‘Delhi Is Wary of Punjab With a Strong Heart’
What Drives Farmers to Serve Those Using Water Cannons and Batons on Them
The agitating farmers marching to Delhi from Punjab and Haryana have responded to the policemen using water cannons and tear gas against them by organising langars for the police and serving them piping hot food. Those who used batons against them are being offered drinking water. There are any number of pictures and videos recording this generosity of heart and spirit.
Iconic Punjabi writer Paash voices this in a poem where a common struggling person tells a policeman that the only difference between the two of them is the latter’s uniform. Otherwise both of them come from the same socio-economic and socio-cultural backgrounds. The message is driven home when Paash writes, “Sipahi bata, main tumhe bhi itna khatarnak lagta hun?Bhai sach bata, tumhe meri cheeli hui chamdi and mere munh se behte lahu mein, kuch apna nahi lagta” (O Policeman do I look dangerous to you? Tell me frankly that don’t you see something of your own in the blood coming out from my mouth and my bruised skin).
If you ask anyone in Punjab about this the response identifies the ethos and culture of Punjab with the farmers following what the Gurus have taught. Yet there are many who are trying to see things through the prism of history and symbolism, Punjab’s relations with Delhi where the concept of federalism plays a major role.
Bir Devinder Singh who is an authority on Punjab’s history and culture told this reporter, “What you are seeing is the farmers following the path the Gurus have shown them. One just has to refer to the ‘Ethics of War’ given by Guru Gobind Singh even before the Khalsa came into being where he tells his followers never to attack someone who is injured, sleeping, children and women. He said the injured have to be served and the enemy is to be attacked after challenging him and not from behind.”
He further talked about the complex relationship between Delhi (seat of power) and Punjab through the history. “It is a very unique phenomenon where Sikhs have always defended Delhi by challenging all the invaders in Punjab. But Delhi has never reciprocated with a clear heart. It has always been wary of a strong Punjab that might become sovereign as it did during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Delhi needs to change its viewpoint as a strong Punjab that is located along a porous means a strong India. It needs to ensure that Punjabis never feel alienated or think that they are getting a step motherly treatment. Delhi must come out with an open and bigger heart.”
It is being pointed that the images of the farmers serving the cops or the cops going soft at some places simply reflects that deep down there is a common bond between them. After all majority of the constabulary is coming from the farming backgrounds.
As poet Rajwinder Meer reflects, “One is forced to think why barring Bahadurgarh, the majority of the cops in Haryana were soft towards the farmers. At some places they simply made way for the farmers to pass on the road to Delhi. Punjab and Haryana might be different states today but the common bonds remain as there are many residents of Haryana who earn their livelihood in Punjab and vice versa.”
He sees the phenomenon of farmers serving langar and other things to the cops from two perspectives. “One of course is the impact of the teachings of the Gurus and Punjabi culture. On the other side is the ideology of the likes of Bhagat Singh at work that makes one realize that the working class as common problems and there is lots to be sacrificed for getting your rights. That is why the women and children who are a part of the agitators are talking about ‘Rang de Basanti’, “he added.
It is in this context that the picture of the young agitator climbing on top of water cannon and turning before jumping onto a parallel tractor has emerged as one of the iconic visuals of the protest. The young man identified as Navdeep Singh of Jalbera village in Ambala has reportedly been booked for attempt to murder and rioting. He reportedly told the local media that he was driven by the bravery of the marching farmers to carry out the act.
At the same time there is lot anger among the common people over the manner there have been attempts to brand the agitating farmers as Khalistan supporters, Naxals and anti nationals, something that has become a norm with anyone seeking democratic rights and questioning the regime.
“This is a tried tested technique by the agencies, the embedded media and those close to the establishment to derail and defame democratic movements. The same thing happened with the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Shaheen Bagh last year where people protesting democratically and in a non violent manner were branded as traitors, anti national etc. They have been booked and even arrested under draconian laws with various charges leveled against them. Such things are done whenever there is insecurity coming from people’s anger, particularly when segments of the working class unite,” said political observer and cultural activist Kanwaljit Khanna.
“It is the path shown by Bhai Kanhaiya and Punjabi culture at display when the farmers are serving even those who are required by duty to stop them. Bhai Kanhaiya is a historical figure who used to provide water to the injured during Guru Gobind Singh’s time when the battle was over for the day, both to the Sikhs as well as to those fighting against the Sikhs. You just have to look at the way the policemen in Haryana have responded to the farmers. It shows the common bond since majority of them too come from farming families,” he added.
The spirit compels this reporter to recall an anecdote regarding a protest at Mohali against abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir last year. When water was sought from a man serving at a Gurdwara, he had said during the small talk, “We are here to serve everyone. The youth that is protesting and might get injured if there is police action and also the cops who might resort to such action in their line of duty. Everyone is equal for us.”