“My father knows that there are no takers for Khalistan in Punjab now because he doesn’t get voted back into Parliament because of what he believes in,” says Pavit Kaur, daughter of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann, on the ‘Fair & Square’ show of Chandigarh-based news channel Day & Night News.
“But in a democratic set-up, he is entitled to hold his belief in a peaceful manner,” Pavit says in a conversation with Day & Night News consulting editor and Hindustan Times columnist Khushwant Singh.
“Today, the Sikhs, at least within Punjab, do not want Khalistan, but pushed against the wall, as they are being once again, this time by drugs and unemployment, another time bomb seems to be ticking away again,” Pavit has written in her recently-released book ‘Stolen Years’. The book, published by Random House India-Vintage Books, is a memoir of Mann’s five years in jail (1984-89) on charges of sedition, among others, after Operation Bluestar.
Pavit says she was 11 when she learnt from her mother about her father’s arrest. “It was a painful period of our lives when my father was put in solitary confinement in the Bhagalpur jail in Bihar, though we tried to stay strong. In subsequent years, writing down what we had gone through was therapeutic for me as we tried to continue with our lives as normally as possible.”
The book quotes extensively from Mann’s prison diary and letters he exchanged with his family, including his daughters. “I feel that it is really important for the world to know what happened in 1984. It has been pushed under the rug quite a lot, and may be, a lot of people are scared of writing about it,” she adds. “A lot of Sikhs had a much worse time that we did. I hope my effort will encourage others to write about their pain, at least for Sikh history, if nothing else.”
“Writing this book has brought about a closure to the entire painful episode for me. It has helped me come to terms with that time and I am happy to have written it,” Pavit has told the news channel. “But I still haven’t fully come to terms with the torture my father was subjected to, including electric shocks to his private parts, during his imprisonment. I haven’t gone into too much detail about it in the book because it is too painful.”
Speaking about how five years in jail changed Mann, Pavit says her father was widely regarded as a “jovial and fun-loving human being when he went in. When he came out, he was quiet, withdrawn, and those years in prison had taken a toll on him, but he was very brave. Even now, he never sits down to relate what was done to him. I think he has moved on, and I really admire him for taking everything in his stride and being able to stay normal and not go crazy.”
Pavit says the “world has a very hard impression of my father but that is not true at all. He is a very gentle human being, and actually, quite the gentleman as well. He is not diplomatic and says what he feels like, unlike other people, which has perhaps contributed to the public perception about him. In reality, he is very liberal and not a hardliner. He is just steadfast as far as his own view is concerned.”