Sunday, December 25

Sad State of Agriculture

You can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place, Sudhirendar Sharma quotes Einstein to drive home the point about sad state of agriculture and farmers

Whatever might have happened to the much-hyped National Commission on Farmers set up last year, the Prime Minister has set up yet another high-powered committee under his chairmanship to focus on agricultural development and policy.
While the commission is still grappling with the core issue of farmers' plight, the newly constituted committee may examine fresh policy initiatives that can pull the agriculture sector?s promised 4 per cent contribution to the country's GDP.
In the year that has gone by, corporate profit and farmers' suicides have continued to move in unholy parallel. The Sensex has continued to attain new heights while suicides by farmers have plunged the country into deep despair.
With the growth rate having overshadowed all other concerns, suicides seem to have been taken for granted. No wonder, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was recently pulled for not doing as much to enhance the agricultural growth rate. Did anyone hear farmers' suicides being as much a concern?
As the country begins to lose count of the farmers committing suicide, a rare exception of the recent past has literally become a undesired norm. Even the much-hyped poor man's budgets haven't been of much help.
Shockingly, a plethora of agriculture research institutions, policy planning bodies and relief programmes have been mute witnesses to this blood bath. It's shocking that the successive governments have failed to even diagnose the problem, leave aside solve it!
No sooner did the new government assume office than the Prime Minister set up the National Commission on Farmers to prescribe exigency measures. Cynics wondered if the commission could help provide a lasting remedy.
Many wondered if those who had pioneered the Green Revolution could get hapless farmers out from the residual impact of the revolution itself. Isn't it a reality that proponents of the Green Revolution could never foresee that farm incomes would decline one day, forcing farmers to take their own lives?
Undoubtedly, the entire agriculture bureaucracy and the farm scientists' fraternity has been caught napping. Not discounting the wisdom that is supposedly resting within the commission, it is undeniably true that solutions cannot come from the same source that had been the root cause of the problem.
Not without reason had Albert Einstein remarked: "you can't find a solution to a problem by employing the same thinking (people) that moved you into the problem in the first place."
Einstein's prophetic words need to be dispassionately examined in the present context. Improving credit flow in the rural areas has been tossed up as a solution. True, a majority of the farmers, who took the fatal route to escape the humiliation of increasing indebtedness, did so on account of their inability to repay the loans. Easy credit undoubtedly can clear loans, but what it cannot perhaps do is to improve crop harvests. Can a fresh loan to erase the previous loan be any solution? Will it not trap the poor into the perpetual debt cycle? Credit could be a part of the solution but not a solution itself.
What the farmers need is an assured income - an income that takes care of their family needs and leaves them with a little surplus to sow the next crop. But with the magic of the Green Revolution on the decline, nobody is able to assure farmers about any surplus harvest from the farm.
Not without reason though, as farmers in Punjab have recorded negative returns on their investment. Studies have also shown that there has been a decline in farm incomes in the past five years.
Rice farmers in West Bengal earn 28 per cent of what they earned in 1996-97. Sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have recorded a decline in their incomes by about 35-40 per cent too. Conversely, corporate profits and urban incomes are on an upward upswing. Critical to this decline is the fact that the input-output equation of the Green Revolution hasn't held on to its promise. Input costs of fertilisers and pesticides have consistently gone up with a concurrent decline in crop harvests.
Unless harvests can be sustained at a shade higher than the input costs, farmers cannot be pulled out from the perpetual debt cycle. Consequently, extending credit as a solution under the situation defies logic.
The planners have gone wrong in their diagnosis on another account too. Far from addressing the core issue of imbalance in the input-output ratio, expanding irrigation facilities has remained a populist measure with all successive governments. The present government too has promised greater investment in the irrigation sector. Irrigation can play a significant role only if the skewed input-output ratio gets corrected first.
Had irrigation been the most crucial factor for sustaining harvests, farmers in Punjab would not have been on the suicide trail. Paradoxically, farmers in the arid regions of the country would have been on the forefront of suicides for a long time.
Though significant, irrigation is critical if other inputs stay balanced. It needs no rocket science to know that indeed maintaining land's productive capacity is the key to surplus harvests.
If Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's budget speeches are any indication the government lacks a road map to boost agricultural growth. The government has left the responsibility for further experimentation on the hapless farmers.
At a time when a simple opening of a savings account comes with an insurance cover these days, leaving farmers and their crops uncovered by insurance indicates gross neglect of the farm sector.
With political rhetoric and illusive promises as the driving keys, it will not be surprising if genetically modified crops and contract farming get prescribed as the solutions to the present malady in the days ahead.
If news reports and analysis are any indication, the current developments in the agriculture sector ' backdoor entry of the corporate sector' is being promoted to achieve the desired growth rate in agriculture. Till such time, farmers can wait!

Saturday, December 17

Justice: Delayed & Denied

Ranjit Singh Gill alias Kukki released from jail after 17 years is not a free man yet

Shiela Dixit's government's inaction on remission to Ranjit Singh Gill in Lalit Maken murder case has given credence to the assertion of it being a political case.
Out on bail after being seventeen years behind bars, Ranjit Singh Gill is still not a free man. While granting bail to him, Delhi High Court put restrictions on his movement. He can't go beyond the boundaries of Ludhiana district except for his court appearance. He has to report twice a week in a local police station.
Ranjit Singh Gill, son of eminent agriculture scientist Dr. Khem Singh Gill, who is a Padma Bhushan awardee and former Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, was convicted of murdering Congress trade union leader Lalit Maken and his wife Geetanjali on July 31, 1985. Lalit Maken, the son in law of then president S.D. Sharma, figured among the suspects behind 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) listed 227 people who led the mobs, which killed up to 3,000 Sikhs over three days. Lalit Maken's name was third on the list with a brief description: "Lalit Maken reportedly paid the mobsters Rs.100 each plus a bottle of liquor. A white Ambassador car reportedly belonging to him came four times to the GT Road area near Azadpur. Instructions to mobs indulging in arson were given from inside the car." The judgment against Ranjit Singh Gill says that it was on the basis of this list that he and his two accomplices targeted Lalit Maken.
Interestingly senior Congress leader of Delhi Congress and close relative of Lalit Maken, Ajay Maken wrote to chief minister Shiela Dixit to grant him pardon. Lalit Maken's only child Avantika Maken had also been personally pleading his case but to no avail so far.

Suave and articulate Ranjit Singh Gill won over Avantika Maken in just one meeting. Avantika, a Youth Congress leader used to get agitated at even mention of his name declared him to be his friend when she met him personally through Amrita Chaudhry, a senior journalist based in Ludhiana. According to Avantika Maken, her image of a militant that she had before she met Ranjit Singh Gill underwent a total change on talking to him.
Ranjit Singh Gill was a student of Punjab Agricultural University when he went away from home in 1985. He recalls it was on July 9, 1985 that he went away from him when police started putting pressure following a murder of a police officer's son. Just 22 days later Maken was murdered and he was named among the accused. Next year in Februray he went to United States. He was working at a gas station there when a year later on May 14, 1987 he was arrested along with his friend Sukhwinder Singh Sukhi. Extradition proceedings were held against them while they were in jail for thirteen years. On May 5, 2000 they were extradited to India.
Ranjit Singh Gill was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On Februray 26 last year he was granted 15 days interim bail on account of his mother's illness. His mother, who was suffering from cancer died later. Since then Ranjit Singh's bail is being extended for short periods. And he waits for the pardon committee headed by Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit to hear his application.

Wednesday, December 14

Punjab has high indebtedness among farmers

Punjab has the highest indebtedness among farmers, followed by Kerala, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
While the average amount of outstanding loans was the highest in Punjab at Rs 41,576, that of Kerala stood at Rs 33,907, followed by Rs 26,007 for Haryana, Rs 23,965 for Andhra Pradesh, Rs 23,963 for Tamil Nadu and Rs 18,135 for Karnatak according to a May 2005 national sample survey organisation report.

Friday, December 2

There Is Nothing Abnormal

Today is World Disability Day. Writing in The Indian Express, Amrita Chaudhry asserts disabled children see this world as their own; it's society which considers them outsiders.
It is time to thank the Lord for the mercies small and big. My five year old son Siddharth is autistic and I am thankful for the fact that Siddharth does not need to be hidden away from the eyes of the world. Siddharth and thousands of children whom we able people label as 'handicapped,' 'differently able', 'abnormal,' or 'children of lesser Gods,' now have their share of chances to be part of the society, all thanks to the special schools. It was not long ago when such children, considered results of some ill deeds of past life, were either locked up within the four walls of their homes or worse still, abandoned. Like me, thousands of parents are thankful for the fact that at least we all have recognised the problem, the solution too, will now be found.
This is one progression we have made over the years and from here begins the struggle for more. Children like Siddharth have to be given their right to a normal childhood and life. For Siddharth, it is his right which is being denied to him. And to secure these rights for him many people, his family, his teachers, his friends and the people who love him, struggle day in and day out. I am proud to be Siddharth's mother for he has sensitised me to a part of society which was totally alien to me. There cannot be more Siddharths, yet his message can be carried on. Abnormality or handicap is not for these children, these terms are for us, the so-called able and normal people. Siddharth does not need to adjust to the normal people, it is us, the normal people, who have to learn a few basic lessons of life from him - things like tolerance for other persons? space and life. In our race for reaching somewhere in life we forget that there is nothing picture perfect or ideal.
Bringing up Siddharth and seeing him play with his school mates has brought forth one reality. It is not these children who are handicapped, it is us normal people who are handicapped. Why? Simple. For these children do not have a problem in communicating with us, we have a problem understanding them. Special schools, special teachers, government aides, reservation rights, laws are all in place for the handicapped, sympathy more closer to pity is abound. But is this enough? The state -in theory - has done its bit and now we humans have to awaken to this sensitisation. Hands have to join together in support, support not just for helping children like Siddharth and their families but more for the general public. More for your and my normal children. The normal children and grown-ups have to get used to the idea that these are no abnormalities. A person without legs can just not walk and that too at present, is no handicap. He can walk, run. Siddharth may seem slow in studies and hyperactive. But that is all. Let us not teach our children to pity them or even sympathise with them. It is time to get this term abnormal or handicapped out of our daily lives and system. There is nothing abnormal, it is just a way of viewing things and this way can be changed.

