Thursday, December 28, 2006

Where is Swadesh Deepak?

In an old mansion, on Ambala's Mall road
He lay in his room, doing nothing, only
speaking to characters. His thoughts went
berserk like cigarette stubs on his ground.

Food was brought to him; he ate it silently
swallowing most of it, and at times,
winking at his image in the glass of water,
spilling it inside, without any sound.

He had stopped going out and didn't care
for what happened outside. Within himself,
much took place, and it went on and on
Like a child in a Fair on a merry-go-round.

As if she would ring the doorbell with a bouquet
of sunflowers in her hands, say, Hello, is he inside?
Her voice came tiptoed, smiled, and said: I am the hunter
What would you like to be: The hare or the hound?

Oh, welcome, Maya, so you have finally arrived
Place a kiss, if you may, on my parched lips
and erase all the lines on my forehead; who asks then:
Where is Swadesh Deepak, and where could he be found?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Houses for you

Oh, it is not that we are not concerned!
Look! We have made houses for you
And they are made of proper brick and mortar

The soil is the same, you see
Here is the proof:
It can grow red radishes

We will even get a temple constructed
But be sure, you don’t blow the conch
It may tear off the fibre of Kashmiriyat

And yes, we could not create these houses
On the banks of a river
So you will have to solemnize your God’s marriage
By sending his bride to him
Through flower pots

And these low doors of your houses
They are for your safety, you see
The boys, you know, are no longer indigenous
But we swear, Afghans have a self-pride
You don’t believe us, ask your ancestors
Or the learned men of your community (Ha, ha, ha! Every Batta is an intellectual!)
‘Their Majesties’ will never lower their heads
Even if their forefingers may be twitching
To pull your guts out

We know, your backs are hardened
And your torso muscles as well
From continuously shifting hearths
During those initial years
But still, it pains us to see that
Old men and women have to
Transport polythene bags full of
Sesame bread, rice flour and spices
To their sons and daughters in
Delhi, Mumbai and beyond
We see them all the time
In trains and deluxe buses
Trying to keep fresh,
Vegetables, they carry with them

That is why we want you to come back
And settle in these houses made for you
Did we tell you that they
Are made of proper brick and mortar?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Flower dreams

I remember, one day
While sitting
Just like that
You made on
A pack of cigarettes
Kept on my table
A sketch of a plant
Come and see it now
A flower has apppeared on it
Translated from Gulzar's Koi Baat Chale...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Meeting Big B on NH 8

It is virtually the last milestone of prosperity, also marking the end of Gurgaon. As young software techie couples, wearing Nike sneakers and Levis Jeans step out of their Hondas to have a lazy brunch at the Haldiram’s, you almost forget that you are in India. Before this point, there are 24-hours power-backed apartments. Cheerleading Thomas Friedman are boys who turn from Pawan to Peter during the night.

I am travelling on the Golden Quadrilateral, one of the last symbols of the Vajpayee Government. Till few years ago, huge pictures of the former Prime Minister would don toll plazas built at various spots on the super highway. The pictures are gone but you can still find traces of the NDA era. At such one place on the National Highway 8, I meet Rajpal.

Outside the ‘Feel Good’ wine shop, Rajpal is quietly gulping down Old Monk mixed with Pepsi at 11 am. Our eyes meet and I strike a conversation with him. After a few minutes of polite conversation, he finally opens up, helped partially by the good old rum. He looks at me, points at the bottle and says, “ This is just to ward off loneliness. Have you heard this song: I feel so lonely baby, I feel so lonely, I could die…?” Though I am not fond of Elvis Presley, I recognize this song. Before I can utter a word, he continues.

“As a young man, I was inspired by Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar. I joined the Army. But in a few years time, I was disillusioned. I quit and returned to my village. I became a farmer, tilling my father’s land. But that also did not hold me for long. It is a cycle of Karma.”

“What do you do now?,” I ask him. He looks at me and smiles. “I just feel good now,” he mutters, followed by a hearty laugh. As I take out my camera to click a picture, he refuses to be photographed. “OK, but at least tell me where did you hear Elvis Presley?,” I ask him.

“In the Army, I was attached with a Colonel. He was very fond of old songs. Every evening he would play this song on his gramaphone and sing along with it. I picked it from there,” he says. We shake hands. “See me again while you are coming back; just ask this shopkeeper and he will guide you,” he adds.

