A bandh to all bandhs
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A bandh to all bandhs

What followed in Rajasthan, a few weeks later (Gujjar agitation), was much worse, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2007 00:07 IST

It would be closer to the truth if they were described as National Blackmail, their impact is felt all over the country. They are also contagious. We saw it happen when the Akalis called a two-day bandh to protest against the going-ons in Dara Sacha Sauda, most of northern India from Jammu, Punjab, Haryana to Delhi and beyond road and rail traffic were disrupted, shops and factories were closed down; hundreds of crores of rupees went down the drain.

What followed in Rajasthan, a few weeks later, was much worse. Gujjars on wanting the same privileges as Meenas of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes gathered in thousands to confront an even larger number of Meenas armed with hatchets, lathis, lohar-made pistols. It could have turned into a Civil War between two factions of the same religious community, of the magnitude of the partition riots of 1947. Fortunately, this was averted by timely action taken by Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan. But by then contagion had spread to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Gujjars besieged Delhi by cutting off access to the city. Did they realise what the consequences of paralysing the administrative hub of the country could lead to? No. They don’t believe in thinking; nor bother about legalities or cost to the country. Did the retired Army colonel who master-minded the criminal exercise knew that the Supreme Court has held all bandhs illegal?

He asked for people’s forgiveness for causing them inconvenience. It must be an understatement of the year. Buses set on fire, train windows smashed by juvenile goondas, who evidently knew nothing about the issues involved but are ever-ready to indulge in goonda-gardi. Was this the kind of discipline the colonel maintained in the troops serving under him. If he was still in service, he would have been court-martialed and cashiered.

I think State governments of Punjab and Rajasthan should have taken punitive action as soon as the proposed bandhs were announced by arresting the Akali Jathedars in Amritsar and the retired colonel in his village and prevented them from committing mischief.

In a democracy everyone has a right to lodge a protest if one thinks injustice has been done to them or their community. But protests should not cause damage to other’s property and the country. Bandhs do both.

Languages never die

While working on translations on Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin-Viking), it occurred to me that languages do not readily die out as is said about urdu in India. They merge in other languages and enrich them. What goes into disuse and may die is the script in which they are written. The origin of Urdu proves this. Among the invaders of India were Turks, Arabs, Iranians and Afghans, each with languages of their own. They became rulers of the country and enlisted Indians speaking Hindi, Punjabi, Dakhni and various dialects.

It was in Army cantonments that a common language, Urdu took birth inheriting the best qualities of languages which gave it birth. At one time the elite disdained using it, preferring Persian instead. Soon they realised that the main purpose of a language was communication, and since the common people could not understand Persian, it was best to use Urdu or Hindustani. So we had our great masters of Urdu poetry who first wrote in Persian, then switched on to Urdu: Meer, Ghalib, Iqbal down to Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Urdu is not dying out in India; what is dying out is the Arabic or Nastalik script in which it has been written till recent times. It is emerging in Devnagari, Punjabi and other languages. Much of Hindi and Punjabi poetry of recent times is full of Urdu vocabulary and forms like nazm, ghazal, qaseedas etc. You read it loudly and no one will realise that it is not in Urdu but in another Indian script.

Every language enriches itself as it absorbs others; it thrives on parasitism. That is why English is the richest in vocabulary taken from every language it came in contact, and has become the most widely used in the world. Those that tried to preserve their purity, as so did French, lost out to English. We Indians must learn from the experience of English, our national language Hindi would have become much richer but for linguistic puritans who resist assimilating words from other languages. I called them doorbashis. For them a telephone is still doorbhash while even illiterate Indians know it as a foon. The Hindi puritans’ doorbhash has been dead since the day it was invented.

Election-time promises

When dead bodies lie strewn
all around
And highways turn into
When hillsides burn and
townships blaze
When the travellers are stranded for days and days
When the goons gun policemen down
And the police in turn slays
half the town,
When Gujjars, Meenas and Jats and all
Face each other eyeball to
And a civil war like situation prevails
When well-knit hamlets for
centuries quiet
Get permanently divided and openly riot,
When the polity is torn asunder and parties sink
And political class’s
opportunism stinks - -
We rub our eyes and recall
All their promises tall,
And wait for the next election
to be called
When most cynically for
electoral gain
They’ll make the same promises again.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil)

First Published: Jun 16, 2007 00:05 IST