Tag Archive for 'Punjab'

Punjab: Rich and ruined

Something is eating away India’s most robust state. Vijay Simha in Tehelka:

The 25 crore man stepped in like a thief, eyes wary, searching for a sign that he must run. Jagbeer Singh. Farmer. Bus conductor. Father. Heroin smuggler. Jailbird. Nobody. After months of being a recluse, Jagbeer, one-time shining hope for friends and family, emerged into a Punjab he didn’t like. When he was caught with 25 kilos of heroin in 1997, worth Rs. 25 crore in the international market, Jagbeer became an instant celeb: his was the biggest heroin haul then. “They used to come to see what a Rs. 25 crore man looked like,” he says. Now, when he’s out after 12 years, only two kinds are interested. The sleuths, who come every fortnight to see if Jagbeer has anything to snitch on, and the peddlers, waiting to see if he is game for another shot. “I stay in and wonder how it happened to me. When I went into jail, there were a dozen drug offenders. When I was released, there were 65. There are a thousand peddlers in Punjab today,” he says. He doesn’t know it yet, but experts have begun to put an expiry date on Punjab, once the sentinel state of India. And it’s not just drugs that’s doing it.

I am too scared,” says Jagbeer. He has a high pitched voice, a curiously feminine touch. He is about six feet tall, and sports a beard and short hair, both of which he colours black. We are in a resort on the outskirts of Amritsar where a marriage party is on, loud and expensive. No one knows him there. It’s the only place he’ll talk. “My father died when I was two. He didn’t wake up one day after he drank too much the previous night. When I was 16, I began to farm. My brother-in-law used to drive a mini bus. I joined him as conductor. Slowly, I began to drive as well. I used to take the bus to Jithaul, a village near Amritsar. There were smugglers in that village who used to travel in my vehicle. I became friends with one of them. For five years we were good friends. Then, in 1995, he asked me to go with him to pick up gold.

“We carried dollars worth 2 crore and went to Samba in Jammu. Our Pakistani counterparts were to give us the gold there. We reached the spot and the lights went on. The Border Security Force (BSF) had trapped us. There was an informer among us who didn’t want me getting close to the boss. I had to help my friend with money for bail. I sold my bus and got him the money. He said he would repay me. One day in 1997, he asked me to go with a vehicle. He said just go and take your share of the money. It was a Tata Sierra and there were 25 kilos of heroin in it. I got greedy. I needed money and I thought I’ll get my due. When a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) team stopped me at Ajmer, I was shocked. They knew who I was and what I was carrying. I was sentenced to 12 years. I lost respect. Even an addict is pardoned but not a peddler. When they released me, I didn’t know what to do. When I returned home, I found my daughter had got married in my absence. I am now caught between the police and the drug runners. My past is my present and my future. I can’t be anyone else,” says Singh. He leaves the room, a man with no esteem. More:

Losing faith in Pakistan

Aatish Taseer in Mint Lounge. Taseer is the author of two books, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands and Temple-Goers:

Aatish Taseer

It is one of the vanities of a war, like the war on terror, to believe that your enemy’s reasons for fighting are the same as yours. We are bringers of freedom, democracy and Western-style capitalism; they hate freedom, democracy and Western-style capitalism. It is an irresistible symmetry; and if not a way to win a war, it is certainly a way to convince yourself that you’re fighting the good war. But there is another possibility, one that the Americans, and other defenders of post-colonial thinking, are loath to admit: that a place’s problem might truly be its own; that your reasons for fighting are not your enemy’s reasons; and that you might only be a side-show in an internal war with historical implications deeper than your decade-long presence in the country.

In the case of Pakistan, the imposition of this easy West versus Islam symmetry has helped conceal what is the great theme of history in that country: the grinding down of its local syncretic culture in favour of a triumphant, global Islam full of new rigidities and intolerances. It is this war, which feels in Pakistan like a second Arab conquest, that earlier last month saw, as its latest target, the Data Sahib shrine in Lahore—among the most important of thousands of such shrines that dot the cities and countryside of Punjab and Sindh. More:

A peculiarly Punjabi quarrel

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar in IHT:

The ruby red seeds of the pomegranate gleamed invitingly as I coaxed my 7-year-old daughter to eat the fruit. Loath to do any task without being regaled with an accompanying narrative, she asked me to retell the story of how as a child I would steal pomegranates from a neighbor’s garden and cause trouble. Despite several retellings, the story continues to exercise a hold on her, in part because it allows her a peek at the child now obfuscated by her mother’s adult facade.

The neighbor’s house was across from ours, separated by a narrow brick road into which branches of pomegranate trees spilled from the enclosed garden. In summer, after hours of sweaty play, there was pleasure in crumpling in the verdant shade, gossiping as we ate the plucked fruit. It never occurred to us that the pomegranate didn’t belong to us and that, technically, we were stealing. More:

Children of Hindu, Muslim immigrants in US drawn to hard rock


From the Washington Post:

Artwork from the Punjab state of India decorates the Ray family home. A Johann Sebastian Bach statue sits on a piano. But in the basement — cluttered with wires, old concert fliers and drawings — Arjun Ray, 25, is fighting distortion from his electric guitar.

