Murder Of A Young Girl In Moga: An Open Letter To Chief Minister Of Punjab
By Daljit Ami
11 May, 2015
13-year-old victim’s grandmother Surjit Kaur. (Express Photo by: Gurmeet Singh)
Chief Minister Prakash Singh,
You would have already noticed that I did not start this letter with prefixes and suffixes to your name. This convention is contrary to how you speak to those who want to contact you. Yes, this letter intends to break the hegemony of language you impose on the people of Punjab. Your manner of speech and attitude is such that when you use forms of addresses such as, 'Kaka', 'Sardar ji', 'Bibi', and 'Sahib',they lose their meaning. You use these expressions to trivialise issues and demean those who wish to talk to you. When you utter them, these addresses become sophisticated ways to silence those who wish to talk to you. If these ways of addressing are meaningless then who is writing this letter? To whom is this letter being addressed? A Punjabi Indian is writing this letter to the chief minister of Punjab. After the politics that has taken place over the Punjabi identity, it is important to underline that this letter does not care if Shiromani Akali Dal is Punjabi or not. It also does not care that the 'Sikh' politics considers both: the Punjabi identity as an insult and that under your leadership the Shiromani Akali Dal is 'not Sikh but Punjabi'. Your being a Sikh or a Punjabi should not affect your way of working. That is why the questions that the people can raise about you being a Sikh can also be raised about you being a Punjabi. Without entering the debate on Punjab's boundaries, this letter is a right that a person has earned upon being comfortable with the identity of being a Punjabi. At this time you are the chief minister of one part of Punjab and so I am writing this letter to you. This is a letter from a Punjabi citizen. There is no spacehere for the kind of addressing each other that your style imposes us - the people of Punjab. This letter is an attempt on the part of Punjabi people to steal back the meaning of words that you have appropriated from us.
The reason for writing this letter is the recent incident near Moga where a young girl was murdered when she was thrown out of a running bus. The victim's mother is lying injured in a hospital. Per newspapers and television reports,upon the statements by representatives of your government, the girl was a minor and was travelling with her mother and brother. There was an altercation between bus conductor and the mother over the bus fare and after that the employees,along with another accomplice,misbehaved with the mother and daughter. The employees and accomplice threw both mother and daughter off the bus. The daughter's corpse reached the hospital.The hospital admitted the mother for treatment. All this happened in daylight hours. In this letter we shall talk about this one murder, this one intent to murder, and the molestation. All of these have a direct relation with you.
Upon reading the beginning of this letter you would respond that the government has compensated the victimized family. It has also promised them a job. The police have apprehended the criminals. With a sense of being able to do justice to the family, the government has accomplished everything quickly. There is no doubt that after this murder you andyour ministers, officers and political advisors would condemn the incident in one voice. Your performance until now is evidence that you would use compensation, employment and 'meeting the aggrieved' as your standard tactics to assuage grievances. If there was a doubt about your 'sensitivity' then what was the need to write this letter? You can also ask that when the aggrieved family has compromised, what is the need to dig up this matter. Your public relations department is ready to condemn this letter as politically moticated or maybe they do not even need to do that. Both these issues must be addressed right here. First, an ordinary citizen is writing this to the chief minister of Punjab. The murdered minor too was a citizen. Her parents too are citizens. That way this letter becomes a letter by a citizen about a murdered citizen to the chief minister. Second, the politics of this letter is clear from the fact that a ‘citizen’ is a political identity and a citizen's relationship with a chief minister is only political and nothing else. Every conversation between a citizen and a chief minister is political. This letter is political.
In this case of molestation and murder we must consider the thinking of both the owners and the employees of the bus. Your son is the owner of the bus and bus company. Your son is also the deputy chief minister and the de-facto leader of the party as well as government. He is also the home minister. Your government projects his buses as their own achievement. Yes, you have recently made a statement that you personally have nothing to do with the bus business. Still, I think it is justified to ask you how your son has risen so quickly in the bus business.Does your qualification,of being India's most experienced chief minister, nowstand dwarfed in front of your son's business accumen? Your nephew left you after your initial success but your son has stuck by you. In your governance,your daughter-in-law, your son-in-law, far and near relatives and former loyal bureaucrats,participate with such unrivalled devotion. So, the real question is: how come the government makes losses and the son's business grows. Don't you give your son a free hand in running the state like in the family business? Or have you given him the conditions in which he is free to poach passengers for his buses, and make profits from even other businesses,while the state suffers? These larger questions will make us revisit our ledgers but for this letter it suffices to place the ownership of the bus company and its conduct on record.
