Brig PS Gothra (Retd)
Dalit farmers in Punjab
“I was only a child when I was hit by a hot stick,” said Sardar Ranjit Singh and then paused for a few seconds to swallow down his saliva to wet his throat.
Instantly I felt that we have gone wrong in asking anybody and everybody to speak in that meeting at Dispur, Guwahati with Mazhabi Sikh in the new Harijan Colony. But I was wrong. What the individual said made me very sad.
“I had come from school and gone to the sugarcane field where my father was working for an upper caste farmer. I started playing with the other kids of the farmer. Nearby the sugarcane was being crushed and the juice boiled in a huge Kadai (utensil). As the juice turned into a jelly, they emptied it into a large wooden tray to cool. The kids were excited and picked up some stick or sugar canes, dipped it into jelly and started eating the improvised candy. I also did the same but the hell broke loose. The farmers snatched the stick from my hand and hit me with the hot end. I still have that burn mark on my back,” said Sardar Ranjit Singh. His body and psyche must have got badly hurt as I could see his eyes getting wet.
After regaining his composure he continued, “my father interfered but he was also hit by the farmer who said that the whole lot of Gud (Jaggery) has been spoiled by the touch of the ‘untouchable’. I am sure that my father must have compensated the farmer with a number of days of hard labour because soon the family started talking of moving to Shillong. We came to Shillong to pick up the work of Safai Karamchari. For more than fifty years we have been doing this menial job but we have maintained our Sikh Swaroop. We left our native place because of the atrocities and discrimination by the upper caste. But we have faith in Gurbani which says,
“Niche Unch Kare Mera Govind, Kahu Te Na Dare”
Being from an Army family I have hardly stayed in Punjab and as such was oblivious to such practices of untouchability. It is very sad to note that the practice remains and is impelling many from the SC/OBC/Dalit community to leave the path of Sikhi and embrace Christianity.
It is the biggest disrespect to our Gurus who were strong proponents of equality. Guru Gobind Singh Ji said, “Rangreta Guru Ka Beta.”