Punjab's Downward Spiral Continues

In a continuous downward spiral for Punjab, now comes the report that Punjab's share in national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has fallen from 3.31 pc. in 2001-2002 to 3.14 pc. in 2003-2004. The information was given in a reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha, reported The Indian Express.
Delhi and Haryana are the only two states which has shown constant upward progress during the past three years. The share of GDP of Haryana in the national GDP has grown from 2.77 pc. to 2.80 pc in the corresponding period whereas the share of Delhi has gone up from 3.21 pc. to 3.34 pc.
Maharashtara leads with a share of 13.29 pc in the national GDP following by West Bengal with 7.40 pc. UP contributes with 8.17 pc. and Gujarat with 7.27 pc.

Saturday, November 5

Remembring Amrita Pritam

Dr Surjit Patar, the noted Punjabi poet and president of the Punjabi Sahit Akademi, remembers Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam is no more. It's as if the five rivers of Punjab are dead - Ravi is no more, nor is Chenab. Amrita Pritam was like the five rivers which make Punjab. She made Punjabi literature.
Her name, those two words - Amrita Pritam - will always be music to the ears of Punjabi literature lovers. When it comes to 20th century Punjabi poetry, we can debate who should be the sun but when it comes to the moon, there is no discord. Amrita Pritam, who passed away quietly in her home at Hauz Khas, New Delhi, is undoubtedly the moon of the 20th century Punjabi poetry, and this moon never needed to borrow someone else's light. She had so much light of her own that many like us glowed in it. Amrita Pritam represented both the Charhda (Indian) and the Lehnda (Pakistan) Punjab. Her poems gave voice to the pain of women who had hitherto woven their sufferings into folk songs sung softly behind voluminous veils. She was also the pathos of Partition. No poet could parallel her when it came to pouring ts agony into words . Her lines Aj akhan Waris Shah nuun, kitho kabran vichon bol... have been immortalised in both the Punjabs.
On a personal note, as a post-graduate student of Punjabi I remember going all the way to the national capital to see this great poetess who later became a very close friend. For my generation of poets, she was the guiding light who gave us, unknown voices, a shining place in her magazine Nagmani. Later I had the privilege of reciting my poems in many kavi darbars along with her. Her home which she shared along with her friend Imroz was like a Mecca for us, as each and every thing in this house - the lampshades, the clocks, every thing - pulsated with meaning. Every thing used to resonate with poesy.
It was for legends like Amrita Pritam that another great poet had said, "Kaun kehta hai ke maut ayee to mar jaoonga, mein to darya hoon samundar mein uttar jaaonga."
This is Amrita Pritam for us. After a long illness she has left her body, but her soul has come to mingle with us - her prodigies, her admirers, her friends.
For us, Amrita Pritam lives on in her lines.

Thursday, November 3

Punjab Slips in Per Capita Income

Punjab has slipped to the fifth position in the per capita income ranking of the country as per the new figures issued by the Central Statistical Organisation for 2003-04.

The state's per capita income at around Rs 29,000 lags far behind its neighbour Haryana and Maharashtra, besides small states like Goa and Delhi. Two years ago Punjab's per capita income was Rs 25,652 against its neighbour Haryana's Rs 24,575.
With the slowdown of growth in agriculture and failure of the successive governments to attract adequate investment in the manufacturing and service sector, Punjab is no more an attraction even for migrants from UP, Bihar.
The state has lagged much behind its neighbour Haryana and coastal state Maharashtra. Meanwhile, Chandigarh has emerged as the number one in the country with highest per capita income (Rs 57,621) followed by national capital Delhi (Rs 51, 644).
"The politicians, academicians and closed-mind bureaucracy may boast of attractive industrial policy, attracting liquor barons and real estate agents, but the fact is that Punjab has already lost the race," says a senior economist at NCAER.
He said large-scale corruption, loss-making public sector and populist policies of the state like free power were the main cause of the slowdown of state economy. Further, the state's economy is still dominated by small-scale sector and low-quality services in the rural areas, he added.
Interestingly, Haryana has done much better than Punjab. The per capita income of the state at current prices has reached Rs 29,963 per annum in 2003-04 as against Rs 26,974 in the previous year. The economist said the state has succeeded in attracting global investors in auto, pharma and IT sector leading to exports of over Rs 16,000 crore from the state leading to high income growth.
On the other hand, Punjab has failed badly on the economic front.
According to the latest state-wise data, Gujarat (Rs.26,979) is likely to soon overtake Punjab on the front of per capita income, as the state's per capita income has shown a growth of 11.1 per cent as against much lower rate registered by Punjab.
Some of the lowest per capita income was recorded in states like Bihar (Rs.6,213), Orissa (Rs.11,858) and Madhya Pradesh (Rs.14,011).
The country's per capita income rose by 10.7 per cent in 2004-05, touching Rs.23,241 ($534), despite the poor performance of the agricultural sector due to a less than average monsoon.
The national income is estimated at Rs 25,356 billion in 2004-05, as compared to Rs 22,520 billion in 2003-04, showing a rise of 12.6 per cent.

Saturday, October 29

Not His Master's Voice

Praful Bidwai on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

When Manmohan Singh was sworn in as India's Prime Minister 16 months ago, many regarded him as a political lightweight who got that job entirely by virtue of his proximity and loyalty to Sonia Gandhi. He would long remain under the Congress president's shadow, consult her on every issue, if not take all his commands from her.
Many pundits forecast duopoly: two centres of power, one (Gandhi's) greater than the other; or separation between political and economic decision-making. Gandhi would retain primacy in the first; Singh would dominate the second.
This theory started looking shaky rather early on. Singh hand-picked his team, including Pranab Mukherjee, a known security hawk, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a committed neo-liberal with a strong International Monetary Fund-World Bank background. Ahluwalia would be at least as important as, if not more so than, Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
As Planning Commission deputy chair, he would tremendously influence economic priorities and distribution of Central expenditure. Chidambaram, at the end of the day, is a politician, who cannot ignore his constituency. Ahluwalia has no popular constituency.
However, Singh soon dealt another blow to the duopoly hypothesis. He followed Vajpayee in creating a strong Prime Minister's Office, with its own staff. He had definite ideas about who would be in the Planning Commission or head the Indian Council of Social Science Research. He vetoed more appointments than he approved. Soon, Singh quietly started asserting himself in areas such as foreign policy. His style was never confrontational, but beneath the polite, soft-spoken exterior lay a hard-nosed, shrewd persona.
Today, Manmohan Singh has emerged from Sonia Gandhi's shadow. He's his own man, with definite ideas, projects, policies and preferences. He has left his stamp on many institutions. This in part follows the forceful logic of the office he holds. It cannot be otherwise in a Westminster-style democracy, when the Prime Minister does not preside over a collegium, but is pre-eminent - some might say, excessively important. The exercise of power through the Cabinet and its institutions favours the PM. The PMO multiplies the effect, through its managers, fire-fighters and spin-doctors.
So far, this is pretty straightforward. But it?s remarkable that Manmohan Singh leads (if he fully does) a party with no more than 145 seats in the 545-strong Lok Sabha and yet can rule as if he commanded a single-party majority! This is partly explained by the ideologically disparate, fragmented nature of the Congress's United Progressive Alliance partners (mostly regional or Mandal-inspired OBC parties) and "outside" supporters (the Left, Bahujan Samaj and Samajwadi Parties).
Singh has also left a good deal of party-level political negotiation to others, including Sonia Gandhi, while concentrating on governmental politics. Thus, Gandhi as UPA chairperson "handles" the Congress' allies, while being isolated from many areas of policy-making. And Singh extends his influence to areas to which he is relatively new - foreign affairs and security.
The present balance-of-power and division of labour has allowed the PM to exercise disproportionate influence and become increasingly autonomous of Gandhi and the Congress apparatus. His own political personality is becoming clear.
Regrettably, that personality has its angularities and a dark conservative side. Dr Singh came to power on a broad Left-of-centre platform. But his preferred policies are right-of-centre. This is not a pejorative description. Evidence for it comes from a number of decisions attributable to Dr Singh and his confidants.
Take economics. Singh has been content to follow the broad free-market, pro-liberalisation orientation of the National Democratic Alliance - barring the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the UPA's single greatest achievement. He has continued with the NDA's macro-economic approach, taxation policies, resource mobilisation and allocation priorities, emphasis on foreign investment, commitment to globalisation, and public sector divestment.
Three of Singh's top priorities are 'labour reform' (read, removal of worker protection through hire-and-fire policies), opening up the retail sector to foreign investment (which could ruin millions of small traders and street-vendors), and reaching trade-related agreements on agriculture and services with the OECD. India compromised on this last at the Geneva ministerial of the World Trade Organisation by breaking ranks with the developing countries' G-21 - in contrast to its firm position at Cancun. India's position at the coming crucial Hong Kong meeting will substantially impact its economy.
Earlier, Dr Singh talked of empowering the underprivileged. Now, he only talks of growth. Thus, in his Independence Day address he said: "If we maintain this momentum of growth (approximately 7 per cent) for the next 5-10 years, then it would be possible for us to eradicate poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease. This is not a dream but something that is possible in our times". This regurgitates the notorious trickle-down theory, which stands belied by India's own experience.
However, it's in the foreign and security policy areas that Singh's conservative influence is starkest. These are precisely the areas from which Sonia Gandhi has kept herself away - because she has been so advised thanks to her "foreign origins". Thus, the decision to sign the June 28 defence cooperation and the July 18 nuclear deals with the US were very much Singh's. As was the September 24 vote accusing Iran of "non-compliance" with the NPT.
By all accounts, Singh was greatly impressed by President Bush's interest in India as an emerging power and "partner". But Singh weighed this so much higher than principle or self-interest - in energy security via Iran and Central Asia, and the larger issue of Asian economic integration. Singh's major right-ward turn could cost India dearly.
It's hard to fault Singh's general policy of befriending China or talking peace with Pakistan. But he has often left its actual implementation to dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats. Singh has failed to engage Nepal and Bangladesh, or take a secular, pro-democracy approach.
All in all, Singh's policy record is conservative. He has pushed this through so far without a confrontation with the Left or the Congress, except on BHEL divestment. But this may well change with the Iran-US-India triangle. In that case, Singh may have to clip his ambitions and learn to respect coalitional consensus.