You have clarified that you have nothing to do with the bus business. On similar grounds your son is also not involved in this crime. When the Delhi incident took place in December 2012 and people protested against the government, did you think of the issue the same way - that providing compensation is enough? If you have been so consistent in your thinking, then after the Justice Verma report, the criminal and judicial proceedings, the debate until now is meaningless. Mukesh Singh had no relation with the government but people with a social concience came together to question the functioning of the government and to demand protection and respect for women. This Mukesh Singh a curious fellow.He occurs in every debate on rape and murder. Many people agree that we must listen to him. In his articulation we find how our male-dominated society pegs the women. The central government with whom you are partners for two decades has imposed a ban on the film in which Mukesh explains,in detail, his reasoning to rape. In your own political life you have given a lot of importance to loyalty. Does that tell us that you are in agreement with the ban on the film?
Many local newspapers have christened the Moga minor as the second Nirbhaya. Let us not get into the debate of who is gratifying whom by naming a murdered girl Nirbhaya. We shall also not discuss the double standards of journalists who hid the Delhi girl’s name but exposed this minor’s name to the world. You would respond: if the journalist won’t keep a check on themselves, what can the government do? It is a different matter, I suppose, that some journalists felt the ‘pressure’ to publish the name because it is mentioned in the press notes issued by your government and other organisations. You know, these journalists try to sensationalize news and distract attention from the major issue. You can ask what a government can do about a social issue. You are intelligent enough to be part of a system where government functioning and private business mix but you make distinctions between social and political issues. It is against this view of yours that it must be said that all kind of social repression and injustices that emanate from social thinking come under the political ambit, under you. Would you agree?
When the society names the girl who was murdered the second Nirghaya, there must be some trait in her killers which must match Mukesh. In the documentary India’s Daughter Mukesh has stated that after a rape, the rapists expect a girl to be ashamed and silent. Mukesh presents rape as a punishment to a girl who has gone out at the wrong hour with an alien man, and thus, justifies the rape. In the Moga incident we can trace all these thoughts of Mukesh but more crass. If we listen to Mukesh’s argument, as sociologists would want us to do, Moga adds new facts to our understanding. This young girl was travelling in day hours with her mother and brother. If Mukesh’s thoughts reflectthe male-dominance of society, what was on these killers’ minds? Mukesh was saying that after a night’s episode the ashamed girl will not open her mouth. Why did your son’s bus employees impudently believe they would escape the blame of this day-light crime? Would you want to understand their thoughts too?
There are a number of allegations against your son’s buses: how they break traffic rules; how the police do not act against them and provides them patronage. Your private buses rule the roads of Punjab. Anyone hit by them can’t get even a complaint registered with police. Maybe you will be annoyed to hear this but in popular parlance people call your son’s buses the ‘Badal buses’. The police tell the victims of these buses that just as we do not complain about slipping on a banana peel, we must not complain or mind being run over by these ‘Badal’ buses. I am sure your government has not issued such orders to the police. But, you know,minions often adhere to verbal orders better than to others. Anyway slaves know how to read the master’s eyes.Especially when those who obey expect the masters to promote them and gift them plum posts. After all, you favour your loyalists by getting them discharged from government jobs and entering them into politics. Such instances are not limited to a chief secretary, a police chief, or a sports director alone. We now have a flood of government officers quitting their jobs to enter the elections on behalf of your party or have entered their wives or relatives into the fray for electoral gains. Potentailly, every employee in the police and transport department could be in the race to understand your signals and to do your bidding.
