Bhindranwale's Son v2

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Twenty-five years after India's prime minister Indira Gandhi launched a huge attack on the Sikhs' holiest shrine, it is time to look back at one of the most turbulent periods in the country's post-independence history.
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  The Sant’s son A young Sikh remembers Bhindranwale By Chaitanya Kalbag The traffic noise from the flyover outside the window wasdeafening and I could barely hear what Baljit Singh Brar wassaying. Brar edits Jalandhar’s  Aaj Di Awaz  newspaper, aptlynamed, amid the din. “Where is Bhindranwale’s son?” I had toshout. He pointed at the man sitting quietly at the corner of hisdesk.So this was the elder of the two sons of India’s most dreaded“separatist leader” from a quarter-century ago. Light browneyes, five-foot-ten, tight black turban, flowing salt and pepperbeard, ready smile, his two cellphones blinking. Ishar Singhlooked like your friendly neighbourhood realtor, somebody youcould trust enough to buy your house from. That is exactly what Ishar Singh does for a living. He buys andsells property just 80 kilometres from the Sikhs’ most violentand traumatic battle in centuries, if you do not include thesavagery of India’s partition in 1947.Ishar Singh is 37, the same age his father was the night he waskilled in the devastated Akal Takht after the Army sent tanksinto the  parikrama of the Golden Temple. “My father died fourdays after his birthday,” Ishar said.He remembers that an uncle, a subedar in the Army, identifiedthe body. It took the Shiromani Gurdwara PrabhandakCommittee and the Akal Takht nearly two decades toacknowledge that Bhindranwale was dead. On June 6, 2003,Ishar Singh was honoured with a siropa at the Golden Temple,watched by an assortment of old Khalistani diehards like JagjitSingh Chohan and Wassan Singh Zaffarwal. Matters had beendelayed because Bhindranwale’s successor at the Taksal, Baba Thakkar Singh, had persisted in proclaiming that the Sant wasnot dead, would reappear one day, and lead the Sikhs to glory.Every year now, Ishar Singh dutifully turns up at the Golden Temple for a memorial for his father on June 6, the anniversaryof the climactic Blue Star battle. The Akal Takht organises an  Akhand Path of the Guru Granth Sahib.   There is a certain morbid fascination with the families of history’s most infamous characters. What were the wives andchildren like? What did they come to? Were those men goodhusbands and fathers? So we know about Hitler and Eva Braun(no offspring); Saddam Hussein (wife and two daughters in exilein Jordan, both sons dead, both sons-in-law killed on Saddam’sorders); Velupillai Prabhakaran (killed with older son in final LTTEbattle, wife, daughter and younger son dead in separate battle).What about Bhindranwale?Ishar was just five years old when Jarnail Singh Brar wasanointed the 12 th Jathedar of the Damdami Taksal. He left homeand adopted the “Bhindranwale” after the village of BhindranKalan where the sect was srcinally located. “After that we onlysaw our father at his satsangs ,” Ishar said. “But we were welllooked after.” Did he miss his father? “From the family point of view I was sad, but from a Sikh point of view I was very happy.” The Jalandhar editor waved a laminated family photograph at me– a very young Ishar Singh with his eyes shut, an oddly self-conscious Sant Bhindranwale, his younger son Inderjit, his wifePritam Kaur.When he was ten, Ishar Singh was sent to study Gurbani underMahant Jagir Singh at Akhara village near Jagraon. Immediatelyafter Operation Blue Star, Pritam Kaur moved with her youngsons to her brother’s home in Bilaspur village in Moga district.Ishar does not have his father’s piercing gaze. He has a goodsense of humour, but not the earthy wit that Jarnail Singhflashed as he held court on the rooftop of the Guru Nanak Niwasin Amritsar. Ordinary folk tiptoed into a meeting with him. There was always a hint of menace, helped by the young menlounging nearby with their rifles.“I was detained for two days by the police in 1988 and tortured,”Ishar says, “but they had to let me go.” He was a good student,and stood first in his tenth-class examination in Sangrur district,winning a scholarship for the final two years of his matriculation.But just then, in 1991, he married Amandeep Kaur, whose father Joginder Singh perished with Bhindranwale in the fighting at theGolden Temple. Ishar never went to university. “My wifecompleted her BA,” he says proudly. He himself became a dairyfarmer, and grew two crops, kank  (wheat) and  jhona (rice) onthe family land.  “Many people offered to help us,” Ishar said. “We were never inneed. My father did everything for the people, and they lovedhim.”What had his father left him, besides his notoriety? “What morecan he give me?” Ishar said. “I am very, very proud of him. Ican never be bigger than him. I cannot add to his name, onlyreduce it. “Ishar Singh does not believe his father ever preached violence.Could he begin to imagine the tension in Punjab in the early1980s, Bhindranwale’s defiant, gun-toting drive through Delhi,the skirmishes on the periphery of the Golden Temple, the drive-by shootings of innocent civilians in Delhi, the assassinations of prominent opponents, and the terror in the air?“My father never threatened, he only replied (to threats),” IsharSingh said in the Jalandhar office. “He was accused of orderingthe deaths of 70 Hindus for every dead Sikh. He was misquoted.Bal Thackeray had said India has 70 crore Hindus and two croreSikhs and there are 35 Hindus to every Sikh. The Tenth Guru(Gobind Singh) had said each Khalsa can fight 125,000 enemies.My father only said each Khalsa can take on 70 enemies, andthis was distorted.”Whatever the ratio, I remember a tense journey in a statetransport bus from Amritsar to Delhi in early 1984. The Sikhpassengers were clustered near the driver, and the Hindupassengers were huddled in the rear. Nobody spoke. Only whenthe bus reached Ambala, and Punjab was behind us, dideverybody relax. Today Punjab’s highways are four-lane andtraffic moves at high speed, save for the occasional tractor orthe farmer with his wife riding pillion. Sometimes Blue Starseems twenty-five light years away.So were Ishar Singh, his brother and his mother content withanonymity after the carnage of 1984 in Punjab and Delhi? Bothhe and Inderjit applied for passports, he said, and were turneddown. “But you know how it is in India. Somebody pulledstrings and we got our passports.” Inderjit emigrated to Canadain 1999; Ishar is reticent about where his brother works. Aplastic factory, is all he will say. He himself has travelled toBritain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  On the outskirts of Toronto a gurudwara sports a large portrait of Bhindranwale on its gate. The dreams of Khalistan linger amongthe diaspora. Bhindranwale is alive and well on YouTube, whereyou can watch him make his straight-from-the-holster speeches.He has a Facebook fan group, and is a “trending topic” on Twitter.“In England small children used to say to me, can I touch you?”Ishar said with a smile. “My father did not become so popular inone day. There are seven or eight thousand Sants in Punjab.Why are you asking me only about him?” Brar, the newspapereditor, jumped in to say younger Sikhs were admirers of Bhindranwale. “You should see the number of cars with Santji’spictures on the dashboard,” he said. “There are Bhindranwaleringtones. Many gurdwaras perform ardas for him regularly.”Ishar said his father never believed in politics, only in dharma .“Politics is based on deception, religion on morals,” he said. Sohow did he reconcile this with his own work as a property dealer,where so much black money is sloshing around? His reply waselliptical. “The government wants 45 lakh rupees to convert oneacre to residential use,” he said. “How can this be honest?”Where was 21 st century Punjab headed? “Most of the IAS andPunjab Civil Service officers today are from outside Punjab,”Ishar said. “Nobody wants to study.” He agreed that drugswere becoming a huge problem. “There are one or two gangwars in Jalandhar every day,” he said.We were meeting on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti. Did he thinkGandhi…. Ishar did not let me complete my question. “Don’ttalk about Gandhi,” he said. “He betrayed the Sikhs in 1947.”And Brar the editor said “Whenever we talk about a weakling wecall him ‘Gandhi’.” Ishar Singh laughed heartily, his eyesshining.What about his own children? Ishar Singh spoke proudly abouthis daughter Jeevanjyot, who is 16. She studied “non-medical”subjects like physics, chemistry and mathematics, he said. Whatdid she want to be? An interior designer, he said. That would bea lucrative choice, I said. He laughed again, in agreement. Hisson Gurkanwar is 13 and he does not know where his life willlead.
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