Currently Browsing: Punjab
Punjab’s Growing Drug Problem

punjab_map.jpgThe following video, from the BBC, shows a sad reality of the growing drug problem in Punjab. High unemployment rates have inevitably contributed to this problem. While the video only highlights Punjabi men, it is well known that young Punjabi women are also suffering from this addiction. I can’t embed the video, so please click here to view it.

There is growing concern in India about the rapid rise in drug addiction cases in Punjab, one of the country’s wealthiest states.

The main university in the region has claimed that 70% of young Punjabi men are hooked on drugs or alcohol.

The problem is at its worst along the border with Pakistan where heroin originating from Afghanistan is smuggled into the country.

The BBC’s Mark Dummett reports from Amritsar.

The musical uprising of Bant Singh

A friend recently sent me this short documentary on the Punjabi Dalit activist and singer, Bant Singh. Surprised that I had never heard of him, I was not only blown away by his singing, but by his revolutionary lyrics and fierce commitment to resisting caste and class oppression.

“If we’re to starve,” he states, “we may as well fight for our freedom. At least we’ll be remembered. Move away from living on the streets, or our thatched hovels. Let’s all become Bhagat Singh, become masters of this nation, stop this looting, stop the violation of our wives and sisters.” (source)

His righteous activism led to him being beaten almost to death a few years back, resulting in the loss of 3 of his limbs. But as you’ll see below in this video, a result of a new collaboration of artists called The Bant Singh Project, he still sings. And is not backing down on his message either.

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In Memory of Sardar Jaswant Singh Khalra

Today we remember human rights activist, Jaswant Singh Khalra. Jaswant Singh Khalra discovered cremation records that proved Indian security forces illegally killed thousands of Sikhs in the 1980s and 1990s. Khalra connected the police to the disappearances of over 2,000 Sikhs in Amritsar district, located in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. The police allege they lawfully killed the Sikhs in encounters, or in an exchange of gunfire. Khalras investigations, however, demonstrated that these Sikhs had been abducted by the police, killed in custody, and then secretly cremated as unidentified/unclaimed bodies at various municipal cremation grounds. The municipal cremation ground records recorded the date the bodies were cremated, the identity of the police stations and officials who deposited the bodies for cremation, and, in many cases, the identity of the victims, despite being labeled as unidentified. Khalra estimated that over 10 times as many Sikhs were killed throughout the entire state in this manner.

On the morning of September 6, 1995, witnesses saw uniformedand armed Indian police personnelabduct Khalra from outside his home, who had previously been warned by the police to discontinue his efforts or he too would be disappeared. Police tortured Khalra for weeks before killing him. Five police officers were eventually sentenced to life in prison for his abduction and murder, but the chief architects of systematic killings, including Punjab Police Chief KPS Gill, remain free. Khalras widow, Paramjit Kaur, who has been pursuing justice for her murdered husband, remarks: We continue to seek the prosecution of the murders in Court but a communal judiciary only harasses us. It is unlikely that I will see justice served in my lifetime. For more information, go to Ensaaf or Khalra.org

The video below is one of Khalra’s final speeches – it’s an incredibly inspiring video which should be watched by all.

Nourishing Souls at the Darbar Sahib

223723_washing_up_in_the_worlds_biggest_guru_ka_langar_amritsar_india.jpgAnyone who has been blessed enough to visit the Darbar Sahib in Panjab will always speak about the amazing experience of Langar that takes place there. A free meal is provided to about 80,000 people each and every day. For those who have not visited the “Golden Temple” or perhaps are not familiar with this unique aspect of Sikhi, thisNYTimes article provides a great overview of how souls are nourished in this small complex in Amritsar. The video below is titled, Peace and Roti at the Golden Temple and highlights how langar brings people of all faiths and backgrounds together as equals.

You can view the VIDEO here.

You can view the PHOTO GALLERYhere.

On Either Side, Punjab is Punjab
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In Pakistan's flood-ravaged Punjab province, roads are impassable.

One-fifth of Pakistan is under water.

900,000 people are now homeless.

Up to 20 million are impacted – more than the number of people affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.

