra, author of the paper Voice of the Dalit in South Asian Literature (pdf!) has to say on the subject:

(the violence during the partition of the Punjab in 1947) was bound to have its impact on Punjabi literature for rooting to the cause of dalits. Kulwant Singh Virk had no time to depict lalit (beauty) in the face of a tortured life experienced by a sikh lady who like a dalit had to stay back in Pakistan thus embracing Islamism (sic). She was cut off from her relatives including family members and all that she could dream of was to unite with her sister in India. Amrita Pritam characteristically delineated such pathos in her story “Pinjar (The Skeleton) and novel ‘Dr. Dev’. Prof. Mohan Singh mirrored oppression in his poems and other poets like Bawa Balwant, Piara Singh Sehrai, Santokh Singh Dhir fell into the line to borrow their poetry themes from the sufferings of dalit community… In later years Amarjit Chandan, Amitoj came forward to sing the glory of peasants and workers in their poster poems. In fiction, Gurdial Singh celebrated the cause of the socially oppressed. His novel Paras hardly bothers for any kind of off beat utterances through magic realism but goes down to smell the earth and its subtle collective foundations.

S.L Virdi has rightfully emphasised on this form in a special issue of Punjab Dalit Literature “Yudharat Aam Admi”. Gyana Singh Bal has questioned the veracity of Adi Shankaracharya’s ‘Adwaitbad and denounces the same blatantly as an unrealistic contrivances of human mood.

I had the privilege of translating some of Dhir’s poems in my first year in college, and  even having some of them published in the Chandigarh edition of Indian Express and The Tribune. Despairing at the remote possibility of seeing the English translations of his poems published in his lifetime, Dhir gave me the manuscript a few years ago when I last met him. This poem, and few others that this blog will occasionally carry in future, are from that manuscript.

Perhaps This was not Barbarity

(A Harijan woman, Pritam Kaur, who was murdered by pushing a 22 inch stick into her private part. She was a volunteer (sewadarni) in a gurudwara in Hoshiarpur district)

Perhaps this was not barbarity
Only a common place affair

Had it been barbarity
Some Rama’s fire- arrow
Would have pierced and killed
The demon king
The city of Lanka would have burnt
And tethered
In the flowery flames of fire

Had it been barbarity
The Kurukshetra of Mahabharata would have danced
For ages the soil would have been crimson
And scarlet flames would have engulfed the skies

Perhaps this was not barbarity
Only a common place affair

(July 25, 1978)
[translated by readerswords]

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“Motherland” by Lal Singh Dil

In Memory of the poet Lal Singh Dil

Lal Singh Dil died earlier this week on 14th August.

LalSinghDil

Motherland

Does love have any reason to be?
Does the fragrance of flowers have any roots?
Truth may, or may not have an intent
But falsity is not without one

It is not because of your azure skies
Nor because of the blue waters
Even if these were deep gray
Like the color of my old mom’s hair
Even then I would have loved you

These treasure trove of riches
Are not meant for me
Surely not.

Love has no reason to be
Falsity is not without intent

The snakes that slither
Around the treasure trove of your riches
Sing paeans
And proclaim you
“The Golden Bird”*

* The reference is to ancient India termed as a “Golden Bird” because of its perceived riches.

A previous post on the Dalit Marxist poet.

Source of the poem in Panjabi. Translation into English by readerswords.

An essay on Dil by Amarjit Chandan (in Punjabi, pdf file). Thanks to HD for sending the essay. Picture at the top of this post is taken from this essay, and is credited to Amarjit Chandan.

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World Music Day

On World Music Day (which is on 21st June and about which I was ignorant of till Rama’s post), here are two programs that I have enjoyed lately on the BBC World Route series.

There is a good collection of Rabindra Sangeet and Bengali songs at Dishant, where I have been listening to Srikant Acharaya.

…and not that I am turning religious, but there are quite a few gurbani stations online. Sikhnet offers gurbani sung in the Western style besides the classical Hindustani, and this one plays a lot from Bhai Harjinder Singh Ragi, who, incidentally is known for singing a lot from Kabir.

