& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

“Jay toon bakvaas bund naa kita aseen tenun sodh diangay”

'If you do not shut up, we will straighten you out'

Separatism in Punjab was and is a complex issue, and it is impossible to contextualize it in black and white binary. The Indian state’s record of human rights violation for a prolonged period has to be juxtaposed while understanding the rise of separatism in Punjab especially from the late 1970s.

It took hardnosed ‘counterterrorism’ measures (led by the controversial supercop KPS Gill), resulting in further human rights violations, to force peace in the troubled state. Today, the embers of separatism may not be glowing as sharply as they did in the past, but the sense of injustice continues to linger, especially among the global Sikh population.

And there is justifiable anger over the absence of justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh carnage in Delhi following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.

The demand for justice continues to figure sporadically in Canadian public life. For instance, just last month NDP’s Member of Provincial Parliament Jagmeet Singh had introduced a private members’ motion, reading, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should recognize the November 1984 state organized violence perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India as genocide.” Despite the tacit support of the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberal government ensured the NDP motion’s defeat.

On the other end of the political spectrum is Ujjal Dosanjh. He has consistently opposed resorting to extremism and terror as a solution to the many and vexatious problem that the state of Punjab faced, and its fallout on the Sikh community globally.

Dosanjh is among the most prominent contemporary Indo-Canadian leaders, who have had a long, illustrious and chequered career in serving the people. Unafraid to voice his opinions on fighting the scourge of terrorism, he has had to face consequences.

Dosanjh has ceaselessly and strongly spoken out against the Khalistani separatists operating from Canada. He has fought them British Columbia, the province where he has had a fruitful life as a public servant and an elected representative both in the provincial legislature and as a representative in the federal parliament.

Dosanjh’s memoir Journey After Midnight India, Canada and the Road Beyond was released in Toronto this afternoon at a well-attended event organized jointly by the National Council for Indo-Canadians and the Canadian Thinkers Forum.

Dosanjh was accompanied by his wife Raminder. Speaking at the event, he said his father words “One may walk fewer steps in life, but one must always walk with dignity,” has been his personal credo that has sustained him throughout his life.

I’m reproducing an extract from the memoir that describes the attack on him that nearly killed him. There have been many more attacks on him subsequently, but this one made front-page headlines in India. 

Friday, February 8, 1985, was a morning like any other. I made lunch for the children. Rami had already fed them breakfast. She left for work earlier than I did. I dropped the boys at school, and the law office was busy as usual. Meb and I had five staff, so it was a lively place. I had a five-day personal injury trial scheduled to begin the following week in the Supreme Court of British Columbia; between seeing clients, I prepared for the trial. Sometime during the day, a man called our office and asked the receptionist what time I would be leaving. Upon being told 5:00 PM, he hung up. I thought someone had probably wanted to come and see me. That was not uncommon; some immigrants had not yet figured out that they needed to make an appointment, and many clients simply dropped by my office. I accommodated them whenever I could.

I packed two briefcases full of work for the weekend. Dave Barrett, Mike Harcourt, Wally Oppal and a couple of other friends were invited for dinner the following evening. Since my press conference in August of the previous year, I had spoken privately with them and many others. But fate would deny me the chance to welcome a former and future premier along with a future Attorney General to my house. I was about to confront its more ominous plans for me.

I left my office via the stairs at the north end of the building that led to the parking lot. From our office windows west, we could see our cars, but the stairs were poorly lit. Walking down those stairs I never felt the door would open to light.

It was dark out. Parking lots are never places that warm hearts, but this one was at least outdoors, and it rarely felt lifeless, since kids played in the alley after school. Across the alley were homes people by ordinary folks. I walked the width of the lot to my second-hand orange Renault Le Car. Unfortunately, Khalistanis had turned orange from the colour of sacrifice, of detachment from greed and fear, into a symbol of terror, fear and the intent to dismember India. I put my two briefcases on the ground and was fumbling in my pockets for the car keys when I heard footsteps running toward me. I wasn’t alarmed. I assumed it was a child playing in the alley. But then I heard the footsteps stop next to me. I turned my head and saw a tall, large, bearded man standing next to me with his hands raised over his head. In them, he clutched a thick iron bar.

The man pummelled my skull several times in quick succession. Instinctively, I put up my right hand to protect myself; it too got pummelled. I heard yelling, and then Meb was running toward us, his briefcase raised like a weapon. The man paused, tilting his head, and in that moment I picked up one of my briefcases and lunged at the man. He turned and ran into the alley, turning to look back as he escaped. I ran behind him a few steps, until Meb stopped me. There was a doctor in the same building as our law office, and Meb walked me there. As I lay on the doctor’s table, a threat from the day before, left in Punjabi on our home answering machine, flashed through my mind: “Jay toon bakvaas bund naa kita aseen tenun sodh diangay” – if you do not shut up, we will straighten you out.

Rami was unpacking the groceries she had brought home for dinner when the phone rang. It was Meb telling her I was hurt. She immediately called Bhaji. When she arrived, I was sitting up on the edge of the doctor’s table. She remembers me with the bloodied head, face and clothes, telling her, “I am okay.” Doctor Tam had cleaned and iced me as much as he could before the ambulance arrived to take Rami and me in Vancouver General Hospital.

I was wheeled into emergency, where a doctor stitched up my head wounds. He told me I was lucky to be alive. It took eighty-four stitches to sew my skull up. The gashes from the iron bar had formed deep Xs and Ys on my skull. If they had been any deeper, the doctor said, they would have threatened the integrity of my brain. Many of the cuts required two layers of stitches to close. 

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