ROOTHLESS An open letter to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal
Thursday brought the sad news about the death of a 14-month-old daughter of a protesting unemployed teacher of cold in Bathinda. Her name was Rooth.
Rooth didn't know what the Employment Guarantee Scheme was. She didn't even know what a protest was. She was just 14 months old. The age not enough to even ask who a teacher is. The word unemployed, protest and lathicharge were not in her dictionary. Then why did she have to die such a painful death? Why did your administration force her to die, Mr Badal?
How can one forget the small and beautiful eyes of Rooth? I saw her picture in our paper on Thursday morning, in a yellow dress. She was sleeping in her mother's lap. Was she dreaming that her mother would get back her job one day?
Children dream too, sir. My mother says children's dreams are the most beautiful. She says they are not corrupted by worldly worries. But your administration is capable of killing their dreams too. The poet Pash once said the death of our dreams is the most terrible thing.
Rooth must have shivered a lot before succumbing to the cold wind freezing the bone marrow. And, the cold-hearted administration just let her die. The teachers protesting against your government were forced to sit under the open sky as all tent houses of the town were threatened against supplying quilts and tents to the protesters.
The local administration even told mediapersons not to cover the protest, saying it would die down its own death.
All of 14 months, Rooth was not a protester. She was of the age when a child holds the finger of her mother and follows her everywhere. Did she deserve such a death? Surprisingly, in the race for votes, even Nanni Chhan forgot to provide shelter to a girl child.
Let us not talk about the protests as almost everybody in the state is on the roads, protesting these days -- the linemen, MGNREGA workers, schoolteachers, lecturers, farmers and agricultural labourers. Will your government ban all kinds of protests?
In the season of summits, holding a summit of protests can be a saleable idea. And, for whom is Punjab 'Progressing' anyway? Certainly not for the poor people of the state where innocent children are forced to die on the roads. It must be progressing for the big money bags of the Congress, brokers of the BJP or ruthless landlords of the Akali Dal.
The protests have been here for decades. Many years ago, my father was one of these protesting teachers. He was employed but felt that if others were equally qualified, they too deserved the same job. Every parent then proudly took their children to the protests. But no one's child died. They were witness to the Emergency, they faced the AK-47s of terrorists and the repression from the police too. But they soldiered on for they believed that's how life becomes more beautiful. The struggle is paramount to make life worth living.
My father still recounts the days when your government had put thousands of teachers along with their children in jails for months. No child had died even then.
But, who will raise a memorial to Rooth? Who will write her obituary? Who will write a poem? Who will celebrate innocence? Who will celebrate childhood?
A mother has lost her child and with that her dreams too. Perhaps that mother was shivering under the open sky for a better future for Rooth. Your government has betrayed them and many others like them.
Principal correspondent, Hindustan Times