Sunday, October 31

Junior, not the weaker sibling

On Haryana Day, Ramesh Vinayak writing in Hindustan Times, compares Punjab with the neighbouring state to take stock of what it was that made Haryana click and why Punjab didn't

On November 1, 1966, Haryana emerged on the map of India as a separate state, carved out of Punjab. The two neighbours have ever since shared prickly ties, fighting protracted politico-legal slugfests over river waters and territorial issues. While the jury is still out on the contentious issues, the two have also been engaged in another battle -this one, on the development front.

Four and a half decades on, the verdict on this race is clear: Haryana, once dubbed as the poor cousin of Punjab, has outpaced the senior state on most key parameters. Be it per capita income or average growth rate, fiscal buoyancy or manufacturing and realty boom, even foreign direct investment, Haryana has scripted a trailblazing success story, surging ahead of Punjab, which is caught in a leader-to-laggard syndrome.

In fact, the border state's historic head start -the Green Revolution-powered growth of the Seventies -has almost petered out and Punjab now finds itself bracketed with the slowest growing states.
Haryana, in contrast, continues on a rapid-fire progress mode, with the Gurgaon skyline its leitmotif.

That was for the differences. What is common is their dark underbelly -the poor human development indices, most dubious being the highly skewed sex ratio, the worst in the country, because of rampant female foeticide. Haryana also has a blind spot from inequitable growth, which is confined mostly to cities and towns.

As Haryana steps into its 45th year, Hindustan Times tracks the growth trajectory of the two states to answer the oft-asked questions -who is ahead, in what and why? It's true, Haryana has benefited as much from its proximity to the National Capital as from better-managed economy, while Punjab has the lost decade of the '80s to blame for it losing out on virtually every “revolution“ -automobile, IT or retail -that swept across the country. Yet, in the 21st century, there's no denying the overarching factor remains quality of governance.

Monday, October 18

Why Punjab can’t afford pork

Punjab has been playing bad economics for long, P Raghavan writing in The Indian Express cites figures to show that score-sheet reflects poorly on those governing the state
Clashes between powerful politicians over policy is not unusual, but the fight between Punjab’s former Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and his party on the issue of curbing wasteful spending on populist schemes stands out. It’s rare for Indian politicians to stand up against political largesse or pork-barrel politics as the Americans call it. Growing subsidy bills and debt burdens, issues raised by Manpreet Badal, are usually low-priority matters.
But the big question is: how has Punjab’s profligacy impacted its debt burden and fiscal management? Long-term trends show that the Shiromani Akali Dal government has been lax about containing expenditure, and pushed up the state’s deficits. For instance, the numbers show that during the third stint of the Parkash Singh Badal government, the revenue deficit shot up from Rs 1,485 crore in 1997-98 to Rs 2,336 crore in 2000-01. However, Amarinder Singh’s Congress government that replaced Badal’s was more restrained in its spending. The revenue deficit even declined from Rs 3,781 crore in 2001-02 to Rs 1,749 in 2006-07. But the gains made were reversed sharply in the fourth stint of the Badal regime when the revenue deficit of the state doubled in just three years from Rs 3,823 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 6,234 crore in the budget estimates for 2009-10.
The deteriorating trends in the revenue deficit under SAD rule is also reflected in the fiscal deficits. While the fiscal deficit almost doubled from Rs 2,478 crore to Rs 4,958 crore during the term of the third Badal government in 1997-2002, the Congress government during 2002-07 pushed down the deficit from Rs 4,401 crore in 2002-03 to Rs 4,384 crore in 2006-07. And the fourth Badal government has been even more profligate, with the fiscal deficit doubling in just three years from Rs 4,604 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 9,660 crore in the budget estimates for 2009-10. All this has pushed up the total borrowing of the state to Rs 64,924 crore by early 2010, and the amount is expected to go up by another Rs 5,700 crore in the current fiscal year.
One reason for the growing deficits in Punjab is the poor resource mobilisation efforts. The tax-to-GDP ratio of the state is just 7 per cent, mainly because of the small industrial base. The share of the industrial sector in the state economy is just 13 per cent. Resource mobilisation efforts will only get a boost once the GST rollout allows the state to tap into the huge consumption spending in the state.
However, apart from the sins of omission there are also the sins of commission, which place a large burden on the state. The biggest outgo is on the electricity subsidies in agriculture, where the expenditure has gone up from Rs 2,602 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 3,144 crore in 2009-10, which accounts for almost half the revenue deficit of the state. The reason for such a large electricity subsidy bill is the zero tariff for electricity used for agriculture which accounts for close to a third of the total electricity consumption in the state. The agriculture tariff charged in Punjab stands out in stark contrast to the Rs 3.68 per unit charged as agriculture tariff by the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.
The direct consequence of the growing deficit is the bloated debt burden of Punjab which is now far beyond the 30.8 per cent target fixed by the Twelfth Finance Commission. Most recent numbers show that the debt GSDP ratio of the state was 40 per cent in 2008-09, which far exceeds the all-state average of 26.2 per cent and more than double of that of neighbouring Haryana.
A further increase in debt levels would only further squeeze the resources now available for development programmes and widen the growing gap between Punjab and other states. Most recent numbers show the state’s growth rate has hovered around 7per cent, far below that of the leading states, which grow in double digits. So a reallocation of state resources by cutting down unproductive expenditures should now be the first step.
But despite spending far beyond its means, the state has fallen short of meeting the annual plan targets. By the chief minister’s own admission, the actual expenditure of the plan outlay by the state fell from 98 per cent in 2007-08 to just 58 per cent in 2009-10, mainly due to the large outgo on the implementation of the Pay Commission recommendations and the slowdown in the economy which impacted revenues from the real estate sector and the vat collections.