For this son of Indian immigrants, trained in classical violin and raised on traditional Punjab music, getting his three Pakistani American bandmates in sync is the goal on this cold New England evening. Their band, the Kominas, is trying to record a punk rock version of the classic Bollywood song, “Choli Ke Peeche” (“Behind the Blouse”).

“Yeah,” said Shahjehan Khan, 26, one of the band’s guitarists, “there are a lot of contradictions going on here.”

Deep in the woods of this colonial town boils a kind of revolutionary movement. From the basement of this middle-class home tucked in the woods west of Boston, the Kominas have helped launched a small but growing South Asian and Middle Eastern punk rock movement that is attracting children of Muslim and Hindu immigrants. It also is drawing scorn from some traditional Muslims who say their political, hard-edged music is “haraam,” or forbidden. More:

Waziristan: The last frontier

From The Economist:

“YOU should enjoy this,” said a Pushtun from Waziristan, the most remote and radicalised of the tribal areas in North-West Pakistan that border Afghanistan, as he proffered a bottle of Scottish whisky. It was an excellent Sutherland single-malt; but the man was referring to the bottle’s more recent provenance, not its pedigree.

He had been given it by a fellow Waziristani working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. This spy had received the illegal grog from an American CIA officer. Your correspondent’s friend returned homewards, Scotch in hand, driven by another Waziristani, who is also employed as a fixer by al-Qaeda.

Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.

For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. More:

Honour killing

Jagdeesh Singh’s sister was murdered by her in-laws for daring to seek a divorce. But, he tells Jerome Taylor of The Independent, it is a crime his community would prefer to ignore:

Surjit Kaur, the victim

Surjit Kaur, the victim

Jagdeesh Singh wants to get straight to the point. “There is this very distinctive and self-incriminating silence within communities that have a history of ‘honour’ killings,” he says. “The so-called community leaders, the influential religious groups and the local language newspapers remain deafeningly silent when these killings happen. But that silence makes them just as guilty as the people who kill in the name of honour.”

Talk like this has made Mr Singh a deeply controversial character within the suburbs of west London where he and many of Britain’s 400,000-plus Sikhs have made their homes.

Many younger people regard him as a devout and tireless Sikh who is unafraid of speaking out against the more parochial traditions of Punjabi culture that they often find themselves struggling against. Others, particularly the more conservative and older elements, look on the 39-year-old as a troublemaker who needlessly provokes controversy by shining an unwelcome spotlight on things that should not be aired in public. More:

[Photo: World Sikh News]

Punjab goes bananas

Punjab, known for its prosperous wheat farmers, is set to transform into a banana state after the unqualified success of a small experiment with the fruit. From Hindustan Times:

bananasThe banana trial started two years ago on a small 10-acre patch of land. The very first crop, says Mewa Singh, a Ludhiana farmer, gave a net profit of Rs 1,50,000 per acre, dramatically lucrative for farm investors. Officials say the average profit per acre for wheat and paddy is no more than Rs 30,000.

Today, Singh is busy handling 2 or 3 enquiries every day about the viability of the crop. He has also become the president of the nascent Banana Growers’ Association.

Punjab rode to riches on the back of high-yielding varieties of wheat which helped the state’s hardy farmers, but that is linked to procurement prices supported by the government. New crops like bananas can suddenly alter this landscape. More

British Asians ‘outsourcing murder’

Poonam Taneja at BBC:

A BBC investigation has uncovered the deadly practice of British Asians travelling to India to hire contract killers.
Family and business associates, who are lured to the sub-continent, are often the targets.

In a country where murder is cheaper and less fraught with risk, the perpetrators of these crimes are rarely brought to justice.

Campaigners in both India and the UK believe this to have claimed the lives of hundreds of victims over several years.
These armchair murder plots are hatched in the living rooms of Britain and executed mainly in the rural Indian state of Punjab.

I made the journey to India to investigate these sinister crimes. More:

Click here to listen: BBC: Passport to Murder

India’s generation of children crippled by uranium waste

Gethin Chamberlain from Bathinda in the Observor:

Their heads are too large or too small, their limbs too short or too bent. For some, their brains never grew, speech never came and their lives are likely to be cut short: these are the children it appears that India would rather the world did not see, the victims of a scandal with potential implications far beyond the country’s borders.

Some sit mutely, staring into space, lost in a world of their own; others cry out, rocking backwards and forwards. Few have any real control over their own bodies. Their anxious parents fret over them, murmuring soft words of encouragement, hoping for some sort of miracle that will free them from a nightmare.

