In the fast-progressing world of journalism, where readers are often educated that politics is not important and development is, rarely do you find journalists who understand the deep connections between the two. People like Balbir Parwana are even rarer among this rare breed, still adamant on adulterating mindless journalism with meaningful literature and not giving up on their belief that somewhere out there, there is a reader interested in quality stuff, interested in writings which have affected the path the nation has charted so far. I have long been fan of the Sunday edition of Jalandhar-based Punjabi daily Nawan Zamana which for me has been like an organic connection with the world of Punjabi literature. So when Parwana came out with a book on Punjab's Naksalbari phenomena, it almost seemed very natural to bring to the readers the new treasure trove that had been discovered.
As India grapples with Naksal 'problem', Balbir Parwana's book creates waves
This is one of the rare works on Naksalbari phenomena in East Punjab
S. P. Singh
Commemorative functions to recall the martyrdom of Shahid Bhagat Singh never mention a man called Bant Rajayana, the Naksalbari movement activist in
Punjab who killed a revenue official Ajaib Singh in 1969 for a crime that had gone unpunished for decades -- Ajaib had identified Bhagat Singh for the cops and was rewarded with the petty job.
This, and scores of other incidents and dramatis personae from the turbulent period of Naksalbari movement in Punjab had remain unknown either because virtually no one from the participants was prepared to spill out anything or because those interested in the subject were cast in the mould of doers and not pen pushers.
But the relentless efforts of Balbir Parwana, an established writer cast in the activist mould but with a keen nose for field work and primary sources, have now resulted in a book Punjab Di Naksalbari Leher (Punjab's Naksalbari Movement), the first full-length work on the ultra-Red movement which saw much blood seeping through Punjab soil and gave birth to the disgusting innovation of fake police encounter.
Filling an almost disturbing gap in Punjab studies, Parwana, who doubles up as a writer and a journalist, has diligence writ large on his work. Though himself not a participant in the violent movement which virtually based itself on the negation of the state, he remained an active ringside witness in later years when the movement morphed into myriad groups. The book has triggered off a search for many old comrades, and opened new vistas for research.
"Though Naksalbari movement had started elsewhere years earlier, its advent in Punjab was in mid-1968 till 1972 when it started fading out. So quick was the establishment in categorising the movement as terrorism, that the new generation recalls it only for its gun culture," Parwana said. It was this disturbing reading of the contemporary culture that made him document an era which many in the broad Left now quote proudly.
After West Bengal, Punjab witnessed the advent of Naksalbari phenomena even before it took roots in Andhra. Telangana entered the terminology only after Punjab's Malwa region witnessed half-baked but blood-soaked attempts at revolution.
With a chapter on the political matrix of late '60s, in which Naksalbari originated, the book goes on to document its advent in Punjab, many of the key events en route, memory recalls of many of the participants now out of limelight, stories of some real action on the ground, and the ugly role of the state power which only operated on the assumption that it had bigger and more guns than the Reds.
The book features total-recall inputs by people like Darshan Khatkar, Harbhajan Halwarvi, Ajmer Sidhu, Darshan Dosanjh, Amarjit Chandan, Waryam Singh Sandhu, Gursharan Singh, Sukirat, Surjit Patar -- all top notch writers in Punjabi.
One of the most valuable chapters is the one dealing with the December 8, 1968 action in village Samao(Mansa) wherein Hakam Singh forcibly took over land and distributed it among the landless -- an action followed by tragic aftermath of arrests, tortures and encounter killings.
"After the PEPSU agitation, Naksalbari was the key movement, followed by the terrorism phase of the late '70s and the '80s. And major movements must be studied dispassionately so that better lessons could be learnt by future generations," Parwana said.
The book also documents the democratic voices raised against the culture of fake encounters. In a section titled `Documents', it features a report by VM Tarkunde, Kuldip Nayar, then associated with "Indian Express" and Arun Shourie, now Union Minister, which probed many encounters and deduced that each single one of them was a cold-blooded murder.
"Fake encounters punctuated the regime of Akali Parkash Singh Badal and Congress' Giani Zail Singh and continued during the Emergency," Parwana said, conceding that his work leaves much to be desired. "What it needs is professional historians, better access to documents and more resources," he said.
By the way, Bant Rajayana, the man who killed Bhagat Singh case culprit, was himself killed in a fake encounter, the book reveals. That's the fate of some Red life choices which never win Red and White bravery awards and need a Balbir Parwana to find even a mention.
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