Friday, October 15

Putting Punjab first

Punjab needs to look beyond the infighting in the Akali Dal. Other states, including Bihar, are marching ahead, undertaking administrative and economic reforms. There are issues even former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal has seldom taken up, writes Nirmal Sandhu in The Tribune
The politics of the bickering Badals has at least cast the spotlight on Punjab’s economic deterioration. Politics often dominates the Punjab scene and economics tends to take a back seat. Manpreet Singh Badal has brought the issue of ballooning, unmanageable subsidies to the centre-stage. Subsidies do drain the scarce resources, no doubt. But there are other equally serious issues which need attention.
Even the sacked Finance Minister has never pointed a finger at the reckless spending ways of the Chief Minister and his colleagues, political extravagance and bureaucratic burden the government bears, all of which contribute substantially to the state’s mounting debt.
India’s economic scene is changing fast, while Punjab is still caught in a bind, thanks to lack of a visionary leadership. States are fast developing infrastructure and compete for foreign direct investment. Why foreign investment has bypassed Punjab is an issue that needs wider discussion.
The economic reforms undertaken by the Centre and some of the progressive states aim at limiting the role of government to essentials like health, education, law and order. Governments are withdrawing from areas where the private sector can perform better. Yet Punjab has not seen any reduction in the role of the state. Shrinking the size of the government has never been an issue in the state.
The Centre has passed a law limiting the number of ministers to one-tenth of the strength of the assembly. But the Punjab leadership has sought to adjust party MLAs as parliamentary secretaries. The Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that if a parliamentary secretary functions as a minister, it would tantamount to perpetrating a fraud on the Constitution. In Punjab parliamentary secretaries function as ministers.
Sukhbir Badal’s traditional politics, like that of his father, aims at sharing the spoils of office with supporters. His proposal to revive the Upper House of the Vidhan Sabha should be seen in this context. Regardless of the burden on the near-empty treasury, key political leaders, required to win elections, have to be adjusted. The Badal government has made serious efforts for ending political unemployment. When was the last time any Akali leader even spoke, let alone do anything, about unemployment among youth?
There are over 60 boards and corporations, which have political heads. The Chief Minister heads the 11-member Potato Development Board. There is pressure now to saddle boards with vice-chairmen as well. There is even a cow protection board.
The reforms suggest every state must close or disinvest in all loss-making public sector units. As the Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal has seldom pushed for administrative reforms or downsizing the government. Instead Punjab is creating new wasteful bodies. A Punmedia Society has been set up to handle publicity and adverting wings of the state.
A state is supposed to have one Chief Secretary and one Director General of Police. Punjab politicians often pick up juniors or bring someone from outside for the two top posts. Then those senior to them are also promoted to the same rank and get the same benefits. There are about half a dozen officers of the rank of Chief Secretary and an equal number of the rank of DGP. Every minister, MLA, IAS and IPS officer has VIP security.
For Akali leaders being in power means having the most expensive car with the red beacon, a maximum number of gunmen regardless of the security threat and issuing commands to the DCs and SSPs. One VC complained that ministers and MLAs approach him for the transfer of even class IV employees.
Political interference in administrative affairs and poor decision-making lead to needless litigation the cost of which is borne by the government as well as the employees concerned. ASI Dilbagh Singh’s increments were stopped in 1979 and he challenged it in court. The case reached the Supreme Court where too the state plea was dismissed. For 31 years he fought for justice.
It is amazing how the state wastes its time, energy and the taxpayer’ money on small cases. The state has a large army of lawyers on its rolls often engaged in trivial legal battles. If decisions are based on transparent rules and principles instead of the whims and fancies of ministers and officials and if high costs are imposed on erring decision-makers litigation costs can be reduced. It is not that just that the taxpayer bears the high cost of governance; the quality of service provided is also substandard.
To be fair, the politics of extravagance is not confined to the Akali Dal. The BJP has been vociferous in defending its own vote bank in urban Punjab. Whenever, the state regulatory commission recommends a hike in the power tariff the party opposes any additional burden on the urban and industrial consumers. Once it forced the government to absorb the power tariff hike, thus reducing the state’s ability to raise resources.
The record of the previous Congress government was no better. It too had resorted to liberal subsidies, including free power to farmers, maintained the idle force of parliamentary secretaries and made lttle effort to limit the state expenditure. At that time too the government was run by taking loans and no administrative or economic reforms were pursued.
Capt Amarinder Singh too as Chief Minister did not have the courage to take on the power employees and unbundle the state electricity board. The bane of state politics is that hard decisions, which are in the long-term interests of the state and its people, are either not taken or are delayed due to the fear of losing elections.
It is, therefore, understandable that Manpreet Singh has found only feeble support from the BJP and Congress leaders. In such a self-defeating and self-seeking political culture leaders like Manpreet Badal feel out of place and lose out to the majority despite being right. If he has got wider public and media support, it is because he is seen as a well-meaning leader capable of taking difficult decisions, which may not be good for winning the next election, but good for the next generation.
The Badal government has made serious efforts for ending political unemployment. When was the last time any Akali leader even spoke, let alone do anything, about unemployment among youth?

Thursday, October 14

Punjab, a state in decline

Wednesday’s sacking of Punjab’s reform-minded finance minister shows it is now one of the most malgoverned states in the country opines Mint

Decades ago, when the going was good, Punjab was the envy of the country. With the highest per capita income level and the highest growth rate among the states, there was much to be learnt from the land of five rivers. All that ended in 1979 when a separatist movement gripped the state. A decade of bloodshed followed. While peace has returned, Punjab is now one of the most malgoverned states in India.
The sacking on Wednesday of state finance minister Manpreet Badal, the only reform-minded member of the cabinet, should be seen as another negative milestone in Punjab’s journey of decline. It is an open secret that Manpreet Badal and his cousin Sukhbir Badal, the state’s deputy chief minister, cannot stand each other. Had the issue been one of a personality clash alone, the matter could have been dismissed as a small incident.
There is, however, more at stake here. Since the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-led coalition government took charge in early 2007, finance minister Badal had tried hard to end ruinous policies such as free electricity for farmers and other consumers in the state, virtually free provision of various services and, in general, a populist bent in the SAD-led government.
Before 1991, Punjab’s economic model made much sense. In an autarchic economy, the single biggest supplier of foodgrains in the country could pretty much demand what it wanted from the Union government. Ever-rising minimum support prices for wheat and rice ensured a constant monetary surplus in the hands of its farmers. But once India opened up, that money looked more like rent income due to a monopolistic provider of foodgrains. Other states—Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra—had much more sound and organic sources of growth. Punjab never tried to catch up.
In the absence of inventing a new economic model for itself, the least the state could do was manage its finances better. Punjab’s politics, dominated as it is by rural oligarchs, has structural barriers that prevent a turn to rational economic policies. One could say that most states have similar problems, but it acquires a different, more insidious, dimension in a high-income and erstwhile high-growth state. Manpreet Badal’s exit shows that Punjab is not even aware of the problem.

Monday, October 11

Guru Granth Sahib too is a 'juristic person'

There are precedents of courts according Hindu deities the status of a person in law. Jatinder Preet writing in The Sunday Guardian recalls, Guru Granth Sahib too was held 'a juristic person' by the Supreme Court.
While there have been sharp reactions to Ayodhya verdict over it holding Ram a juristic person, it would be instructive to recall that Supreme Court had held Sri Guru Granth Sahib too a juristic person in 2000.
The SC elaborated in the judgment “the very words ‘Juristic Person’ connote recognition of an entity to be in law a person which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not an individual natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognized in law as such.”
Interestingly the predominant Sikh concern at that time was ‘Has Guru Granth Sahib been equated with Hindu idol or deity?’ or ‘Has it made the Holy Sikh scripture subject to the jurisdiction of worldly courts?’
Sikhs consider Guru Granth Sahib, a compilation of hymns by Sikh Gurus and other saints of the time, not only a sacred book but a living guru. Upholding this in a judgment entitled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar versus Som Nath Dass and others delivered on March 29, 2000, the Supreme Court of India held that Sri Guru Granth Sahib is indeed a juristic person.
A section of Sikh community wary of threats to its separate identity from those who called Sikhism a part of Hinduism were apprehensive of the judgment too. They wondered whether the judgment made the Holy Sikh scripture subject to the jurisdiction of worldly courts and facilitated to drag its name irreverently before the courts just like ordinary property holders or is it appropriate to call Guru Granth Sahib a person or a juristic person instead of Guru?
While concerns were being raised in many Sikh quarters on its implications Kashmir Singh, an eminent legal expert called it a landmark and historic judgment of far-reaching consequences and great significance. According to him, the holy scripture of Sikhs was accorded the status of a juristic person for the first time while asserting that Hindu Idols and Maths have always been recognized to be juristic persons in Hindu Law. He cited a Privy Council ruling of 1925 that said “a Hindu Idol is, according to long established authority founded upon the religious custom of Hindus, and recognition thereof by the courts of law, a juristic entity.”

Mosque is ‘not’ a juristic person
Incidentally another case which can be cited as a precedent in the Ayodhya case also involved SGPC. In the case dating back to 1935 the issue of mosque as a juristic person had come up. It involved claims over a mosque known as Masjid Shahid Ganj and its adjacent land over which a Gurdwara had been built in Lahore. The mosque existed in the place since 1722 but on occupation of Lahore in 1762, the Sikhs took over the possession and built a Gurdwara. Following upholding of their claims by Sikh Gurdwaras Tribunal the mosque was demolished in July 1935 by Sikhs leading to riots. A suit was filed in October 1935 in the Court of District Judge Lahore against the SGPC which was dismissed. The case went up to Privy Council that held that a mosque is not a juristic person. According to Kashmir Singh the contention that ‘a Hindu idol is a juristic person and on the same principle a mosque as an institution should be considered as a juristic person’ was rejected. It was held that there is no analogy between the position in law of a building dedicated as a place of prayer for Muslims and the individual deities of the Hindu religion.

