Saturday, January 28

Punjabis and Their Identity

Punjabiyat will not die away or remain forever hostage to communalism on the Indian side or self-denial on the Pakistani side, asserts Ishtiaq Ahmed, an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University

Individual and group identities are formed in relation to other individuals and groups. Therefore identity is both self-defined and other-defined, besides being multi-dimensional. Identity satisfies psychological or emotional needs and is needed for finding anchor in the social world as well as for building solidarity. Almost all individual and group identities contain multiple elements; something which makes possible adjustment to the circumstances, but also introduces a degree of unreliability since identity responses can be capricious and unpredictable and therefore easier to manipulate by ruling elites. One can, however, argue that identity is not something merely subjective and objective criteria can also be employed to define it. Thus the speakers of a language can be categorised according to an objective criteria ? all those who speak a particular language belong to one group. The problem is that such objectification may not be the primary element in the self-definition or other-definition of all those who speak that language. Religion, sect, caste or biradari could be even more important.
No other linguistic nationality displays this malaise of conflicting dimensions more than speakers of the Punjabi language. The Punjabis and their cultural-geographical space, Punjab, have been fractured many times in the modern period beginning with the British conquest in 1849. At the beginning of the 20th century revivalist movements emerged among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and although all three communities spoke Punjabi at home, Muslims began to declare Urdu as their mother tongue; Hindus identified themselves with Hindi, and Sikhs with Punjabi. The communalisation of Punjabi identity culminated in the division of Punjab in 1947. The Hindu-Sikh majority East Punjab was awarded to India and the predominantly Muslim areas in the western districts were given to Pakistan.
In 1956 the former princely states of Patiala, Faridkot, Kapurthala and others were amalgamated into East Punjab, but this did not satisfy the Sikh leaders of the Akali Dal who began to campaign for a compact Punjabi-speaking province. In reaction Punjabi Hindus, under the influence of various communal parties as well as the Congress Party, declared Hindi and not Punjabi as their mother tongue. It resulted in the Punjabi Suba agitation launched by Master Tara Singh and later Sardar Fateh Singh. In 1966 Mrs Indira Gandhi conceded the demand of the Sikhs. Accordingly only Punjabi-speaking areas remained in East Punjab while those areas in which Hindi was the main language were awarded to Haryana and some to Himachal Pradesh. Such redrawing of borders did not satisfy some Sikh nationalists who launched the Khalistan movement in the hope of establishing an independent Sikh state. The Indian state reacted with all the might at its disposal and between June 1984 and early 1990s the Khalistanis and the Indian police and security forces were embroiled in terrorism against each other which resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people. At present it seems that the Indian government has brought the situation under control.
The Pakistani Punjab emerged as the dominant province in the Pakistani dispensation, although the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs were initially overly represented in the government as well as the state machinery. During the mid-1950s West Punjab ceased to exist and the whole of West Pakistan was ruled from Lahore, the capital of Punjab. This was not liked by the smaller provinces and that scheme had to be abandoned after the fall of Field Marshal Ayub Khan from power in 1969. After the secession of East Pakistan, the Pakistani Punjab became also the numerically preponderate province. Under General Ziaul Haq the Punjabi presence in the economy, politics and military became even greater. The intriguing aspect of this success story is that the Pakistani Punjabis were able to achieve pre-eminence through a negation of Punjabi culture. In the 1980s an attempt was also made to bring out a daily newspaper in Punjabi, Sajjan. It was published for a while but went out of print because neither the government nor the private sector helped it through advertisements and public notices.
Thus all governments, including those of Punjab, curbed Punjabi literacy and instead promoted Urdu as the medium of instruction and expression in school. Until the early 1990s, members of the Punjab Assembly were forbidden to address the House in Punjabi. This ban was removed by Hanif Ramay who at that time was the speaker of the Punjab Assembly. Some valiant champions continue to propagate the cause of the Punjabi language but this is confined to small intellectual circles. They have been demanding that Punjabi be taught in school at the primary level, but no government has accepted this idea.
Ironically despite much emotional emphasis on Urdu the Pakistani power elite relies on English to maintain an exclusive control over the state. Urdu serves as the cement on the broader literary and cultural level in all urban areas of Pakistan and Punjabis are as good as its native speakers, the Mohajirs, in using it. There is therefore no objective advantage in cultivating Punjabi because English and Urdu are more effective than Punjabi as means of domination. The Punjabi language therefore is relegated to informal day-to-day communications and is likely to remain so unless something dramatic happens to alter that situation. Therefore, in my opinion, a study of identity in general and the position of language in particular should be located within existing power relations and material conditions.
However, I am convinced that Punjabiyat will not die away or remain forever hostage to communalism on the Indian side or self-denial on the Pakistani side. In the years ahead, the people of the old historical Punjab are likely to realise that they need to cooperate in order to make efficient use of the water resources in the region, benefit from trade and particularly if they want to avoid extinction because any future war between India and Pakistan will always inflict irreparable damage and loss on this region and its people. Such a realisation will surely create the awareness in favour of beginning a dialogue between them. That dialogue can only be conducted in Punjabi, both in the spoken and written form because trust and confidence can best be built in a language which goes to the heart. We only have to start singing Heer Waris Shah from our border post at the Wagah and let?s see how the fellow on the other side responds.

