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Census of farmer suicides

The Punjab government has finally allocated funds to assess the breadth of farmer suicides in the state.

khararfarmer.jpgThe Punjab Government seems to have finally woken up to the need of having a census on farmers’ suicides in the state. The state government, it is learnt, has the [sic] entrusted the arduous task of completing the census to the Punjab Agricultural University. As per Dr R.S. Sidhu, head of the Department of Economics, PAU, “The state government has asked us to do the work and we have taken it up as a research project. Though whole of Punjab is to be covered under the study, the state government has asked us to do a pilot project in two districts of Punjab, Gurdaspur and Sangrur initially.

The census will be conducted by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), based in Patiala Ludhiana. During the first phase of the survey, PAU will conduct a door to door survey in about 1,500 villages in Gurdaspur and about 575 villages in Sangrur out of the 12,000 villages in Punjab. The report from this initial phase is set to be completed in four months from the beginning of the survey, which is set to begin in the next couple of weeks.

The census will take into account farmer suicides occurring after April 1, 2005, excluding suicides of farm laborers.

Rising pesticide and fertiliser costs, shrinking land holdings, declining soil fertility and heavily-subsidized farming in wealthier countries are some of the factors blamed for these suicides.


Justice for Jassi? A Pyrrhic Consolation?

Many of us either saw or heard of CBC’s broadcast (for those of us here in the US, it was on Dateline NBC) of “Forbidden Love” chronicling the death of a Sikh Canadian, Jaswinder “Jassi” Kaur Sidhu.

The basics of the story are as follows:mithu_smiles_th.jpg

Jaswinder, or Jassi, was 25-years-old when she was kidnapped, tortured and killed in the spring of 2000 after going against her family’s wishes and marrying Mithu.

Mithu, a poor auto-rickshaw driver, was hacked by swords and left for dead after his wife was whisked away.

After several weeks in a coma, he awoke to be told that Jassi, whom he had secretly married, had been brutally slain. [link]

Punjab Police later revealed that Jassi’s family had paid up to $50,000 for the hit on their daughter. (I have commented a few times on the rise in contract killings in Punjab here and here) However, even after the death of his beloved Sukhwinder Singh “Mithu” still could not find peace. Jassi’s family was able to find a false witness, a former employee of theirs from their village, to lodge a false case against Mithu claiming that he had raped her.


Turbans For Non-Sikhs: Just Part Of The School “Uniform”?

Many of us have taken part in discussions on how the turban is being commodified and a target for hatred. Understandably there is a strong religious argument for why a turban shouldn’t become another fashion accessory or replaced with a beanie. This argument is anchored in the Sikh meaning of the turban.

The symbolisms of wearing a turban are many from it being regarded as a symbol of sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety but the reason all practicing Sikhs wear the turban is just one – out of love and obedience of the wishes of the founders of their faith.

The turban serves as a mark of commitment to the Sikh Gurus. It distinguishes a Sikh as an instrument of the Guru and decrees accountability for certain spiritual and temporal duties. It is a mark of the Guru and declares that the Sikh wearing a turban is a servant of the Divine Presence.

But what happens to this meaning when the turban is being forced upon non-Sikhs? The Cheema Mandi (near Sangrur), Punjab branch of Akal Academy Buru Sahib is requiring all non-Sikh children to wear a patka or dastaar (i.e. type of turban). Most of these children are practicing Hindus who don’t spiritually identify with Sikhi.


A policy of Islamophobia or old fashioned xenophobia?

The violence breaking out in South Africa reminded me of the Islamophobia that Jodha posted on.

The man certainly looked dead, lying motionless in the dust of the squatter camp. His body seemed almost like a bottle that had been turned on its side, spilling blood. His pants were red with the moisture… Then, as people stepped closer, there was the faintest of breath pushing against his chest. “This guy may be alive,” someone surmised. As if to confirm it, the man moved the fingers of his right hand. The jaded crowd neither rejoiced nor lamented. After all, the horrific attacks against immigrants around Johannesburg had already been going on for a week, and in their eyes the victim was just some Malawian or Zimbabwean, another casualty in the continuing purge.