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Heer Waris Shah by Taimur Afghani

A chance search on youtube led to this superb rendition of the Heer Waris Shah by Taimur Afghani, a name I never heard before and don’t find any more information on google except what appears in the accompanying text at youtube:

Taimur Afghani, a budding singer, makes a very special rendition of singing Heer Waris Shah at the historical Hirn Minar, Shaikhupura, Pakistan.

Taimurji is resident of Jandiala Sher Khan. Jandiala Sher was probably settled by Pir Waris Shah’s father, Syed Sher Gul Khan, a migrant from afghanistan. Taimur is working very hard on establishing Pir Waris Shah academy in Jandiala. He is also an organizer and coordinator for Heer singing gathering at the Darbar on 14th moon night of each month. He is happily married and is a father of a beautiful young son.

Part 2, Part 3 (distracting conversations in the latter half somewhat mar the last one)

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‘Main Shabdan da Jadugar haan’- Surjit Pattar

Surjit Pattar is certainly the finest contemporary Punjabi poet on the eastern part of the border. The video has a recording by his son, Manraj Pattar, of the poem “Aaj Mere Kolon Kach Da Galas tuteya” (“When I happened to break a glass tumbler today”)

And here is Surjit Pattar with a poem- titled “In the City of Medellín” but I’d rather call “Main shabdan da jadugar haan”- “I am a magician of words”

I had the honour to meet him once at the wedding of a friend. His beard had not yet greyed, and I had commented: “You are too young! Given the maturity of your poetry, I had imagined you to be much older.” He had replied, modestly: “I am old, I am 44 years this year.”

The video above is what I had imagined him to be then, though a few more grey in his beard would have been closer. Surjit Pattar was born in 1944, his poetry, a few years earlier.

More in his own voice at apnaorg

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New Twist to Dera Controversy

In a dramatic twist to the controversy surrounding the Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh, a Dera spokesman, Mr Makhaul Kumar Hansmukh has clarified that the Dera head was merely participating in a fancy dress competition organized by the Dera as part of celebrations.

“This trivial issue is being seen out of context and has been blown up out of proportions”, the giggling Mr. Hansmukh explained to the press outside the Dera headquarters. “We have not violated any religion since no religion is explicitly against fancy dress competitions. We respect every religion equally, the theme of this competition was ‘Sikhism’ and hence the dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh”, he explained.

When asked how the other participants were dressed, Mr Hansmukh seemed to stutter even as those near him heard him say something to the effect that of course, there was no one else- who would compete with the head of the Dera, especially when suitable action is known to be taken against dissenters? Experts infer this to be a barely couched reference to the alleged killing of the journalist Ram Chander Chhaterpati by the Dera chief.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Mr Ashok Doubble, however, fumed. “Does the Baba think that that the defender of the Hindu faith who fought against Aurangzeb is to be ridiculed in a fancy dress competition? Why not as the Pope or the Prophet Mohammad?”, and after a pregnant pause, he observed, “This clearly shows the pseudo- secularism of the Dera and the Italian Congress Party that it supports.”

Our Patiala correspondent spoke to the well- known Sikh ideologue, Dr. Phalsafa Singh ‘Phalsafa’ who observed that “whatever be the immediate teleological import, the hermeneutical aspect of the Guru Granth Sahib clearly stands against a fancy dress competitions. There is no justification at all”, he remarked pensively while taking off his spectacles in his left hand, and running the fingers of his right hand through his long gray beard.

Asked to explain in simpler terms for the lay reader, he happily translated, “My reference is to the semiotics, of course.” The beneficent smile following the explanation, our correspondent states, discouraged him from any further probing questions.

The Akal Takht chief could not be reached for comments. However, sources close to the SGPC leadership said that it has taken the explanation in the right spirit. “We could have been asked to participate in the fancy dress competition, though”, one of them is said to have rued, “anyone of us could have given the Baba a run for his money without involving the Guru.”

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Wadali Brothers: Sufism as Emancipation


Noted Sufi singer brothers Puran Chand Wadali and Pyare Lal Wadali and three members of their troupe were injured when their Tavera vehicle collided with a stationary truck on the Amritsar- Jalandhar road in the wee hours today.

While Puran Chand Wadali got internal injuries, his younger brother Pyare Lal was stated to be serious.

