OPINION
THE BRAND NEW BARGARI CHALLENGE
Now, Punjab Govt Challenges Bargari Directly. Will the sangat stand up now?
- S Pal
Now, Punjab Govt Challenges Bargari Directly. Will the sangat stand up now?



For months, Bargari in Kotkapura block of Punjab's Faridkot district had come to symbolise the power of the resistance struggle when a people chose to collectively speak truth to the establishment. Just 179 kilometres from the Punjab Civil Secretariat and the state Assembly, there sat a motley bunch of people at latitude 30.5216222 and longitude 74.9487197, challenging the rulers, both erstwhile and incumbent, that they shall not be trifled with.

Gathered in the name of the Guru, and inspired by a long tradition of pursuit of justice and truth, these were the people of the book, ehle-e-qitab, who were deeply pained at the sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. 

At Point Zero in Bargari, thousands spent days and nights under the guiding light of gurbani, of the Living Guru. These were sons and daughters of Guru Nanak who could not be cowed down by the likes of Babur. These were a people with steel in their resolve, tempered by the memories of little kids who stood rock solid as they were bricked alive in Sirhind.

Bargari now has a legacy it will have to live up to. And the test is now.

The establishment has thrown a gauntlet. It has challenged those who proved their determination to stand firm in the face of threats and temptations. The crowds have gone home. A Dhian Singh Mand was either stabbing the panth in the back as a Baljit Singh Daduwal is claiming, or some other small time games of thrones are on, but those squabbles are too petty. The fact is that the time of reckoning is now, when the crowds have actually vacated Bargari.

It is possible that neither any Mand nor any Daduwal could be interested in coming back to Bargari again, but what about the sangat?

The Point Zero of resistance has now challenged the resistance. "Do not ever come here again." The Deputy Commissioner of Faridkot has issued written orders —If you try to come to Bargari to protest, I will arrest you and throw you into a jail and teach you how to protest at a place where just a few days ago you had brought and installed Guru Granth Sahib and had squatted for six months at a stretch. Section 144 has been promulgated. Anti-social elements participated in the Bargari morcha. Prohibitory orders are now in place. Signed and sealed by Deputy Commissioner Rajiv Prashar.

Having dealt with the crowd of angry devout, the Hukumat is now finding ways to shrink the space for protest. They do not want any place in Punjab to become a beacon for those with a grouse. The rulers hate the noise in the street. They want the peace of the graveyard.
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The Deputy Commissioner of Faridkot has issued written orders — If you try to come to Bargari to protest, I will arrest you and throw you into a jail and teach you how to protest at a place where just a few days ago you had brought and installed Guru Granth Sahib and had squatted for six months at a stretch.
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So there is Section 144 waiting for you everywhere - from Matka Chowk to Bargari. This latest order of the Faridkot DC is the march of the state to constantly shrink and eliminate any democratic spaces where people can raise their voice.

It is true that the Sangat had stood up for its Guru. The fact is that the Guru would have stood up for Sangat each and everytime. From Guru Nanak, who stood up to the first Mughal ruler, to Guru Gobind Singh, who wrote Zafarnama to the last of the mighty moghuls, the Sikh gurus have always laid down the principles clearly: that the cause of the poor, the hardworking classes, the masses, the farmers, the innocents, the marginalised are supreme.

Those who stood up in the name of the Guru will have to stand up for the forces of resistance against the might of the state. The Faridkot DC has chosen his side. The sangat is on the other side.

Not long ago, the Punjab Assembly had adopted a much more ‘democratic’ way of handling things and had passed a law making it mandatory for anyone even thinking about holding a protest to first seek permission of the government in writing. Without even one minute’s debate, the law said advance permission will be required from the DC for any protest, dharna, agitation, strike, hartal, bandh, demonstration, procession or march.
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Those who stood up in the name of the Guru will have to stand up for the forces of resistance against the might of the state. The Faridkot DC has chosen his side. The sangat is on the other side. 
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Titled "The Punjab (Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property) Act, 2010”, it was enacted by the Punjab Assembly. "Whosoever wants to organize a peaceful demonstration, march, or procession shall make an application to the District Magistrate or Commissioner, as the case may be, for taking permission to hold such demonstration, march or procession.” That law also included a provision that if any damage to any public property occurs, the protestors will be made to pay for it.

So, if your child is kidnapped and murdered, and you want to protest in Punjab, law demanded that you apply for permission & then be ready to go to jail if someone hurls a stone.

This is in keeping with what is happening in the rest of India. Impose Section 144 and then lathi-charge and teargas anyone who comes protesting against raising the heights of dams and drowning villages in reservoir waters. Fire on the crowds of farmers who ask for better procurement prices. Rape and kill women in Manipur who want you to scrap a draconian law. Threaten to arrest those who demand punishment to those committing sacrilege. Snatch away the legitimate sites of protest.