The xenophobia that is partially (though heavily exacerbated by economic reasons) behind the current attacks on foreigners in Johannesburg seems to me to be a better explanation for the attack on the Sikh student in New Jersey and the soldier’s horrific act of using the Quran for target practice. Though I’m not usually one to defend the current administration, I do think it is a stretch to say that there is a domestic policy promoting Islamophobia, that is greater than the normal xenophobia created in most wars of the past. I am in NO way apologizing for excusing this xenophobia, but just wanting to put it into historical perspective. The soldier’s act, using the Quran for target practice is horrific and despicable. But it was the act of a single individual. Similarly, Green‘s act, and also his teacher’s reaction were acts of individuals.


The Spirit of Bant Singh

I have mentioned Bant Singh before in a previous post, but yesterday while scouring through Youtube I came across a great video of him, his message, and his voice.

YouTube Preview Image

To those that may not have heard of him, Bant Singh is from a so-called lower caste background from Pind Jabhar in Zilla Mansa in Punjab. He emerged as a labor activist and became a lead figure in the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha (Laborer’s Liberation Movement).


Too Crooked

Although in the blogosphere, I was beaten again by Shinda’s blog, I did want to highlight it again here at TLH.

The Toronto Star reported today that “Brampton bridegroom murdered in Punjab.” Although the tragedy is fresh, the Toronto Star is putting together the story as follows.parents.jpeg

One Jasvir Singh Dhaliwal had been dating a girl, Amandeep Gill for four years. Recently he decided to break off their relationship and marry a woman from Punjab. At the pre-wedding celebrations in his native village, a car came and committed a drive-by shooting killing Jasvir and one of his cousins.

The Punjab Police have moved to bring charges against Amandeep’s Punjab-based parents and even have submitted extradition procedures to the Canadian government for questioning about the case.

Never too far from the scene, a crooked Punjab Policemen has also appeared:

Ashwini Kumar, a police constable with the Indian Reserve Battalion, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case. [link]

I have commented on this topic before, but, unfortunately, I am sure more and more new cases will continue to pop up.


Avneet And Her Bandook

As some of us shoot rifles as a recreational activity, while others view them as a defense plan or just admire the way rifles look, it was nice to come across a Punjabian, Avneet Kaur Sidhu, an international rifle shooter, who excels at using them as part of a sport!avneet1.jpg

According to the The Tribune, she recently “… won a gold medal in the women’s individual 10m Air Rifle event of the Australia Cup Shooting Championship held at Sydney International Shooting Centre (SISC)” in 2006 (yea this news is kinda old, but I thought it was still worth highlighting since it’s a Punjabian Sikhni in sports).

Hailing from Bathinda, Avneet has earned a bearth for the Beijing Olympics, representing Team India! Congratulations! Watch out for the eye and steadiness of this Sheerni!

According to her facebook group (all of you can join now: “Avneet Kaur Sidhu”), Avneet is a 2001 alumnus of Dashmesh Girls College, Badal (Muktsar) with an English Literature degree and currently an Assistant Manager at Air India. You go girl … an affection for books and guns, while promoting the hawayee jhahajaz (i.e. airplane)!

Wishing you the best of luck in Beijing Avneet! It’s wonderful to see a Punjabian excelling in sports and representing us on the world scene!

Turning to Healers

Those in Punjab who don’t have access to hospitals and licensed doctors often seek cures from quacks posing as medicine men and the plethora of cure-all medication sold by hawkers at bus stops. In central California too, illegal immigrants turn to traditional healers.