As I read this chilling piece of belated news (via Sufinews), I was reminded of the many performances by the Wadali brothers that I have had the privilege to attend.

The Wadali Brothers are a 5th generation Sufi singers from the village called Guru ki Wadali in Amritsar district.

I first heard them sometime in the early nineties. We sat on rugs on the floor in a DAV college auditorium, as mists swirled in the wintry evening outside. The auditorium was not exactly overflowing with students.

This was to change later, when I heard them next, the show was in the city’s biggest theater and it was packed to capacity.

But in both cases, one was struck by the electrifying quality of their singing. It was not just the sheer quality of their deep throated rendition, but also the selection of the qalam. They sang not only much from the doyen of the Punjabi Sufi poets, Baba Bulle Shah but also one could not but help noticing that their compositions combined poetry from various Sufi poets.

Some of the most radical snippets were taken from various sources to deliver a performance that not only mesmerized with its musicality but also delivered a strong message of emancipation. The verses were from Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Amir Khusro and Sant Kabir as well as Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid and other Punjabi Sufi poets.

This is one aspect of their singing that renditions available in cassettes, CDs and also online do not seem to contain.

Only in this rendition of the Jugni does this aspect come forth to some extent. The Jugni had been, for many years, trivialized to some extent. The Wadali Brothers’ version of Jugni that I heard in a live performance had elegantly combined some very powerful snippets from Kabir and Bulle Shah, both of whom have written very critically about institutionalized religion. Bulle Shah, for example says:

dharamsal vich dharvi rahinde, thakur dware thug
vich maseet kusatti rahinde, aashik rahin alag

(In temples reside the ruffians, in gurudwaras, the thugs
In mosques reside the liars, the true lovers (of the Divine), stay aloof from all these.)

If I am not mistaken, the Wadali brothers come from among the Dalits for whom Sufism has a strong appeal with its message of emancipation.

The elder of the two, Puran Chand Wadali spent 25 years wrestling in an akhara before becoming a full time musician. They describe their initial experience in performing at the Harballah Sangeet Sammelan thus:

Our admirers in the village told us of the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar. Ready to perform, we headed for the concert, where we were disallowed entry due to our appearance. We did not even remotely look like musicians, what with my handlebar moustache and all. We were attired in chadar kurta and had no airs around us.

Incidentally, though they had been singing for a quarter of a century, their first cassette was released only in 2000. Their popularity was to soar quickly, as CDs by TIMES and others were released subsequently.

They went on to sing Amrita Pritam’s poem Aj aakhan Waris Shah nu in the film Pinjar.

A very comprehensive collection at Musicindiaonline.
The Apnaorg site also has a good selection of some of their recordings.

Image Acknowledgment

Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization

(a) Sikh Women grinding grain, 1945 (b) A gurudwara of Dalit Sikhs, 2004 (c) A modern agro industry


Guest post by Surinder S. Jodhka

Regions and regional identities are inherently fluid categories, constantly changing and being constructed by the people in given social, political and historical contexts.

The history of Punjab or Punjabiyat during the 20th century offers a good example of such a process. Though the Indian Punjab was reorganized as a separate state of independent India on the basis of language, it is often seen as a land of the Sikhs, despite the fact that Hindus and Muslims were in larger numbers in the region.

While dominant Hindu elites geared towards de- regionalizing themselves and claim opportunities opened up by the new nation, the Muslims elites of Western Punjab veered towards Urdu and legitimizing their dominance over the new nation- state of Pakistan.

Post- independence, Punjab also came to be identified as mainly a state with prosperous agriculture, the success of the agriculture also consolidated the position of the land owning classes/castes, the Jutt Sikhs.

The success of canal colonies in West Punjab had motivated the British colonial rulers to lay an extensive network of canals in the region. The Bhakra Nangal dam, one of the first major irrigation projects launched by the government of independent India, was also located in Punjab.

The Jutt Sikhs were also the ones who constituted the armies of the British Raj, and were the pioneers of the migration to Western countries a century ago.