In the name of your son, his employees assert themselves over government employees. You know how egoistic people quickly forget that the assertion is not theirs but of their masters. Since you have had to handle so many egoistic minions in your life time, you know this well. Remember, at one time Gurcharan Singh Tohra had considered the Shiromani Akali Dal government as his government. You had to tell him who was the master of the political party and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. You had announced Manpreet Badal’s ‘political suicide’ with a heavy heart. Don’t you think it is the myth your minions believe in that the assertion of your name is to their personal credit? One can often see incidents of arguments over fares, fights and abuses in your busses but I suggest please do not risk seeing these incidents because any one of your son’s employees could say, ‘With a face like Badal have you now become the chief minister?’ The employees stay on the high horse by putting down the customers. To top it, as an assertion of their right, they inflict loud films and songs on the customers. In your buses, right next to the advertisements of ‘Nanhi Chan’ (the NGO, headed by your daughter-in-law, a campaign against female featicide) they play movies which train people on how to harass women at public spaces.
The bus business is such that, if the employees don’t indulge in corruption, the employers appreciate their aggressive behavior. Orbit is no exception. After all, who better to control these unruly passengers than a handful of aggressive employees per bus? Videos of them manhandling government employees are available online. You would remember that in Amritsar a couple of miscreants had murdered a uniformed father of a girl they were harassing. With great consideration you had provided the girl compensation and a government job on compasionate grounds. After that your party workers had broken a senior police officer’sleg in Ludhiana. At that time too the police had acted swiftly. The question is, in your governance, why does politics enter the functioning of police. Why does, even after the delimitation process of police stations, the police consult your constituency incharges or elective representative before deciding on their course of action or inaction?Under the able guidance of these counsellors any action against your son’s employees is out of the police limits. In such conditions any of your private employees can’t be booked for any violation or crime?
Those who consider themselves to be in your image are not only your employees but also your political activists and loyalists. When they commit eve teasing, molestations, display rude behaviour, engage in fights and humiliate others, it is never an issue. Those who consider themselves in your image have commited a wrong in Moga. If the victim were alive, you and your police could have ignored the bad behaviour. Even twisted the story. It has been difficult to deal with a corpse. I am writing this letter to establishyour role in reducing a teenage girl to a dead body. Those who pushed the girl from the bus were not only a Mukesh but also you. That horrible crime has been committed under your patronage. As an elected representative of a male-dominated society whose thinking is against women and the head of a capitalist government, you signalled this murder. Whether the courts try you or not, this allegation shall forever be a part of the political and social reality and the people’s history of Punjab.
The compensation and action against erring employeesalso displays your understanding of social dynamics. It is an example of the ongoing multi dimensional civil war against women in Punjab. By paying money to the victim family, you seem to believe that Punjabis, who enter fake paper marriages to get visas to go abroad, can also sell corpses. Punjabis who marry their daughters, sisters, nieces to become permanent citizens abroad have a price at which they can be bought. Today girlsclear tests to become citizens abroad and have marriages to fill their parents’ coffers. The crime is not of the minor’s father’s who received compensation upon his daughter’s death. It is your crime that you have created these dishonourable circumstances. When Punjabi go abroad to live and come back to die, it is your fiefdom that flourishes. The dead body of that poor girl has become the hope of her poor parents. You are responsible for our society having come to such a pass that we compromise with living with dignity. You practice the politics of ‘using and throwing’ your employees. For example, the recent day-light murder, in police custody, of gangster Sukha Kahlwanand hiskillers. The same boys work for the politicians involved in the sand and gravel smuggling, land grabs, the liquor mafia, the cash rich businesses of dhabas, schools and hospitals. While they live, they earn profits for their lords,who are part of your machinery; when they die, their bullet ridden bodies become trophies of your law and order machinery.This time you sought to buy a dead body through your money and have taken action against the erring employees. You neeed to ask yourself, what glory has it brought you?
Your son has, temporarily,after intense pressure, removed his buses from the roads and sent the employees for an orientation course. As if this murder has taken place because of a lack of proper orientation. That is not the case. You know it.The murder took place because of an insolent government and through political collusion. It is a political murder. If we fail to see this murder as political we can neither challenge nor change the inhuman politics of our times. The Congress does not have the moral or principaled strength to play politics over this murder. The multiple factions of the Aam Aadmi Party are unable to get to the root of this issue and are busy making their own noise. In the Left parties the stagnation is becoming stronger. Though this incident might not damage you too much politically, this would remain forever etched in the people’s history of our times. Your social-political and economic purchasing power in the current circumstances might be highest but, you know, the ordinary and suffering people always dream of nailing down the tyrant.