As many of you know, Pakistan has recently been devastated by floods. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, recently visited Pakistan and described the flooding as the worst disaster he has ever witnessed.The UN says six million people desperately need emergency aid but most still have not received it. Tens of thousands of villages remain under water. There are growing health concerns for those surviving without proper shelter, food or clean drinking water leading to a potential public health “catastrophe”. And all of this is still occurring almost three weeks after the country’s worst natural disaster began.

The numbers are staggering – almost unbelievable. Given the magnitude of this disaster, one would expect to see an outcry of sympathy for the victims from the global community. Then why does is seem that the world has become complacent when coming to the aid of this region? Perhaps the region’s geographical/symbolic proximity to the “war on terror”? Perhaps we’re suffering from selective giving?

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Punjabis Stranded in the Strait

A documentary titled, “Stranded in the Strait” discusses the plight of young men and their dreams to emigrate to Europe (hat tip: JSB). This particular story focuses on a group of Punjabi men who are stranded in Ceuta, an autonomous city of Spain located on the North African side of the Strait of Gibraltar and claimed by Morocco.

In the densely forested hills above Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, 57 young Indian immigrants await their fate in a shanty community theyve built to avoid deportation. With lush visual style, the film accompanies them in their daily trials as they scramble to survive, waiting to cross the last 14 km that separate them from Europe. Will they make it there? [link]

“After the Indian ambassadress visited the city in 2007,” says Gurpreet, spokesman for the “rebels,” “the situation became ever worse; almost 50 percent of us were repatriated immediately. Thus, as sign of protest, we decide to take shelter to the forest. We hoped to come to the attention of the community, but, as you can see, after one year, we are still here.” [link]

These men have essentially given up everything to pursue their dream of reaching Europe. For many of these men, there is no alternative but to do whatever they can to cross those final 14kms. Returning to India might be the natural suggestion, but for many of these men, this is not an option as they have used all their savings to get to this place. Khalsa Aid, a non-profit organization based in the UK, has offered humanitarian assistance – but what these men need is political assistance.

Another clip below the jump:

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Cancer in Punjab

Guest blogged by Ajj Kaim

The fact that heavy use of pesticides in farming has left lot of farmers affected with Cancer in Punjab has been well documented. In fact almost a year ago, The Langar Hall had highlighted this sad state of affair in Punjab.

I came across a heartwarming documentary about the situation faced by the farmers called “Cancer in Punjab” by Amarpreet Mann. (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 below). It is tragic to see the plight of the farmers who have become unemployed or daily laborers because they have spent all their savings in getting treated for the disease.

As luck would have it Chief minister’s wife, Surinder Kaur Badal, is in the U.S. these days getting treated for Cancer in NY whereas a common man is at the mercy of God.

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A Mourn for Punjab

The writing has long been on the wall, but the day seems to be drawing closer. Writers and political analysts see the coronation of Kaka Badal (Sukhbir) as soon approaching. It was only last year that Kaka Badal had a position created just for him Deputy Chief Minister. Insiders in the present government see undertaking underway to begin the transition from his father to himself.

The ground is prepared for smooth transition of succession to the junior Badal. Presently both father and son are out of India to stay with Mrs. Chief Minister-Surinder Kaur Badal-who is suffering from cancer and ade\mitted in a hospital in New York in USA.

Parkash Singh Badal who became the Chief Minister of state fourth time in 2007 is keen to hand over the command of government to his son before the end of his present term. The advisors to the Chief Minister understood to have impressed upon Badal to change the guard by the end of 2010. The next assembly election in Punjab is due in February 2012. The logic is the change will eliminate anti-incumbency factor. [link]

As the once-Sikh party now officially becomes nothing more than an instrument of cronyism (granted unofficially this has been the case since at least the 1970s), those that care about Punjab are left to mourn.

Here on young Sikh man cries out asking and pleading what to do for Punjab.

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Are there any answers?

Futures in Farming?

As the stupid joke once went – Sikhs’ only culture is agriculture.

While farming and agriculture has been the backbone of the political economy of Punjab, questions regarding current practices and sustainability have become more and more common. Impending water crisis, increasing cancer and mortality rates, and annual suicides related to crop successes and failures are all tied to the future of agriculture in Punjab.