Sunday, September 26

The Poverty of Plenty

It’s not stones. It’s not land. Something else is eating away India’s most robust state. Vijay Simha tracks in Tehelka, what it calls, the unnoticed story of the year

The 25 crore man stepped in like a thief, eyes wary, searching for a sign that he must run. Jagbeer Singh. Farmer. Bus conductor. Father. Heroin smuggler. Jailbird. Nobody. After months of being a recluse, Jagbeer, one-time shining hope for friends and family, emerged into a Punjab he didn’t like. When he was caught with 25 kilos of heroin in 1997, worth Rs. 25 crore in the international market, Jagbeer became an instant celeb: his was the biggest heroin haul then. “They used to come to see what a Rs. 25 crore man looked like,” he says. Now, when he’s out after 12 years, only two kinds are interested. The sleuths, who come every fortnight to see if Jagbeer has anything to snitch on, and the peddlers, waiting to see if he is game for another shot. “I stay in and wonder how it happened to me. When I went into jail, there were a dozen drug offenders. When I was released, there were 65. There are a thousand peddlers in Punjab today,” he says. He doesn’t know it yet, but experts have begun to put an expiry date on Punjab, once the sentinel state of India. And it’s not just drugs that’s doing it.
I am too scared,” says Jagbeer. He has a high pitched voice, a curiously feminine touch. He is about six feet tall, and sports a beard and short hair, both of which he colours black. We are in a resort on the outskirts of Amritsar where a marriage party is on, loud and expensive. No one knows him there. It’s the only place he’ll talk. “My father died when I was two. He didn’t wake up one day after he drank too much the previous night. When I was 16, I began to farm. My brother-in-law used to drive a mini bus. I joined him as conductor. Slowly, I began to drive as well. I used to take the bus to Jithaul, a village near Amritsar. There were smugglers in that village who used to travel in my vehicle. I became friends with one of them. For five years we were good friends. Then, in 1995, he asked me to go with him to pick up gold.
“We carried dollars worth 2 crore and went to Samba in Jammu. Our Pakistani counterparts were to give us the gold there. We reached the spot and the lights went on. The Border Security Force (BSF) had trapped us. There was an informer among us who didn’t want me getting close to the boss. I had to help my friend with money for bail. I sold my bus and got him the money. He said he would repay me. One day in 1997, he asked me to go with a vehicle. He said just go and take your share of the money. It was a Tata Sierra and there were 25 kilos of heroin in it. I got greedy. I needed money and I thought I’ll get my due. When a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) team stopped me at Ajmer, I was shocked. They knew who I was and what I was carrying. I was sentenced to 12 years. I lost respect. Even an addict is pardoned but not a peddler. When they released me, I didn’t know what to do. When I returned home, I found my daughter had got married in my absence. I am now caught between the police and the drug runners. My past is my present and my future. I can’t be anyone else,” says Singh. He leaves the room, a man with no esteem.
In Punjab today, almost every conversation has a mention of someone ruined by alcohol and drug abuse. In schools, hotels, malls, business deals, farms, industries, police stations, hospitals and homes. There are also concerns that the yield from the farms is dropping; there are concerns that industry is moving out of the state; and there are concerns that the Khalistan demand might be revived. All of them are adding to a general sense of alarm that catastrophe is on the way. Principally because everything Punjab does, it overdoes.
In 2009-2010, they drank nearly 29 crore bottles of Punjab Made Liquor (PML), Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and beer. This is apart from illicit brew, liquor brought by foreigners, defence sales, and stuff brought in from other states. Punjab has about 2.5 crore people, which equates to around 10 bottles of 750 ml liquor per person a year. From this, take away the children, the old, the ailing, and the followers of various sects who are required to be teetotallers. The consumption of liquor then rises dramatically for the drinking population.
Even this is loose change compared to narcotic and psychotropic substances. In 2010 so far, the Special Operations Cell has seized 80 kilos of heroin and smack, 14 kilos of opium, two quintals of poppy husk, and, in a first, 18 kilos of methamphetamine. This is apart from the seizures of the BSF, DRI, Customs, and the Punjab Police. For perspective, the normal rate of seizures is about five to 10 percent of the stuff in transit. In addition, there are thousands of chemists and pharmacies that sell pills at two to three times the official price without prescription. In all, that is a staggering amount of booze and drugs in Punjab. The result: a dramatic increase in admissions into drug and alcohol rehabs.
“We have found drug addicts from the age of 13. Forty percent are below 50 years, 15 percent are above 50 years and half are women. For all of them, Punjab has only 89 de-addiction centres, of which only 23 are recognised. I would say that 75 percent of Punjab’s youth are addicted to drugs. If this continues, the story of Punjab will end by 2030,” says Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, Professor of Sociology in Guru Nanak Dev University. Sandhu has written the only official study of addiction in Punjab, Drug Addiction in Punjab: A Sociological Study. The 2009 publication was such a hit with officials starved of information on addiction in Punjab that it went into reprint.
Almost all the heroin comes from Punjab’s border with Pakistan. It is a fascinating process. There is a border fence on the Indian side, about a kilometre and a half from the villages, which cuts through farms owned by Indians. This means that portions of Indian farms are across the border, up to 500 metres into Pakistan. After this is zero point, from where the Pakistani side begins. The BSF, which mans the fenced border, issues permits to Indian farmers and their labourers to cross over and work on their farmlands on the other side. This is allowed from 10 am to 4 pm Curfew begins at 6 p.m. This means no one is allowed near the fence after that. There are BSF posts every 500 metres. The guards have powerful binoculars with night vision. They also carry INSAS rifles. The fence is electrified at 6 pm every day. The lights also come on, so powerful that the whole place is dazzling. You can see an ant crawl in the blazing lights. Theoretically, it should be impossible for anything to be dumped over.
It’s close to 5 pm in Ratoke village in Tarn Taran district. There are only two more villages after this between India and Pakistan. In an hour, curfew would be in place at the border. In one of the homes in the village, a man is preparing fodder for cattle. The home belongs to a heroin smuggler who has just returned after serving 12 years in prison, like Jagbeer. His son was caught with heroin separately and he too has served time. It’s the best place to understand how it works. This is the version of a drug courier. “The chain starts when a drug kingpin in Delhi calls his counterpart in Pakistan and orders a drop. The Pakistani smuggler calls his couriers in Pakistani villages near the border. These couriers call their Indian counterparts and give them the place and time for the drop. This is possible because the Indian couriers have Pakistani SIM cards, which work near the border. This also means that Indian security agencies can’t trace the calls because they are on Pakistani networks.
“Delivery is at night. The heroin comes in packets of a kilo each. A 40-kilo consignment will have 40 packets, and so on. The packets are mostly hurled over the fence by men with strong arms. They land in the farms on the Indian side, from where they are picked up. At times they are slid across in plastic pipes, which are assembled near the border and can be up to a kilometre long. Or, they make their way through the places where there’s a waterway and no fencing is possible. Two packets would have markings, which indicate they also contain mobile phones with SIM cards inside. They are marked 1 and 2, for two cell phones. The first Indian courier who picks up the consignment near the border switches on the first mobile phone after he has gone 5 km into Punjab. He gets a call giving him directions on where to go. They’ll ask you to go from one spot to another until they are satisfied you are not being trailed.
“Sometimes we have to travel 20 km or more before the heroin and the mobile phone are collected. The second courier, who collects the consignment from the first courier, then switches on the second mobile phone. He gets a call asking him to deliver the consignment in either Delhi or Mumbai. The stuff reaches Delhi by 11 am the next day. It is easier during winter because of the heavy fog. Big consignments are delivered in winter. Prices are fixed ahead. The first courier gets Rs 20,000 per kilo of heroin. Forty kilos would mean Rs.8 lakh. This is divided among the number of men employed by the first courier to collect the whole consignment. Counterfeit currency is sent the same way.”
This is the principal activity at the border in Punjab. Most border villages are swarming with sleuths from various agencies like RAW, IB, Punjab Police or BSF. Yet, it goes on. Some sleuths estimate that 350 packets of heroin reach Punjab every day. It makes Punjab one of the busiest drug transit points on earth. Sleuths say every village at the border has at least two couriers, who each employ about a dozen men or so. There are 245 villages in Punjab near the border. So, there are about a thousand men who have at some point smuggled heroin into India from Punjab.