Sunday, January 15

Oh Girl

Every year, Punjab kills almost 1 lakh girls before they are born. A report in The Indian Express on how the state is fighting its dwindling sex ratio with just one conviction in 4 years, and a Rs 1000 fine

(Birth of A Girl Child, an oil on canvas by Kay Singleton-Keller)

Four years, 75 FIRs, one conviction - this is where the campaign for the girl child has reached in Punjab, the state with a sex ratio among the lowest in the country. And though all diagnostic centres are registered and claim to have put an end to sex determination, one in every four girls is still killed before she can breathe her first. The numbers of girl child dropping every year are an indication of rampant foeticide in the state.
The lone conviction is no encouragement either. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Test (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was enforced some four years ago and the prize conviction was for "maintaining improper records".
A fine of only Rs 1,000 was imposed by the court, according to a state health official.
But authorities showcase another set of statistics. The health department has registered no less than 75 FIRs under the Act and suspended licences of 143 diagnostic centres across Punjab. The provisions of the Act have been exercised for various cases of sex determination, improper record keeping and pre-conception advertisements. And, all 1,265 diagnostic centres in Punjab are now registered under the PNDT Act.
Conviction, officials admit, is a thorny issue so the health department went head-on last month. "We cancelled the registration of an Amritsar-based doctor for five years or till the pendency of the case against him, whichever is early," said a senior official.
The conviction of Satyam Diagnostic Center's owner was the first ever conviction under the PNDT Act in the country. Punjab Medical Council cancelled the doctor's licence for five years for allegedly facilitating sex determination. Now the department of health and family welfare has filed a review petition in Punjab and Haryana High Court demanding enhancement of the punishment.
Anurag Agrawal, a bureaucrat and former deputy commissioner of Bathinda, who had the medical fraternity rallying against him after his action against some diagnostic centres allegedly carrying out sex determination, says that follow-up of the pregnant women could provide proper lead about sex determination.
"A woman will go for the medical termination of an unwanted pregnancy, after she misses the mensural cycle. If the pregnancy is terminated between 12 to 18 weeks of conception, it should be investigated," says the author of Female Foeticide: Myth and Reality.
While writing the book, Agrawal took help of 500 volunteers of Istri Sehat Sabhas and followed up 374 women who had one or more girl children. "Many were found to have terminated pregnancies after finding out that the child was a girl," he says
Dr. Rajesh Kumar, head, the department of community medicine, PGI, Chandigarh, who conducted a demographic study on the sex ratio of India, says that Punjab figures among five worse states with dwindling sex ratio. "Though the government has made some efforts to check illegal terminations of pregnancy, those have not been very successful," he adds.
"There is a conspiracy of silence on the part of Punjab government," alleges Dr Ram Bhardwaj, alternate member, central working committee, Indian Medical Association (IMA). Agreeing that the sex determination 'industry' has flourished to carry out a business of approximately Rs 200 crore each year in the state, Dr Bhardwaj says that the government's attitude would ruin Punjab.
"The cases registered against the diagnostic centres in Punjab do not pertain to the fact that certain medical practitioners are caught terminating a girl child. The cases are always for some procedural lapses for maintaining the record of the patients and so forth. The authorities do it to ensure that their record shows they do take some action," he alleges.
"The story of son-preferring Punjab's missing girls is hardly new," says Veena Sharma, director, Human Rights Law Network, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. "The law requires evidence which is hardly present. The diagnostic centres do not give any reports," she says. "Besides, the public prosecutors do not have time to go deep into the issue."
There is little choice, say officials, because there is no evidence in most cases. Which is why a campaign targeted only at clinics will not work. "There are no complainants. The patient, doctors and attendants are all in league," says Dr Rana Harinder, Director of Health Services (Punjab). "It's the parents who insist on sex determination. And the doctors have come up with their own clandestine ways of letting the parents know of the sex of the child in the womb," she adds.
The other end of the campaign, she says, will "sooner or later" deliver results. Among these are cash incentives to panchayats for improving the village sex ratio. "The state government has also announced handsome incentives for decoys and informers to check the problem." The schemes, she insists, have been instrumental in generating awareness at the grassroots level. It is, however, a claim that figures do not bear out as yet. Harinder echoes that doubt: "I am hopeful. The situation will improve."

