Saturday, February 21, 2009

This Above all
Bishnois, Chand and Fiza


I have great regard for the Bishnois. But there are some members of the sect whose behaviour leaves me dumb-founded. They were the first in India to realise the importance of saving our forests and wildlife from destruction. The most important event in their history is some of them giving their lives to prevent the Alwar state constabulary from enforcing a timber contractor’s right to cut down a forest. To this day you can see deer roaming about in Bishnoi villages.

Some years ago, in this very column, I published a picture of a Bishnoi woman breast-feeding her baby boy and a new-born fawn deserted by its mother—a most heart-warming example of love for animals. I assumed the Bishnois were a God-fearing sect with high moral standards. However, they also have a very high incidence of crimes of violence, including murders. Most of them are due to family feuds and vendettas. They also produced Bhajan Lal, once Chief Minister of Haryana, who was amongst the most unprincipled politicians of his time.

The whirlwind romance of Chand and Fiza barely lasted over a month. Both have yet to explain their conduct to their families, friends and society

And now we have his son, Chander Mohan, alias Chand Mohammad, till recently Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana. He has gone one better than his sire. He is the most talked of men in Haryana today and has become known all over the country for the wrong reasons. Chander Mohan had everything going for him—son of a Chief Minister, educated at Lawrence Public School, Sanawar, married into a rich family, living in a spacious mansion with his wife, three children and two dogs, elected MLA, then made Deputy Chief Minister.

He also liked his booze and had a roving eye. One afternoon it fell on a light-skinned, raven-haired, doe-eyed woman in her early forties named Anuradha Bali, eldest daughter of a retired Army engineer. She was a practising lawyer and appointed Additional Solicitor General of Haryana. She was on the look out for a husband, home and security. She responded to Chander Mohan’s overtures. They began to date secretly, then decided to come out openly and get married.

As a criminal lawyer, Anuradha must have known that bigamy is a criminal offence. Also, as a lawyer she knew the only way out was to convert to Islam, which permitted a man to take up to four wives at a time. So they threw all cautions to the winds and converted to Islam. He became Chand Mohammad, she Fiza Mohammad. It was a thoroughly dishonest exploitation of Islam. As should have been anticipated, Chand Mohammad was disinherited, declared an outcaste by the Bishnois and dismissed from his job.

Fiza also lost her caste and job. Both became a laughing stock of society. The whirlwind romance barely lasted over a month. Chand Mohammad ditched Fiza and went back to his family. Fiza failed in an attempt to take her own life, and lives on a diet of media interviews and vows of revenge. The sorry tale of romance-gone-sour has not ended. Both have yet to explain their conduct to their families, friends and society.

Chander Mohan, alias Chand Mohammad, is obviously an unstable character. The death of his younger son probably unhinged him. He is in need of medical and mental treatment. About Fiza nee Anuradha I am not sure. She seems to be relishing the media attention she is getting. But for how long? Sooner or later, the law will catch up with her.

The Nalwa legend

Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837) was one of the most renowned and trusted generals and administrators of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was the one who turned back the tide of Afghan and Pathan invasions of India going on for over five centuries back into their homelands. They had made Khyber Pass a one-way traffic route. Nalwa not only reversed the route of traffic, but also ruled the province with an iron hand, giving the traditional marauders of India a taste of their own medicine.

Consequently, while his name was used by Afghan and Pathan tribes women to frighten their children to submission, in India it is used with pride as one who paid the invaders back in their own currency with compound interest. Many legends have grown around Nalwa. It is hard to sift facts from fiction. At long last we have one of his descendants, Vanit Nalwa, gather textual material, including ballads composed by the general's admirers, as well as old paintings put together in one volume—Hari Singh Nalwa: Champion of the Khalsaji (Manohar).

The book will be available in the market by the time this article is published.

Vanit Nalwa has written about her distinguished ancestor with unconcealed pride, brushing aside criticism of his ruthless methods he used to crush turbulent tribesmen of the North-West Frontier Province. They have never forgiven the Sikhs for what Nalwa did to their forefathers. His name still rankles in their minds. Nevertheless, her book is a most valuable addition to the bibliography of Sikhism.

Vanit Nalwa is a practising psychologist with a doctorate in neurophysiology from Delhi University. She did post-doctoral research in Oxford University and won a Fulbright scholarship to train at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland (US).

Toast to Sri Ram Sene

A girl found drinking in a pub in Mangalore murmuring:

Hangama hai kyon barpa;

Thodisi to pee hai;

Daka toh nahin dala;

Chori toh nahin kee hai.

(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)