But despite the boom in the drug trade, it is still not the core activity of Punjab. The state lives in its fields and that’s where the next concern is coming from. Punjab has 1.5 percent of India’s area, producing almost 25 percent of India’s wheat and close to 15 percent rice. Almost all of Punjab is cultivable. Everything is so green here that it’s like a blessing. So what do the farmers do? They plant rice and wheat, and rice and wheat. The moment they are done with wheat, they get on to rice. This creates a monoculture, planting the same thing and eroding soil quality. “There’s nothing new going in, so the soil has problems. The water table has also gone down because of this,” says Manjit Singh Kang, Vice- Chancellor of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana. “They are burning seven kilos of nitrogen, a kilo of phosphorus and 11 kilos of potash for a tonne of paddy. They are burning Rs. 200 crore from their pockets. This causes asthma and other pollutionrelated health problems.”
Yield is also dropping. In 2000-2001, 45 quintals of wheat was produced per hectare. In 2005-2006, this was down to 40 quintals. It could drop further this year. Then, there’s the urge to feel good. Some estimates say Punjab has 12 lakh tubewells, where six lakh are enough. Most of them use high power pumps, which keep drawing water from the ground. There’s such a huge wastage of water and electricity in Punjab that the government is being forced to consider curbs on the use of tubewells and free power to farmers. In many farms, the water pumped out is used to bathe livestock. On top of this, is the mania for tractors. There are nearly four lakh tractors in Punjab, almost five times the required number. Many small farmers buy expensive tractors on loans and are then unable to clear the debt. In this year’s kisan mela at the PAU, farmers converged on brand new machines worth 16 lakh though none of them probably needed them. There’s only 1,000 hours of work for a tractor in a year in Punjab. This, experts say, can easily be done by renting tractors instead of buying them.
All of this may have contributed to two lakh farmers leaving farming in Punjab over the past few years. While this is in keeping with the international trend where many are leaving farming, in Punjab there’s no thought on how to deal with it. Land holdings are reducing progressively as the land gets divided within families. There is also a huge concern on the massive use of pesticides, which began with the first Green Revolution. Punjab uses the maximum amount of pesticides in the country and it’s got to a stage where it is more like an addiction. More and more chemicals are needed to produce the same amount of grain.
Such is the amount of pesticide in the groundwater that it is believed to be the principal cause of cancer in the Bhatinda belt. Hundreds of cases of cancer occur here, including even Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s wife, who has just returned after treatment from the US. While Badal’s wife is able to get decent treatment, the rest of the villagers catch the Jammu Tawi Express between Jammu and Jaipur, which leaves Bhatinda at 9.30 pm every day. So many people take this train for cancer treatment in Bikaner that the train is called the ‘Cancer Train’ in Punjab. Every village in the Bhatinda belt has scores of cancer patients, in some cases several in a family. Cancer deaths are common too.
Those who escape cancer are down with Hepatitis C. There are scores in the villages of Punjab, again with little access to medical care. Organic farming, touted as an alternative to chemical farming, is in its infancy here. Estimates say that all the manure in Punjab can only meet 30 percent of the demand for fertiliser. This is not bad to start with, but there is huge resistance among the farmers to make the shift. This is the backdrop in which talk of a second Green Revolution has begun. “Green revolutions don’t come when you say they should. Nobody has defined a second Green Revolution. We are looking for something we don’t know anything about. India produces 234 million tonnes of food grain. We will need more than 400 million tonnes in 2050 when we will be the No. 1 in population. That would be a Green Revolution, nothing else,” says Kang.
While this is the case with agriculture, industry in Punjab too is in trouble. There is virtually a process of de-industrialisation happening. For instance, there were 127 textile processing units in Amritsar in 1990. There are now only 20. Ludhiana, the industrial hub of Punjab, is in the process of shifting small-scale industries out of city limits. This has resulted in a sealing drive similar to the one in Delhi some time ago. Large-scale units have held on, mainly Hero in the cycle industry and Oswal in the woollens sector. But industry in the rest of Punjab is shifting out. Says Amarjit Singh, President of the Corduroy Manufacturers Association of India: “First, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have a tax holiday and several subsidies. Punjab is like dry roti. They are like bread and butter. I don’t need a passport to cross over. Those who can, have gone.
Second, Punjab has acute shortage of electricity. There will be no shortage of power in Himachal for the next 50 years. Third, the infrastructure is poor in Punjab. The roads are bad and pollution clearance is extremely difficult. Fourth, land prices are exorbitant in Punjab. Why should anyone waste money on it?”
So, the decline in agriculture and industry has a clear cause and effect equation. In agriculture, there is an attitude issue and it is beginning to hurt. The Punjab farmer overspends on pesticide, tubewells and tractors, and overdraws on water. He is in a hurry and hurts the soil and environment in the process. In industry, there is an issue of investment and profit so they are moving to better options in neighbouring states. The larger industry is able to hold on but the medium and smaller units have moved on. These are reversible trends. It’s the dependence on alcohol and drugs though that is the killer.
It has taken years of indulgence for Punjab to reach a crisis situation in alcohol dependence. It’s taken far fewer years for drug abuse. This is mainly because the rich have too much money and nothing to do. Many have sold land in villages to cash in on the land boom. The poor in any case have nothing to do because there are far fewer jobs. So the rich do IMFL and heroin. The poor do PML, pills and poppy husk. It’s such a given that farm owners buy strips of painkillers as part of the deal with the labour. In many cases, farm labour settles for Rs. 200 a day and two strips of pills. And it’s all part of the great gregarious Punjabi. They have convinced themselves that they are tough and funloving. So, it’s not a problem. This is what worries Ravneet Singh Bittoo, president of the Punjab Youth Congress and Lok Sabha member. Bittoo came through a tough election process, the first initiated by Rahul Gandhi in the Youth Congress. He is the grandson of Beant Singh, who was assassinated in office.
“Part of the problem is that this is the new war. In future, armies will not fight, so this could be Pakistan’s gameplan to weaken Punjab. Then, our system is totally corrupt. They do nothing though they see that every village has at least two chemists though there is no hospital for miles. Half a village leaves for the US and the other half has earned money through sale of land. They get into drugs. It’s so serious that Rahul Gandhi has asked us not to ask people for votes and reach every home instead. He has asked us to drop everything and get on the drug front. I believe a whole race is under threat going by the levels of impotence caused by drugs. We may have lost this generation but I am intent on saving the next one. We want an end to indiscriminate medical shops. We want villages where no one below 35 dies. We want to socially boycott drug dealers. We want the elders to sit in protest outside pharmacies. We want to put the names of peddlers on the walls. If we do this, we may still save Punjab. Else, I think Punjab won’t reach the year 2050,” says Bittoo.
This volatile mix is putting life into a section of people who’ve largely been dormant for 20 years or so, the militants who fought in the Khalistan movement. Simranjit Singh Mann is busy canvassing for Khalistan in a series of public engagements. His party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), hopes to win some seats in the next Assembly poll 18 months away. “We have been left holding the baby. Others who were with us, like Parkash Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh, have joined more profitable parties like the Akali Dal (Badal) and the Congress. We will not rest until we get Khalistan, but this time I am fighting a peaceful and democratic battle,” says Mann. Sandeep Kaur, widow of slain Babbar Khalsa International terrorist Dharam Singh Kashtiwal, keeps the memory of Operation Bluestar alive in a trust she runs in Amritsar. “Our wounds are still raw,” she says, “how can we be at peace?”
Concerns are more immediate in a small school in one of Punjab’s more notorious colonies, Maqboolpura in Amritsar, a wasteland of families ravaged by drugs and alcohol. Parvjot, a precocious four-year-old, is conversing with Sarbjeet Gill, a teacher. The conversation is easily the most important in Parvjot’s life. Her admission into school depends on what she says. Suddenly she turns to the teacher. “Would you like a drink? My grandmother makes liquor at home. Many people drink it every night and give money,” she says. It was 9.30 am and Sarbjeet wasn’t thinking of a drink. She looked at Parvjot and asked: “Would you take money from me also?” The reply was instant. “No. For you, we’d give it free.”