I move on. Just before Kotputli, on the Jaipur highway, I enter a field where a turbaned man is sitting on the earth, a flute resting beside him. There are goats grazing nearby. His back is turned against me and so he is almost startled as I greet him. I tell him I have come from Delhi and would like to ask him few questions. His name is Raja Ram and he is 60 years old. He has been a farmer all his life. He has never been to Delhi or Jaipur. He lives nearby and has no electricity in his house. He has never heard of Sachin Tendulkar. “Who is Abdul Kalam?,” I ask him. “He was a fakir,” he replies. “What is your wish list for 2007?” He looks at me as I put this question to him and then looks at his goats. “Nothing,” he replies.

Just before Jaipur, around 240 kilometres from Delhi, I spot Reema, a young college girl, waiting for a bus on the highway. I cautiously approach her lest other men at the bus-stop might think I am teasing her. I introduce myself and tell her about my assignment. I can see that few boys at the bus-stop are looking at us with curiosity. One of them passes a comment, making others laugh. I can hear them talking about ‘jeans.’ I notice that Reema is wearing jeans. Reema begins telling me about her family. Her father is a farmer and after much persuasion she was allowed to study further in a college. “Usually girls of my age are married off but I managed to wriggle out of it, at least for now,” she says. She wants to become a teacher. And what are her expectations from 2007? She looks at the jeering boys and says,“ I wish I could wear jeans without inviting comments from them.”

Further ahead, I meet Ratan Lal, a young boy, who studies in 8th class in a government school. His village, Chapakhedi is a few kilometers away from the highway, which goes on to Mumbai. He wants to join Army when he grows up. Has he ever seen a computer? “No,” he replies almost apologetically, “but I have heard about it,” he asserts. “What is it?” “It is an electronic pigeon, used for sending messages,” he answers. What does he want in 2007? “I wish I could see a cricket match on television,” he says.

Along the National Highway, in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh district, I meet Kishan Lal, 24, who drives a taxi. He is a lower caste. “ Come, I will take you to my village,” he says. His village Achalpura is situated along the highway. “This highway came up a few years ago but, you see, it brought no changes in our lives,” he tells me. Till a year ago, Kishan Lal says, the people of his community could not sit on a cot in his village.
“The upper caste men would object to this, maintaining that we had no right to sit on a cot,” he says. Last year, some of the boys of his caste, along with a few social activists began a ‘khaat andolan.’ They would take out cots from their houses and sit on them outside. Some of them were beaten up by drunken upper caste men. “They also declared a social boycott against us,” remembers Ram Lal. But still, he says, only 50 percent lower castes are with them. “The rest of them still prefer a non-confrontationist approach,” he says as he sits on a cot outside his house for a photo op.

A few kilometers before Udaipur is Idra gram panchayat, where 50 gypsy families have built small settlements. “We were tired of always being on the move and decided to settle here for the sake of the new generation,” says Banjara leader Bansilal. He laments that no politician pays heed to them since most of them do not vote. “We are always on the move, searching for jobs. If someone is working in Gujarat, how is he supposed to spend 500 rupees and come here for voting?,” he says. What is his expectation from 2007? “The Police harass us a lot here. I wish that could change,” Bansilal says, urging me to have a cup of tea at his house.

On my way back, I am reminded of my promise made to Rajpal. As the evening descends, I reach the spot where I had left him two days back. The shutter of the Feel Good wine shop is half open and in the dim light, I ask the owner about Rajpal. “He is holding his Panchayat behind this shop, in the fields. There is a turn there, you can go inside,” he says with an amused look on his face. And true to his words, I find Rajpal with his bottle, surrounded by a few men. He is regaling them with his stories.

“Oh here comes the babu,” he shouts as his eyes fall on me. I can sense that he has had a little too much. “Ok, let me play Kaun Banega Crorepati with you,” he says, and without waiting, he throws a question at me, increasing the baritone of his voice to match with that of Amitabh Bachchan, “Why is this country infested with so many problems?” I can feel all eyes set upon me. Before I can gather an answer, Rajpal comes to my rescue. “I think you need a phone-a-friend helpline,” he says, shifting from one foot to another. It is absolute dark as I hear his voice sifting through the air: Hello Manmohan Singh ji, mein Amitabh Bachchan bol raha hun

(This report appeared in the New Year special issue of The Sunday Indian)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Between the pages