Apart from the long tradition of migrations and global contact, the Indian Punjab also had a vibrant urban economy. Until recently the industrial growth rate of Punjab was higher than the average for India. Punjab continues to be among the more urbanized states of India and ranked fourth in terms of the proportion of urban population among the major states of the country during the 2001 Census. Against the national average of less than 28 per cent, the urban population of Punjab in 2001 was 34 per cent.

Of all the states of India, Punjab’s growth rate in agriculture was the highest from the 1960s to the middle of 1980s. The annual rate of increase in production of food grains during the period 1961-62 to 1985-86 for the state was more than double the figure for the country as a whole.

While Punjab had 17,459 tractors per hundred thousand holdings, the all India figure was only 714. The same holds true for most other such indicators. These achievements have also been widely recognized.

At the sociological and political level, this growth of rural capitalism during the 1960s and 1970s imparted a new sense of confidence and visibility to the agrarian castes in different parts of India. Institutionalization of electoral democracy helped them dislodge the so-called upper caste elites from the regional and national political arena.

In the case of Punjab, the landowning Jutts had already been the ruling elite of the region. The success of green revolution and institutionalization of democracy helped them further consolidate their position. Even Sikh religious institutions came under their sway.

The triumph of agrarianism and the rise of the dominant caste farmers in the 1970s also set in motion a phase of populist politics at the regional and national levels in India. The newly emergent agrarian elite not only spoke for their own caste or class but on behalf of the entire village and the region. Their identification was not just political or interest-based and sectarian, as they saw themselves representing everyone, encompassing all conflicts and differences of caste, class or communities.

The rise of the Khalistan movement, a secessionist demand by a section of the Sikh community during the early 1980s, was a somewhat unexpected development since apart from its economic success, socially and politically too the border-state of Punjab had been a well-integrated part of India, having been at the forefront of the national freedom movement.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the rise of a secessionist movement in the state was for many a puzzle.

Contrary to much of the academic speculation that employed every known school of thought- from modernization theory to psychoanalysis, after some fifteen years of violence and bloodshed, Sikh militancy began to decline.

By the mid 1990s, the Khalistan movement was virtually over without having achieved anything in political terms. The end of the Khalistan movement, however, did not mean an end of ‘crises’ for Punjab. It was now the turn of economics and agriculture.

The green revolution had already begun to lose its charm by the early 1980s. Several scholars had in fact attributed the rise of militancy directly to the crisis of Punjab agriculture. By the early 1990s, there were clear signs of economic stagnation. Unlike some other parts of India, Punjab had lost out on the opportunities opened-up by the ‘new economy’ and investments of foreign capital that had begun to come to India with the introduction of economic liberaliztion.

The discourse of crisis found more ammunition during the post-reforms period when Punjab and some other parts of India saw a sudden spurt in the incidence of suicides by cultivating farmers.

By the turn of the century, agriculture in Punjab had lost nearly all its sheen, the emblematic Punjabi farmer seen nowhere in the new imageries of a globalizing India.

The changes that came about in the countryside with the success of the green revolution also produced a new class of rural rich who had experienced economic mobility through their active involvement with the larger capitalist market.

The new technology gave them tractors, took them to the mandi towns and integrated them with the market for buying not only fertilizers and pesticides but also white goods and an urban lifestyle.

Most agricultural households in Punjab today have become or are trying to become pluri-active, ‘standing between farming and other activities whether as seasonal labourers or small-scale entrepreneurs in the local economy… Agriculture and farming is no more an all-encompassing way of life and identity.’

The available official data on employment patterns in Punjab has begun to reflect this quite clearly. For example, the proportion of cultivators in the total number of main workers in Punjab declined from 46.56 in 1971 to 31.44 in 1991, and further to 22.60 by 2001. While the share of cultivators has been consistently falling, that of the agricultural labourers had been rising until the 1991 Census. However, over the last decade, viz. from 1991 to 2001, even their proportion declined significantly, from 23.82 to 16.30. In other words, though two-third of Punjab’s population still lives in rural areas, only around 39% of the main workers in the state are directly employed in agriculture. The comparable figure for the country as a whole is still above 58%.