Saturday, January 14

Caught In A Contract

Reneging MNCs are robbing farmers of their dues in Punjab, reports Rajesh Ramachandran in Outlook
A sprawling house set amidst lush farms, a four-wheeler and a tractor parked in the courtyard, workers on call, Gurcharan Singh standing in a field of blooming yellow mustard crop looks the very picture of Punjab's new-age farmer, waiting for mncs to sign contracts with him. But in reality, he is an angry man. He searches desperately for the piece of paper state PSU Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation (PAFC) gave him promising to buy his mustard crop. Unable to find it, he and fellow farmers symbolically burn a piece of paper to protest the dishonouring of his contract.This farmer from Ghumman Kalan in Gurdaspur had signed a contract in 2004 with the PAFC when he bought Hyola or hybrid mustard seeds for Rs 450, enough to sow three acres. The corporation had promised to lift his yield at Rs 1,700 a quintal. Early last year, Gurcharan took 27 quintals of mustard to the prescribed market at Dhariwal, where he was reminded of the fine print, the quality parameters. PAFC claimed that Gurcharan's mustard had high moisture content. He went back, dried his produce and returned. To no avail. He visited Dhariwal a third time and when the response was still the same, Gurcharan sold off his produce in the Batala market for Rs 1,500 a quintal. "The deal was one-sided, I couldn't contest their claim. I'd have put 10 acres on contract this season had they honoured it. But this small patch is all I've sown for my own use," he says.This is the state of the Punjab government's much-touted contract farming policy. The central government's Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) confirmed farmers' woes in a field study done in September 2005. It revealed a distinct lack of accountability on PAFC's part. When the Punjab government amended its Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act in 2002 to initiate contract farming, it made PAFC a nodal agency, a party to the contracts and the sole arbitrator. But the CACP noted while referring to cases of non-payment of dues by Nijjer Agro Foods Ltd, a Punjab-based company, to tomato farmers for over a year just to "force them to supply their produce to the factory" (for fear of not being paid their earlier dues), "So far, the PAFC has not taken up any case for settlement of dispute." In fact, it seems to have looked the other way when mncs like Pepsi and other agro-majors have reneged on promises. In another study commissioned by the state government in 2004, the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) noted an alarming 60 per cent of contract farmers saying 'No' to further contracts. In an evaluation of the contract farming scheme in Punjab state, PAU scientists surveyed eight districts and spoke to farmers listed by the PAFC. Overall only 36.25 per cent farmers were satisfied with contract farming, it benefited just a minority. In comparison to conventional farming, the net losses suffered on Hyola were Rs 2,238 an acre and Rs 7,594.01 an acre for winter maize. Says economist Sucha Singh Gill of Punjabi University, Patiala, "Farmers are largely being cheated. I did a survey of contract farmers in Patiala last year and found that PAFC is working virtually like an agent of these companies." There is in fact heavy government subsidy, as Dr S.S. Johl, former chairman of CACP, points out. The mandi fee, rural development tax and purchase tax are waived off and the PAFC pays a huge amount to private companies and corporations as charges for technical services. For instance, Tata Chemicals is paid Rs 100 an acre for technical services and expertise rendered to farmers. If this is converted to the total targeted Basmati crop this year of one lakh acres, PAFC would be shelling out over Rs 1 crore for passing on technical expertise to farmers!But Ravinder Singh of Ghumman Kalan bought 10 kg of Basmati seed from Tata Chemicals for Rs 350 two years ago and shelled out Rs 100 himself for their technical advice. None came. The contracted price for his produce was Rs 1,250 a quintal. "They rejected my Basmati saying it had higher moisture content. But I got over Rs 1,300 in the market.?
Most of the farmers whose contracts were dishonoured didn't even know they could approach the PAFC for settlement. Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and a former parliamentarian, alleges corrupt practices. "According to official figures, the PAFC bought back just 10 per cent of the mustard yield in Gurdaspur district. Through the PAFC, private companies sold seeds to be sown in 4,400 acres, the yield should have been roughly 36,000 quintals. But the PAFC bought only 3,500 quintals." Mann even suspects an attempt by the companies to depress market rates and ensure distress sales. "If you reject 90 per cent of the produce, there would be a surplus in the open market and the very same companies could procure it indirectly.
Since the PAFC is a nodal agency responsible for the conduct of private companies, Outlook sought its managing director Himmat Singh's response to these allegations. Holding the aversion to market forces responsible for such accusations, he said, "Few people understand that this is purely a voluntary decision of the farmer to join a new way of agriculture. If he has a problem, who's stopping him from filing a criminal case against Pepsi or any of the companies allegedly duping him?" He, however, admits that no farmer has approached the PAFC yet for arbitration because, as he puts it, "the market absorbs the defects". But, as Gill points out, "Presently, it's an unequal relationship between the farmer and the companies. Since the latter are more powerful, they are arm-twisting them, and few have means for redressal."Himmat Singh argues that the PAFC wants farmers to be quality-conscious. "In the post-wto regime, farmers have to get used to quality standards," he says. Except that quality has become a convenient escape route. The CACP report cites the example of potato farmers who had signed contracts with Pepsi. A 3-4 day wait at the factory gate results in increased sugar level, rendering the produce substandard. The rejected quantity fetches just Re 1 a kilo whereas the contract price is Rs 4.50. Baldev Singh Jaldar of Bhaliapur in Amritsar district and 12 others entered contracts with Pepsi last June for Rs 1,200 a quintal of Basmati after having bought seed from it. "When I took the yield to them, the company told me it was substandard. It is like my wife telling me she doesn't like my beard wagging when I talk. Having bought the seeds and signed the contract, what option do I have," he asks.It's a vicious circle. As the CACP report points out, "Even if the market price rises above the contract price, Pepsi ensures farmers deliver their produce at the predetermined price. No concession is given. In case of default, the farmer is blacklisted." The threat of blacklisting and the uncertainty of market rates the next season force the farmer to forego the higher market rate. Since there is no official procurement of Basmati by governmental agencies, farmers are captive to the companies.Nijjer is the company that has come in for the worst criticism from the CACP for late payment, bounced cheques and non-payment. But PAFC says Nijjer Agro is not even registered with it and hence it knows nothing of its operations. Laws of the jungle rather than the farm seem to prevail in Punjab where the arbitrator is a mere spectator.