Tuesday, October 18

Shall we abolish death penalty?

It's the same old question again which noted jurist Fali S Nariman argues is not so much legal or constitutional as is sociological.

The hangman's noose is again in the news-thanks to the front-page of The Indian Express (October 17). But it has long been on the conscience of legislators, of judges, and of the thinking public, and also (it would appear) on the conscience of President Kalam: his humane stand has a stirred up a controversy. It needs stirring up. The truth is that the death penalty is not so much a legal or a constitutional issue, as a sociological one. It evokes divergent responses in different people-and judges, being human, are no exception: nor are Presidents. There are the abolitionists, and the anti-abolitionists.
In India there has always been a cleavage of opinion. For some (as with our President), it is a matter of conscience. I remember my senior, (Sir Jamshedji Kanga) telling us in the 1950s about a senior District Judge, Mr. Khareghat, who was due to be elevated to the Bombay High Court. In those days the capital sentence could only be imposed by a High Court Judge. Khareghat declined the honour on the ground that he would never be a party to the death sentence: he would rather not be a High Court Judge. (That is why we remember the name of that District Judge!)
The abolitionists have a strong lobby. Recent events in various countries (especially in the developing world) have driven many to the conclusion that murder will never cease to be an instrument of politics until the execution even of proved murderers is regarded as immoral and wrong. In the world of today there are fewer and fewer men condemned to death for murder, and more and more executed for political views.
As long as death remains a permissible instrument of Government, those in power will always justify its use. Besides, (and this is a particularly pertinent point) the hangman's noose ends the search for truth-what if the judge is wrong? The question plagues our consciences. Judgments of Courts can always be recalled and reviewed; execution of sentences of death, never.
I recall what Niall Mardermott, distinguished Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists, said whilst conveying to the then President of India, ICJ's plea for mercy for Kehar Singh (one of Mrs. Gandhi's assassins) "in the country of my birth (the Republic of Ireland) there is a saying that the grass never grows under the gallows". But President Venkatraman had already made up his mind-and Kehar Singh was hanged.
The main plank of the anti-abolitionists is that the death sentence has a deterrent effect-not by the fear of death, but exciting in the community a deep feeling of abhorrence for the crime of murder. I remember in 1973 when Jagmohan Singh's case was being argued, (where the constitutionality of the death penalty was first upheld) Chief Justice Sikri said, in the course of arguments, that he was certain that if the death penalty were abolished, entire villages in the Punjab would be wiped out in a wave of reprisals! He had been the Advocate-General of that State for many years.
Other Justices from this State and other border States have expressed similar views. How can a deep feeling of abhorrence of the death penalty be sustained, (say the anti-abolitionists), when known and hardened criminals sentenced to imprisonment for life, are set free through paroles and remissions after only a few years of incarceration? They have a point.
What then of the future? In the Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures delivered in September 1981, Justice Brennan said: "I believe that a majority of the Supreme Court will one day accept that when the State punishes with death, it denies the humanity and dignity of the victim... That will be a great day for our country and our Court". He was speaking about the United States and its Supreme Court of which he was a distinguished member.
There are many in this country who would like to see the Supreme Court of India utter similar sentiments. Perhaps, hopefully, one day, it will-but I venture to predict it will only be when the system of criminal justice effectively ensures that persons who would have hanged but for the constitutional outlawing of capital punishment (like persons guilty of horrendous murders) would not return to society until reformed. Till then, the great question will continue to haunt us all (as it haunts our President): is it really necessary to hang people in order to convince people that killing people is wrong?

Monday, October 17

Children Of The Same God

A prize-winning entry in an annual essay contest sponsored by The Indian Express and Citizens for Peace on the topic "A Secular Rethink" by Shashi Warrier

On a bright winter's morning in Bombay more than two decades ago, my friend Shankar and I stood nervously by an open doorway crowded with grim-faced people, some snuffling, a few weeping, most of them avoiding our eyes. We were on a condolence visit that Shankar had to make: he had dragged me along for moral support. A short while after we arrived, a graying lady caught sight of Shankar from inside. She came out, took his hand, and led us into a darkened, quiet bedroom to meet her younger sister, recently widowed, prostrate from grief. The widow looked at Shankar through bleary, swollen eyes, took his hand in both of hers, and wept a little, wiping her eyes with the end of her white dupatta. She said nothing at all, and neither did we.
The elder sister came for us in a few minutes, taking us to the crowded sitting room, where she handed us cups of cooling tea, and biscuits. She told us of how her brother-in-law had died: he'd been dragged out of a taxicab and butchered to death by a screaming mob, egged on, she said, by Congressman HKL Bhagat.
He was a Sikh, a trader in automobile parts, visiting Delhi on business. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he paid for that with his life. "We never thought anything like this could happen," she told us. "We were part of you. Now..." Her voice trailed away, and neither my friend nor I could find anything meaningful to say. We sat with her for a few more minutes and left, relieved to be leaving.
Another bright winter's morning some weeks later, we met the ladies at a market and stopped to chat. The widow was still getting used to dealing with the large empty space in her life. Grief had made her gaunt, and her clothes hung loose on her. Her face was weathered, her graying hair almost white now. But her back was straight as ever, and the fire in her eyes as bright and strong. Once again she took Shankar's hand, and, this time round, mine as well. "I thought of going to my son, in England," she said, "but decided to stay. This is my home. You are my people. Despite what happened to him. You are my people. Not the English." Strangely, her strength comforted us.
I remembered her when Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated. Until a few years ago, we used to think of Sri Lanka as a country where the majority Sinhalese more or less stuck their decisions down minority throats. Along came Mr Kadirgamar, and that began to change. Sri Lanka became more inclusive, more tolerant. The government began to talk to the LTTE, with the Norwegians mediating. And peace, after a fashion, returned to the island nation. Now, with Mr Kadirgamar gone, I wonder where the peace process will lead.
But two little bits of Kadirgamar's thinking, two principles that he spoke of again and again, stick in my mind: first, that he stood for all the people of Sri Lanka, regardless of religion or language; the second, that the LTTE, for all the damage they did, were Sri Lankans, and deserved to be treated as such. Much like the Sikh widow who held my hand twenty-odd years ago.
It's easy to accuse someone like Narendra Modi - or, for that matter, Jagdish Tytler or Bhagat - of being a blot on the country?s fabric. It's easy to appoint committees to look into pogroms of different kinds and come up with nothing. It's harder far to accept that Modi is one of us, just as it's harder far to accept that a separatist shooting down women and children, or letting off a bomb in a crowded market square, is one of us.
The word "secular" in essence just means relating to worldly things as distinguished from things relating to church or religion. In our society, it has acquired this meaning: don't hate someone because they pray to a different god. That's a very narrow meaning, and one that is already beginning to hurt India.
Thanks partly to Modi and others of his ilk, it's now acceptable to hate those who hate those who pray to a different god. Behind a banner of secularism, united only by their need to defeat the BJP-RSS combine, have come together two parties that have been the country?s bitterest political foes since decades before Independence: the Congress and the leftists. Adding weight to this coalition is the RJD, led by Laloo Prasad Yadav, accused of swindling the treasury of many hundreds of crore of rupees, of running his state into the ground in the many long years during which he ruled it, and of many other lesser charges.
The strange thing is that this "secular" front has given itself licence to hate on grounds other than religion. Caste, for instance. Laloo Prasad Yadav has thundered against the "forward" castes, criticising them for being forward. You can discriminate ? nay, hate ? for almost any reason other than religion, and you will get away with it. You might be a serial killer but if you haven't been convicted and are willing to spout hatred against "communal" forces, you're welcome to join the band ruling the country.
Trouble is, this is a government based on hate, just like the BJP-RSS combine. As the days pass, the differences between the UPA and the NDA seem to narrow and dwindle. One of these days, political reality will look more and more like the ending of Orwell's "Animal Farm", where the working beasts gather at the windows of the farmhouse to see the pigs and men sitting together at the table, indistinguishable from each other.
But Mahatma Gandhi more than half a century ago, Kadirgamar rather more recently, and the Sikh widow in between, all in their different ways made the same point that Jesus made a couple of millennia ago: there's no US and THEM, there's only US.
So, what does all this have to do with secularism, this business of us and them? Thinking in terms of us and them is about hate, about bigotry, about prejudice. It's the kind of thinking that has set Kashmir apart from the rest of India. It's the kind of thinking that makes the shopkeeper in Srinagar ask visitors if they're from India, or the village official in Nagaland tell you that his son has gone to college in India.
Secularism must be inclusive, and compassionate. So being secular means not judging another human being. Someone who's a different colour is different, but no better or worse. Someone who worships differently is no better or worse. Someone who preaches a different political ideology is just someone who thinks differently, but is no better or worse. Someone who's wealthier or poorer has more or less money, but is no better or worse.
There's no way to learn this except by doing it. Learning that Hindus and Muslims and Christians are all the same, that they use different words for the same things. That knowledge will free us. But it's wealth, or lack of it, that's at the root of most troubles. Poverty anywhere, on any scale, is a potential source of strife. Ignorance is another. Work on these two, and we're on our way to getting some of our big problems licked.
The question is how. The old slogan, "Think Big", gets increasingly in our way. Thinking big in conditions of widespread poverty, or war, or communal strife, only leads to a feeling of helplessness, of defeat. So think small. Think not of how to clean up the country's roads: instead, pick up a bit of garbage on the road and drop it in a litter bin. Think not of how to feed the country?s millions of hungry children: instead, help the kid on the corner to get a square meal. Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh did just this: he thought very small. From his thinking small came rural micro-credit and Grameen Bank, a powerful instrument of social change, especially among women, in Bangladesh.
So think small. You and I and millions of others who think small might not end up like Mohammad Yunus, but we certainly can make a difference. We are, after all, children of the same god.