Immigrants interviewed amid the vineyards of Madera and the cantaloupe fields of Mendota said they had faced numerous obstacles to pursuing conventional medical care. Above all, they said, was cost, but other factors included fear of deportation, long waits for treatment in medically underserved areas, and barriers of culture and language.

healers.jpgThis article focuses on the Hispanic immigrant community, but the issue it raises applies to Punjabi Sikh legal and illegal immigrants as well. I would venture that some Punjabi immigrants (legal or illegal), because of the high cost of American health care, would prefer the care of a member of the community with questionable credentials to an emergency room of seemingly hostile nurses and doctors. We’ve mentioned many homeopathic medicines that many people find to be great for preventative and healing purposes. But there is a risk to traditional medicines too- that patients who may have serious illnesses will postpone diagnosis, aggravating an illness that could have been more easily addressed if diagnosed earlier.


A Post-Partition Diary

Most people who lived through Partition are understandably hesitant to talk about it. A decade long Ford Foundation study says that one fourth of those interviewed about Partition so far have never even recounted their stories to their children. So I was pleased to find this diary type piece about Delhi in the aftermath of Partition. It’s personal.

When I was a little girl I was living in Sita Ram Bazaar in Gali Kulub Din which was at a twilightpartition.jpg zone between Turkman Gate (an all Muslim area) and the temple of Chaurasi Ganta, the 84 bells, an all Hindu area. Both the communities met midway and had lived together happily for many centuries till the partition occurred in 1947. We had moved there in 1948, when I was four months old; however, my memories of the place date back to the time when I was four and my younger brother Ravi was about to be born in the year 1952. Several Muslim properties, belonging to the families migrated to Pakistan, were lying vacant in our street, the Gali Qutub Din. However, a sizable Muslim population had also stayed back.

It also invokes visuals. 2 things caught my attention. First was the mention of abandoned homes:


A Rotting Harvest?

In keeping with TLH’s agricultural theme, the BBC reported today on the environmental health fallout of the Green Revolution in Punjab (I). The Green Revolution introduced industrial mono-culture farming to small farms. The result was a short and sharp growth in grain production. However, over time this has also resulted in declining harvests. Why? Because many of the “best practices” from industrial farming are also unsustainable. Without crop rotation, most stock grains (corn, soy, wheat, rice, and cotton) leach nutrients from the soil. The industrial solution to this is an over-reliance on both manufactured fertilizer (to re-fix nitrogen) and pesticides (since mono-crops are notoriously more vulnerable to weather or pest devastation). Now declining crops are paired with another negative outgrowth from devastatingly unnatural farming practice: increasing rates of cancer, and possibly pesticide poisoning, among Punjabi farmers.

In agricultural economics, public health, and agrarian studies, the links between pesticide use and health have been clearly documented in the local and international context (1, 2, 3, 4). We know, now, that many of these methods do not post the high crop levels that seemed never-ending in the past. And in the context of — arguably trade-driven — food shortages world-wide, this article raises questions about the disproportionate burden of agrarian “success.” Is it truly successful if it’s unsustainable? Is it “success” if grower booms later severely limit the quality or duration of life? How about the permanent ecological damage? The loss of biodiversity? Punjab has fed the subcontinent for decades, but what will happen if growth continues to fail while the population surges?

Previous coverage: “Nanak Kheti”… and Natural Farming, The Rights of Punjabi Farmworkers, Asian Americans and Rural Development, Farmer suicides continue…

NRI Women and “Grooms-For-Money-And-Visas”: What is Going On In Punjab And Abroad?

Recently on “The Langar Hall” there has been discussion about “Runaway Grooms” who with their immigration status abroad marry women from Punjab, only to abandon them after receiving the dowry. Along with being deserted by their husbands, these women’s “dreams” of going abroad are also shattered. These “dreams” were generally a primary reason many of the women were married to these men. Hasit Shah writes in his BBC news article,

“You can see it around you. There is a lot of foreign money in this city [Jalandhar]. The NRIs have been coming back and building huge houses and flaunting their success. The locals see this and want a better life for their daughters, but when the husband is unscrupulous, the women’s lives are ruined.”

