THE ONE-YEAR-OLD boy was lying next to his mother, both fast asleep by the roadside. Bathinda's Ring Road remains fairly busy during the day, but late at night, only an occasional truck passes by. Painter Ramesh Kumar and his family slept by the roadside as a matter of routine.
A "painter" in this story is not someone whose work hangs in art galleries which so few visit; his work, instead, is seen in the number plates of your vehicles, signboards of shops or 'Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikaas' graffiti on the city's walls. Ramesh Kumar's tribe creates art that breathes in open air.
On May 3, late in the night, a pick-up SUV halted by the roadside, four men tumbled out, snatched the sleeping baby without disturbing the mother, and sped away. Ramesh Kumar heard some commotion and woke up. He raised alarm, shouted helplessly, ran behind the vehicle. Eventually, in the wee hours of May 4, he called the police.
Her in-laws wanted a son, but made little effort to study how cell divisions feature 46 chromosome pairs or how there’s a sperm part of an embryo’s DNA and an egg part?
A week later, on May 10, the baby boy was re-united with his mother. This story is not about who kidnapped the boy, or why, though we'll sure tell you about it, but it is about your role in that kidnapping, and that of your friends and relatives, and the role of our parents, and that of our schools and colleges.
It is a pity that our names or yours will not figure in the FIR that Bathinda Police IG M.F Farooqui and SSP Naveen Singla ordered to be lodged.
Meet Harjinder Kaur. Her two brothers Gursahib Singh and Kulwant Singh loved their sister so much that they were always ready to do anything for her. Anything. Gursahib and Kulwant belong to village Ghudda in Bathinda where their mother Paramjit Kaur also lives.
Harjinder was married to Jaswinder Singh of Dhunike village, and both had four daughters. Her in-laws wanted her to give birth to a son, but made little effort to study the XX, XY sex chromosomes, or cell divisions featuring 46 chromosome pairs, or the sperm part of an embryo’s DNA or the egg part, or the basic fact that the man’s sperm holds the key to a baby’s gender.
Her two brothers Gursahib Singh and Kulwant Singh loved their sister so much that they were always ready to do anything for her. Anything.
But they knew that having a son is better than having a daughter, and having a son after four daughters was a must if life had to go on. Since a son could only have come out of the womb of Harjinder, they pressed her a little harder. Regular harassment, occasional beatings, persistent taunts and, lately, talk of a divorce.
Poor Harjinder could do little, so she turned to her brothers — brothers who were always ready to do anything. She needed a son, they inferred, and proceeded to procure one. Rich people find other ways — the market, science and some saffron-robed babas are forever coming up with ways to beget a son — while poor, desperate people get ingenuous.
Brothers Gursahib and Kulwant rustled together some more hands. Their friends Buta Singh and Raj Kumar jumped into the SUV pick-up and Raj Kumar slid behind the wheel. It was no less than a Zero Dark Thirty operation, and they were all fired up with a missionary zeal: Harjinder Kaur should have some peace in her life, and they knew what could ensure that.
By the side of the Ring Road, the SUV screeched to a halt, men carried out the operation, bagged the baby, and brought the gift-pack to the waiting arms of Harjinder Kaur and her husband Jaswinder Singh. Harjinder's mother Paramjit Kaur could finally heave a sigh of relief. Which mother does not want her daughter's marriage to succeed?
If only they sold babies in the market, the brother duo would have raised money, you can assume. Now they did what it took to ensure that a happy, married life does not fall apart. Also, they would have gone to a temple, or a gurdwara. I am sure Harjinder would have loved the baby son very much. Also, the kid would have been better provided by Harjinder and Jaswinder than by a migrant painter with a roadside resident family.
Since a son could only have come out of the womb of Harjinder, they pressed her a little harder. Regular harassment, occasional beatings, persistent taunts and, lately, talk of a divorce.
Normally, one would not expect the over-burdened police to get unusually proactive to trace a missing one-year-old kid of a migrant worker who is a footpath resident. But then, someone decided to make a call to the cops.
Men in uniform led by IG Farooqui and SSP Singla decided to live up to the stars on their epaulettes, and that spoiled an operation carried out so well by dedicated brothers and friends.
On May 10, police arrested Gursahib and his mother Paramjit, Buta Singh and Raj Kumar, all residents of Ghudda village, Harjinder and her husband Jaswinder, both from Dhunike village; and one Gurmeet Singh of Kala Tibba village in Fazilka. Kulwant is still at large.
An FIR has been lodged, and your name does not figure, which is the point of this narrative. Harjinder's husband did not beat her up to demand that her brother buy him a car. If you had told Harjinder and her husband that society will respect them only if they had a car, and that they must get it at any cost, even steal one, and if Harjinder's brothers had then stolen a car, then your name would have figured in the FIR for having instigated a theft or a robbery.
Jaswinder didn't ask for money. All he wanted was a son. And he wanted him so desperately.
Who told him that a son is more valuable than his four daughters? When they went to steal someone's son, he had no fear that someone back home could steal one of his daughters. You know that, and he, too, knew that, because neither you, nor Jaswinder is a fool. A little infant girl has no market value, a little infant boy is hard to come by.
People do not live in a vacuum. They live in a society. All around them, they see received wisdom that only a son is a waris, that sons take forward the family name, that daughters mean burden, expenditure and liability. Besides, daughters need protection. Sons provide protection. Sabh diyan dhiyan-bhaina sanjhiyan. No one says everybody's sons, brothers are common.
Here’s sane advice. Neither you nor I are going to jail. IG Farooqui and SSP Singla aren't sending cops to our houses, but you should walk down to the nearest police station and spell it all out.
Daughter and family honour go together. Ghar di izzat. Son and family honour aren't connected. Rape survivors are called victims. Ghar ki izzat chali jaati hai. A rapist is merely a criminal. You have heard words to that effect; you or those you know have often spoken words to that effect.
We have relatives and friends who say that. We decide the market and societal value of a boy child. We define what misfortune it is for a woman to have four daughters. You and I put it into Jaswinder's mind that he must have a son, at least one son, even if it comes from the roadside, even if it has be snatched away from besides a mother fast asleep. Neither you nor I are going to jail. IG Farooqui and SSP Singla aren't sending cops to our houses.
But deep within you, you know your role. You can walk down to the nearest police station, and spell it out.
Or you can sit down this evening with your little kids and start a conversation. You can call over relatives for a meal and discuss it. You can visit a friend and apologise for suggesting that his little daughter needed a brother. You can try and explain to your mother why it was wrong of your father to go in for the fifth child after four daughters, that you are sorry she could not put up a fight, and that you will make sure to fight for each of your four sisters to have a world better than what your mother inherited. Visit your sister today and tell her it hurts you when you see a slogan painted behind a truck - Puttar Mithrre Meve, Rab Sabhna Nu Deve.
Ramesh Kumar will never paint that slogan now. You should erase it from your life.
We are the mafia. One day our daughter will find out.
The fact is that you and I are guilty as charged. Not just for stealing Ramesh and his wife’s child, but also for turning Harjinder and her two brothers and her mother into criminals. We are the mafia. One day our daughter will find out.
Simply not figuring in an FIR should give you no peace. Never ever call out to your daughter and say, "Beta, idhar aao."
Your daughter will one day grow up and realise that you never called out to your son and said, "Beti, idhar aao."
That day she will infer that you were the person who sent those men in an SUV to snatch a one-year-old baby boy from a poor, migrant mother as they slept. Try telling her that day that your name did not figure in the FIR, and see if you get the benefit of doubt.
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