Thursday, October 13

'My Land is Healthier'

No pesticide, no chemical fertiliser, no crop losses. Amrita writes about a farmer from Chottiyan village in Sangrur district, who has'nt heard of the term 'organic farming'.

"Meri mitti sab nallon takatwar hai (My land is healthier than all other lands)," Jeeva Singh announces proudly as he plays with a handful of earth.
The source of his confidence lies in knowing what has fed his farm for the past 30 years-or, rather, what hasn't. No chemical fertilisers, no pesticides, no weed-killers. And before you think 'organic farming', no, he hasn't heard of that label either.
Elsewhere, Jeeva Singh would be an oddity. In Punjab, amidst the pesticide-doused fields, crop failures and farmer suicides of the cotton belt, he is a miracle.
It was at the onset of so called green revolution when Jeeva Singh recalls people suddenly started using chemicals for more yield and better pest-resistance "I don't know what it was, but something inside me reacted violently to the idea of poisoning our Mother Earth" he says remembering "The people around me, including my sons, thought I was mad."
Jeeva Singh has never seen anybody showing so much interest in the way he does his agriculture. This is a way of life for him and what he believes in, he explains. He simply depends on conventional farming methods and lets nature guide his crops. His wife and daughter pitch in by deweeding land the old-fashioned way, with their hands.
Even to the casual observer, Jeeva Singh's fields look different from the neat, manicured lands of his neighbours. It's hard to discern much order in the medley of cotton, tinda and maize that grow on his land, but it becomes clear on talking to the farmer that he has a bigger picture in mind.
The basic idea is to keep our own needs in check. He has not joined the blind race for commercialisation and mechanization. He prefers to use a bicycle and tackle various jobs around the farm with his own hands instead of hiring labour, so he prefers to grow what he can look after himself.
And it's not much, he is the first to acknowledge. "I may get slightly lesser yield than my neighbours but because I don't use hired labour or chemicals, my input costs are much lower than theirs" is his common-sensical explanation. Interestingly while the land-holdings of other farmers around have been dropping every year, he has actually been able to add two acres to his original three acres of land.
And as for the feeling of satisfaction that comes from coaxing life out of earth the way nature meant it, it's priceless.

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Wednesday, October 5

Community Betrayed

Jatinder Preet

Time is a great healer, they say. While the individual sufferers of carnage against Sikhs in 1984 picked up threads of their lives and carried on, the wounds on the collective consciousness of Sikh community are still festering. To see perpetrators of those wounds going not only scot-free but continue to occupy important positions did not help in the healing in any way. Now come the revelations that the community's own were indulging in behind the scenes machinations that ultimately shamed the justice.
It's sad to see no outrage, not even within the community when investigations by the weekly Tehelka has mentioned specific names, putting under cloud the Sikh leadership.
It seems, though the time has not been able to heal the wounds, but it certainly has made it easier for us to turn our faces the other way. This is what has happened after the report came in. There have not even been murmurs.
Report after report from impeccable credentials named Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler among others as those who led the massacres of Sikhs after the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in November 1984. After much hue and cry enquiries were instituted. The long drawn out investigations came to naught ultimately. The Allurements and intimidations saw witnesses turning hostile one by one. Neither the protectors nor the adjudicators found anything amiss.
The lesser mortals were tired out and the fight to seek justice remained to be led by few. To rightly acknowledge the role of those who have been putting up this fight we have to seek out those who have been responsible in making justice elusive.
We have some of those names now. There is damning evidence against them. Rs 25 lakh was offered to Darshan Kaur who lost 12 members of her family, including her husband, to withdraw her testimony against Congress leader HKL Bhagat. She was offered the money by local Sikh leader and former DSGMC member, Atma Singh Lubhana, a man who had actually been authorised by the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara Committee to help the Tilak Vihar widows with their court cases. Surinder Singh, the head granthi of Gurdwara Pulbangash in New Delhi, the prime witness in case against Jagdish Tytler, went abroad for a year, a week after changing his statement. Prahalad Singh Chandok, then president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) is named as the one who pressurized the witnesses to say Tytler didn't lead the mob. Chandok even presented a robe of honour to Tytler, for which the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, summoned him but the Takht Jathedar didn't impose a penalty. Another key witness, Satnami Bai when questioned about changing her statement swore by Guru Granth Sahib in the presence of widows and riot victims that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who was instrumental in her turning hostile.
While Sikh leaders like Lubhana and Chandok were instrumental in behind the scene machinations, there were Sikhs who actually voted for Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. In fact, both the leaders have been flaunting their Sikh supporters as trophies.
While we are talking of a community here, we have to keep us reminded that we are dealing with humans actually, with all their frailties and weaknesses. The community will continue to have individuals who actually sell off its interests. What's more important is how the community responds to this and ensures that this does not happen.

Monday, October 3

1984 Carnage : Justice Shamed

The images of villains of the 1984 carnage are etched in the collective consciousness of the community, waiting for justice to be done, even after twenty years. While they are yet to be brought to justice the evidence is piling up. Now comes a damning report in the weekly 'Tehelka' that digs out the middlemen who acted on behalf of these politicians and played a treacherous role in threatening and buying off crucial eyewitnesses and victims of the massacre.

The dead cannot strike a deal so the living did. To bail out those who led the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. One witness was offered Rs 25 lakh to forget or not name the men who led the mob that killed 12 members of her family. She refused to give in. She was beaten and constantly threatened but she didn't yield.
But some others did. They turned hostile one by one. Those who stuck to their deposition were left to fend for themselves, with neither the protector nor the adjudicator finding anything amiss. Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were let off, due to the behind-the-scenes machinations that included allurement and intimidation. And the not-so-subtle threat of a 1984 redux. Democracy and justice lay shamed.
Investigations reveal that in almost all cases, deals were struck to win over witnesses. In Bhagat's case, Rs 25 lakh was offered to a witness. In Tytler's case, a week after changing his statement the prime witness went abroad for a year and the second witness is still in the US. There were threats to their lives as well and a prominent Sikh leader was involved in pressurising the witness to say Tytler didn't lead the mob. Further sensational disclosures were made that a prime witness, who turned hostile, against Sajjan Kumar was taken to the Congress leader's residence. Some of these witnesses enjoy a lavish lifestyle and their families misled media team about their whereabouts.
Investigations uncovered the network of middlemen who struck dubious deals to win over witnesses, subvert the truth and derail justice.