Solutions come often. Crop diversification is one that is common. Here a CNN report calls for organic farming. Still one cannot help but wonder even with these ‘magic bullet’ solutions, can there be sustainable increases in the standard of living for all citizenry in an economy tied to industrial agriculture? Siphoning of Punjab’s wealth has for decades left state service (civil, military, police) as the most desired duty for all rural youth. In such a command economy, Punjab will always be at the whims of puppet masters in Delhi. Are there any alternatives?

Also here is a link to Umendra Dutt’s blog that does have some very interesting measures being taken by the Punjab organic movement, including many by women – the Kheti Virasat Mission.

Film on Farmer Suicides Released in Punjab

Harvest of Grief, a new documentary directed byAnwar Jamalrecently premiered in Punjab. The film aims to tackle therising number of farmer suicides in Punjab.

hogPIC.jpgHarvest of Grief is a 60 minute documentary of farmerss suicides in the dry district of Sangrur. Suicides are due to indebtedness arising out of high costs of water, mechanized farming, chemical pesticides and fertilizers and low economic returns. The film also takes a comprehensive view of gender, health and environmental destruction which are the consequences of the Green Revolution and globalization. [link]

The movie is sponsored by the Rescue and Revival Mission and predominantly focuses on the impact the suicides have had on women and children. A recent article in the Financial Times also discussed Harvest of Griefandthe issue of famer suicides in Punjab. Official statistics say that 132 farmers in Punjab killed themselves in the past five years – attributing the deathsto natural causes or alcohol or drug abuse. However, Inderjit Singh Jaijee, a Chandigarh-based human-rights activist and former state legislator, states that up to 40,000 farmers have taken their lives in the past 20 years. A large discrepancy in the number of farmer suicides exists (perhapsdue to a lack of infrastructural support, social stigma etc.)and families are often left destitute, receiving little or no state support.

I look forward to watching the film and hope it creates productive dialogue leading to potential solutions for families impacted and affected by this issue.

Fighting drugs in Punjab through theatre

Amongst the male youth in Punjab, drugs are a serious problem today. With high unemployment rates, and a ajmer_aulakh.jpghistory of violence in the region, the environment is ripe for drug abuse. A Punjab government survey found that one out of three male students use at least a form of tobacco. And on a recent trip to the region, as we were driving between pinds, my relatives pointed out the jeeps, distinctive with their black lights, that carried young drug dealers. The young men sitting inside were all in their teens.

In response, Ajmer Aulakh, a well known Punjabi professor and writer has written a play, Avesle Yudha Di Nayika (An Unsung War Heroine), that recently attracted a large audience at the Government College for Boys in Ludhiana.

Aulakh is a noted playwright, artist and winner of Sahitya Akademi Award. He has dedicated his life to theatre and generally works on issues and problems confronting the common man. [TOI]

This much-needed play had students riveted, incorporating Punjabi poetry.

The play highlighted the menace of drugs, delineating how a family loses everything to the evil. Jodha Singh, a villager landlord, is survived by his wife and two children. Satwant Kaur, wife of Jodha Singh, wants their kids to go to school and study, but owing to drugs, the family property is lost. The play portrays the consequent struggle. It depicts how she fights odds to enable her children to continue their studies. The play was performed by artists who are part of Lok Kala Manch and was supported beautifully by Punjabi poetry. [TOI]

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India changes agricultural subsidies to promote soil health

This week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted India’s decision to change some of its agricultural policies, in response to its punjab_ag_crisis_WSJ.jpgpost-Green Revolution crisis. (Hat tip: Bandana)

In the 1970s, India dramatically increased food production, finally allowing this giant country to feed itself. But government efforts to continue that miracle by encouraging farmers to use fertilizers have backfired, forcing the country to expand its reliance on imported food. [WSJ]

Kamaljit Singh, a 55 year old from Marauli Kalan in Punjab, explained:

He says farmers feel stuck. “The soil health is deteriorating, but we don’t know how to make it better,” he says. “As the fertility of the soil is declining, more fertilizer is required.” [WSJ]

Behind the worsening health of the soil is India’s agricultural policy. In it’s effort to boost food production, win farmer votes and encourage the domestic fertilizer industry, the government increased its subsidy of urea over the years, and now pays about half of the domestic industry’s cost of production.

