Of guns and weddings: No stopping Punjab’s killer feudal culture
The killing of Kulwinder Kaur, a dancer at a wedding at Maur Mandi on Sunday, has again put the focus on the feudalistic practice of celebratory firing at weddings. HT revisits those devastated by it.punjab Updated: Dec 06, 2016 19:02 IST
Prabhjit Singh, 30, was dancing at a wedding in Issapur village near Amritsar on March 16 this year, when he was killed by a “celebratory” bullet. Today, his widow, Bhagwant Kaur, and two children are living in dire poverty.
Twenty-five-year-old Manmeet Kaur’s world came crashing down on February 2 when her husband Harpal Singh, 32, who had gone to play music at a marriage, was brought home dead. Surjit Kaur, 70, died of excessive bleeding when she was hit by a stray bullet fired at a wedding this October.
The feudalistic practice of celebratory firing at weddings in the region often leaves behind a trail of bodies and broken families, but it continues to thrive for want of punitive action.
The killing of Kulwinder Kaur, a dancer at a wedding at Maur Mandi on Sunday, has again put the focus on this practice. Rajesh Gill, chairperson of sociology department in Panjab University, calls it a “strange kind of celebration”, a gruesome status symbol of sorts that must be checked.
“He was a shy youngster, he went to the function only because it was that of my close friend’s daughter.”
Grief is writ large on the faces of Jagir Singh, 55, and his wife Davinder Kaur, who lost their only son Maninder Singh, 22, during a “jaago” celebration of a family friend’s daughter in 2014. “He was a shy youngster, he went to the function only because it was that of my close friend’s daughter,” says Jagir Singh, telling us how Maninder was all set to leave for the US when tragedy struck. Jagir had just left the ceremony when he was informed that his son had fallen to bullets fired by drunk revellers at the function.
Prabhjit’s brother Harcharan Singh can still recal that horrific evening. “The celebrations were in full flow when the accused took out his weapon and started firing. There has been tremendous pressure on us to reach a compromise but we are determined to get the accused punished.” Though the accused, Gurjit Singh, is behind bars and police have presented challan in the court, Prabhjit’s widow and her two children, are yet to get over the trauma of losing the sole breadwinner.
“Use of firearms during weddings is a strange kind of celebration, a gruesome status symbol of sorts that must be checked.”
Wedding functions scare Manmeet Kaur after her husband Harpal lost his life at one. Harpal, a DJ who hailed from Dhariwal, breathed his last at Four Season Resort at Rayya. His fault was that he had objected to the incessant firing in the air by the revelers and then had the gumption to ask for money from Manish Kumar, a guest, who allegedly shot him. Harry’s mother, Sawinder Kaur is in tears as she recounts how Harry, youngest of her three sons, was also most loving. “Even though 10 months have passed, every time there is a knock at the door, I think it must be him,” she weeps. Although a case was filed against the accused, he is out on bail.
It was double tragedy for the family of Naresh Kumar, aka Bhutta, 38, a videographer, who was killed in firing at a wedding on February 6, 2013. Unable to bear this shock, his father Ashok Kumar, succumbed to a heart attack 17 days later.
Faced with the loss of both breadwinners, Naresh’s mother Nirmali Rani was left with no option but to strike a compromise with the accused for a mere Rs 3.5 lakh. Today Nirmala Rani, 58, breaks into tears as she tells you how she is living on dole from a Model Town-based welfare organisation that gives her some food and sundry items every month.
“I still remember how he had gone to attend the wedding dressed in his best. They brought him back dead.”
It’s been two years but Veena Kumari, a domestic help at Dinanagar, is yet to recover from the death of her 11-year-old son Sanju, who was killed when he went to see a plush wedding at a banquet hall where his grandmother worked. “I still remember how he had gone to attend the wedding dressed in his best. They brought him back dead,” she sobs.
Surjit Kaur, 70, died after being shot by a youth who fired his .12 bore double barrel gun during a wedding procession at Kadrabaad village near Patiala on October 2. Meeta Singh, the deceased’s son, rues that no one from the marriage party took his mother to hospital, and she had suffered excessive blood loss by the time he called an ambulance from Samana.
On February 6 , a photographer was seriously injured in a celebratory firing at a wedding near Dhangrali village on the Morinda- Kurali road. Police had then arrested Fatehgarh Sahib medical officer Dr Karamjit Singh and seized a pistol and a double-barrel gun from him. The case is now in the court.
Marriage celebrations proved a nightmare for 40-year-old Versha Mehta’s family, who was killed in a celebratory firing by self-styled godwoman Deva Thakur and her bodyguards during the marriage of her nephew in Karnal on November 15.
After Versha’s death, her husband Virender Mehta left the city along with his son Vidhur, 15, and daughter Vidhi, 12, and is now staying with his younger brother at Parwanoo . Virender said: “The marriage destroyed my small family and my children are distraught.” Karnal city police station in-charge, Mohan Lal, said that the police have already arrested the main accused Thakur and her four bodyguards on charges of murder. Two accused are still absconding.
COMPROMISED BY KINSHIP
Most incidents of deaths during such celebratory firings go unreported due to the involvement of relatives or organisers. On February 15, 2015, a five-year-old child was killed during a marriage function at Durali village in SAS Nagar, when gunshots fired in the air by his uncle hit him. Despite the death of the child, no relative came to lodge a complaint. Though a case was registered by a police patrolling party, no one from the family pursued it.
- On December 5, Haryana government banned carrying of arms at weddings and other functions under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code
- Aerial firing will be punishable with six months’ imprisonment in Haryana
- In Punjab, a ban on carrying arms to a wedding or a function is in existence since 2010, but lack of policing hampers implementation
- Banquet hall owners are asked to report guests carrying weapons
Unaware of the law, Meeta Singh followed the village panchayat advice and reached a compromise for a sum of Rs 2 lakh. Jagir Singh also reached a compromise with the killers of his son. United by their grief, all affected families have one demand: A blanket ban on celebratory firing .
Amritsar (rural) SSP Harkamalpreet Singh Khakh said they have instructed banquet halls to inform the police in case of any armed guest. “Recently, we registered a case against some accused after a marriage palace owner in Gharinda filed a complaint.”
With inputs from Kamaljit Singh Kamal (Dinanagar), Harpreet Kaur (Kothe Jattan, Hoshiarpur), Neeraj Mohan (Karnal), Vishal Sally, Dhariwal (Gurdaspur), Jatinder Kohli, Tarsem Singh Deogan (Ludhiana), Surjit Singh (Amritsar), Shailee Dogra (Chandigarh) & Neeraj Mohan (Karnal)