Friday, January 6

Punjab farmer at Arhtiya's mercy

Not state agencies, private moneylenders lead to top status in rural indebtedness, writes Amrita Chaudhry in The Indian Express

Not state agencies, it is the commission agent, the arhtiya, who is the biggest debt-giver in the state. So, even though Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has hinted at waiving the loans taken from state agencies, that amount accounts for a fraction of the total rural debt. That sums up the tragedy of the Punjab farmer today. For a breed that once considered debt as an anathema, they now lead the country in rural indebtedness; indeed, the total annual rural debt of the state, Rs 24,000 crore in 2003-04, is more than its gross annual earnings from agriculture. According to a recent report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), each Punjab farmer has a debt of Rs 41,576, against the national average of Rs 12,505. The rising cost of inputs, combined with the almost-static minimum support price (MSP), is popularly held responsible for the ever-increasing debt burden. Giving an insight into the state of affairs at Ground Zero, Malkit Singh, a farmer who owns four acres at Lehal Kalan village in Sangrur district, says the entire village economy hinges on the parchhis started by the arhtiya. "Be it a loan for pesticides, seeds or even clothes, my arhtiya, instead of giving me money, hands me a chit with which I can buy the stuff from a shop owned by him or his friends," he says. "It's the arhtiya who handles our debt records, we simply continue selling our crop to him. And the interest rates can even touch 24 per cent." The vicious cycle often ends in death, says Inderjeet Singh Jaijee, who heads a group called Movement Against State Repression (MASR). "The only reason suicides are not catching the media eye is because of the stigma attached to the s-word in the state. No self-respecting family will ever own up to one of its members taking his own life," he says. But MASR workers claim to have uncovered 750 suicides in two blocks of Sangrur district alone since 1988. Jaijee is now fighting a battle in the High Court to get compensation for the victims' families, on the lines of Andhra Pradesh. On another front, the Punjab Farmers' Commission has approached the Punjab Agricultural University to conduct a study on the issue. Dr P S Rangi, advisor, Farmers Commission, says: "We plan to study the requirement, availability and the utilisation of credit by the farming sector." The Punjab Human Development Report, 2004, prepared under the aegis of UNDP, attributes the rise in farm debt to the squeeze in profit. Dr H S Shergill, a well-known economist from Panjab University, Chandigarh, who was the first person to give a figure to this indebtedness, says: "The cost of inputs has almost doubled in the past two years, but the MSP hasn't changed much in four years." The farmers are also being accused of trying to keep up with the Joneses by taking unproductive loans for marriage celebrations, house, et al. With most experts still grappling with the volume of the debt, there are few solutions in sight. Dr Sucha Singh Gill, a reputed economist from Punjabi University, underlines the need to spruce up the government agencies doling out credit to save farmers from being exploited by commission agents. "The state government should declare loans given by the private money lenders null and void," Gill says, adding that at least 12 per cent of the farmers were in no position to repay their loans even if they sold off their land.