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Drug Abuse In Amritsar

Drug abuse is an epidemic that is hitting Punjab at high rates. We hear about Punjabi men being addicted to drugs and the ramifications of their addiction on them and their families.

Prerna Suri of Al Jazeera reports on the devastating effects of drugs in Amritsar. The city’s location near Pakistan and Afghanistan has made it a primary target for drug trade and abuse. According to the report, seventy percent of youth (15-35 years) in Amritsar are addicted to heroin.

Suri highlights how the drug trade happens, its effects on those who abuse narcotics, and the ramifications of drug abuse for the addicits’ families.

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I am a strong believer that Sikhi can play a strong role in both the prevention and recovery from drug abuse. Rather than allow drugs to take over our spiritual capital, we can use our spiritual strength to help heal those who are suffering from drug abuse and prevent others from entering this kind of addiction. You can read about one Sikh’s experience of visiting Akal Charitable De-addiction Centre , a drug recovery program in Sangrur, Punjab.

1984: A Sikh Story on BBC

For our TLH readers in the UK – this documentary is premiering tonight on BBC One at 10:55pm.

1984_sikhstory_1.jpgJust over 25 years ago, the storming of The Golden Temple, the most sacred of Sikh shrines, by the Indian Army led to protests around the world. Sonia Deol embarks on a personal journey to unravel the events of 1984, an iconic year for Sikhs. It culminated in thousands of deaths including the assassination of the Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi. The bloody aftermath that followed so shocks Sonia that she is forced to reappraise the depth of her commitment to her faith. [link]

As with every retelling of this part of history, the question is whether the documentary will be controversial. One article suggests the BBC may be stirring up a “hornet’s nest of controversy,”

[It] is likely to prove controversial with some Sikh groups because of its portrayal of the militant Sikh preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It is also likely to draw the ire of the Indian government for its story on how it reacted following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. [link]

Nevertheless, this is an event that has often been ignored in international media – so i’m sure many in the community will welcome the coverage. If any of TLH readers do happen to catch the show tonight, please share your thoughts!

More Bollywood and Sikhs: Patiala House

This time, Bollywood actually picked an interesting lens through which to depict life in a Punjabi-Sikh household. An southhall_gurdwara.jpgupcoming movie, Patiala House, is a look at cross-generation cultural assimilation in Southall.

At heart, says Nikhil, Patiala House is a father-son story. Like Billy Eliott where the father is a coal miner but the son wants to be a dancer. In my film, Rishi Kapoor feels his dreams as a Sikh immigrant in England are being destroyed by his son. But the son Akshay Kumar has his own dreams to pursue. [TOI]

How we view our 2 pronged identity of Punjabi-Sikhism, and how each is depicted by outside communities such as Bollywood is often, understandably and rightfully, a controversial issue. But Patiala House seems only superficially concerned, if at all, with the Sikh identity.

The filmmakers met with Sikh elders at the Southhall Gurdwara, where cameras are ordinarily not allowed, to talk about the ideas behind the film. The film partly takes place during Southhall’s 1979 race riots, which many of the elders had lived through.

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A Tale of Two Tyrants

where_is_my_vote_21.jpgThe events following the June elections in Iran continue to reverberate. The allegations of widespread election fraud led to hundreds of thousands of Iranian youth to take to the streets and asking Wheres My Vote?

A regime unable to answer its citizenry and an escalating use of repressive tactics has led many to begin questioning the legitimacy of the government. Born out of a revolution in 1979, a generation has grown up on legitimizing the current regime through understanding of the tyranny of the Shahs. However, the tactics unleashed in the wake of the elections has shifted the public from asking about votes to calling for the ouster of the Supreme Leader. Khamenei has none other to blame than himself through his partisanship in siding with Ahmadinejad, rather than standing above the fray.