Jagdish Tytler : A changed testimony
Surinder Singh, the head granthi of Gurdwara Pulbangash, said in a sworn affidavit in January 2002 that Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, then the local MP, led the mob that had attacked his gurdwara. He stated, "Tytler incited the mob to burn the gurdwara and kill the Sikhs." According to his evidence, the mob had then attacked and burnt the gurdwara down. One Badal Singh was burnt alive in the assault, several were injured.
By the time, the Nanavati Commission summoned Jagdish Tytler on the complaint, Surinder Singh had been 'managed'. Tytler drew the Commission's attention to another affidavit by Singh, this one dated August 5, 2002, which amounted to a retraction of Singh's earlier position - he said he did not even know what was in the earlier affidavit because he could not read or write English.
He also said he had not seen Tytler leading the mob that attacked Gurdwara Pulbangash.
This affidavit was filed on October 22, 2002 and it came to light a year later when Tytler was served a notice to appear before the Commission.
The Congress leader's knowledge of such an affidavit astonished the Commission as Surinder Singh had named Tytler in his testimony on January 17, 2002.
Tytler had been trying to work on Surinder Singh. In his testimony to the Nanavati Commission, Surinder Singh did state that he was contacted by Jagdish Tytler on November 10, 1984 and asked to sign two sheets of paper. He declined to sign. But subsequent efforts by Tytler to 'win over' Singh appear to have succeeded.
About Surinder Singh's changed affidavit, Justice Nanavati stated, "what appears from all this is that the subsequent affidavit was probably obtained by persuasion or under pressure. If this witness had really not seen Jagdish Tytler in the mob or if he was not approached by Tytler then he would not have come before the Commission to give evidence or would have told the Commission that the attack did not take place in that manner. For speaking the truth, it was not necessary for him to wait till 5-8-2002 and file an additional affidavit." After these findings, our team began investigations and tried to contact Surinder Singh.
We were misled by Surinder Singh's family about his whereabouts. Two attempts were made to contact him at his residence in the Gurdwara Rakabganj family quarters but the family refused to open the door. The nameplate outside his quarters was also removed. Contact was established with his son Narinder Singh, who fixed a meeting with Surinder Singh. But then, the two vanished. Using a fake reference, contact was established with Surinder Singh and another rendezvous was set but he again failed to turn up.
This was provocation enough for detailed investigations. Enquiries revealed that Surinder Singh left for Canada, 10 days after filing his subsequent affidavit. Being an employee of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) Surinder Singh had sought a year's leave, that too without pay, from October 30, 2002 to October 29, 2003. On his return, DSGMC president Prahlad Singh Chandok posted him in a prestigious gurdwara. Surinder Singh draws a meagre salary but owns a luxury car and is constructing a house near Majnu Ka Tilla in North Delhi.
After a lapse of two years, the DSGMC sought Surinder Singh's explanation for changing his statement against Tytler. The then DSGMC chief Chandok clandestinely issued a suspension order but held onto it. Curiously, three days after filing the previous order, another DSGMC office-bearer, Harbhajan Singh Matharu, sought an explanation from Surinder Singh on March 20, 2004.
In his reply on March 23, 2004, Surinder Singh speaks of a threat to his life. Tehelka has a copy of his reply, which says, "if you seek an explanation from me, then I be given a guarantee that we, Management Committee, would be responsible for loss of my life and property, only then will I give an explanation." Two months after this episode, Chandok presented a robe of honour to Tytler.
For this act, the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, summoned Chandok but the Takht Jathedar didn't impose a penalty.
The Sikh Forum - which then had the late Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora as its chief patron - sought a meeting with Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti as it resented the lack of action against Chandok. In its letter to Vedanti dated August 2, 2004, the Sikh Forum stated that some witnesses who had filed affidavits before the Nanavati Commission are now reluctant to appear for cross-examination. The Forum sought a clarification on the Jathedar's order, as Chandok's exoneration had created an impression that no wrong was committed by honouring Tytler. The Forum stated that Tytler, now summoned by the Nanavati Commission, had a role in the 1984 carnage and this decision has aggrieved the riot victims. In another letter dated September 22, 2004, the Sikh Forum sought a review of the decision exonerating Chandok. It further requested the Akal Takht that Chandok be summoned again and directed to snap all ties with people guilty in the Sikh carnage.
The Forum's members included Dr Amrik Singh, Major General MS Chadha, Dr Anup Singh, Lieutenant Colonel Manohar Singh, advocate HS Phoolka, Wing Commander RS Chhatwal, Dr Mahip Singh and Dr AS Narang among others.
After the Nanavati report was tabled in Parliament, the Sikh Forum met on August 12, 2005. We accessed the meeting's confidential record which accused Chandok of pressurising witnesses. According to the minutes of the meeting, "Sardar Prahlad Singh Chandok had honoured Jagdish Tytler, For this act he was called by Jathedar Akal Takht . But on intervention of some influential persons, he was not given any punishment. But now for his role in pressurising Bhai Surinder Singh to change his affidavit against Jagdish Tytler, we should take up this case with Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib."
We spoke to the Sikh Forum which appeared reluctant to state the facts openly. This forced us to use the spycam and it was revealed that this group had confronted Chandok and Surinder about the subsequent affidavit. The details of this meeting were recorded by the Forum. Wg Cdr Chhatwal shared the Forum's strategy about taking action against them. The conversation has been edited and the operative part goes:

What action will you take against Chandok?
It will be a religious action without going to the press and we will write to Akal Takht that he is treacherous fellow and is instrumental in seeing that Jagdish Tytler is not blamed. Akal Takht should haul him up.

What will you write to Akal Takht? That he struck a deal?
I do not know whether we will write this thing.

Then what exactly will you write?
This has not been decided as yet.

Why was Chandok not summoned earlier if he turned treacherous, why no action was taken against him?
This is not the first instance, first Babbar did it and then Atma did it. Now we will confront him.

When you questioned Chandok did his body language give an impression that?
Yes, that he has pressurised Surinder Singh to change his statement.

And what about Surinder Singh?
He does not deserve to be a head granthi, he has changed his statement and now he is running away. He succumbed to the pressure.

Pressure or allurements?
It is one and the same thing.

Were some recordings made in the confidential sheets?
Yes, a part of it has been done, we can only build up the moral pressure and can't do anything legally.

When had you asked Chandok about this issue?
This was a week after Tytler had appeared before the Nanavati Commission and he talked about Surinder Singh's changed affidavit.

This affidavit was filed on October 22, we were all surprised about it and then we asked Chandok about this.
Further, Nanavati report mentions the affidavit filed by another witness Jasbir Singh. Jasbir, who had seen Jagdish Tytler on November 3, 1984, stated, "He (Tytler) rebuked the persons forming the group that his instructions have not been faithfully carried out. His position has been greatly compromised and lowered in the eyes of Central leaders. There has been only nominal killings in his constituency compared to East Delhi, Outer Delhi, Cantt etc. How he would be able to stake claims in future? I had promised large scale killing of Sikhs and sought full protection but you have betrayed and let me down and he left in a huff."
Our investigations revealed that Jasbir Singh was threatened and his family is living incognito and in constant fear. Speaking to us, Jasbir's mother-in-law Gurdeep Kaur stated that he went abroad (USA) because of the constant threats. Jasbir had confided in her about being waylaid by some people near Peeragarhi. Anticipating danger, she pleaded not to disclose the whereabouts of Jasbir's wife and son. Jasbir's wife remained mum throughout and was very protective of her son.
Gurdeep Kaur added that she was offered a bag full of notes to change her statement but she refused. More than 50 persons of her clan were killed during the carnage. She had testified against councillor Dr Ashok and some supporters of HKL Bhagat.

HKL Bhagat : A witness won over
During the anti-Sikh violence, the largest number of killings took place in Bhagat's East Delhi constituency. One witness, Satnami Bai, said Bhagat had led the rioters. Later on, she turned hostile and failed to identify him. Another witness, Darshan Kaur, stuck to her deposition despite threats to her life and identified Bhagat. But the case collapsed in 1995 and Bhagat was acquitted on the ground that in a riot case, conviction cannot be based on the word of just one witness. Enquiries revealed that local Sikh leader and former DSGMC member Atma Singh Lubhana had struck a deal with Satnami Bai to change her statement. According to confidential documents of the Lubhana community, this deal was struck for Rs 12 lakh.
Darshan Kaur told that Atma Singh Lubhana had offered her Rs 25 lakh to turn hostile and on her refusal was thrashed by him. For beating up Kaur, Lubhana was summoned by the Akal Takht on September 14, 1998. Takht Jathedar Ranjit Singh, after considering the apology tendered by Lubhana, had pronounced religious punishment. Darshan Kaur stated that he had threatened to burn her alive in Tilak Vihar. Earlier also, she was waylaid by some unidentified people and threatened. She had earlier told our team that she was offered Rs 25 lakh in hard cash but she had sought the payment by cheque so as to expose them.
According to a letter dated December 4, 1996, by Mohan Singh, president of the All-India Lubhana Sikh Sanstha to 'mukhias' of the Lubhana panchayats, "on November 17, 1996 a panchayat was organised at Gurdwara Shaheedgunj, Tilak Vihar, wherein Satnami Bai was questioned about changing her statement. In the presence of widows and riot victims, Satnami Bai swore by Guru Granth Sahib that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who was instrumental in her turning hostile. Satnami stated that a deal was struck for Rs 12 lakh and the rest is known to Atma Singh." After this Lubhana was summoned by the panchayat but he failed to appear and was ostracised from the Lubhana community (Nikaali- Roti Beti ka rishta Khatam).
On December 2, 1996, Lubhana appeared before the panchayat and agreed to abide by its decision. The panchayat decided to continue with the boycott of Lubhana and a five-member committee was formed to inquire into this episode. The members included Inder Singh, Mohan Singh, Bhai Mohan Singh, Hari Singh and Babu Singh Dukhia. Subsequently, it was decided to summon a Sarva Panchayat to take a final decision on Lubhana. This Sarva Panchayat or Chauraasi Maha Panchayat gathered at Gurdwara Shaheedgunj on April 25, 1999 and included mukhias and panches of 84 villages of north India of the Lubhana community.
According to Babu Singh Dukhia, now president of the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara, Atma Singh Lubhana had confessed to his crime before the maha panchayat and was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5.28 lakh. This was recorded in the panchayat register and Lubhana had also signed it. A written undertaking by Dukhia revealed that Satnami Bai had also confessed before the panches that Atma Singh had deposited money in her Tilak Nagar postal account. All panches agreed that due to his lust for money, Lubhana had influenced Satnami to change her statement and had turned a traitor. Babu Singh Dukhia had recorded his dissenting note about pardoning after payment of Rs 5.28 lakh fine. Thereafter, this document was sealed and it was decided that it would not be made public.
When confronted, Lubhana admitted to paying the fine. He stated that the penalty was paid in instalments and spent on renovating various gurdwaras. As desired by the panchayat, he had also agreed to follow their directive. But he was evasive about the reasons behind his boycott and denied being instrumental in Satnami Bai turning hostile. "I had not committed any crime but had to put my signatures as everyone persuaded me to settle the matter once and for all." Caught out, Lubhana denied threatening or offering any money to Darshan Kaur or Anwar Kaur but admitted to being summoned by the Akal Takht.
Our team captured Satnami on spycam wherein she admitted to changing her statement because of threats to her life but denied receiving money. She also stated that Congress MP HKL Bhagat led the mobs and his wife was also present. The conversation has been edited and the operative part goes:

Where were you living during the riots?

What all did you see?
Yes, I saw all of it, small kids between10-11 years killed before me.

Your husband was also killed?
Yes, they hit him with a stick, thrashed him, poured kerosene, powder and then burnt him alive. Many of the Sikhs were dragged by their hair, white powder sprinkled on them and burnt alive, in pain the Sikhs would scream, and rioters comment, 'Sardars are dancing', I saw all this. It has been 21 years of pain and now government has given them clean chit. In front of my house, four children were killed, first they were hit with sticks, their teeth came out, a rioter said Saala Zinda Hai and then they stabbed him.

Do you know the people who indulged in killings?
Some were outsiders and some neighbours. Some Jats and Gujjars.

Can you tell us the number of people in the mob?
They came in numbers armed with sticks, powder, cycle tyres which were put around the necks of many men, poured oil and powder...and petrol and burnt them...tied their judas (hair tied in a bun) and burnt them.

A common man would not indulge in this unless he is incited by somebody from top. Did anyone instigate the rioters?
The killers were all Congress people, how could the justice be done with Congress in power, they were HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Tytler, Shastri, Sharma and many others, these were the main people who incited the mob.

Who were the people who led the mob in your area, in Trilokpuri?
HKL Bhagat.

Was he leading the mob?
Yes, he was leading the mob

Did you see him yourself?
Yes, in front of my house there was a Muslim woman, his godsister, Bhagat used to come every Sunday to meet her.

So, the mob was led by HKL Bhagat?
Yes, both husband and wife were leading the mob. They came in a vehicle and directed to eliminate all the Sikhs.

This was his area?
Yes, Trilokpuri was his area and he was leading the mob. HKL Bhagat said these are sons of snake, kill them all.

So, you heard it at that time?
Not only did I hear it, I saw it with my own eyes.

So he instructed to kill.
There were two blocks, 32 and block number 31, there was a house of a Muslim woman. He came from block number 31, he came from his sister's house and then said, kill all the Sardars, he said none should be spared?

You had also given an affidavit about these incidents.
I had given all the papers but the police never recorded my statement, we were told to go back to our houses.

So did you testify before the court?
Yes, I was a witness and made a statement in the court and in Nanavati Commission as well.

Was there a threat to your life?
Many widows were waylaid and forced to change their statements.

Did it happen with you?
Yes, HKL Bhagat's goons threatened me, that if I do not change my statement, my brothers and children would be killed, we were already living in extreme fear, it could happen again, so I had to succumb.

The people of HKL Bhagat threatened you that if you do not change your statement, they will kill your people?
Yes, they said so, my parents were living with me.

What exactly did they say, was money also offered?
Your brother and children would be killed, if I do not change my statement but no money was offered.

Did you lodge a complaint with police?
Nobody heard us.

Sajjan Kumar : With help from the police
Justice Nanavati recommended that all the seven cases against Sajjan Kumar, including FIR No 307/94, be reinvestigated. This particular FIR had been lodged on the basis of an affidavit filed before the Ranganath Mishra Commission of Inquiry by a widow, Anek Kaur, in 1985. In the affidavit, she gave graphic details of how Sajjan Kumar, other Congress leaders and the police had turned murderous that day. Her house, she said, was surrounded by a mob led by Congress leader Jai Singh. The police were inciting the mob to kill Sardars and burn their houses. She also stated that Sajjan Kumar and another Congress leader Jai Kishan had come in a jeep and when she had run up to them for protection, Jai Kishan had said that only six Sardars were left and that he would get them killed. Sajjan Kumar had also stated that they should be beaten to death. Anek's husband Vakil Singh was beaten and left for dead - he died three months later. Based on this and other evidence, Nanavati recommended a reinvestigation but the government in its Action Taken Report, denied the allegation and said that Anek Kaur had subsequently (in 1994) withdrawn her statement against Sajjan Kumar. Thus, the government felt that since there was no fresh evidence, it would not be just to reopen the case.
While the government found no justification to reopen the case, our investigations revealed that witness Anek Kaur was won over and her statement changed.
We traced out her family as Anek Kaur died about four years ago. Her mother-in-law Sahibzadi disclosed that one Rathi had obtained Anek Kaur's thumb impression on a paper and used to buy rations for them regularly. Vakil Singh's sister Mishri Kaur, who used to accompany Anek Kaur, told us that Sajjan Kumar had offered them a flat to change Anek's statement. Another offer was made by Sajjan Kumar that he would sponsor their expenses for as long as they live in lieu of a changed statement. The family was paid for about two years. This entire conversation was captured on a spycam. The edited conversation goes:

What had Sajjan Kumar asked Anek Kaur, can you share that with us?
Gawahi badal do, poora kharcha milega, muawza milega aur flat dilwa doonga (You will get a flat as well as compensation, just get Anek Kaur's statement changed).

Did this happen before your eyes?
Yes. This was in my presence, kehta tha, byan badal do, jab tak zinda rahoge, poori zindagi ka kharcha doonga, ek do saal diya bhee bus uske baad nahin (He said he'll take care of all expenses as long as we lived, he gave money for about one or two years then stopped)

What happened after that?
Then Rathi came in the picture, Rathi, Inspector Rathi, would accompany Anek to the court, would also bring his vehicle. He used to give Rs 200 every month and in addition also hand over Rs 50 to Rs 100. Jai Kishan, the local MLA, had also given Rs 1,200.

And then?
Paisa Rathi kha gaya (Rathi took away all the money), usne Anek se angootha lagwa liya (Rathi had taken Anek's thumb impression on a paper). I had complained against Rathi to the court and headquarter.

Did you not approach Sajjan Kumar for the promised flat and the money?
Yes, twice I had gone to him but he refused to speak to me, baad mein aana (come later), I was thrown out of his place. This was some time around the last elections.

What happened to Anek Kaur?
She was sick and died about four years ago. Before her death she told me and her daughter as well that take money from Sajjan or else depose against him, take it that he is the murderer of your parents.

So she changed her statement?
She did not change her statement but Rathi took her thumb impression and gave her only Rs 200.

That the government was on the side of the guilty is also clear from another case. According to the Nanavati report, one Kher Singh had filed an affidavit before Jain-Banerjee Committee and stated, "that on that day in the morning, he had seen local MP Sajjan Kumar addressing a crowd of persons and telling them that Sikhs had killed their mata and that no Sikh in the area should be spared. At that time Ishwar Singh, Hardwari Lal and other local persons had raised slogans against Sikhs". The report further states, "This witness therefore rushed back to his house. Dr Iqbal Singh Chadha, Resham Singh and Ajit Singh were burnt alive. When the mob came near his house, the neighbours told the mob that nobody was present in the house and so he was saved. He was rescued by the military on November 3, 1984. Kher Singh had later on approached the police and told them that he was a witness to the murder of those three persons but the police told him that as no case was registered with respect to their murder, his could not be recorded."
Regarding this incident FIR no 178 was recorded only on November 15, 1984. No one was arrested in this case and the case was filed as untraced. Justice Nanavati observed in his report, "it appears that in respect of death of Iqbal Singh Chadha FIR No 178/84 and the case was then filed as untraced.
Kher Singh had specifically stated that he was the eyewitness to the murder of Dr Iqbal Singh Chadha yet his statement was not recorded with the result that he was not even cited as a witness. Thus even though eyewitness was available, the police did not investigate the case properly and closed it as untraced."
While Justice Nanavati states an eyewitness was available, the Action Taken Report says the contrary. It states, "no eyewitness came forward to give any specific evidence or clue about the incident. Therefore the case was sent as untraced which was accepted by the competent court." Interestingly, the police refused to record the statement of eyewitness Kher Singh but lodged an FIR based on the complaint of Harvinder Kaur, wife of Dr Chadha, who had not named any person as she had not seen the incident.