Many Punjabi men in Punjab/India are also tremendously influenced by this wealth and have dreams of going abroad (a lot of it has to do with lack of job/economic opportunities in Punjab). NRI women’s green cards and citizenship status become routes for gaining permanent residency abroad. Interestingly, it is the “unscrupulousness” behavior of “husbands” and gendered power dynamics prevalent in “Runaway Groom” situations that translate into the predicaments faced by a growing number of NRI women who are also manipulated and abused by their Punjabi Sikh husbands from Punjab/India. Their “husbands” were not interested in a marriage … they really only wanted the money and permanent residency abroad. I completely agree that this is not the outcome of all NRI and non-NRI marriages. Many couples are very happy. Yes, I acknowledge that the circumstances are different for NRI and non-NRI women based on the power hierarchy between the US and Punjab, which influence the choices these women make. However, with these issues aside, in this post I would like to focus on the similarity of situations between NRI and non-NRI Punjabi Sikh women and highlight the unique circumstances of NRI women.


A costly error by the Ministry of Women and Child Development

renukha_chowdhury.jpgIndia’s Women and Child Development Minister, Renukha Chowdury recently unveiled an expensive initiative to combat sex selection in India.

India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.

Families can expect to earn around £1,500 per girl under a government scheme announced this week.

In many parts of India, especially in remote and rural areas, male babies have long been the preferred child of expectant parents. Such is the perceived cost of marrying off a daughter and the contrasting anticipated benefits of having a male child that millions of daughters are often killed before they are born.

Unfortunately, the plan suffers from a giant blind spot. The economic incentives that are at the plan’s foundation assume that it is primarily families in poverty who abort female fetuses. The incentives offered ($3,000 over the course of 18 years) will only entice families who do not own multiple cars and take vacations to hill stations.


Simmering Sikhs

The Economic Times of India in its ‘Special Pages’ section last week carried an extended article titled Simmering Discontent: Sikhs in Punjab are fighting many wars.profile_1.jpg

The article sought to understand the ‘current and cross-currents’ of Punjabi society.

At the forefront were:

  1. The rise of the Dera-complex – the article cites that over 10 Deras in Punjab currently have over 100,000 followers, the largest being Dera Sacha Sauda, but the actual number of smaller Deras is almost infinite, only limited by the number of actual villages in Punjab

  2. The burning issue of caste

  3. Rising unemployment and the stagnation of the Green Revolution economy

  4. Drug Addiction

While the journalist, Praveen Thampi is most interested in asserting his political point:

“Punjab has burning issues to address. But the only people interested in revival of the Khalistan movement are the journalists coming down from Delhi.”

Although quoting another journalist about this issue, Thampi falls into the same trap. Instead of finding solutions and proposals for these burning problems, Thampi wants to waive the ‘Khalistan’ boogeyman to sensationalize his news.

So using some of the information, Thampi uncovers I humbly submit some of my thoughts on these four problems and invite other readers to comment, disagree, and suggest their own.


A jago for landless laborers and more on Int. Women’s Day

Punjabis (at least in East Punjab) love to protest. The cause is usually grim, the consequences leave one hoping for more, but the spirit and energy behind the gathering leave one (at least this one) with a sense of contentedness in belonging to such a proactive community. In honor of International Women’s Day, women from various groups were found on the streets highlighting the problems they face.

int._women__s_day__amritsar.jpgIn Amritsar, a group of women burned an effigy in protest of the state and central government’s “anti-people” policies, according to The Tribune (I hope that journalists become a little more investigative soon- which “anti-people policies” did the burning effigy represent? We’ll never know. If only Mr. Vishal Kumar had bothered to ask a few follow up questions…)

In Nawanshahr, a Kavi Darbar and seminars were organized in honor of Int. Women’s Day where Punjabi poets read their works urging women’s empowerment. (Ironically, the poets were all male.)

Our neighbors to the West (in Lahore) noted that most efforts in their half of Punjab for Int. Women’s Day did nothing for the most vulnerable women- those struggling to survive. Expressing dissatisfaction, some women called the efforts of Ministers, NGOs, and government organizations “ploys to attract foreign donations.”

