119 Years of Trust This above all
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, February 20, 1999

Regional Vignettes



Warning all Punjabis

NOT all Punjabis are Sikhs; not all Sikhs are Akalis; not all Akalis are religious bigots. As a matter of fact almost 40 per cent of the Punjabis are Hindus; a half of the Sikh population does not vote for Akalis; and the Akalis are split into two factions; moderates led by men like Chief Minister Parkash SinghBadal and Central Agricultural Minister Surjit SinghBarnala and extremists led by Bhai Ranjit Singh, former Jathedar of Akal Takht, and Gurcharan Singh Tohra, President of the SGPC which controls Sikh temples and institutions. Moderate Akalis are acceptable to most Punjabis fundamentalists Akalis have no Punjabi Hindu supporters and have a few Sikhs who share their perceptions.

Keeping in mind these facts one has to view the latest move by a small coterie which controls Akal Takht and the SGPC. It describes Sikhs as a separate quam from other Punjabis (and Indians), wants a separate personal law for them and revive the demand for Khalistan. Credentials of the two chief spokesmen of this coterie are pertinent. Bhai Ranjit Singh is a convicted murderer who has spent 14 years in jail, Jathedar Tohra has himself admitted that in a fit of anger he murdered an innocent Muslim during the violence that accompanied the partition of India. In addition, Tohra has a stranglehold over the SGPC over the last 25 years. He has had himself elected to the Rajya Sabha over and over again but is rarely seen or heard in the Upper House of Parliament. Bhai Ranjit Singh is his nominee, as Jathedar of Akal Takht. The two men have created the crisis in order to oust Badal from being at the helm of affairs during the tercentenary celebrations of the formation of the Khalsa Panth. Have they the right to put the future of all Punjabis, Hindu and Sikhs, and indeed of the entire country, in jeopardy to achieve their personal ambitions?

There is much confusion about the meaning of the term "quam". As a synonym for a community it may be acceptable; as the word for nation it is not. A person cannot change his nationality excepted by having his country and migrated to another. Even the founder of the Khalsa Panth only changed his name from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh after being baptised by his followers. He and his followers remained Indians and in the Hindu mainstream. Guru Gobind Singh only set up a parallel militant brotherhood of the Khalsa. There is no justification for holding that the last Guru meant to create a new nationality.

As for Khalistan, I have said a hundred times before and will shout from the house tops that a Khalistani is the worst enemy of the Khalsa Panth because he means to destroy the hard-earned prosperity and respect Sikhs enjoyed in India today. It never had, nor has, support of the Punjabis. Its propagators, now much dwindled in numbers and enthusiasm, are to be found only in England, Canada and the USA. Despite clamouring for it for over two decades, no one has yet drawn a map showing the boundaries of Khalistan and its communal constituents. The most exaggerated boundaries would leave over 50 per cent of the Punjabis (20 per cent of them Sikhs) outside its limits. Large communities of Punjabis inhabit Haryana, Himachal, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Wherever they are in India, they have done well for themselves. Have Khalistanis ever given a thought to their future? The one occasion when I brought up the subject with Jathedar Tohra, he replied blandly: "People have to make sacrifices for the cause of community". In other words, you people who live outside Punjab may be written off so that these Jathedars can consolidate their hold in the community.

Their demand for a separate personal law is a retrograde step to deprive Sikh women of rights of inheritance enjoyed by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain women. Ever since the advent of Sikhism, we have been governed by customary laws which applied to agricultural communities and later by Hindu law. What right do they have to lower the status of their own women?

I do not know what the outcome of the Badal and Tohra tussle for power will be, butI am pretty certain that if Badal wins, we can be sure of peace in Punjab for as long as he is the Chief Minister. I am equally certain that if Tohra and Bhai Ranjit Singh get the upper hand, the state and perhaps the country will be in for another spate of violence and unrest. The moral is clear: if you allow irresponsible people to play with match-boxes, do not be surprised if they set the house on fire.

Goa: X-mas to New Year

Talking of high sounding Catholic Goan names (incidentally many describe themselves as Brahmin Catholics in matrimonial ads) I was put wiser one morning when I was sitting by the poolside, gathering courage to enter the chilly water. A young and attractive girl in her mid-twenties along with her two children to introduce themselves. The boy about four years old wore a patka. "You are a sardarni, I presume," I said.

"I am a sardarni but not a Sikh. I am a Christian married to a Sikh. He made it a condition that our children would be brought up as Sikhs".

"So you could not be a Roman Catholic". (They allow marriages to non-Catholics provided their children are brought up as Catholics).

"No, I am not a Catholic; I am a Protestant Anglican".

I asked her name. "Alda, Alda Dhingra. My husband’s family is into making paapads, and salted crispies. You might have heard of their company Natraj, based in Bangalore".

I admitted, I had not. But promised that as soon as I got back to Delhi Iwould sample some of Natraj’s products. "I have paapad every evening with my drinks", I assured her.

I read out some Goan Christian names I had put down in my diary. "I can match them", she said and rattled of her own. I made her write it down in my diary. "Alda Maria Barbosa Lima Montiero Dhingra. Now I am plain and simple Alda Dhingra".

An hour later, the Dhingras left for Bangalore.

* * * *

Goa has many beautiful sand beaches with mouth-watering names like Colva, Bogmalo, Majorda, Calangute, Baga, Bombalin. Some stretch for miles. Each has at least one five-star hotel to cater for the pleasure of foreign visitors and rich Indians. The cheapest holiday at any of these beach resorts costs you Rs 5000 a day. Drinks, health club facilities, massages (up to Rs 900 for an hour’s rub are extra). My favourite for the last 10 years or more has been Bogmalo. It has the advantage of being closest to the airport ( a bare 10 minutes’ drive) and a small village with many family-owned restaurants which offer fresh sea products less than half the prices charged by the hotel. In fact the entire village lives of crumbs of Park Plaza Hotel. It has a dozen shops owned by Kashmiris selling carpets and Kashmir handicrafts and stalls selling sea-shells, paan, cigarettes, bidis and aerated water. A Bhelpuri stall does brisk business in the afternoons. Most of the staff of Park Plaza is also drawn from Bogmalo village.

What I find most enchanting about Bogmalo beach is its modest size and shape. It is no more than a mile from end to end and is curved like a horse-shoe. It is more intimate than others; even the sea waves are gentler than elsewhere. I walk along the beach which reveals a variety of marine and bird life. in the morning fishermen who have been out on the sea all night bring in sardines and mackerel which are promptly sold off on the beach. Other haul in their nets and pick up tiny sprats. Nothing escapes the cooking pot. As you go along the water line, sand pipers scamper ahead picking up tiny crabs and fly over the surf to alight at a safe distance. Crows are clumsier.They also hunt for crabs but keep hopping away from the advancing surf. They find it easier to steal food from plates of unwary hotel guests.

Badal-Tohra feud

Tohra and Badal are great sardars

So, wars between them are a natural thing,

It is said they are great friends when out of power

In power, each to the other is a feuding king.

So much is the pelf and pride

So much is the patronage

That politics sucks into its vortex

The soldier, the priest and the sage.

Let the holy and not-so-holy wars rage

Let the great men show in full their might

But let them remember this much that

Punjab has not forgotten yet the dark night,

The nightmare of terrorist violence.

Hence, let them be afraid

Lest with or without thought

They should do aught

That might bring back the dark decade.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, New Delhi) back

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