Day 2, March 29: Day after 1st Punjab Bandh
I tend to spend my nights at the Darbar Sahib, emerging from the complex around 9 am from the Manji Sahib jorha house. What I saw this morning near the South side of the Darbar Sahib complex near Baba Atal was notedly different from the scenes described yesterday.
As I walked towards the South side of the complex, there were sounds of people yelling and a general sense of urgency in people around me. When I reached the street, there was a large haphazard group of people filling the street speaking loudly and excitedly to each other. Many were kirpans and some had sticks in their hands.
I headed to the side to make my routine stop at the Nescafe shop for some coffee and learned from the Nescafe Uncle that Shiv Sena was coming to Punjab cities to exact retaliation for the arrest of 14 Hindu men/boys in Ludhiana yesterday. The 14 men/boys had been arrested as they caused damage/ruckus in front of Sikh shops that had been closed on Punjab Bandh, and got into a tussle with local groups of protesters as well. Shiv Sena had declared that if Khalistanis could shut down Punjab on Wednesday, they would shut it down on Thursday.
I headed next door to the Bram Butta Bazaar to run some errands, where the Uncle Ji at the shop excitedly explained that a group of Shiv Sena had entered the city at the Hall Gate (Amritsar Khaas) and started throwing stones/bricks at open businesses. I had noticed earlier that some of the shops were still closed today even though Punjab Bandh was yesterday. From the shop Uncle I learned that Shiv Sena called for Hindus to close their shops today. Shiv Sena was now harassing businesses that were still open, businesses that were expected to be of Sikhs or of non-sympathizers. Many of the Bram Butta Bazaar shops also started to bring in their displays and the Uncle urged me to run my errands tomorrow and get out towards the West side of the Darbar Sahib complex and head home.
As I headed back to Darbar Sahib, there was a rush of people going about. Lots of people were leaving. Shopowners were closing up and many had men standing in front with sticks. Police was heavier than yesterday, with male and female members in uniforms of several Punjab Police and paramilitary companies, lined the streets with guns. Right outside the Darbar Sahib complex, Singhs poured out of the complex. I saw SGPC bande handing out large dandey to people standing outside. There were chants of Khalistan Zindabad and it seemed that people were gearing up for a fight.
I waited around to see what would happen. After some time, people around the Darbar Sahib started heading towards Jallianwala Bagh and Hall Road (main city road that leads to Darbar Sahib). I also headed in that direction towards a hotel owned by a family member as I tried to get a better, higher look. I got up to the top floor, but couldn’t see what was happening clearly. There was a meeting of crowds from two sides and activity in the middle with tons of police.
From CID (police intelligence) I learned that several people had been arrested, of them many were Sikhs. I heard from members of the public that ironically all of the people arrested were Sikh and non were Shiv Sena, but wasn’t able to confirm this with CID.
As you may have already learned, 2 Sikh youth were killed today. Punjab is on, what everyone keeps referring to, as “Red Alert.” I tried to learn more about what the heck that really meant in terms of security but was confused until I headed out to Gurdaspur later in the evening and on my way back to Amritsar, we drove around the Amritsar shehr perimeter and then into the shehr itself to check out the police density. There are checkpoints all around the city’s perimeter with heavy police at each point. We were hailed to slow down at the one where we entered the city, but not stopped. However, after entering the city, I didn’t see a single police officer until I got closer to Darbar Sahib. We roamed the city before heading home, but again no sign of any police forces beyond the perimeter checkpoints. I’m not sure where “Red Alert” falls on the security scale, but the above should provide some perspective to diasporic Sikhs in terms of what is really happening here on the ground.
It has been a frustrating few weeks politically, for all of us. Heck, its been a frustrating 28 years. Perhaps we can go into that another day. Meanwhile we ask/call/clickonfacebook/tweetontwitter for revolution, but we don’t really understand what would be required of each and every one of us in the current context to truly induce one.