At this time your political spokespersons are telling us to consider the crime as ‘God’s will’. You are their ‘God’ who endows them with promotions, postings, honours and all sorts of benefits. On the basis of these benefits they run the political industry by which they turn healthy living conditions to wretched ones. Your son wants to turn Punjab into California and creates slogans like ‘We shall rule 25 years’. Ambulances with your pictures are happily ferrying corpses. Your TV channels tell stories of how you ‘rule to serve’. Though not all newspapers and channels belong to you even the other editors wish to stay in your good books. Look at how they reveal the name of the murdered minor but hide the name of the owner responsible for the murder in editorials. A newspaper in its editorial has said that bus belongs to ‘influential person’.Another newspaper wrote that the bus owner is a ‘political person’.They should have said the truth - that the top most person is not influential but the owner. Who would have asked them, at what forum, that at what position does a ‘favoured one’ become an owner? The favoured ones are the ones who have a say with the government and the buisness houses. You could be the provider for the favoured ones but your position is higher. Anyway, in journalism there is an abundance of the favoured ones. You know how you have employed journalists in your government and business operations. When you call a journalist by name, our society considers itas a major achievement for the journalist. As a result, it becomes difficult to differentiatebetween the practice of journalism and the publicity business of those who work as journalists or teach the subject.
Now this dead body in Moga had upset your calculations. Journalists will find news in all incidents of sexual harassment at public places. It will become your argument that your bus that has been unduly highlighted and such incidents happen everywhere. No one can say that everything outside your bus is fine. Yet, tell me, in which part of Punjab and in which business of Punjab are you not involved? Political parties respond to most cruel incidents and overlook political excesses and humilation in day to day life. The humiliation or torture before the body became a corpse never becomes news. For example, we consider farmer suicides as an agrarian crisis alone ignoring the cruel process leading towards suicide. Now after the Moga incident many will be jealous as to why they were not murdered in your bus. Everyone seeks a space just as wide as a needle’s eye to escape this bad life. The boys the police catches trying to burgle ATMS want to enjoy life in this mortal world. Like you.How do we teach them that to reach the heavens one has to die? You too found this heaven through the history of sacrifices by the Shiromani Akali Dal. This you keep reminding us. Let us not get into the detailsof how handy the skill to eat the butter and keep the face cleanhas become for you. The question that often arises is how come the people who sacrifice are different from the people who rule?You have made it clear that after demanding the sacrifices the rulers compensate only the deserving. It is clear that the people can claim these compensations only through legal aids, discretionary quotas and blood relations.
This letter is about a claim outside these claims. It is about the rights of a citizen before death. It is about a person with a Punjabi identity and about the person’s right to live with dignity. I am writing this to mark the person’s need to live within one’sown will. I am writing this to identify human relations beyond kinship and legalities. I am writing this to remember the traditional relationship between empathy and the Punjabis. It is a political act to identify the murderers of a contemporary killed in Moga. We are the Punjabis dying bit by bit. This letter makes no claim to represent all Punjabis.No citizen has that right. Yet, every Punjabi citizen has the right to speak how their nerves ache when death closes in on them.
After reading this letter, you may doubt that I am presenting you a demand charter. No, it is not a demand charter but an attempt to make the polarisation between you the government and the people clear. You are in continuity of a history. The one who occupies the post of a chief minister and those who seek to occupy it are part of the same tradition. This letter is to question your history of blood sucking rulers whom Nanak called raje, sheen, muqadam …. This open letter is also part of a tradition, not only to you but as an exercise in introspection. If killers keep being identified, the oppressed can hope to come together.The accumulation of empathy may strenthen the unity of downtrodden.While you follow the tradition of kings, the humanity that prays for the better of the world(sarbat da bhala) would some day demand accounts. Some day history will give a chance to the girl murdered in Moga and the Punjabis dying bit by bit to address the question of which snake has bitten their lives. The representative of Punjabis, Prof. Mohan Singh, had said that ‘worldis divided into two sides, one of people and the other of leeches.’ The great poet of Punjabis,Faiz Ahmed Faiz had made the pronouncement, ‘It is true, we shall see ...’(Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge …)
As a chief minister, you may consider, some day she may come to seek answers.
Daljit Ami is a freelance journalist and independent filmmaker
The letter was originally written in Punjabi. Amandeep Sandhu has translated it in English who is a fellow at Akademie Schloss Stuttgart, Germany.
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