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TOI: Christmas will heal Ludhiana’s Sikhs

In predominantly Christian countries like the U.S., Christmas has become a cultural holiday that even non-Christians celebrate to some extent. Most of us enjoy, at least, taking advantage of days off, eating lots of cakes and pies, and spending time with family and friends.

The Times of India thinks Christmas can do even more than give us a day off work… like heal the wounds caused by police brutality in Ludhiana against Sikh protesters of Ashutosh and the Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan. Of course, TOI also mischaracterizes the conflict at issue as one between migrants who now feel left out of Ludhiana’s social fabric and Sikhs.

Christian organizations are planning to celebrate the festival by reaching out to the migrants, who have been feeling left out after the riots they were involved in and to Sikh protesters, who got hurt in police action.

Christmas celebrations have the twin themes of peace and prosperity. We will be going to the areas like Dhandari, which have many migrants staying there and witnessed a lot of clashes during the riots, said Albert Dua, president of Christian United Federation. [TOI]

TOI journalists may not have much of a grip on reality, and are probably overestimating what one holiday and a few days off can do. Still, I do hope you enjoy the holidays, however you spend them. Happy holidays!

On a remotely related note, if Santa were Punjabi….

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Gurdwaras Join Efforts to Address Alcohol Abuse

GlassyJunction1.JPGA charity based in Southall, called the Drug and Alcohol Action Programme (DAAP) will be joining forces with local Gurdwaras to address high rates of alcohol abuse taking place at Asian, particularly Punjabi Sikh, weddings. Perminder Dhillon, CEO of the charity states that “it is no longer acceptable to ignore the dangerous levels of alcohol drinking at these events.”

There is a mistaken view in Asian communities that religious and cultural backgrounds act as a barrier to the kind of drunken scenes so often seen in so many town centres all over the country. She said: “Many parents feel pressurized to provide a huge quantity of alcohol at weddings even if they themselves are non-drinkers”. [link]

She goes onto say that there are huge expectations on families to provide alcohol at weddings – often demanded by the groom’s side. This problem has become so extensive now that it is likened to demanding dowry and by partaking, “we end up supporting users with alcohol-related health problems during the binge-drinking period”.

Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that men of South Asian origin in Britain are four times more likely to die of alcohol-related liver problems than other ethnic groups. Eighty percent of those South Asians who are vulnerable to alcohol-related mortality are Sikhs.

The charity has stated that the strategy they will use to combat this issue is simple – they will “name and shame” those involved and publicly condemn individuals on their website.

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UPDATES – Murdered Sikhs – The Day After Ashutosh and Ludhiana

Original post can be seen here.

News continues to filter in and the dust settles. While the violence of yesterday has passed the ramifications are still to be seen.

The death toll continues to climb and on Sunday the Punjab Police called curfew throughout Ludhiana.

Today (Monday) a bandh is being called on by various Sikh organizations.

Below is a newscast describing the incidents and the police charge without warning. Reminds one of General Dyer in Amritsar 1919.

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Government and Police Protect Ashutosh, Sikh Killed

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Ludhiana remains tense. Currently it is under curfew.

The Punjab Police has never been a force for the people. It neither serves nor protects, unless you are part of the Indian establishment, government, or have been provided special sanction by the government. Today was no different. The henchman acted on the orders of the mobsters.

goli.jpgToday one Sikh was killed and at least a dozen others wounded when various Panthic organizations called for a protest against Ashutosh and his Noormahalias, sometimes labeled under the acronym DJJS for the organizations full name – Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan.

Panthic groups have had clashes with the group in the past for the vitriol leveled against members of the Khalsa and Ashutoshs own claim to be an incarnation of the Sikh Gurus.

Tweeters from Ludhiana can be followed here and tell of the latest violence, road closures, and situation. One of particular interest can be read here.

Parkash Badal seems to have ordered the police to open fire on the crowds as can be seen in the latest pictures. Again cult leaders are protected, while the people are fired upon.

Punjab watches and waits.

For pictures of the scene, see here. For news and updates, see here, here, and here.

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JUST UPLOADED FOOTAGE – Viewer Caution for Police Brutality and a Death

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