The trend of moving out of agriculture is perhaps not confined to any specific class or category. While marginal and small cultivators seem to be moving out of agriculture, the bigger farmer is moving out of the village itself. The big farmers of Punjab invariably have a part of their family living in the town. Their children go to urban schools/colleges, and they invest their surplus in non-agricultural activities.

The rural social structure has also undergone a near complete transformation over the last three or four decades.

Over the last twenty years or so a large proportion of dalits in Punjab have consciously dissociated themselves from their traditional occupations as also distanced from everyday engagement with the agrarian economy and even investing in building their own cultural resources in the village, in gurudwaras and dharamshalas.

The growing autonomy of the dalits from the ‘traditional’ rural economy and structures of patronage and loyalty has created a rather piquant situation in the countryside with potentially far-reaching political implications.

In the emerging scenario, local dalits have begun to assert for equal rights and a share from the resources that belong commonly to the village and had so far been in the exclusive control of the locally dominant caste groups or individual households.

Seen purely through economic data, Indian Punjab continues to be an agriculturally developed region of the country, producing much more than what it requires for its own consumption. Even though occupying merely 1.53% of the total land area of India, Punjab farmers produce nearly 13% of the total food grains (22.6% of wheat and 10.8% of rice) of the country.

Interestingly, in terms of objective indicators, Punjab has been a ‘progressive’ state otherwise also. For example, in terms of the Human Development Index, Punjab is second only to Kerala.

The growth rates of Punjab – agriculture or industry – are no longer negative. Notwithstanding the frequent reports of corruption and scandals, the urban centres of Punjab seem to be picking-up in terms of growth of infrastructure and real-estate.

However, the Indian Punjab today needs to be re-imagined in more than economic terms alone. The canvas of its change is much larger and broader.

Given that Punjab has a large proportion of Scheduled Caste population, the newly acquired agency among the dalits can also have serious implications for regional politics.

The earlier hegemony of the rural Jutt culture is fast disintegrating and this will change the manner in which the larger interests of Punjab are articulated politically.

Globally, the Punjabi/ Sikh diaspora has been investing in building its cultural resources and participating in local political processes, getting elected to local and national political bodies, more than any other component of the Indian diaspora.

At home, the fast changing geopolitics of the world during the opening decade of the 21st century has important implications for the Punjabs and their futures.

Though the hostile visa regimes of India and Pakistan continue to be an obstacle, traffic of common citizens across the Indo-Pak border has been steadily increasing. The opening up the border between Indian and Pakistan has produced a sense of excitement and opened a window of hope for all shades and sections of Punjabis .

What implications would these new processes have for the manner in which we have imagined Punjab and Punjabiyat – within the national and global contexts? Will the processes of globalization and the new technologies enable the two Punjabs to rediscover their common cultural heritage? How would a loosening of the border and opening of trade routes influence the economies of the two Punjabs? Would the decline of agriculture and rapid urbanization of the state develop a new middle class imagery of the state?

Though it is not easy to answer these questions, some of these processes are sure to bring positive and enriching outcomes.

Surinder S Jodhka is Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has done pioneering work on Dalits in Punjab and authored a number of works on the subject.

This guest post is further elaborated in ‘The Problem’ statement in this month’s edition of The Seminar magazine Reimagining Punjabwhich he has edited. (online next month)

Image acknowledgements:

Comrade Sunil Janah’s Site
Punjab govt Official Site
The Hindu

Shiv Kumar Batalvi

Today is Shiv Kumar Batalvi‘s 33rd death anniversary. The Bohemian Punjabi poet died at the age of 36 on this day 1973. It would not be incorrect to say that there has been no comparable romantic poet in Punjabi after him.

In the Bohemian aspects of his personality, he brings to mind the urdu poet Majaz who too died young. Shiv has often been termed the Keats of Punjabi poetry.He is a somewhat incongrous personality- a Punjabi poet of Brahmin origins who reached his pinnacle when Punjabi language was becoming the bone of contention in Punjab with Punjabi increasingly identified as a language of the Sikhs in the state and the Hindus called upon by the Jana Sangh, the ancestor of today’s BJP, to disown Punjabi language.

Shiv’s poetry is characterised by longing and desolation, a melancholy that also surrounded Sahir Ludhianvi. One wonders if this has something to do with the times, partition and the confusion of ideas and identities that reigned.

