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Ludhiana’s Violent Frustration


By Gurmukh Singh News analysis by the renowned The Sikh Times columnist, Gurmukh Singh, UK who is currently in Punjab.
Within two days, street violence in Ludhiana erupted for two apparently unrelated reasons. However, a closer analysis shows deep rooted underlying causes.
The “minor” complaint by an immigrant labourer to the police was “overlooked”, and resulted in protests and damage to property by immigrant workers spreading over five police areas in Ludhiana on Friday, 4th December. On Saturday December 5, Darshan Singh (58) – an auto-rickshaw driver, father of three and the only breadwinner in the family - was shot dead and 11 others injured, when police fired at Sikh demonstrators at Samrala Chowk to stop them marching towards the venue of a “religious” function to be addressed by Ashtosh Maharaj of the Divya Jyoti. (Words in quotes are from news reports.)
What struck the outside observer was the efficiency with which the violence was stopped. In addition to local police, paramilitary Rapid Action Force and additional police from Patiala were deployed and the violence brought to an end almost overnight. At Ludhiana it is business as usual. In the meantime, pagris of MLAs are being tossed around at the Punjab Assembly, with the opposition making the most of what they claim to be a breakdown of law and order in Punjab!
People in the state have become immune to the cycles of sudden eruption of violence and the calm which then descends as if nothing had happened. The post violence analysis is left to outsiders. In fact, people do not wish to talk about it and even wonder what the fuss is all about. It is almost like watching flock of sheep, which quietly returns to grazing after some have been injured or lost their lives to some predator.
Invitation by BJP MLA Harish Bedi to the highly controversial Ashutosh to address a gathering at Ludhiana can only be regarded as mischievous and provocative. More so when, according to S. Tarlochan Singh MP and ex-chief of National Commission for Minorities (NCM), the Commission had prohibited Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sanstha from holding “satsung” outside its dera precincts at Nurmahal, as its teachings were regarded as “against” Sikhism.
One wonders if Harish Bedi, Ludhiana administration and the Badal Government were aware of this prohibition by the NCM, and if so why was this controversial satsung at Ludhiana allowed. While the much weakened central Sikh institutions like the SGPC are in political hands, those like Harish Bedi can be expected to test the waters to see if someone is still awake!
Yet, on the face of it, why shouldn’t anyone address a gathering anywhere in a democracy within legal parameters? Why should the Sikhs feel threatened? They feel threatened because most Sikhs in Punjab no longer follow the Guru’s teachings and are in the clutches of bhekhdhari sants. Those like Ashutosh and splinter sects like Radha Swamis thrive, as do other faiths like the Christians seeking converts in villages. The SGPC and the sants do little at ground level in the form of Sikh social activism to help the needy to counter these overt challenges to Sikh ideology. Recently, S. Rana Inderjit Singh, Principal of Gurmat Gian Missionary College at Ludhiana, promoting dedicated fieldwork, education and support for village needs, commented on some of these issues. (The college is in touch with those wishing to do something in own “home” villages and seva agencies like Khalsa Aid of UK. I shall be writing more about this model initiative later.)
As for the migrant workers arriving in Punjab in their hundreds of thousands, Punjab agriculture and other industries depend on them. These workers also bring in crime and organized gangs, and are becoming politically aware of their rights.
What happened in Ludhiana recently is to some extent symptomatic of the lack of stability in the state. Despite apparent prosperity and numerous infrastructure projects, Punjab remains frustrated and unstable. There are background economic, socio-religious and administrative reasons why that is the case. People feel insecure due to post 1984 events. While the rule of law and consistent government cannot be taken for granted, the lives of people are no longer guided by any stable religious, social or cultural values.
According to a recent study Punjab farmers owe five times more to commercial banks, money lenders, commission agents etc than ten years ago.
The figures are staggering. In 1997 Punjab farmers owed Rs 5,700 crore. In 2008, they owed over Rs 30,394 crore! These and related figures have been produced by Prof H S Shergill, Director (Research), Punjab Development Studies at the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh. He is an eminent economist and ex-colleague of Indian PM, Dr Manmohan Singh.
Average debt for every Punjabi farm household is Rs 1.39 lakh. For every acre of agricultural land in Punjab the money owed is Rs 13,062. Seventeen per cent of farming households are in “debt trap” and cannot even pay the interest on their loans. They have no hope of repaying their debts. There have been hundreds of suicides by those in this hopeless situation. According to the study, almost 60 per cent of those “debt trapped” farm households are small farmers and 86 per cent belong to the Malwa region.
That is the condition of Punjabi farmers, the “ann dattas” (providers of food) for India today. Regrettably, the problem is social, as well as due to lack of any consistent long-term central or state farm policy.
Farmers mismanage own affairs and incur too much social expenditure. Some keep counting the increasing prices of their land and keep borrowing more and more. The so called “non-productive” loans are for marriages, ceremonies, customs and social functions, and house constructions and repairs. Some spend lakhs to send their grown-up children abroad under the pretext of education. Parents of girls borrow huge sums to get them married. Girls are treated a liability by parents because of the massive expenditure at marriages and related life-long customs. Over eating and drinking at marriages and social functions result in accidents and deaths on roads. These are the areas where any direction from the central religious institutions is sadly lacking.
As for government policy the need is for massive social education programmes. Main stream Gurbani guidance is there condemning rituals, meaningless ceremonies and oppressive social customs. It will take a concerted joint effort by religious institutions and the government (through supportive legislation) to bring about the much needed socio-economic revolution in Punjab.


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