Pritam Singh Tinna
A few days back, a Sikh friend came to me and asked, “can we not burn down all the liquor shops?” The question might have reflected some kind of illiberal ideas in front of liberal ideals. It might seem to reek of some kind of orthodoxy in the Sikh belief systems for the liberal academicians. But, seeing that the question was coming from a Sikh who was concerned about the condition of his own people and the toll that liquor and drugs have taken on the social values and familial relations of many of his loved ones, it was nonetheless a pertinent and a desirable question. A question that many of us in Punjab have been asking including Punjab Singh; a character from a short film made on the infamous problem of drugs in Punjab.
Punjab Singh in this short film, unlike the leading character of Udta Punjab, goes on pasting flyers on the walls of his village and reads them out to his audience of devoted Sikhs, saying “Khalsa Ji, to make Punjab drug free we must take these steps. No politician should be allowed to use the local Gurudwara Sahib. If anybody is found selling or consuming any sort of intoxicant, boycott them. Nobody should be allowed to sell tobacco, cigarettes, etc. There should be no liquor shop in the village”.
When Satish Jacob and Mark Tully were entering the Golden Temple in the 1980s one of them was ‘coerced’ to leave his royal cigar behind. The incident was narrated in their book as a ‘fact’ to prove Sikh orthodoxy and fundamentalism. I do not today know if there are some other Mark Tullys and Satish Jacobs, secretly noting the acts of Punjab Singh that would be later corroborated in books as ‘facts’ to tell the stories of “fundamentalism” of an already dying community.
Describing the first few scenes of the film Udta Punjab, a reviewer writes: “A packet of heroin gets thrown like a discus from across the border and we are plunged into a pulsating, frenetic world of rock ‘n’ roll and drugs, of snorting chitta (white) powder, injecting a cocktail of liquids into the veins”. The writer is certainly right in describing what went in the first few seconds of the film but Punjab Singh, on the other hand, does not believe that drugs come into the air from nowhere and suddenly they start consuming the lives of his kith and kin. For Punjab Singh the cause is well defined; for him the villain is not an anonymous discus thrower sending in packets of drugs, it is rather Delhi Ram, another character of the short film. The point, it must be noted, is that the purpose of this article is not to write reviews of certain films and books; that, to my knowledge, would have been a futile pursuit, and would be more like expecting from a society that is too monstrous to reflect upon its own image. The point, however, is to underline the politics of genocide.
In Punjab there is a word for what the “others” call ‘drug menace’; it is ‘genocide’. A word that is, may be, too harsh for literary critics; but nonetheless it is a word that best describes the current situation of Punjab. For Punjab Singh, and many others in Punjab, the wound is not a self inflicted wound, that when inflicted created huge masses of men suffering from AIDS, or the one that has caused deaths at the rate of more than 13 per week (maybe I am understating facts). Perhaps, the word ‘wound’ is too ‘small’ (not in literal sense) to tell us about the horrendous tales of the people of Punjab; the only word that best covers the picture is ‘genocide’. And perhaps Delhi Ram would know that genocides are never self inflicted; they are the creation of the others.
A report published by International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) states “Drug use and dependence is high in the northern Indian state of Punjab. No official survey has been conducted but the media reports that nearly 75% of the youth in the state are affected by drug use. The issue took on political dimensions during national elections in early 2014 and the state government began a clampdown on people who use drugs, with mass arrests, seizures and interdictions under the NDPS Act. Over 14,564 persons were arrested under the NDPS Act in a span of 8 months and more than one third of prisoners in the state are reportedly facing drug-related charges.” The report also states: “Prevalence [of HIV] in some states is reported to be much higher, in Punjab, 21.1% of people who inject drugs are believed to be infected with HIV, while in Manipur prevalence reaches about 12.9%”.
So recently when a Sikh religious preacher—who would otherwise be called a ‘fundamentalist’ by many—said to an audience of 300,000 people “what they are doing is killing you without guns”, the audience did not laugh nor did any one from them shouted ‘conspiracy theory’; because they all knew that it is the truth. A truth that to be buried would require a ‘discus thrower’ from across the border; a truth that is being inflicted but would not wished to be faced by the ones who are inflicting it. We know that it is not the ‘discus thrower’ that subtly takes away our family relations and our values that we have for long time cherished; it is somebody else and it is Delhi Ram. The first of wave of genocide through drugs comes the second wave of it which would capture as many prisoners as it had killed in the name of ‘war against drugs’.
In short, what we have at hand is denial, and denial one can rightly say is the politics of genocide. Punjab Singh though gets jailed in the end by Delhi Ram in the short film that I had watched a few weeks back, but he very well asserts against this politics; he does not know if he would win or Delhi Ram would win, but he at least recognises that it is a war not merely between Delhi and Punjab but between Delhi Ram and Punjab Singh, it is a war between two sets of social values. To recognise this fight is an act of assertion in itself. And I am in the end, forced to tell my friend that, “yes, we should burn down the liquor shops and everything that comes with them”.
Pritam Singh Tinna is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in sociology from Ambedkar University, Delhi. His dissertation focusses on secularism and sociology of religion in the context of the Sikhs.