'Bhagat should be hanged, even if he is sick'
Can Rs 25 lakh bring back the 12 family members whom she lost to the 1984 carnage? Can it bring back even one? Then what good is it, says Darshan Kaur
Many witnesses turned hostile one after the other, but Darshan Kaur who lost 12 members of her family, including her husband, refused to fall for the lure of money or surrender to the fear of death. In a chilling confession, she tells that she had been offered Rs 25 lakh to withdraw her testimony against Congress leader HKL Bhagat. She was offered the money by local Sikh leader, Atma Singh Lubhana, a man who had actually been authorised by the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara Committee to help the Tilak Vihar widows with their court cases. Tilak Vihar in West Delhi is one of the largest colonies that houses the victims of Carnage 1984.
Darshan moved from East Delhi's Trilokpuri to Raghubir Nagar, Tilak Vihar where she lives under round-the-clock police protection.

Excerpts from the conversation:
During the trials many witnesses were threatened and some turned hostile after accepting money. Could you tell us about your case? We are told that Atma Singh Lubhana offered you money to change your testimony?
At that time we used to live in Trilokpuri and HKL Bhagat was the local MP. I was a witness against him. We had no educated people guiding us about court appearances and no menfolk were spared during the riots. Lubhana appeared on the scene after the riots. None of his family members were killed during the riots. This man used to cycle around then and he now moves in cars whereas we don't even have a bicycle. Since there were no educated people among us, it was decided in the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara to hand over all these representations to him. Lubhana would accompany all the widows to the Karkardooma courts. When HKL Bhagat came to know of this, he decided to strike a deal with him. Lubhana was instructed to offer money to widows to change their statements. Some of them did but I don't want to name any of them.

Please give us the details, be frank.
Some widows accepted the money and turned hostile. I neither accepted money nor changed my statement. I lost 12 of my family members and asked them to bring back at least one. I rejected Lubhana's offer and then started the process of threats. He
attacked me also. Bhagat also engineered attacks against me.

Was the attack at the instance of Bhagat?
Once on my way back, when I had no security, five-six people in a Maruti car waylaid me. They first made enquiries about some address and then tried pulling me inside the car. I started crying and tried to save myself by slapping them and hitting them with my chappals. A traffic constable and some other people came to my rescue and they fled away. After some time, police protection was given to me. This protection is with me for the last 12 years.

Did Atma Singh Lubhana offer you money?
Lubhana had offered me Rs 25 lakh to change my testimony.
He asked me to accept the money and withdraw the case against Bhagat. He said, with this money your generations will live comfortably so why take such trouble. On my refusal, he started abusing me and physically attacked me.

Why did Atma Singh Lubhana beat you up?
He wanted me to accept the money and withdraw from the case. He did not want me to appear as a witness against HKL Bhagat.

That means he asked you to accept Rs 25 lakh and not appear against HKL Bhagat?
Yes, he asked me not to appear as a witness against HKL Bhagat. He said, take Rs 25 lakh and your children and grandchildren will live comfortably. And if you don't then you will keep running around. He said, either he (Bhagat) or I will kill you. These threats continued and I challenged him to touch me. I am not afraid. I will not retract from my testimony. I told Lubhana to bring back at least one member of my family. Twelve of my family members were killed. Provoked by this, he attacked me.

Is Lubhana still threatening you?
Yes, even now, he is after my life, he threatened me over the phone. He said he would burn me alive.
I told him that I am not afraid of any threats. I challenged him to touch me. He put the phone down and then some women called up and issued threats.

Who were these women?
I don't know the names of those women who threatened me but I informed the police authorities.

We are told that he gave money to other witnesses also?
He had sold off Anwar Kaur who had initially testified against Sajjan Kumar. When Sajjan Kumar won the election he had gone to congratulate him. Many other Sikhs had accompanied him.

How do you know that Anwar had taken money through Lubhana?
We had invited Anwar Kaur to join our group of widows and then she narrated it to us. After Sajjan Kumar was acquitted, we took out protest processions and then went to the gurdwara where we called Anwar. We asked her why she had turned hostile when we could have got justice for so many of our brothers who had been murdered. We asked her who had incited her and then she told us that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who did all this.

What did she tell you?
She stated that Lubhana had taken her to Sajjan Kumar's residence. She did not tell us about the money she got but she said Lubhana had struck the deal. She said she got scared and changed her statement.

Can you tell us when exactly she confessed to you and the others?
This was four-five years ago, when Sajjan Kumar was acquitted. It is then that all the widows confronted Anwar Kaur. She sought forgiveness . In the case of another widow, Satnami Bai, Lubhana signed in a register when a panchayat was organised and admitted that he was instrumental in Satnami turning hostile. He was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh for working against the Sikh Panth, which he did.

Justice Nanavati has let off Bhagat on humanitarian grounds as he is bedridden. What do you have to say on this?
HKL Bhagat should be hanged, even if he is sick. He deserves no mercy as he is a murderer. I had seen him leading the mobs saying, 'kill all the Sardars, they are snakes'.

Sunday, September 11

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Hope Comes to children in farmer' suicide belt

This story of a girl who had to discontinue her studies after her father committed suicide, by Amrita Chaudhry appeared in Chandigarh edition of The Indian Express on September 8. Her sad story had a silver lining though, with a visit of a documentary film maker couple. The hope they rekindled in her life needs to be replicated in the region.

Thirteen year old Jaspreet Kaur, a resident of Chotiyan village in Sangrur district, wants to become a doctor when she grows up. A normal aspiration for a teenager. Only, life has not been normal for Jaspreet, whose father, a farmer caught in the debt trap, had committed suicide when she was eight. And with that all dreams of future as a doctor were shattered. Jaspreet had to discontinue her studies. But now there is hope.
Tom Deiters and Suzanne Nievaart - a couple from The Netherlands - have not only got Jaspreet admitted to SEABA International Public School, Lehragaga but have also promised to sponsor her education throughout.
Kawaljit Singh Dhindsa, Managing Director tells the belt is full of cases of farmer suicides. For Jaspreet, tragedy stuck twice. First, when her uncle committed suicide after failing to repay the loan the family had taken from the ahrtiya. The burden kept multiplying and when her father, Bhatti Singh, also failed to repay it, he too committed suicide leaving behind no male earning member in the family.
Jaspreet's grandfather, Mohinder Singh is so shaken up that he has withdrwan himself from everything. Jaspreet dropped out of school so that her brothers, Harjinder(12) and Sandip (10), could continue studying.
But this year, two students from the University of Amsterdam came to study the profile of this farmer suicide ridden belt, Jaspreet was once again sent to school and is now studying in class seven.
Back home Tom studies political science whereas Suzzane is a student of social anthropology and the two are presenlty making a documentary on farmer suicides. Suzzane adds, "chilldren having to give up education due to family members committing suicides is common in this belt and we are just trying to help."
Lauding their action Dhindsa says though both Tom and Suzzane themselves are studentsand have to work to pay for their education, yet they have promised to support Jaspreet. Suzzane has even promised to get sponsorship for more such students once back home.
Jaspreet meanwhile is picking up the threads of her life once again. She does not know why her father or her uncle committed suicide but she does know that, "I was stopped from going to school for my family could no longer afford our education." And now Jaspreet is happy living at her paternal village Jwarwala for, "the school bus does not go to my village but stops at this village so I shifted to my nanke."
Motivated by Jaspreet's case, Dhindsa, who is also the convenor of the NGO, Society for Education in Backward Areas (SEABA), has launched a drive to appeal to people interested in supporting education of children like Jaspreet or even other poor children. Dhindsa says "We have decided to appeals for participation in education of such children either on annual basis or on life time basis. If a person desires he can deposit Rs 1 lakh in one go and this will ensure a minimum of ten years of education for the child in our school. If someone wants to sponsor the child on an yearly basis then the amount comes to around Rs 15000 per year and includes school fees, books, school uniform and the transportation of the students."
Dhindsa says, "We are also trying to boost the morale of these children through therapeutic forms like theatre and sports."
Those interested in helping may contact Kawaljit Singh Dhindsa, Convenor, SEABA, at +911676273498 or Jatinder Preet co-ordinator Media Artists at, 9815512084 or email at or

Punjab the 'Best' State! - Really?

Punjab was recently adjudged the best state. Birinder Pal Singh, Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Punjabi University, Patiala, in an article in The Tribune wonders how could it be so, the way things are actually.

