The town has had its brush with fame as the native place of actor Dharmendra. Now, Punjabi singer Satwinder Bitti is pitching herself proudly in Sahnewal’s hall of fame as its daughter-in-law.
Her father-in-law, Karnail Singh, who was sarpanch of Koom Khurd in Sahnewal, had political aspirations but could not bag a Congress ticket. Bitti, who is married to Chicago-based NRI Gulraz Singh Grewal, got lucky when Punjab Congress chief Cap Amarinder Singh met the couple there last year.
She says she did not give up her Indian citizenship as she wanted to return to her roots, only to realise being a woman in politics has consequences. To sabotage her chances, a defamatory video was uploaded on the social media on the eve of announcement of her name in December, and the folk singer says she was left wondering if it was all worth it.
The party refused to let a smear campaign affect a woman’s candidature, says state affairs in-charge Asha Kumari. Bitti was announced as the candidate in the fourth list of the party that came amid Lohri celebrations and a gritty Bitti is now taking on her rivals, within the party and outside, with a dare, smiles, selfies and some ‘English Vinglish’.
Though the Congress manifesto has promised end of the VIP culture, Bitti arrives in villages of Sahnewal in a convoy of nine SUVs, blocking the narrow roads. One of her husband’s cousins is managing the logistics sitting in her SUV and another is behind the wheel. As she comes out, covering her head with a green dupatta, at Hathi Colony in Gobindgarh village, women come out to see her in balconies and young men try to get a selfie. She obliges.
At Hathi Colony, which houses significant Dalit population, she speaks in Hindi sputtered with English. “Ye dono partiyan antiPunjab hain. Vote usko dalo jo job ke layak ho. Pehle dekho kaun banda kahan stand karta hai (Both these parties are anti-Punjab. Vote for the person who is right for the job. First, see who stands where),” she says, referring to the Akalis and AAP.
At the next stop, Dhandari Khurd, she turns to chaste Punjabi and fights the “outsider” tag by calling herself “sarpanch di nuh” (daughter-in-law of sarpanch) and Amarinder’s dhi (daughter). “Don’t offer garlands or cast votes for those coming from other parties. God has sent this daughter-in-law and daughter to teach a lesson to the arrogant,” she says at a small public meet at a busy chowk.
She dares opponents that a “morphed” video cannot pin her down. “Ek ghatiya video banake kuch log sochde ne mein darr jaungi. Ae dhi ae dariya wi taar jaungi (They think by circulating a defamatory video, I will run away. But your daughter will sail through this too),” says Bitti, who has lodged a police complaint.
To take on her rivals outside the party, she talks about scourge of “chitta” (heroin) in Punjab. “I was a part of a Punjabi movie on chitta. But they did not allow it to be released. How will you find brides for your sons if they take drugs? Our government will fight chitta. Not those like Sanjay Singh (AAP leader). He used to stay in a rented accommodation of a kalakar (artist) friend of mine in Delhi and had a broken scooter. He now roams in SUVs,” she adds, sparing her Sahnewal opponents, SAD minister Sharanjit Dhillon and AAP’s Harjot Bains.
Like in Gobindgarh, her speech ends with a dare to women voters. “Inquilab odon aunda ae jido auratan khadiyan ho jaan (revolution comes when women take a stand). Jive Mai Bhago ne maena mariya si, tusi vi apne marda nu maena maro (like Mai Bhago had dared men to fight, you too dare the men in your family to fight injustice),” she tells women standing behind the crowd and in their balconies.
Her appeal does not go unheard. “I have first time come out to listen to a politician’s speech. It’s difficult for women but they should come forward to contest,” says 55-year-old Charanjit Kaur. Renu Sharma, standing next to her, says women now have their own opinion on whom to vote for.
As Bitti gets into her car, she asks for some gur (jaggery) as her throat has gone sour. “I always felt, I have been given the gift of singing for a bigger cause. I now see why,” she says, “I’ve hardly got any time to campaign.”
For her new role, she credits the men in the family. “Nobody in a Jat Sikh family wants their daughter to sing in public. My father allowed me to do so. I later got a father-in-law and a husband who want me to achieve greater heights,” she says as her next destination comes. A heartening thing to hear in a state where daughters go missing over preference for sons.