Often in your books
I discovered dried flowers
And in my books, the winds
That dried them

In winds like those
I go out, wearing, these days
A checked woollen muffler
Around my neck
Considering its two ends
Your two arms

I do not know, what is there
In this song:
Beqarar karke humen yun na jayiye…
Loneliness or its panacea

Today, I almost knew
When in the cupboard
Beside naphthalene balls
I found, in an old copy of
Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education
Between pages 210 and 211
A stamp-sized picture of yours

Years have passed and
I could never tell you
But today, as I saw
You smiling in that picture
I found myself muttering:
Aapko humari kasam laut aayiye…

(This poem appeared originally here)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Her Master's voice

In a Rajasthan village, a woman sarpanch stays at home, while her husband conspires with the Panchayat to grab land belonging to Bheel tribals.

The sun is at its zenith and only when you come really close can you see the broken remains of what used to be the house of Dharmesh Bheel and his family. The clear skies invite winds and the dust enters Dharmesh’s eyes. He touches the empty ground where his house stood till recently and applies the sandy earth to his forehead.
“This had been my family’s house for 42 years and there are not even stones left now,” says a bleary-eyed Dharmesh. His wife has shifted to her father’s house and Dharmesh and his father stay in a neighbour’s house.

Dharmesh lost his ancestral house in a conspiracy supported by the Panchayat in his village Beeladi in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh district. It all began in October this year when the Public Works Department started extension of an old grovel road under the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana. The department conducted survey and laid pillars along the houses of tribal Bheels which did not interfere with their houses.
The village is home to 27 Bheel families, out of which 3 families live outside the village, by the river. After independence, the Government, recognizing the vulnerability of the Bheel tribe, allotted some land to the community in 1964 as a part of the land reforms. “Ever since we were allotted this land, the upper caste Rajput and Jat families in the village have had their eyes set upon this land,” says Gangaram Bheel, a village elder. The Bheel community members say that this particular stretch of land is very fertile and many times in the past, the upper caste landlords have offered them land elsewhere. But the Bheels refused to shift. “They destroyed our crops and even declared a social boycott but we did not part away with our land. How could we? We have nothing else,” says Dharmesh. In October this year, the plan to extend the old grovel road offered an opportunity to the landlords to grab the land belonging to Bheel tribals.

On October 26, the government excavator ran over Dharmesh’s house and destroyed it completely. It also made trenches on both sides of another house in preaparation to uproot it. The entire operation was overseen by Lal Singh, the husband of the village sarpanch, Lad Kanwar. “Lad kanwar is just a rubber stamp; for all practical purposes, her husband calls the roost,” says a villager. “After destroying my house, Lal Singh took away all the stones that formed the walls of my house, and the wooden rods also,” alleges Dharmesh.
The Bheels then approached the local administration including the Police and the SDM. The Police, according to the Bheels, accepted the complaint but took no action. The SDM, however, tried for a compromise between the two parties. “The sarpanch’s husband said that he will give land elsewhere to the displaced families. We told him to give it to us in writing,” says Bhanwarlal, another Bheel villager. That did not happen. What happened instead was something that the Bheels had been fearing for years.

On the night of November 10, the Bheels received a notice from the Panchayat that next day in the morning their ‘illegal’ houses and fields will be evacuated. When Bheels and labour activists complied a response and tried to submit it to the sarpanch, she refused to accept it. “She said that she had no knowledge about this case and would accept it only after consulting her husband who was not home at that time,” says Madan, a labour activist. The Bheels then pasted their response on the door of the Panchayat office.

Next day, the Bheels and the labour activists tried to reason with the sarpanch’s husband (the sarpanch never came herself) that it was totally illegal for the Panchayat to displace the Bheels. Panchayati Raj act clearly states that the Panchayat has executive powers only and doesn’t have the judicial power, which is a must to order evacuation of people. When the upper caste landlords realized that they had no legal standing, they decided to install fear among the Bheels. Late in the night, around 150 upper caste men, belonging to the Rajput, Keer and Jat castes, descended upon the Bheel houses and attacked their inhabitants. They were also joined by their women who surrounded the houses, armed with sickles. The Bheels and a few labour activists who were present there were beaten up by lathis. Some of them escaped in the fields and were later rescued by the Police. 2 Bheels and 6 activists sustained serious injuries and three of them had to be hospitalised. The attackers also allegedly destroyed the crops of the Bheels before falling back.
On December 6, a Bheel maha rally was organized in the village against the attack. On the same day, the upper caste landlords also organized a similar rally, alleging that the Bheels were trying to usurp their lands and were trying to vitiate the atmosphere at the behest of ‘outsiders’. Beeladi village is just a few kilometers inside from the super highway – also known as the Golden Quadrilateral project – that joins Delhi to Mumbai.
Noted social activist, Aruna Roy, who addressed the Bheel maha rally, demanding rights for the tribals, says, “Development has become an euphemism for grabbing the land of the poor and the downtrodden.”