Thursday, September 2

Punjab exposes its children to toxicity

A study published in a scientific journal has confirmed that children in Punjab are exposed to toxic metals, writes Jatinder Preet in The Sunday Guardian

Five year old Kashish Setia and his elder brother Mohit Setia, 12, from village Khuban in Ferozepur district, both suffer from neurological disorders. Chemical tests revealed both had high levels of uranium exposure.
Sumitra Narang, a 13 year girl from border town of Punjab, Abohar is all of three feet and is mentally challenged too. A chemical analysis of her hair sample found abnormally high exposure to lead.
These children are just three of 149 from various parts of Punjab and adjoining Rajasthan, test results of whom formed the basis of a study now published in Librtas Academica, a New Zealand based journal.
A study conducted by Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research, Chandigarh in the year 2003-04 too had showed levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, selenium and mercury were generally higher in drinking water.
But now evidence has come in of presence of not only these heavy metals but radioactive uranium and strontium also.
The study shows 113 of children who were tested, were found to have high levels of uranium in their hair samples besides varying degrees of toxic metal exposure like that of aluminium, cadmium, lead, barium, magnesium, silver, strontium and tin etc.
The tests were done at Trace Mineral, a laboratory in Germany, on hair samples sent by Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, a Faridkot based charity.
Dr Pritpal Singh, who runs the centre, said they had first sent the samples of hair of under-treatment children for heavy metal toxicity tests in 2008. Chemistry of the hair is known to be a direct reflection of the chemistry of the environment in which the individual is living, he explained. While preliminary results confirmed their fears, to be doubly sure they sent additional water samples from the residences of these children along with the sample of their normal kin.
Dr Carin Smit, a South African neurotherapist, associated with the centre, helped get the expensive tests done by raising donations on her own and formed the mainstay of the study.
Besides Dr Smit the authors of the study included E. Blaurock-Busch, Research Director, Micro Trace Minerals Laboratory; Albrecht Friedle, CEO, Labor Friedle, Regensburg, Germany; Michael Godfrey, Director, International Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology, New Zealand and Claus E.E. Schulte-Uebbing, Professor at Age Breaking Center in Munich, Germany .
The authors have expressed the view that India has become a dumping ground for the toxic materials and that Punjab has become particularly vulnerable to environmental toxicity because of excessive use of agriculture based chemicals. About the presence of excessive amounts of uranium in the ecosystem of Punjab, the authors suspect coal based power plants could be a possible source.

Thursday, August 12

Partitions, memories and reconciliation

Bitter memories of partition, whether lived or learnt through narration, continue to haunt the survivors, perpetrators and their descendent generations, writes Satya P. Gautam while hoping that in the new millennium the common Punjabi heritage in its composite totality will guide our future destiny

(photograph by Margaret Bourke-White for Life magazine)

