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Posted at: Jan 18, 2016, 1:03 AM; last updated: Jan 18, 2016, 12:50 AM (IST)FIELD REPORTS

Highway knocks at poverty’s door, family loses way

A couple ends life, daughter survives — she and two siblings inherit hopelessness. Dad Satguru Singh, true to his name, believed in hard labour and playing the role of a good brother. And then came ‘development’, leaving little in its wake
Highway knocks at poverty’s door, family loses way
(From left): Gurpreet Kaur (16), Sukhchain Singh (12) and Manpreet Kaur (17) with a framed picture of their late parents. photo by writer

Amaninder Pal

Tribune News Service

Maur (Sangrur), january 17

The only display item in the two-room house of Satguru Singh and his wife Rani Kaur is their wedding photograph — he in a yellow turban and she sporting a smile in her maroon suit. The picture bears a date: May 25, 2015. That’s the day both committed suicide.

Located on National Highway 71, Maur is famous for being the village of Jeona Maur, the ‘Robin Hood’ bandit. Maur ought to be infamous for what drove Satguru, a brick-kiln labourer, and Rani to give up, leaving three children behind — two school dropout girls and their 12-year-old brother.

Their kitchen now runs on ration provided by neighbours, but an unsettling vibe has taken hold of the house: that of hopelessness. 

The house narrates the story of how the so-called ‘development’ — symbolised by widening highways and bigger SUVs — pushes the poor into corners so dark that some are simply unable to carry on. How, the marginalised are so effortlessly and clinically pushed out of the social and economic margins.  

On May 28 last year, Gurpreet Kaur (16) was brought home after three days in hospital. Her relatives first gave her the good news: she had cleared the Class X examination with first division. Then the devastating part: both her parents were dead.

Three days before, on May 25, Gurpreet, along with them, had consumed pesticide after officials of the Public Works Department told Satguru Singh that his house would be demolished to widen the highway. Doctors saved Gurpreet, but luck failed her parents.

Around 11 years ago, to provide his kids and wife a spacious house, Satguru had swapped his ancestral house with this accommodation. But the house was never registered in his name.

After almost the entire compound of his house was acquired for widening the highway, Satguru was told that he would not get a rupee as compensation since the land was not registered. Already living in penury despite leading a life devoted to hard labour and helping his ailing brother, the news left the couple shaken.

“First my father consumed poison and minutes later, my mother gulped it down. Seeing them wailing, I also consumed whatever pesticide was left,” recalls Gurpreet.

As his name suggests, Satguru was a man of god. A hardworking brick-kiln labourer, he had never touched alcohol. Besides his own family, he would take care of his ailing elder brother and his five daughters, three of whom are still unmarried. He had borrowed a few thousand rupees from the owner of the brick-kiln for his brother’s kidney treatment, but could never return the money.

“Despite his best efforts, my father could not earn more than Rs 7,000 per month. Days before his death, he was depressed as he had to spend a lot on his brother’s treatment. But the acquisition of the house sealed his fate,” says elder daughter Manpreet Kaur (17). She once aspired to be a commerce graduate. Since May 25, she has not gone to school even once.

“I was brought up by my maternal grandparents and lived with them till a year ago. I scored 79 per cent in 10th and 73 in Plus I (Commerce). But that day changed our lives. I can’t go back leaving my siblings. And, with Papa gone, who will pay for me?” she asks.

Gurpreet also opted out of school after the incident. “How does it matter now? I just live for our younger brother Sukhchain. He should study,” she says.

Sukhchain goes to the village government school, where no fee is charged.

The orphans were joined by their ailing maternal grandparents — septuagenarians Gurjant Singh and Balbir Kaur — after the death of their parents. Together, they eat whatever is offered by neighbours. The grandparents get a few hundred rupees as pension.

Today, a broken wooden entrance door hangs by the demolished boundary wall. Land-owning farmers of this village got lakhs for each bigha that was acquired. Satguru’s family, even eight months after his suicide, is still guessing whether any compensation will come.  

But unlike the other suicide cases, the spectre of debt doesn’t haunt these orphans. A few thousand rupees borrowed from the brick-kiln owner were waived of by the lender after Satguru’s death. They don’t need to repay any loan because no bank ever lent them money. For, Satguru had nothing to mortgage.  

The highway came, and he lost his way. With him, his wife. With both gone, surely there ought to be some way out for the family. 

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