A survey, conducted just before this episode, by two non-Governmental organizations in Chittorgarh district states that 1,389 bheegas of agricultural land, belonging to various Bheel families in 92 villages is currently in the possession of upper castes.

The social boycott may have dispirited them, but the Bheels have resolved to continue the fight. The first step, of course, is to rebuild the broken house. “Where do we get new stones for the house now,” asks Dharmesh’s father, as he sits cross-legged on a neighbour’s cot. Would the Vijay Raje Scindia government care to ask this question, and few others, to the ‘rubber stamp’ sarpanch of Beeladi?

(This report first appeared in The Sunday Indian)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dignity of the dead

"How old is this?," the young labourer asks me. I take the plastic can filled with water from his hands without answering him. I'm still looking at the gravestone. I splash some water on the stone, removing layers of mud and dead leaves. The name is clear now: The Michaels. Died 2 July, 1868. Read on.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Landless in Punjab

Beyond the facade of prosperity in Punjab, lays hidden a grim tale of numerous landless workers, who are caught in a cycle of indebtness and end up turning into bonded labourers.

On a clear, cold morning in Mansa in Punjab, hundreds of shadowy figures, most of them draped in torn, faded shawls, huddle at the town’s Labour chowk. 60-year-old Ajmer Singh rubs his hands together and lets out a sigh. His eyes, like that of everyone else, are fixed at the main road. Farmers, riding jeeps and tractors, would be coming any time to pick up men like Ajmer Singh for working in their fields. Even on a good day, only 60 percent of them will get work. Life is hard. But for Ajmer Singh, it is a bliss as compared to the life he was forced to lead for years in his village Nangal Khurd.
Ajmer Singh was caught in a viscious web of bonded labour after a farmer from his village employed him as contractual labourer for 12,000 rupees per annum. On less than 35 rupees a day, he worked seven days a week, for 12-14 hours every day. The day he was unable to come for work due to illness, the farmer would ask Ajmer Singh to pay a fine of 100 rupees. Within a year, he was also forced to take some loan from the farmer. Once caught in the debt trap, he was forced to work in the farmer’s fields for years, on a very low wage. “I worked day and night at his fields. Gradually, he asked me to bring my 15-year-old son along with me to work. There was not even a single hour of rest,” says Ajmer Singh. Three months ago, Ajmer Singh was lucky enough to be freed by labour activists. He earns 60-70 rupees a day now, working on a daily basis in farms. The minimum daily wage rate in Punjab is 97 rupees. But still Ajmer Singh is grateful for his recently-acquired freedom.

According to an estimate, there are at least on lakh workers in Punjab who are bonded labourers. Actually, these are contractual labourers who get caught in the debt trap and end up as bonded labourers. In Punjab, there is an increasing trend of hiring agricultural workers on a contractual basis, where they get an advanced payment of 12,000-18,000 rupees for the entire year. The poor workers end up borrowing small amounts for needs such as health care. The interest rate for such loans is a high as 60 percent per annum. As a result, the debt trap continues for years, sometimes passing on from one generation to another. In most of the cases, the other members of the family also get stuck.

Hameer Kaur was recently rescued from one such trap from her landlord’s house in Dindholi Kalan in Sangrur district. For 35 years, she was forced to work in the house of her landlord, which included domestic work and cleaning of cattle sheds and taking away dung. Her mother-in-law had taken a loan of 2,000 rupees from the landlord. The landlord, apart from making Hameer Kaur work for 35 years, forced her to bring her daughter-in-law also for work. This practice is well established throughout Punjab where generations inherit the family’s debt and work in the households of the moneylenders at very low wages to pay it off. “It is a never ending circle,” says Harbhagwan Singh, a labour activist, working in the Sangrur district.

