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Updated: April 3, 2010 18:34 IST

Against the night...

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... is the first Punjabi dalit autobiography to appear in English translation. Excerpts...

During this phase of terrorism in which brother was killing brother, another incident disturbed me a great deal. One of our relatives informed us, “The Sardarni I work for as a sweeper had one day happily told me, ‘Sister, Khalistan is about to be created. That would be great. The Hindus will all leave, and you people will live with us in Khalistan!'”

We all listened intently to her, our questioning eyes were fixed on her face as she went on, I said, ‘Sardarni it would be great for you, but will we also get some land? Then again, why are you insisting that we should stay here with you in Khalistan? For us, Hindus and Sikhs are the same. Do you really love us so much Sardarni …?'

“Then?” We had to hear what came next.

‘Then what!' She said, ‘We like you that is why I am telling you! Who will clean and sweep for us in Khalistan?'

I thought of Jinnah and what he said at a meeting about this problem of the untouchables at the time of Partition. He had said that the untouchable population should be divided into two. It was much later that I understood the meaning of what he had said...

...‘I was working on the chopper, cutting some fodder, when both my hands got entangled and I lost them. I had collected a few men and approached the Sardar who agreed to pay four thousand as compensation for the loss of my hands, and six months' wages, but later he went back on his word. He also drove me out of the village of Talwandi Husseinwal, in Kapurthala district. My sister must be waiting for me … this happened fifteen days before Rakhsha Bandhan …'

‘We can go and meet him again …'

‘It will be useless.'

When he told me that he had not been taken to the hospital immediately after the accident, I told him, ‘Come with me, I'll make arrangements for sending you back to Bihar.'

Next day, I took Rajendra to meet my good friend Purshottam Sharma. I had also brought a bagful of clothes from home for Rajendra. We spent the night at Purshottam's house. We asked Rajendra about Bihar. After dinner, he washed his amputated hand and coming into the room, looked at the pictures on the wall carefully. Then he asked, ‘Are you a Chamar?'

Sharma had put up pictures of Hindu devi–devtas, the Sikh gurus, and various saints on the wall.

‘What's the matter?'

‘Isn't that Raidas's picture? Sharmas are not Chamars!' Rajendra asked. After a moment he went, ‘Now that I have eaten …'

‘Why don't you throw it up if you feel that way,' I remarked.

‘My right thumb is still intact, thank god. I can eat and rinse my mouth and perform all other tasks,' he said, a little shamefacedly, and trying to change the direction of the conversation.

Against the Night, Balbir Madhopuri, translated from the Punjabi by Tripti Jain, OUP, 2010, p.216, Rs. 395.

Keywords: KhalistanHindusterror

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