Perhaps the most interesting celebration of Int. Women’s Day was in Shahkot (Jalandhar area), where dalit women put a new twist on Jago, the traditional dance meaning “wake up” performed by women before a wedding. They ingeniously took out a Jago to highlight the sham free electricity that had been promised to landless laborers by politicians during election time. I would love to hear the boliyan they came up with for the occasion…


Breakthrough for HIV+ women in Punjab: a self-help group

We’ve discussed AIDS in Punjab and its impact on women before. An impressive and inspiring update has since takenAids_virus.jpg place.

…a small group of HIV positive widows from rural Punjab has taken to a path that may prove to be a major initiative in making people living with HIV/AIDS self-reliant…

12 women in Anandpur Sahib have created a self-help group.

“We look at the formation of this self-help group as a rebirth. Our group wants to be financially self-reliant so that we can tell our relatives that we are no longer at the mercy or doles of relations for travel to a medical centres or to buy emergency drugs”, says Avtar Kaur, democratically elected president of the Bhai Ghania Self-Help Group.

The group is being assisted, interestingly, by Ambuja- a cement company responding to the alarming rates of infection of its truckers. The company has teamed up with the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, to “proactively prevent and manage HIV/AIDS from affecting the Ambuja communities in eight manufacturing locations of the company across India.”


“Nanak Kheti”: Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Natural Farming In Punjab

Guru Nanak Dev Ji is admired and well-known for his travels, for example, across South Asia and the Middle East by foot in an effort to begin the development of Sikh theology through engagement with others of different faiths and belief-systems. gurunanakfarming.jpgEven though I have always had great admiration for his travels and their significance, I always wished people would also give more focus to how he lived his life as farmer after he gave-up his Gurdadhi. As we know, Sikhi is a way of life … so as a Sikh … how did he farm … why did he farm … what significance did it have for him as a Sikh?

Interestingly, there is a growing group of small farmers in Punjab who are taking up natural farming based on Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings. These farmers have seen the destruction caused to the soil through chemical and mass farming resulting from the Green Revolution in Punjab. Umendra Dutt writes:

“There is a silent and constructive revolution happening in Punjab to save the environment, regenerate ecological resources bring back soil productivity and re-establish ecological balance in the farms. This is the natural farming movement of Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), a civil society action group headquartered in the Jaitu town of Faridkot district. The movement is led by experienced farmers who believe in Guru Nanak’s tenet of Sarbat da bhala (well being of all),” says Amarjeet Sharma, a farmer from Chaina village, district Faridkot who heads the village level Vatavaran Panchayat.”

Along with the concept of “Sarbat Da Bhala”, KMV asks common farmers

“ … to adopt the famous verse [by Guru Nanak Dev Ji], Pavnu Guru, Panni Pita Matta Dharat Mahat (air is guru, water is father and the earth is mother)”.


Hiring a Hitman in Hoshiarpur

An interesting news article caught my attention yesterday. While we have read on this blog about ‘holiday brides’ and other problems in Punjab, it seems that these problems, along with many older ones (especially involving jameen [land]) have opened a new-old market for contract killings. According to the Kalinga Times:hitman.jpg

Contract killings involving non-resident Indians have increased in Punjab in recent years. In most cases, fallen out marriages, illicit affairs and property disputes are the main reason why NRIs get people killed. The killings are carried out in Punjab and not in the adopted countries of these NRIs because of the lax laws here.

So want to kill a Punjabi? Wait until he/she goes to Punjab. It will only cost you a mere $25,000 to $125,000. A crooked Punjab Police would be only too eager to turn the other way for the right price.


Preserving History the Right Way?

gobindgarh.jpgGood news! After years of coaxing and clamoring by Sikhs worldwide, the SGPC has recently committed to preserving Sikh buildings in their historic condition – instead of updating facades with rows of crisp white 4×4 tile, layers of white paint, and sheets of white marble, among other forms of traditional Sikh rehabilitation. The conduits for the SGPC’s work of keeping up historic and new buildings are the groups of Kar Seva Wale Babe and this week the SGPC announced that:

‘kar seva wale’ saints will be requested to maintain the original structures without making additions or alternations.