According to a study conducted recently by the Sociology department of Punjab University, the worst cases of bonded labour in Punjab are found in the Malwa belt, which includes Bhatinda, Sangrur and Mansa districts. Most of these labourers are Scheduled castes, who hold only 2.34 percent of the land under cultivation in the entire state. There have been cases where the moneylending farmers have taken the houses of these labourers since there is no land to annex. Their livestock is also taken away and they end up living in open spaces or in community places like gurudwaras. “In most of such cases, the labourer’s family is too scared to go back. Even when we assure them that we will reclaim their houses for them, some of them just refuse out of fear,” says Bhagwant Singh Samaon, state secretary of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha.

The landlords have also devised another method to enslave landless labourers. They make labourers addicts of Bukki (Poppy Husk). “After consuming the drug, the labourers become oblivious to fatigue and work indefatigably in the farms of their landlords,” says Harbhagwan.
Janata Singh of Mansa’s Makha village was fed this drug regularly by his landlords. He worked day and night in their fields, while his wife worked worked at the landlord’s house. “They would give me a break of few hours on Gurupurab. For the rest of the time, throughout the year, I worked in a dazed state in their fields. I even slept in their fields,” says Janata Singh. “I would come home by midnight and by 4 am, they expected me back, for work in the cowsheds. I was deprived of sleep for years. I would fall asleep while cleaning the dung and then they hurled abuses at me,” says his wife.

“We know of cases where the labourers are given poppy husk as wages. The landlord often boils it along with a cup of tea and once the labourer is addicted, he is given large doses, the cost of which is deducted from his wages,” says Bhagwant.
Kala Singh was also fed Bukki by his landlords, while making him work in their fields. One day, while spraying pesticide, he got poisoned by it and had to be hospitalized. Kala Singh alleges that this made his landlords so angry that they got him arrested by the Police in a case of theft. “My landlord came drunk to my house and beat me up, while the Police looked on,” says Kala Singh.

There are many instances when such beatings turn fatal. 22-year-old Jarnail Singh of Khadiyal village in Sangrur district was allegedly beaten to death by his two landlords in November this year after he failed to turn up for work. His family members say that he was down with fever. According to them, Jarnail Singh’s landlords forcibly took him, as he lay feverish on his bed, to work in the fields. “A few hours later, they came home, telling us that Jarnail Singh had been poisoned while spraying pesticide in the fields. His landlords offered us one lakh rupees, urging us not to send his body for postmortem,” alleges a family member. After labour activists staged a dharna, the Police finally arrested the two accused on November 30.

Assembly elections are due in Punjab early next year and currently, the Punjab Chief Minister is busy touring the state, portraying it as a prosperous state where every household is able to dole out sarson da saag and makki ki roti for guests. The time has come now to look behind the facade of green revolution and ensure equal economic and social equations for all. Otherwise it would seem that the government itself is high on the husk of power.

(This report first appeared in The Sunday Indian).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Punjab: A Bihar in Making?

In Punjab’s Malwa region, upper caste landlords are creating ‘Ranvir Senas’ in response to the growing Dalit assertion.

The first telltale signs of the growing class divide in Punjab are evident in the office of the CPI-ML in the Mansa district. In the courtyard, many Nihang Sikhs, dressed in their traditional attire, are listening to their first discourse on Marx.
All of them are lower castes. “We have told them that instead of fighting for Gurudwaras, they must fight for their own lot,” says Bhagwant Singh Samaon, a CPI-ML activist.

A few miles away, a caste cauldron is simmering in the Bhurj-Jabbar village. Groups of upper-caste Jat landlords stand outside their pucca houses, waiting for news from the court. Seven Jat boys from the village stand trial for attacking and badly mutilating Bant Singh, a 40-year-old Dalit, in January this year. He lost his two arms and a leg in the attack.
The news finally arrives in the village. For 3.5 hours, in front of the judge, Bant Singh narrated the sequence of the attack on him and identified his attackers. The final judgement of this case, as per Bant Singh’s lawyer, is expected by December 25.

