Hailing from Gholia village in Bagha Purana, Avtar Singh is addressed as “babaji” by Sikh protesters heading in trucks and on bikes to Bargari village for the bhog ceremony of the two Sikhs killed in police firing during protests against the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. “Our guru’s body has been mutilated. Be ready to sacrifice for the Panth,” he tells them.
As thousands of angry Sikhs converged at Bargari, there were echoes of Punjab’s troubled past as some radical leaders reminded the youth about the sacrifices made by those like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. “The sarkar (government) is addicting you to drugs and liquor. You take drugs and liquor and sell your votes. This is why the Panth is in danger. Time will not forgive you for the injustice towards your Panth,” a speaker at the conference tells the gathering.
Another reminds them of how Bhindranwale had sacrificed for the cause. “Why could Punjab not produce another Bhindranwale all these years? The real tribute to those killed is to fight for your religion,” a Muslim speaker from Malerkotla adds. Another speaker asks people not to allow Akalis to enter any village and town.
It being paddy harvest time, farmer Bhola Singh of Kot Shamir village says he had to come to the event as “the Badal government has blacked out live telecast on Zee Punjabi channel”.
“The PTC channel owned by the Badals kept telecasting the recorded conversations of the two arrested -- Rupinder Singh and Jaswinder Singh -- claiming they were being funded by foreign forces. But since speeches of Sikh preachers were being aired live, there is no power in our village and many other neighbouring ones,” he says.
Those like Preethi Singh, another farmer, were at Bargari to support the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). “People are tired of politics of Akalis and the Congress. Many of those present here are AAP supporters,” he adds.
Among Sikh protesters sporting placards for releasing the two “innocent” brothers were some distributing pamphlets seeking support for fasting Surat Singh Khalsa — who is demanding release of Sikh prisoners — by exhorting them to attend the Sarbat Khalsa (Sikh congregation) in Amritsar on November 10. Some others hand out pamphlets on ‘referendum 2020’ that seeks to revive the demand for Khalistan.
The two-page pamphlet explains in Punjabi and English what is a referendum and why Sikhs have the right to knock at the doors of the United Nations asking it to allow them the right to decide whether the “territory of Punjab should be in India or an independent country”.
The road blockades in different parts of Punjab against the sacrilege were lifted as radicals told the gathering that the public should not suffer for the “sins of those who have usurped our religious institutions”.
At the stage, a speaker announces that Sikhs from the UK have sent Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the killed Sikhs. There is a loud applause as he goes on to add that Sikhs from across the country and the world are present or are supporting them through social media.
Few are interested in speeches by leaders from opposition parties who hailed the radicals for taking on the might of the “corrupt rulers”.
Prashant Bhushan, who represents AAP’s breakaway faction, announced on stage – “Naya zamana aayega, lootnewala jayega (a new beginning will happen. Those looting the state will be chased away). Sukhpal Khaira of the Congress declares, “Badals were never Panthic. They used religion for their political ends. They had to face the music one day.”
One of the radical speakers points out how a miniscule population of Jews is ruling the world by winning Nobel prizes and through its might, adding, “Sikhs can too.” The fiery speeches end with slogans of “Raj Karega Khalsa (Sikhs will rule)” and “Khalsa azaad si, azaad rahega (Sikhs were free, will be free).”