Health workers in the Punjabi cities of Bathinda and Faridkot knew something was terribly wrong when they saw a sharp increase in the number of birth defects, physical and mental abnormalities, and cancers. They suspected that children were being slowly poisoned.

But it was only when a visiting scientist arranged for tests to be carried out at a German laboratory that the true nature of their plight became clear. The results were unequivocal. The children had massive levels of uranium in their bodies, in one case more than 60 times the maximum safe limit. More:

Loins of Punjab present…

From Rang De Basanti to Jab We Met and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Punjab has emerged as Bollywood’s favourite backdrop. Jaskiran Kapoor in the Sunday Express:

punjabBack home in Chandigarh, the phone doesn’t stop ringing at Darshan Aulakh Productions. The business of film shooting, particularly in the last five years, has been brisk. Ever since Yash Raj delivered their ghee-dripping aloo-parantha-butter chicken bites of Punjab in superhits like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the film frat’s gone gaga with its new-found filmi tadka: the Punjabi formula. Though everyone loves to disagree—one cannot dismiss the larger-than-life presence of golden mustard fields on screen. Thrown in a Chadigarh di kudi preening on a bullock cart along with a balle balle moment, a Punjabi family complete with a beeji and a bauji and you’ve hit the jackpot at the Bollywood box office. “The movie put Punjab in mainstream Bollywood. We are in pretty high demand now,” says Aulakh, who holds a rather enviable position of being Yash Raj’s top production guy in Punjab. Aulakh ambles into the room, juggling calls on his two cellphones. He makes quick mental notes of shooting dates, location briefs, extras, security guys and costumes. Aulakh has also handled shoots in Punjab for Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Johnny Mastana, Namastey London, Sadiyan, Singh is Kinng, Jab We Met, Heroes, and currently for London Dreams and Rani Mukherji and Shahid Kapur’s untitled film.He started his career 23 years ago doing low-budget Punjabi films. “Courtesy cinematographer-director Manmohan Singh, the big break came with Veer Zaara,” he says. Aulakh recollects how it took them a month and half to build Shah Rukh khan’s house for Veer Zaara in Hoshiarpur village. “It was a disputed property, so convincing three people was a task, but building it from scratch was an ordeal.” Aulakh tells us it cost them Rs 7 lakh to get it right for the film.


A real green revolution

Once they were the pioneers, and beneficaries of the ‘green revolution’, now a group of farmers in Punjab want to reclaim their land through natural farming methods. In Slate, Mira Kamdar files her despatch.

JAITU, FARIDKOT DISTRICT, India—Jitinder’s motorcycle pulled up in front of a concrete arch that had been draped with cloth banners printed with messages about pesticide poisoning and cancer.

“Welcome, welcome to our workshop,” a beaming Umendra Dutt called out in English as I alighted. The tangled locks of his long hair gave him a bit of a wild-man look. A cell phone was clutched in the hand he waved. Umendra started to read the Hindi messages on the banners and was delighted when I chimed in. It helped that English words such as cancer were simply rendered phonetically in Devanagari script.

Under a white tent, a buffet table had been laid, a stage erected, and rows of chairs set out. Boys hurried to and fro at Umendra’s orders, their rubber thongs slapping against the grimy marble floor. On the table, grease and curry stains randomly bloomed on a fabric that must once have been an elegant cream color. Flies swarmed everywhere, exploring the stains and the platters of food that began to appear.


Sorry Mum, but I’ll marry who I want

In The Times, an extract from “If You Don’t Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton” by Sathnam Sanghera:

My dearest Mother,

There’s something important and difficult I’ve been meaning to tell you and because it’s easier to be brave on paper than in person, I thought I would do it by writing this, my first ever letter to you. But now I’m sat here, I wonder whether it’s such a good idea. The way I write English is different from the way I speak English, the way I speak English is different from the way I speak Punjabi, and like all mothers and sons, we have been conditioned into communicating with a certain degree of intimacy and distance, so it’s possible that you won’t even recognise my voice in this. But with no better options coming to mind, I will try to do what seems so difficult: stop worrying, trust my translator and hope for the best.

Anyway, as I said, I have something important to tell you, and it relates to the book I’ve been working on for the past 18 months. There were a great many reasons why I wanted to write it – to make sense of how Dad’s and Puli’s [his sister's] lives have been affected by their illness [schizophrenia], to attempt to rescue their experiences from oblivion – but one of the reasons I persisted even when it became very difficult was my desire to create some kind of tribute to you. I’ve always thought you were amazing, Mum. I know you must sometimes think I don’t listen when you complain about your ailments, but I know it was all those days at your sewing machine, to make sure that we were clothed and fed, that have left your body wracked with aches and pain, and I know I complain that you nag, but I understand that your phone calls and advice are just your way of saying you wish you saw more of me. But knowing now what you went through with Dad, and then again with Puli, that admiration has deepened.