Shut down the Boat Club. Throw people out of Jantar Mantar. Teargas those coming towards the Assembly or the Parliament. Drag women by the hair if they dare to come close to a chief minister’s residence. Assault a Medha Patekar if she wants the height of a dam to be reduced. Offload a Greenpeace activist in the middle of the night from the aircraft. Call anyone with a poster and a book on Dantewada at home a Maoist. And label all the Sudha Bharadwajs and Anand Teltumbdes as Naxalites.

Anyone criticising the regimes is now an urban naxal. Anyone daring to come and sit in the grain market of Bargari is a potential anti-social element.

Such fights are being imposed on the people in every state, town and village. In Bargari, the Fardikot Deputy Commissioner has drawn a battle line. The regime is challenging not just the devout but the farmers, teachers, anganwari workers, employees, nurses, mid-day meal cooks, anyone with a grievance that her or his voice is not being heard.

In Chandigarh, home to three governments and capital of Punjab and Haryana, farmers can no more protest in the town square even when their legitimate, long pending demands are ignored for years. 
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Anyone criticising the regimes is now an urban naxal. Anyone daring to come and sit in the grain market of Bargari is a potential anti-social element. The idea is to shrink the places of protest, shrink the democratic space. 
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The regime has found a way to stifle democratic voice and is using the insecurities and fears of the middle class towards this purpose. In the largely well educated and middle/upper middle class Chandigarh, it hinged its entire line of argumentation on how the march of farmers through the heart of the city spoils the beauty of the capital region, inconveniences the local population and creates traffic snarls, stoppages and blockade, lasting hours.

Chandigarh’s media, wedded to the idea of City Beautiful remaining an island of bliss for the haves, largely took an editorial line that the farmers and other interest groups must gather for any protests at the Sector 25 site earmarked by the administration for the purpose.

The Sector 25 site is next to the cremation grounds, completely removed from the daily life of the city, away from the eyes of the people. It is easier for farmers to gather there, raise slogans, and then disperse, without anyone noticing them. Unless the dead are listening. 

But the very purpose of protests is to pressurise the government through public exposure, not convince the dead.

The point of public protest always is that such a gathering or protest will expose before the people how the government has been wronging its own citizens. If such an exposure is to take place in an isolated place, next only to where the dead are burnt, which sensible human being expects the government to even listen, forget about being shamed?

There was a time when the Matka Chowk in Chandigarh belonged as much to the residents of Chandigarh as Bargari's grounds belonged to the throngs of the crowd of devouts.  

Now, you cannot dare to protest at Matka Chowk. And you cannot ever dare again to come to Bargari.

The latest promulgation of Section 144  of CrPC is a dead giveaway of the intentions: those who are crying for justice must not be seen or heard in public places that are too prominent.

When Matka Chowk was snatched away as a site of protest, the media had largely either backed the move or stayed silent. Silence, as we all know, is the most insidious way of extending support.

Will we remain silent now on even Bargari, a place that has become synonymous with the respect for the Guru? 

The entire issue has assumed a highly provocative context. Those who were not in Bargari for mere lip service need to speak up now. Otherwise, it will be fair to assume that the Tript Rajinder Bajwas and the Sukhjinder Randhawas were sent to Bargari to fool the crowds. Get them out of Bargari so that the Faridkot DC can snatch away Bargari forever. 

Matka Chowk has seen the police unleashing water cannons and severe lathicharge on unarmed protesters. Will Bargari now witness similar scenes?

In better evolved democracies, protests are allowed in places where a Faridkot DC kind of an officer would have perhaps issued shoot at sight orders. The Yellow Vests are out on the roads of Paris. May be France should import some Punjab government officials who will quickly impose Section 144 in a 100 kilometre radius of Eiffel Tower and solve the problem. After all, we have had regimes that solved more intricate resistance movements by killing youth in fake encounters.
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There was a time when the Matka Chowk in Chandigarh belonged as much to the residents of Chandigarh as Bargari's grounds belonged to the throngs of the crowd of devouts. 
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Punjabis must guard against attempts to snatch away democratic spaces that allow breathing room for ideas. The voice of the dissenter is not meant for the dead at a cremation site. It is meant for the government, for the citizenry and for such sections of the media who have deliberately joined the ranks of the dead — the conscience-dead.

There are none so blind as those who won’t see, and there are none so deaf as those who won’t listen. But there is no reason for those sworn to democratic struggles stop trying to make the blind see, the deaf hear and the prejudiced understand.

Bargari will stand by the Guru. This is no Matka Chowk.
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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