The most important poets in Punjabi after Shiv have been Paash and Surjit Singh Pattar. Both were influenced, at some time during their career by Leftwing political ideas- Paash was killed by Khalistani terrorists while on a short trip from UK (where he migrated after the violent State repression following the failure of “Spring Thunder over India”) to India in the eighties.

Paash’s poetry was overshadowed by his political commitment. Pattar’s poetry is more sophisticated and tends towards a philosophical reflection on the human condition without disowning his political commitment.

In this context, it is an engima that Shiv’s poetry, except some of his very late poems, did not show the impact of the Progressive Writer’s Movement or the Naxalite upsurge of the late 1960s and early 1970s that had a major impact on the youth in Punjab.

A very lyrical poet, Shiv has been sung, and popularized by Jagjit Singh’s album based on his poetry. Mahendra Kapoor has also sung some of Shiv’s poetry very well. Apnaorg has some renditions available online, though I could not get them to play on my computer. Bhupinder and Mitali have sung Loona, the poem that won him the Sahitya Akademi Award. Along with the Sufi poet Bulle Shah, Batalvi is a must sing for any major singer in Punjabi.

The language that Shiv employs is notable for its idiomatic usage of small- town Punjabi and also by his effusive usage of words of Persian origin, a trend that has over the years been discouraged just as Hindi has tended to borrow more heavily from Sanskrit than Persian and Arabic vocabulary. Sikh symbols are strikingly missing even as he brings the usage of urban Hindu rituals and symbols in his characteristic poetry.

Some of his poems are available, in Gurmuki, here. Another good article on Shiv with a critical commentary on some of his poems here.

My own favourites are many, but certainly those that first come to mind are Shikra, Maye ni maye mere geetan de naina vich, Ghamaan dee raat lami hai, Ae mera geet kisey na gaunan. All of these have been sung by Jagjit Singh.

I may end with a warning to anyone envisaging an overdose of Shiv: he can be terribly Wagnerian- effusively dark and deeply sombre.

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Remembering Bhagat Singh

Picture acknowledgement: Punjab Panorama

Before the anti- Mandal Commission Report riots changed the nature of political discourse in India, Bhagat Singh was one of the key icons of the Indian Left- then the natural habitat of the young and of the intelligentsia.23 March used to be a day of commemoration marked by lectures, rallies and distribution of his book Why I am an Atheist.

 

Nowadays, the day passes almost unnoticed.My old comrade and friend- years have thinned the differences between the two- Balram perceptively writes on how Bhagat Singh has been appropriated by the Hindutva brigade and underlines the need to see his life and thought as a whole- as an evolution of this wonderfully precocious mind. It is often forgotten than he had not yet turned 23 when hanged by the British.

Various political movements- from the Right wing Hindutva to extreme Left wing Naxalite Maoists, tend to highlight one or the other aspect in the evolution of Bhagat Singh’s rapid movement from Arya Samaji sympathies to revolutionary socialism- a movement that gathered particular immediacy in the aftermath of the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.

Balram’s rhetorical flourish towards the end about Bhagat Singh’s ‘spiritual relationship’ with Gandhi is overstated, but the point that he makes is still moot.

The success of BJP, VHP types in stealing into academics and public consciousness the concept of cultural nationalism is a case in point. This has become possible for first time that a political movement has arisen without the help of heroes of national revolution. Owing to lack of any specific programme for social or economic reorganization, this movement has to take recourse to mythological heroes instead of historic ones, who can be moulded as they like into their programme of cultural reconstruction. Ramjanambhoomi movement is an example.

The immense treasure of heritage of Bhagat Singh would be open to us if we could see Bhagat Singh as someone who dared to dream and had it in himself to live or die for it, instead of seeing him simply as a freedom fighter or a person committed to a particular ideology. But while doing so we would have to not only renew Bhagat Singh who has become a symbol of revolution but the dust that has settled on his spiritual relationship with Gandhi will also have to be cleaned up.It is obvious that it is impossible to safeguard the relevance of Bhagat Singh without Gandhi and of Gandhi without Bhagat Singh.

Read the complete article here.

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