I am one of the post-midnight, post-partition generation, born during the early fifties of the last century. My infancy and childhood were spent in our village Masaania, almost a kilometre’s walk from the railway station, Shaam Chauraasi. The railway station on the Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur railway track was named after the famous but relatively distant village, a pilgrimage sight for the lovers of classical music. The families, living with the tradition of classical music for generations, had to leave the village with the partition of Punjab. However, the brothers Salaamat Ali-Amaanat Ali from the Shaam Chaurasi Gharana carried the family tradition with them to West Punjab in Pakistan.
My grandfather told me that before the partition of the Punjab in 1947, most inhabitants of the villages in our rural neighbourhood were Muslim. I was also told that till the eve of the partition, none of the three major religious groups of Punjab – the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs – had ever expected its partition or fragmentation. The partition came without being sought or asked for by the Punjabis. And yet it brought with it a baffling lunacy manifested in the worst forms of mystification, chaos, arson, turmoil, calamities of rape, eviction, dislocation and refuge. The bitter memories of this madness, whether lived or learnt through narration, continues to haunt the survivors, perpetrators and their descendent generations.
The people of Punjab passed through a rather slow but gradual transition from being a predominantly oral community to becoming a marginally literate one during the late 19th and earlier decades of the 20th century under the colonial regime. Of course, it must not be forgotten, and indeed we constantly need to remind ourselves time and again, that this historic period of transition had presented complex and unprecedented challenges for which we could not prepare ourselves. The opportunity created by the spread of literacy could have been a significant step for the development and enrichment of Punjabi language and culture. Unfortunately, our ancestors unwittingly collaborated to metamorphose this possibility into a disaster.
During this period, the religious and social elite of each of the three denominations tried their utmost to get their own preferred (religious) scripts accepted or imposed as the exclusive official script of the Punjabi language and as the medium of instruction in schools. This contest and rivalry resulted in a widespread mutual unfriendliness and acrimony to the point that both the Muslim and Hindu elite unwisely disowned Punjabi and made the mistake of professing Urdu and Hindi as their respective languages. In the name of the democratic principle of respecting the majority view, the colonial administration decided on the use of Urdu as the medium of instruction in schools and local official language for administrative purposes in the colonial Punjab. Thus the teaching and learning of Punjabi became marginal in the formal education system.
With the departure of the British and the partition of Punjab, the question of choosing an appropriate Punjabi language script resurfaced among the Hindu and Sikh leaders in East Punjab. It served as a source of fallacious claims on the part of a majority of the Hindu social elite and resulted in the reorganisation of the state into Punjab and Haryana in 1966. In West Punjab, Urdu continued to be the medium of instruction and administration as it had been declared the official language of Pakistan despite dissenting voices raised in East Pakistan.
The issue of the significance of Punjabi language and culture resurfaced in West Punjab only after the formation of Bangladesh as an independent nation state. The other Pakistani sub-nationalities, such as Sindhis, Baluchs and Pushtoons too had started demanding the recognition and use of their respective languages for educational and administrative purposes in their provinces. Soon Sindhis, Baluchis and Pashtoons had mustered courage to launch struggles for the protection of their respective national languages and cultures. It may sound ironic that Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, was the language of muhajirs (migrants from Delhi and United Provinces), and not of any local people in Pakistan.
It was in such a scenario that the Punjabis in West Punjab realised that they had unwittingly allowed themselves to letting their own language almost vanish by default. This belated concern for Punjabi language and culture gathered momentum and inspired the launching of the Lok Virsaa movements during the early ’70s in western Punjab for rehabilitating Punjabi language to its rightful place. This struggle though moderate was effective in slowly achieving its main goals by the beginning of the present century. It is no longer an offence to speak Punjabi in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Steps have also been initiated to teach Punjabi in the Shahmukhi script in schools from class three onwards in West Punjab.
It may not be wrong to conclude that the 20th century was a century of tragedies for Punjabi language, culture and people. The Punjabis not only divided themselves on the question of a script, but sections of Muslims and Hindus went to the extreme of disowning their language for privileging their preferred scripts. The negative fallouts of this scripted acrimony continue with us in a variety of facades and pretexts even today. Punjabis, across the borders and religious denominations, will have to make a concerted effort to protect Punjabi language and culture from future erosion and decline, particularly given the privileging of other languages in the processes of globalisation and economic development.
With an unanticipated partition of the Punjab, western Punjab became part of the newly constituted state of Pakistan while eastern Punjab remained in India, forcing a devastating dislocation of populations in a manner that further intensified the bitterness and lingering hostilities. The violence of partition generated deep feelings of terror, fear, hostility, hatred and other negative emotions among its victims and perpetrators. At the depths of despair and madness, on both sides of the divide, the ‘Other’ was seen and projected as the greatest and possibly the most dangerous enemy, one that had to be pulled down as effectively and as soon as possible.
On our side, we were taught in schools that the Muslims had partitioned the great country, fragmenting it into antagonistic pieces which could survive only with the decimation of the other. That the partition had become a reality as a result of an agreement between leaders of the Indian National Congress and Muslim League was rarely mentioned. It was the people of Punjab who had to actually live with the reality of the partition of their land, culture and language. Perhaps the same can be said about Bengal and Kashmir. Of course, a large number of people from other parts of the Indian subcontinent too had been dislocated and brutalised as a result of the partition. The officially and socially designed image of the Pakistani Muslim was a negative stereotype of a lurking brutal trespasser waiting to kill and reduce to rubble whatever came his way.
I had shifted from my village to the city for further education after completing class three in the village school. Our house, in the city of Jalandhar, was located in Bazaar Nauhariyan. At the end of the bazaar were the tall and impressively elegant minarets of Imam Nasser’s mausoleum. Till the mid-sixties, every alternate year an enormous number of devotees would come from across the border to pay homage to the saint during the urs of Imam Nasser. Among the devotees were my grandfather’s friends and acquaintances who invariably visited our house to share their old feelings of friendship, affection, nostalgia and delightful gifts. Their warmth, zeal and friendliness left me confused, as their behaviour was in total contrast to what we were taught at school and through the newspapers.
The designed image of the average Pakistani Muslim in the mainstream media in Punjab was extremely negative but the people I met were worth admiration and emulation. These conflicting images and feelings generated an intense desire to some day go across the border and see things for myself. I had grown up without any narratives of my kith and kin having been forcibly displaced from West Punjab. Consequently, my desire was never rooted in the feeling of going back to the land of ancestors that so many of the descendants of displaced families from West Punjab have shared with me.
Also, without experiencing the misfortune of being displaced, I had heard the horrifying stories of the circumstances in which the Muslims were made to depart East Punjab at the time of the partition. I often wondered whether fellow Punjabis from across the border carried similar negative ideas about us. During the early sixties, a relative was the medical officer incharge of a veterinary hospital at Jhabaal near the Indo-Pak boundary. Unlike the subsequent barbed wire fencing the then boundaries were invisible but for the presence of the militia doing guard duty besides manning the check posts. The villagers from the other side would bring their cattle for treatment to our side as that was more convenient. There was little evidence of the hostility or hatred that I had feared. There was no difference between them and us except in dress and accent.
Having inculcated an interest in literature and music during my school days, I came to learn that our literary, musical and cultural heritage was inconceivable without celebrating the composite culture of pre-partition Punjab. The Sikh Gurus and Sufi saints had shown the path of a constructive synthesis, drawing on positive elements from diverse sources and traditions for celebrating the ideals of equality and unity among human beings. They had questioned the restrictive and exclusionary boundaries of caste, creed, gender and religion. Their message, articulated in the form of musical poetry, had sustained the spirit of collective well-being among Punjabis for centuries. This spirit is likely to remain not only impoverished and weak but perpetually threatened unless a large majority of the people of the two fragments of Punjab start appreciating and celebrating the magnificence of the common heritage across political boundaries.
As of now, the political boundaries have come to stay. We have to learn to live with them. Any talk of breaking the boundary, like the breaking of the Berlin Wall, is neither intelligible nor acceptable to the forces that have become dominant across the borders. This was well articulated by a member of the Pakistan National Assembly whom we met when we went to Kasoor to pay our tribute to Baba Bulley Shah.
‘As Punjabis, we may like the opening of borders and the free movement of people, goods and services across the borders for the mutual benefit of Punjabis. But this will be resisted tooth and nail by all those whom it does not suit. Forces in Mumbai, Karachi and Dubai, having their vested interests to protect, will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Delhi and Islamabad to allow the winds of mutual cooperation and constructive support to blow between Patiala and Lahore, Amritsar and Kasoor, the two sides of Punjab.’
During the World Punjabi Conference held at Lahore in January 2004, a leading member of the East Punjabi delegation made an enthusiastic but indiscreet speech about the dismantling of borders and breaking of walls. In response, the chief minister of West Punjab aptly pointed out that, ‘Once the brothers fall apart and split their ancestral property, they find it hurtful or embarrassing to face each other. The walls that they construct to break up what their ancestors had built together, make them alienated and inaccessible. If they are gentle, they sidestep one another to avoid confrontation. Otherwise, antagonistic confrontation is the constant concern on both the sides.
‘With the passage of time, as the past memories of antagonism begin fading, they may start meeting each other but would hesitate to knock at the door of the other for seeking help or support. If they are fortunate, such an eventuality would encourage them to begin thinking of opening a window in the wall, which they may now see as a common one, for making interaction and exchange convenient and easier. But if one of the brothers, in his hurry or rashness to undo the unfortunate split, starts speaking of breaking the wall, it brings only apprehensions, fears, ill-will and bitter enmity rather than restoring old amity.’
The cautionary remarks of Parvez Elahi need to be seen in the light of another significant aspect of social life that we found in Lahore during our visit for this conference. Though the anglicised Lahorians have named the old Gwal Mandi as Food Street, we were guided by the receptionist at our hotel Shah Taaj that we first go to Luxmi Chowk and then ask the way for Dharampuri to see the all night eating shops for ourselves. On the way we came across buildings and institutions which continue to carry their pre-partition non-Muslim identities. I was curious whether any attempt had been made to change the old names. I was told that though new Islamic names had been given, public memory and habits proved to be more resilient than the votaries of change. It is not surprising that the fate of attempts to change the names of Ropar and Mohali on this side of the border as well was similar. Let us wish and hope that in the new millennium it will become possible for us to make our common Punjabi heritage accessible to all of us in its composite totality to guide our future destiny.

Sunday, August 1

Here come 'Putt Chamaran De'

The growing Dalit assertion in Punjab is now finding voice in Punjabi music too with singers coming up with songs of confidence and even pride in their Dalit identity, writes Jatinder Preet in The Sunday Guardian
For a state that has the highest level of concentration of Scheduled Castes (SCs) in any one state of India (28.9 per cent, as per Census 2001) this should not come as a surprise. But what has been revelatory is the passion and intensity of this celebration of the identity. According to conservative estimates as many as 2000 music albums celebrating Dalit identity have come out in market in last two years complete with music videos making a song and dance of it.
So we have Punjabi singers singing of ‘Majhbi, Valmiki, Chamaran de munde (Boys of Majhbi, Valmiki, Chamar castes)’ and audiences are lapping it up. So popular have these songs become that these are now being played in marriages and on festive occasions.
“We have danced enough on the songs that talked of pride of Jatts but now we have our own songs to dance to,” says Rajkumar, a young fan.
It is to this section of the Dalit youth that the songs are being belted out that talk of ‘Ankhi Putt Chamaran De (Proud Sons of Chamars)’ and ‘Gabru Sher Chamaran De (young Lions of Chamars)’. Most of these songs limit themselves to talk of the pride that sometimes border on conceit and vanity. A popular duet by Satveer Jyoti and Raj Dadral ‘Mai taan suneya mundean chamran de full charche (I’ve heard that there is talk of Chamar boys everywhere)’ is one in that category. At the same time Diljaan sings ‘Saddi Jaat Chamar Hai Sanu Sab Naal Pyar Hai (We are Chamars and we love everyone)’.
But with the catching up of the trend of such songs, ante is being upped. Vijay Momi’s song takes almost threatening tone ‘Panga soch samajh ke payo naal chamara de (Think before messing up with a Chamar).’
However, what remains common in these songs is the assertion of a separate identity like that in the song of Roop Lal Dhir - ‘Ikmuth ho kaum de sheran ne wakhri hond banayi (Together lions of the community carved a separate identity for themselves).’
Raj Dadwal, a popular singer who writes his own songs, sees nothing wrong in making a song of the status of the community. It is not against any other caste or community, he emphasises adding “Through this assertion of our identity we are only trying to exhort our fellow-community people to shed their self-consciousness as only that can lead to their true emancipation.”