This is amazing news because in the past a lot of valuable Sikh history and art in the form of frescos and architectural detail has been lost due to the SGPC’s building renovations and updates. Now there seems to be an affirmative acknowledgment that such things can’t continue to happen – a step in what a lot (including I) feel is the right direction. However, the announcement comes at the heels of an interesting tid-bit regarding one historic Amritsar structure: In early January this year, renowned New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal announced that he had plans to turn Gobindgarh Fort into a hotel and museum. Hence, the question in the title of this post. As a historic building, Gobindgarh Fort is one of a the older forts in Amritsar, and was built around 1760 by the Bhangi Misl. It was later taken over and refortified by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and used to protect the city of Amritsar. It is, therefore, one of a number of historic buildings that would most likely be subject at some point to the SGPC’s newfound preservationist attitude. In announcing his plans, the report noted that:

Chatwal said that the amount of non-resident Indians as well as foreigners visiting Amritsar is massive because of the Golden Temple but unfortunately the city still does not [have] a world class hotel.

Obviously, allowing such a joint venture would meet a number of different needs simultaniously – fulfilling the desire to keep intact the old fort, meeting the needs of NRI and foreign visitors, and providing a steady stream of return on investment for Mr. Chatwal – BUT the big question is – whether this is the type of preservation Sikhs want. Does turning a historic Sikh fort into a heritage hotel really count as preservation? Thoughts?

The Romance that is Panjabiyat

I recently read an article by Christine Moliner, a French doctoral student in anthropology. The article’s title “Frères ennemis? Relations between Panjabi Sikhs and Muslims in the Diaspora” caught my attention and I thought it raised a number of interesting questions. While the different issues raised in the article may be of note, one that was most prominent for me is the romantic project to which I have also been delusional. It is the romance that is Panjabiyat.

Moliner aptly defines it:

partition_bros.jpgWithin this large South Asian category there co-exist several narrower types of identification that nonetheless cut across the national/religious divide. One of the most powerful ones is Panjabyat. This term of recent coinage, roughly translated as Panjabi identity, refers to the cultural heritage, the social practices, the values shared by all Panjabis, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, Indians, Pakistanis, and increasingly the diaspora. It is heavily loaded with nostalgia for pre-partition undivided Panjab, idealized as a unique space of communal harmony. Its usage tends to be restricted to intellectual, literary, academic or media circles, and although these valorize popular culture in their definition of Panjabyat, the term is not much used by the people. [Emphasis added]


Stating the Obvious

With After the comments about the DSS, I thought this article by Pritam Singh, a professor in the business school at Oxford Brookes University (not to be confused with the Oxford, you are probably thinking about), might shed some light.  may be interesting. Instead I found it rather obvious. The article is titled “The political economy of the cycles of violence and non-violence in the Sikh struggle for identity and political power: implications for Indian federalism” and was published in Third World Quarterly 28.3 (2007).

I reproduce verbatim his abstract:

sant.jpgABSTRACT: This paper presents a critique of the essentialist notions of any community as a pacifist or militant community by examining the long history of the cycles of violence and non-violence in the evolution of the Sikh community in the Indian subcontinent. The theoretical premise of the paper is that communities’ resort to violence and non-violence is determined by their strategic perspectives to achieve their politico-economic goals and not from any doctrinal adherence to violence or non-violence. The paper attempts a panoramic view of over 500 years of Sikh history (1469 – 2006) and offers a reinterpretation of that history by locating cycles of violence and non-violence in their historical context. It then provides a politico-economic perspective on violence and nonviolence in their struggle for identity and political power. It focuses more on an analysis of the recent political conflict between Sikh militants and the Indian state, and concludes by drawing out the policy implications of that analysis for the politics of the modern Indian state regarding the Sikhs of Punjab. It identifies federal arrangements and human rights as issues of key importance in the political economy of this relationship.


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