Monday, January 2

Sins of the clergy

A real coming together of peoples of the world, with cooperation and not confrontation being the buzzword is not happening because of the baggage we carry today of some deadly sins of clergy, according to Pushpa M. Bhargava, the Vice-Chairman of the Knowledge Commission

It is a cliché that man has today all the means to destroy all of his species through weapons of mass destruction possessed by many countries led by the US. There is no country that can be trusted not to use them; in fact, the larger the stock of the WMDs, the greater is the illusory arrogance of power and, therefore, greater the chances of the country using them.
The only insurance against something like this happening would be an effort towards one world and one government that would safeguard the interests of all its constituents: a real coming together of peoples of the world, with cooperation and not confrontation being the buzzword. Why is it, then, that this is not happening? One of the main reasons is the baggage we carry today of some deadly sins of clergy that control religion, be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian or any other. Indeed, the clergy are the second multinationals around the world whose primary concern is to safeguard their interests as against the interests of the people.
The priests survive on misinterpretation of the teachings of the founders of their religion or other respected leaders. An example would be the emergence of Wahabi-Salafism in the Islamic world. Today's Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism are a direct consequence of the ideology of Wahabi-Salafism. The way in which the Wahabis and Salafis have misinterpreted the Quran is well-documented in the book, Terrors' Source: the Ideology of Wahabi-Salafism and its Consequences, authored by Vincenzo Oliveti (a pseudonym of one of the most illustrious 43rd generation living descendants of Prophet Mohammed).
The way the Christian clergy has done the same thing with Christianity is clear from the bestseller, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The only people who have gained by misinterpretation of the teachings of the founders of the great religions or the real writers of the ancient scriptures are the clergy.
It is the clergy who have invented miracles and attributed them to the founders of the great religions. Miracles have been the single greatest weapon in the armour of the clergy. Would Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi ever have the following if he was not perceived to be capable of performing miracles? It is another matter that everything that he can do which people perceive as miracles can be done by scores of others who are honest and call it a sleight of hand.
An outstanding example of deceit implicit in the phenomena of miracles is that of Mother Teresa. I had the privilege of meeting her and was extremely impressed by her humility and humanity, which alone should have been enough in any civilized world to confer on her the status of a saint. However, for her to be canonised, Vatican required that it be shown that she had performed at least two miracles; therefore, these miracles had to be invented, with (almost) everyone knowing that they were actually never performed! It is to her credit that she never ever in her life claimed that she had performed any miracle.
The clergy invented the concept of 'divinity' which implies that one's life is totally controlled according to what has been ordained by the 'divine' power (whatever that may be), and since the clergy represent this divine power, they and they alone can help you change the course of your so-called 'destiny'. Most gods are 'bribable' and the clergy will tell you how and what to give as a bribe. The processed link with the divine power makes them a closed community. Can you think of a Shankaracharya being a Shudra?
The Hindu clergy tell you that your caste is a divine dispensation and defines your duties and obligations. It is a different matter that no religious leader (past or present) could tell the caste or religion of a newborn child! If you are designated entirely on the basis of your parentage, as belong to the lowest caste or being casteless, you must accept that you have no more right than an (unwanted) animal and that you must do without complaining, all the dirty work of the higher castes, with the only compensation being abuse and insult.
One of the paramount duties of the clergy everywhere has been to distort history and to first invent and then present legend as history. For example, common sense tells you that Rama and Krishna, and the stories associated with them, are legends - in fact, fairy tales like those of Hans Christian Anderson or Grimm. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code brings out, with courage and elegance, the attempt to distort history in the Christian world. There is no codified religion the clergy of which have not attempted to 'sanitise' history to suit their interests.
Science has been the biggest enemy of the clergy - perhaps all through history but certainly from the beginning of Renaissance in Europe from which time organised science began to evolve. Thus Bruno was burnt at stake and Galileo incarcerated for stating a truth arrived at by using the method of science. Opposition to abortion and renewed efforts in the US to give equal status in school teaching to creation and evolution to explain the origin of man, are other contemporary examples.
A major attempt of the clergy all over the world, in every religion, has been to replace evidence and truth by belief and myth. Their preachings have, therefore, been the greatest single impediment to the development of a knowledge-based society in the world, which alone can lead to universal peace.
The clergy and their followers have been, in fact, the single promoters of war and other conflicts around the world in the last many centuries. Examples would be the Wars of Crusades, the religious conflicts in Ireland and Central Europe, and the problem between India and Pakistan. The clergy mislead people all the time by giving them a feeling of greatness by simply belonging to their religion or sect. They then subtly convert this feeling into the right to govern others who are not so ?great?. There are lessons in this process for our management and ad gurus.
The clergy have, all through history, kept their followers bound to laws that often have no basis in reason, humanism or basic human rights. Not only that, they interpret the so-called ?religious laws? to suit their convenience. Indeed, one of the best things that has happened to the Hindu community in India in the above context was the codification of the Hindu law. Unfortunately, this has not happened with the one billion-strong Islamic community around the world. The Islamic clergy have tied this community down by various - sometimes conflicting - provisions of Islamic personal law, the Sharia.
My personal commitment is to reason, to basic human rights, and to evidence-based truth, and not to any religious dogma. Nevertheless, in a democratic world, everyone must have a right to believe whatever one wishes to as an individual. However, no one should have the right to preach to others, using falsehood and deceit, their own beliefs, including belief in religious dogma.
One of the biggest challenges we, therefore, have today is to eventually decimate the hold of clergy on the people so that they may think freely and on their own. Unless that happens, we cannot dream of a conflict-free world. The time has come when we must start thinking seriously about how to achieve the above objective: that is, to punish the clergy of all religions for their deadly sins.