Tuesday, July 20

Diamonds that were not forever

Heera Mandi of Lahore is no longer the same. Nirupama Dutt writes about the forbidden yet most sought-after bazaars where women sold their many talents then and now

(Photograph by Noor Mohammad Khan)

Come evening and they would be out in their balconies in the finest of silks and jewels. Their eyes would be lined with kohl and their lops red with dandasa, bark of the walnut there and the most fragrant of eastern perfumes or itars would fill the air. They were known as diamonds and such was their glitter that the whole street would seem studded with stars. These were the courte sans of Heera Mandi of Lahore in the years before Partition in 1947.

Heera mandi was to Lahore what Chowk was to lukcknow, Sonagachi to Calcutta and Bhaindi Bazar to Bombay. These forbidden yet most sought-after bazaars where women sold their many talents were known as kothas. In these abodes lived women, many of them very talented artists, who were nevertheless social outcasts living on the fringes of the society. Interestingly, this place was first known as Tibbi Bazar. And this name is recorded in a Punjabi tappa : Tibbi waliye la de paan ni Teri Tibbi de vich dukan ni

Next it came to be known as Shahi Mohalla and only later did it get the name which lasts till date--heera mandi.

Not all the women on the street traded in flesh. There were three distinct categories: the singers, the dancers and then the most unfortunate ones who sold their bodies for a living.

Selling their produce in Lahore happened to stray into Heera Mandi on their way back. Looking at the beautifully turned out belles, one said to the other: Je rab dhian deve tann aithe deve. Kinj ranian ban baithian ne (if God is to bless one with daughters it should be here. Seen how they sit like queens).

The tale is touching for it reflected the paradox of the society. No one would wish their daughters to reach Heera mandi, yet the lives of daughters of respectable homes were not so evidable either. It was a restricted dumb existence. In some ways the women on the street were more liberated-- they could dress well, dance, sing and live. The patriarchal society divided women thus.
There are still a few old-timers of West Punjab who remember heera mandi in its days of splendour and recall tales which they had heard. Bhag Singh, a Punjab writer and man of culture, goes nostalgic recalling that famous bazaar. He says: "I belonged to Peshawar but when in Lahore for hockey matches with my college students, a few of us would sneak into Heera mandi. It could not be told then for I may have been thrown out of the house in disgrace. I remember having seen the dance of Jaana Mashooq’’.

M.L. Koser, founder of the Pracheen Kala Kendra, also recounts a secret visit or two to the marketplace of diamonds. Men would put cotton buds soaked in itar behind their ears, wear a bracelet of fresh jasmine flowers and go to the kotha allowed to them by their status. I was young and attracted to the arts, being a dancer in the making myself, I never had the courage to enter a kotha. But the cinema halls in these areas used to present the dances of nautch girls during night shows’’, recalls Koser.
An advertisement for the special film shows which would include live song and dance performances, by cinema houses like Minerva, Grown and Rose would read thus: "Adhai aane mein teen maze’’. The performers would be from the lower rungs because the high class tawaifs never played to the gallery. Their mujra was only for the royalty, nobility and rich business class.

The well-known tawaifs were women of learning, culture and dignity. Many of them were trained in music by the best ustads of the time. In turn these women made great contribution to music and dance. Sardar Bai of Lahore was a famous singer who had learnt music from Ustad fateh Ali Khan. Pointing out their dignity as women, Bhag Singh says: "They were queens of etiquette or saleeka as we call it. If a customer passed out after having one too many while listening to ghazals, they would put him in a giest room and the lady of the house would keep his purse with her, lest the servants took away some money and it would be returned to him the next day.’’

Tawaif was a word in Persian synonymous with ganika in Sanskrit. The oriental system was one of codification and the world’s oldest profession was no exception even here there was an order of merit and excellence. A ganika was a woman who had achieved excellence in arts, intellect and etiquette. The fames Amrapali, the nagar-badhu of Vaishali, was a ganika at her best.
A ganika came from the Hindu tradition and a tawaif from the Muslim tradition with patronage coming from Mughal courts. It was Aurangzeb who tried to bury forever the arts of music and dance. In Punjab the religious reformist movements lent a harsh blow to the dignity and profession of singers and dancers. The Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha lehar condemned them. And so even Hindu and Sikh women who joined this profession took up muslim names. The decline of princedom and withdrawal of royal patronage was responsible for royal patronage was responsible for many of these artists being forced to sell their bodies.
Heera Mandi of Lahore was the cultural centre of Punjab, the very hub of performing arts in their glory, but other cities and towns top had tawaifs. Patiala, Amritsar, Malerkotla, Ludhiana, Jagraon, Ambala and even the small town of Balachaur had some of the legendary tawaifs.

With partition, most of these women migrated. Flesh trade continues in Punjab but kothas are no longer there. A low-level of entertainment continues by disco dancers of orchestra groups but these artists have no roots in the classical traditions of dance and music.

These women from different parts of the country were pioneering artistes on the radio, the stage and films. Among them were Begum Akhtar, Noorjehan, Malika pukhraj, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Kamataki, Kamla Jharia, Shamshad Begum, Khurshid and even the greatly acclaimed Girija Devi.

A sarangi player of Chandigarh, Ismail Bechain, had the privilege of playing sarangi in his early youth with some of the well-known bais of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Among them was the great singer Mushtari bai of Agra Gharana. She could sing the three saptaks and play magnificently the harmonium and the tabla. And such was her status that if an ordinary man tried to get to her, she would waive him off by saying "pehale meri baal banana wali se baar karo aur phir mujh tak aao" (first talk to my hair dresser and then come to me).
At barimam, near Rawalpindi, there used to be an annual cultural festival of tawaifs for which preparations would be made all year round. The best of music and dance would be available to all as these performances were not restricted to nobility.
Prof yashpal, Reader, Department of Music, panjab University, Chandigarh, Says: "The kotha tradition made the most significant contribution to contemporary Hindustani music and dance. There were patrons of great musicians-Munnijan bai of Heera mandi, Lahore, financed and supported ustad Amir Khan in his early career. Ustad Amir khan is known as the famous exponent of the Kirana Gharana of Indore. He later married Raeena, daughter of Mushtari bai. In the entire music world if anyone is asked who was the woman behind his success, the answer is : Munnija of course."

Then and Now
Heera mandi still exists in Lahore but the glory of the old world is gone. The diamonds that were traded here were not forever but the legends remain.

From a cultural hub that nurtured many an artiste, Heera Mandi has changed into a ghetto that thwarts the spirit of women.

For centuries, Heera Mandi in Lahore nurtured some outstanding performing artistes, including the famous Noorejahan, Khurshid, Shamshad Begum, Mumtaz Shanti and many others. Most of the early film actresses for pre-Partition Lahore cinema came from the kothas of Heera Mandi. The art of music in Punjab was confined to the streets of the courtesans with Heera Mandi taking the lead as the largest settlement in the cultural capital of the state in undivided Punjab.

Looking back and recalling a well-known courtesan Tamancha Jaan, Pran Nevile, a chronicler of Lahore, says, "My maiden visit to Tamancha Jaan’s salon at Heera Mandi was in 1945 with my friend Saeed Ahmed. We were seated on white sheets spread out on carpets with gaav takias (bolster pillows) supporting our backs. The room was fragrant with fresh flowers and incense sticks. The music played and Tamancha Jaan sang in her sonorous voice enchanting our young hearts."

However, those days are gone by for classical arts are no longer to be found in the kothas of Heera Mandi. It is a leg shake and more to popular music and flesh trade that have become the hallmarks of these streets in the shadow of the imposing dome and minarets of the pink stone of the Badshahi Masjid.

The only reason for the elite to visit the area unabashed is the restaurant that painter Iqbal Hussain has made in the haveli, which was the salon of his mother, aunts and elder sisters. Called the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, it is decorated with the paintings of the Heera Mandi done by Hussain and also quaint arty knick-knacks as well as statuettes of Virgin Mary, Buddha and Hanuman.
During a recent visit to Pakistan, we visited one of the salons in the company of some Lahoris. No longer are the white sheets, gaav takias nor incense sticks to be found there, neither the melodious unfolding of the ghazal. What one finds is very different and sad.