The recent "Best State Award" to Punjab is, no doubt, a matter of pride. But if one looks at the state of society, polity, economy, or even agriculture and environment, he would fail to appreciate the criteria adopted by the judges and meaning of such awards. One wonders how one-dimensional and lopsided are the indices of growth and development selected by the judges.
As a sociologist, this writer finds it difficult to reconcile how the "Best State Award" is related to the problem of female foeticide and lowest sex ratio (793 females per 1000 males) in the country. That too, in an area where the religion of half strongly interdicts the killing of baby girl - those who kill their daughters would be boycotted socially. Despite this, we find a highly skewed sex ratio. Is this variable not related to the criteria of selection of the "Best State"?
It is not that the female in Punjab is an endangered species in its foetal stage only. Her problems multiply as she grows. Starting from neglect of all sorts - food, clothing, education or other allied privileges - compared to man, she is finally sent to another family to be exploited and sometimes be a victim of the exploding stove. The lust for dowry is going sky-high in this age of consumer culture.
Lately, Punjabis have become desperate to marry their daughters abroad so that she becomes a safe conduit for the whole family, especially the sons, to the greener pasture of the western world. Once again, the daughter is sacrified for the son's settlement. These parents know full well the fate of such marriages, but still "someone must sacrifice" for the family.
The picture is no less gloomy for males. Their dropout rate is high in school. And they keep filtering out as they go up. The Punjabi University has about 70 per cent girls who were a meagre 30 per cent two decades ago. What are the boys doing? The fortunate ones make to the US/Canada somehow. The Malta tragedy has not dampened the spirit of the Punjabi youth for illegal migration. And, the not so fortunate ones who stay back take to drugs and intoxicants. This menace is growing every day. Why are young people indulging in escapism and others desperate to run out of the "Best State"?
The land of "the five rivers" is gradually losing out its water reservoirs, both surface and underground. We may boast of the increasing number of tube-wells and tractors, but do not look at the water table that is receding at the rate of a metre per year in most parts of the state. Aren't we becoming an extension of the great Indian desert? We haven't taken water harvesting seriously. The rich farmers are going deeper and deeper to water their crops. Where would the poor farmers go? Why are the farmers committing suicide?
The state of the forest, so very essential for the environment, ecology, water and wildlife etc. has also succumbed to the thriftiness of the Punjabi farmer who is well known for clearing the forests in the Tarai region of Uttranchal and Madhya Pradesh. In Punjab, the forest cover is dismally lower than the minimum requirement of 33 per cent. The inflated figures released by the government stand at less than 8 per cent.
The state of polity is no better. It is ridden with factions and strife both within and outside the party independent of its type and ideology. Barring a few exceptions, political leaders are concerned with their narrow end of maximising one's own resources. Why are they so callous towards their own beloved Punjab?
What is happening to the health services of the state? The Government Rajindra Hospital at Patiala was a premier institution only two decades ago. It is now slogging due to paucity of funds. It is stagnating while the private polyclinics are mushrooming and flourishing in its vicinity. The condition of the rural health services is worse. The doctors and other staff go to the Primary Health Centre to collect their salaries only. According to the latest World Bank Report, on an average, on any day, "nearly 39 per cent of doctors and 44 per cent of other medical personnel are absent from their place of work".
If health is not taken care of in the rural areas, is education faring any better? The latest World Bank report says 552 government schools do not have a single teacher, 2500 have one teacher each and 7000 primary schools have only two or three teachers. Each day 36 per cent primary teachers abstain from schools. Of the remaining 64 per cent, only half go to classes. What is the status and future of government school education in the "Best State" and the "builders of the nation" after 58 years of self-rule?
One may reach out to any sector of the Punjabi society and find it replete with problems. Are internal security services any better? One may only listen to the cassettes of Bhagwant Mann to assess the nature and character of the Punjab Police. The people are scared of approaching the police stations that are fraught with all kinds of ills. The senior officers of this force have often been charged with serious misconduct especially with fair sex. How secure is the life of an ordinary citizen in hands of the police of the "best state"?
The reader may charge this writer with extreme pessimism in painting such a gloomy picture of their beloved state. But what should one do when he cannot be a victim of the pigeon-cat syndrome? The academic and the media must not eulogise the little achievements of the government/state which is duty, but they must point out mistakes so that the state may improve and deliver the goods.
The whole problem with declaring a "Best State" lies in our obsession with statistics of a select set of variables. We must shun this obsession. A rise in the number of tractors, tube-wells, the volume of pesticides and fertilisers or even of wheat and rice does not mean that all is well with the state. On the contrary, the number of suicides does not seem large enough to bother the government for launching a remedial action on a war footing.

Saturday, September 3

Grandparents in Punjab bring up children of a lost generation

As hundreds of indebted farmers in Punjab commit suicide, in village after village old grandparents -- once prosperous, now impoverished -- are left struggling to take care of their grandchildren, writes Rashme Sehgal

Dressed in a tehmat and kurta, Bade Ram looks older than his age. He has every reason to look worried. He has no option but to stop sending his two nieces -- 11-year-old Sheila and nine-year-old Reena, studying in Class 5 and Class 2 respectively -- to the government school.
It's difficult to believe that Bade Ram, whose family once owned 300 acres of land in the village of Banga near Patiala, can no longer afford to send the two young girls to school. But rural indebtedness has caused such havoc among families in the Punjab that they are no longer in a position to fork out even Rs 200 every month. Although the fees at government schools are not high, other incidental expenses including the cost of uniforms and books work out to almost Rs 200 per month.
Bade Ram's three elder brothers committed suicide. Bade Ram takes a deep breath and says: "My oldest brother Balbir Singh committed suicide way back in 1997. Immediately after his death, my bhabhi , the wife of another brother Gyana Singh, became ill. My brother ended up taking loans of Rs 2,50,000 for her treatment. She could not be cured and 21 days later Gyana killed himself by drinking pesticide."
Activist Surjeet Singh, from the nearby village of Bhutal Khurd, feels the problem in the Sangrur belt is compounded by annual flooding of the Ghaggar river. "Unlike other parts of the Punjab, the farmers here can grow only one crop. Year after year we end up losing the paddy crop. The government is aware of our problems but has done nothing to try and rein in the river," Singh complains.
"With our entire livelihood dependent on the wheat crop, most of us farmers have been forced to take loans for weddings or for illnesses, which we are not in a position to repay. What has broken our spirit is the fact that while the children of dalits enjoy several privileges, including free education, free uniforms and free books, no such facilities have been extended to the majority of farmers who belong to the Jat community," Surjeet Singh adds.
Bade Ram is too weighed down by his immediate problems to add to the discussion. Educating his nieces is only one of his many worries. His other major concern is that he is the sole breadwinner for his brothers' children too. "My elder brother has left behind an 18-year-old daughter who has to be married off. From where do I raise the money for her marriage?" he asks.
The spate of farmer suicides in Punjab has created an unprecedented situation where often one or sometimes both parents are dead. So the burden of bringing up children is being shouldered by grandfathers and grandmothers who have neither the money nor the physical strength to cope with such a huge responsibility.
There's Paneswari Devi, who, at the age of 70, is trying her best to look after her son's three children. Sitting outside her dilapidated hut in Khanori Khurd village in Bhutal Kalan, near Lehra, she tries to stop her fingers from trembling as she describes the abject poverty and anguish of her condition.
"After my husband's death, my only son Pritam Singh committed suicide by drinking pesticide. This happened in July 2004. He was only 27 years old. The local moneylenders forced him to take this extreme step. My husband had taken a loan against our land, which he was not able to repay. The debt piled up and Pritam Singh also was not in a position to repay the money. After his death, his wife ran away leaving behind three children between the ages of five and ten. They are my responsibility, but tell me, how can an aged and ailing woman like me take care of them," she asks.
Shanti Devi, an elderly grandmother from Kalwanjara, shares Paneswari Devi's plight. Her husband's suicide, triggered by indebtedness, preyed enormously on the psyche of her two elder boys both of whom also ended up taking their own lives. Her middle son's wife, unwilling to be burdened with the responsibility of taking care of three young children, ran away. Shanti Devi was already looking after her youngest son who is retarded. She is now forced to depend on village charity to take care of the three children and her youngest son. "If someone gives me one kilo of wheat for doing an odd job here or there, then only we are able to eat. The rest of the time we are close to starvation," she says in a faltering voice.
Members of panchayats in the region are worried about this trend. One senior sarpanch, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "This entire area comes under the Lok Sabha constituency of Perneet Kaur, wife of Punjab's chief minister Amarinder Singh. She has all the money and the wherewithal to come to the rescue of these grief-stricken families, but she has done little to help any of them."
Malkit Kaur, sarpanch of Chotiyan village, points out: "We are constantly being sensitised about the whole AIDS syndrome where earning members of families are being destroyed by this disease. But in Punjab an entire generation has been wiped out because of rural indebtedness. And once the earning member is not there, who is going to shoulder the responsibility of nurturing and taking care of the young ones? The elders have been placed in an impossible situation."
Delhi High Court lawyer Manjit Hardev Singh read about the plight of these families in the newspapers. Extremely disturbed, she got in touch with Chandigarh-based activist Inderjit Singh Jajee who has been highlighting suicides in the Punjab. Manjit Hardev Singh personally toured some of the affected villages and decided to adopt three families being looked after by an aged matriarch. All three families were from Sangrur district. "I'm giving each of the three families I have adopted a stipend of Rs 1,500 each. The cheques are given to them through their local sarpanch or a responsible village elder. But my contribution is like a drop in the ocean. Other people need to come forward to look after these suffering people," she says.
Sociologist Dr Pramod Kumar, who runs the Centre for Sociology and Communication in Chandigarh, believes the government must take immediate steps to provide assistance to these families. "Community structures have broken down all over the state. Even in the villages, extended families are getting smaller. The government should intervene and provide some sort of relief package for these people. This whole trend of elders taking care of a younger generation is no solution to the problem."
But until the government steps in, the plight of over 10,000 families in the Punjab (according to estimates put together by local activists) will remain unchanged.

(Rashme Sehgal is a Delhi-based writer and journalist)