“Our boys have been falsely implicated in the case,” says Sukhwinder Kaur, whose two sons are among the accused. A former village sarpanch, Sukhwinder Kaur’s husband is the current sarpanch from the Congress party. In the courtyard, the eldest son Yadavinder Singh’s three children are playing hide and seek. Holding her younger son’s photograph in her hands, she asks: “Does he look like a murderer? He was about to get engaged.”
On a string cot, in front of her, sits Amrik Singh, whose two sons have also been arrested in the case. “It is all being done at the behest of the liberation guys (CPI-ML activists). They are trying to mobilize Dalits against us. They are poisoning their minds,” he says. Ask him about the attack and he goes silent for a while and then whispers, “ It is not an act against Dalits. It is a case of personal enemity. Bant Singh had a series of fights with our boys. And some of them hit him back.” How many of them? “Only four, I swear. Three of them are innocent. They have been dragged into this.” And does those four include his sons? Another bout of silence. And then another whisper. “Yes, my younger son.”

As Bhurj-Jabbar waits to explode, upper caste landlords are increasingly taking cudgels against the formidable Dalit assertion. In Khadiyal village of the neighbouring Sangrur district, Jat landlords took out armed processions in an apparent show of strength, after the death of a lower caste labourer, Jarnail Singh, allegedly at the hands of his upper caste employers, on November 2. The labourers, led by the activists of the CPI-ML, staged a Dharna in front of the DSP’s office, urging him to arrest the perpetrators of the crime. After this incident, the Jats have made announcements through the Gurudwara loudspeaker, warning Dalits not to venture in their fields. “Their aim is to annex our lands; we are not against Dalits but they should not become a puppet in somebody else’s hands,” says sarpanch Harbans Singh, who is spearheading the agitation against the Dalits.

Similar armed rallies have been taken out elsewhere too. In October, Landlords took out a procession, carrying their licensed arms, under the banner of their newly-formed organization, Kisan Mazdoor Vyapari union. “The government is scared of Dalits. We will have to deal with them ourselves,” the leaders of the union are believed to have declared.

In Raipur village, in August, landlords came out in huge numbers after labour activists tried to lay siege over a piece of land which, they allege, had been illegally acquired by a landlord. In a meeting, the upper caste sarpanch appealed to other landlords to take out their weapons and come out in the form of a rally on August 28.
The labour activists staged a dharna outside the DC’s office in Mansa, demanding that the administration take action against the landlords. Finally, a day before the rally, the administration seized all the licensed weapons, thus nullifying the rally. “They are trying to create a Ranvir Sena in Punjab,” says Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, a veteran leftist (In red turban).

“A line has been created between the bigger farmers and the labourers after the Bant Singh attack,” says farmer leader, Raldu Singh. “It is not a caste war; it is the rich versus the poor,” he adds. But it remains a fact that almost all big farmers in Punjab are upper castes and all the local labourers are Dalits; most of them landless. Punjab has the highest number of Dalits in the country – almost one-third of the total population. So ultimately everything boils down to caste.
Nobody can swear this more than Bant Singh himself. “Being a lower caste, they expected me to keep to myself. But I would raise my voice everytime they committed any wrong. I got their ration depot cancelled and I was not even dependent on them since I raised pigs for a living instead of working in their fields. They did this to me in order to send a message. But it has boomeranged,” says Bant Singh, as he is being carried back to the hospital, from the court.

After the arrest of the accused in the Bant Singh case, landlords in a number of villages decided to boycott Dalit labourers. They were barred from working in the fields and were even prohibited from entering them. Most of these labourers have no access to toilets and thus depend on the fields for relieving themselves. It was only after the adminstration’s intervention that the boycott was called off.
“But it still continues in some villages; our men in villages are getting threats that they will be finished off,” says Kamaljeet Singh, a former Robotics engineer, who is now a CPI-ML full-timer (standing behind in maroon jacket with his fellow comrades).

After this boycott, a large number of labourers got mobilised. “When we gave a call for a meeting, we were surprised to see them turning out in huge numbers. We were not expecting this,” says Natt. “The credit for this goes to the sacrifice of Bant Singh,” he adds.

In Bhurj-Jabber, all eyes are now set upon the court judgement. “In his latest statement, Bant Singh has even named sarpanch Jaswant Singh as an accused. His two sons are already under arrest. The Jats will revolt against this injustice,” says a farmer.

Meanwhile, in the hospital, Bant Singh’s second daughter wipes the sweat on her father’s forehead. Since the incident, she has been away from her home, at her aunt’s house. “I am scared to go back, but I miss my home,” she says, with a faint smile on her lips. Considering what the court judgement may be and the consequences thereafter, her home-coming seems unlikely as of now.

(An edited version of this story first appeared in The Sunday Indian).