Sunday, January 1

Empire's insult to Punjabis to be taken back

'Punjabis are liars', said British judges. But not anymore! A slur against the community committed over 70 years ago may finally be corrected.

British Judges had called Punjabis liars during the Raj. Now thanks to a petition filed by over a 1000 people including leading politicians and Sikh activists in the UK, the Labour government has officially condemned the controversial statement and is now considering expunging it from legal records.
But this is not enough for Sonia Raj Sood, Indian Supreme Court lawyer who is fighting to have the ruling officially revoked in India. "Tony Blair should say sorry for the comments. I do not want future generations to grow up and find that these remarks continue to remain in the law books of Pakistan, India and Britain," said Raj, who has so far not been able to get the comments revoked in India.
She took her case for expulsion of these derogatory remarks to the Supreme Court of India, which, on July 11 this year, ruled that the matter fell outside its jurisdiction. Few in Pakistan had heard of her legal fight in the Indian court until she landed in Lahore to file a similar appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.During the 1924 murder trial of Bakhshish Singh Vs the Emperor, Judges Scott Smith and JJ Martineau ruled that evidence given by Punjabis could not be taken at face value. "It is well known that inhabitants of the Punjab will not only accuse actual offenders but also include the names of other enemies, hence their declaration is unacceptable as a basis of conviction," they said.This slur has remained on record for 71 years and according to Harmander Singh from the policy think tank, Sikhs in England, it has angered Punjabis for many generations. "It is a blot for the entire Punjabi community, especially those who live in Britain and are proud to be associated with this country," said Singh. "For some time now we have wanted it deleted from the record books, not just here but also in India. It is an unacceptable thing to say," he added.Spearheading the campaign is Labour Peer Lord Ahmed Nazir who helped to organise the petition and put it to the government. In a letter written to Lord Nazir, government minister Kim Howells has distanced the current government and courts from the comments. "It goes without saying that these remarks bear no relation to the policies of this government or the workings of the courts across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We fully appreciate the huge contribution made by people of Indian and Pakistani origin who live and work in the UK," said Howells.