In the first salon behind the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, we find four girls with painted faces sitting on a sofa facing the outer door vacant eyed. Our escort says in embarrassment, "These ladies have come from Hindustan and want to talk to you." We are quickly pushed in and the door banged shut. The four young girls with made up faces spring and line themselves against the wall. The oldest of them must be just 25 and the youngest is barely 14. The musicians sitting on the floor start singing a loud pop-Punjabi number and the oldest joins them in the not-so-melodious singing. The second oldest quickly wears anklets on her feet and starts doing a cabaret number of sorts in her back body-clinging synthetic shirt and straight pajama. The two younger ones with garishly made-up faces stand glued to the wall, afraid and awkward. It is a moment of relief that the song ends and the haggling for money ends and a toughie opens the door. Outside a crowd of the street boys have gathered to see the strange women coming to watch mujra.

Little wonder that sadness marks the paintings of Hussain even when his subjects are wearing red and gold. A set of paintings under the title of "Silent Fears" have been made into cards by a Lahore-based NGO that is doing work against AIDS. In another very telling painting "Privacy", two women in rose-pink nightgowns lie in repose on a rumbled blue bed-spread. "Reflection" is another sad painting in which girls are shown against a mirror, depicting a perpetual wait for better times. Many of these women are called out to dance parties where they do a striptease and are often raped and even their earnings are stolen from them.

Hussain paints the plight of these women with despair and despondency. "Many land here from rural areas because their parents couldn’t marry them off for the reason that they didn’t have money to give them customary dowry," the painter says, "Some try to break out of their vicious lives of poverty to make more money as sex workers only to find a stark and harsh reality of such an existence."

Hussain’s own mother Nawab and aunts migrated from the Nimmanwali Haveli in the Dharampura Bazaar of Patiala to Heera Mandi. He would have been yet another street boy of the notorious colony if he did not have a talent for drawing. Now he looks after all the women of his family and his own children are getting good education. But such breakthroughs are rare. Hussain says, "I think if I hadn’t been painting, I would have committed suicide."

Hussain has been active in getting women to escape these environments if they can. He also plans to open a food street like the one in Gwalmandi that women have options to start other business.

His paintings at first created controversy but now these are appreciated and one of his works fetched phenomenal amount at an auction at Sotheby’s. At the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ hangs a portrait of a local woman with her wrists and ankles bound in penitence at Muharram. Hussain says that his subjects always break into tears as he paints them.

Deprived of support from other men, they often turn to him for help because he is the one who flew over the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. Iqbal Hussain has done for this red light area in visuals what Saadat Hasan Manto had done in words.

Monday, May 17

How Punjab was won

Akalis leds a virulent agitation seeking a Punjabi speaking state as the boundaries of provinces were being redrawn after independence but it took a tragic course as here language was inextricably mixed with religion, writes Inder Malhotra in The Indian Express

While language as the basis for redrawing India’s political map was accepted generally — even if it was enforced belatedly in the case of Maharashtra and Gujarat (IE, May 3) — Punjab remained a conspicuous exception to the rule. Since Partition in 1947, it had been a tri-lingual state, embracing what are now Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, and so it remained in 1956, in accordance with the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission that had rejected the demand for a Punjabi Suba (Punjabi-speaking state), backed by a vigorous, often virulent, agitation by its sponsors. There was, however, a powerful reason for the SRCs, and even more Jawaharlal Nehru’s, refusal to accept it.
For, this was the only case in which language was inextricably mixed with religion. The demand was confined to the Akali Dal, a party only of the Sikhs that claimed to be the “sole spokesman” all Sikhs even though a large number of them, especially those converts from the Scheduled Castes, called Mazhabis, supported the Congress which had no difficulty in defeating the Akalis at the polls. On the other hand, the Akali party and its towering leader, Master Tara Singh, had an impressive hold on the caste of Jats, dominating the Sikh community. No less formidable was their unshakeable control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee that runs all the Sikh shrines with their vast income. Before 1947, the Akali doctrine was that the danger to the Sikh faith was from Muslims. After 1947, the Hindus became the main threat to the Sikh Panth.

As his frustration increased, Tara Singh upped the ante. His movement became more and more violent, even militant. And then he gave it unabashedly secessionist overtones, confirming the opinion of those who had always said that Punjabi Suba was but a cover for a Sikh-majority state as a prelude to an “independent Sikh state”. However, if Akali communalists were inflammatory, Hindu communalists (largely though not entirely belonging to the Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP), also acted irresponsibly and accentuated the communal divide. To undercut the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state, they persuaded the Hindu Punjabis to declare Hindi their mother tongue in the 1961 census — an issue complicated by complete disagreement between the two communities over the use of gurmukhi script.

After the bifurcation of bilingual Bombay in 1960, Akali fury escalated. Many others also felt that Punjab’s exclusion from the pattern prevalent in the rest of the country was unfair. Ajoy Ghosh, the last general secretary of the undivided Communist Party of India, went to see the prime minister and argued that the denial of a Punjabi-speaking state “smacked of discrimination”. “I envy you, Ajoy”, replied Nehru. “You don’t have to run the country and keep it in one piece. It is my responsibility to do so. Sikhs are a fine people but they are led by separatists and fanatics. I can’t hand over a state to them on Pakistan’s border. But such things are not permanent. As national integration proceeds, we will surely have a Punjabi-speaking state”. (Source: Ghosh to Nikhil Chakravartty, Nikhilda to this writer.)

It was clear that Nehru had decided to dig his heels in even while Tara Singh and other extremist Akali leaders were fuelling Sikh discontent and anger. The prime minister was happy that in Pratap Singh Kairon he had a chief minister in Punjab who was both competent and secular and thus able to contain the Akalis, if necessary by coming down heavily on them. By the start of the Sixties, however, Kairon had started losing his shine because of the greed and high-handedness of his sons (a blight that has felled many a politician in the subcontinent). Nehru earned some opprobrium for his constant defence of Kairon but eventually had to order a judicial inquiry against his favourite chief minister. Soon after Nehru’s death, Kairon had to resign because of the inquiry commission’s findings against him. The consequent political chaos in Punjab was the Akalis’ opportunity.

As it happened, another crucial change was also taking place in Punjab around the same time. From 1931 until then Master Tara Singh had been the uncontested, incontestable leader of the Akalis and, at one remove, of the Sikhs. No one could flourish in Akali politics without his patronage. Intriguingly, few of the protégés survived for long, though it usually remained debatable whether the follower had rebelled against Tara Singh or Masterji had cut him to size. In the early years of the Sixties, a new figure appeared on the Akali firmament that was different. As usual, he began as Tara Singh’s devoted disciple (the two went on alternate fasts for Punjabi Suba), later claimed near-equality with him and eventually replaced the redoubtable Master. His name was Sant Fateh Singh.

In 1965, Fateh Singh sent shock waves across the country by announcing that if Punjabi Suba were not conceded by a certain date, he would burn himself to death in the precincts of the Golden Temple. Well before the appointed date, the India-Pakistan War of that year loomed. Fateh Singh was persuaded to abandon his resolve. In return, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nehru’s successor, appointed a cabinet committee to re-examine the issue, with Indira Gandhi as its chairperson. There is plenty of evidence to show that her mind was already made up in favour of accepting a Punjabi-speaking state. She appointed B.S. Raghavan secretary of the cabinet committee only after, in reply to her question, he had argued that the Sikh demand be accepted. Before the committee could complete its work Shastri died at Tashkent. As prime minister, Indira lost no time in deciding to trifurcate Punjab. She was much praised for her “boldness” and “maturity”. But the problem of dream city Chandigarh’s future remained.

She ruled that it would be the joint capital of both Punjab and Haryana, and itself be a Union territory. This was also welcomed as a “shrewd move”. In fact, it was to become one of the most explosive ingredients in the tragedy that overtook Punjab in the Eighties, and eventually took her life. Twenty-five years after her death the problem of Chandigarh persists.