The Pathankot Paradox-II: Communalism and the Scapegoating of Gujjar Muslims

The curtain should by rights have come down by now on the Pathankot AFS off-key opera. One would think that it had been milked to pretty much the last drop by the bipartisan India-Pakistan governance combine. That’s how things are engineered and have gone down since the first cross-border attack on India that India viewed as a declaration of war on its sovereignty (17 July 1995; Harkat-ul-Ansar aka Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin; scooter-bomb in a Jammu market; 17 dead, 100 injured).

But the Pathankot AFS attack has morphed into something greatly more significant, and greatly more disturbing, and of far greater national perilousness than a terrorist-security bhāngṛā de mésaventure.

An überestablishment screw-up has been turned into a communal strategy.

Punjab’s Gujjar Muslims: of scapegoating and ethnoprofiling

The most consternating fallout of the antiterrorist Operation Dhangu Suraksha – Yep, it was baptised thusly. Don’t ask. I had nothing to do with it – is not that it was a slapstick slugfest between two traditionally-irreconcilable institutions – the home ministry and the military – in the counterterrorism ring.

It is that Punjab has woken up to suddenly find itself approaching a Sikh vs Muslim communal meltdown – with the Parkash Singh Badal administration holding the match and pumping the bellows. Inside the ring of fire is Punjab’s time-honoured Muslim Gujjar community.

It became official on Wednesday, 6 January. Punjab’s reinvigorated apparatus of governance and security has linked the Muslim Gujjar community to cross-border Islamofundamentalist terrorism. No preamble. No cause. No incitement. No proof.

On the lugubrious, wintry early evening of Thursday, 7 January, the Punjab Police in Pathankot city and district quietly kicked off an ad hoc census of Muslim Gujjars living along the Barpani Nullah, the canal that snuggles along the western wall of the Pathankot AFS. The canal is the AFS stretch of a 19-km-long canal, the Ravi-Beas Link, which debouches from Gurdaspur district’s eponymous Upper Bari Doab Canal System into the Chakkī khāḍ on the other side of the airfield on the AFS’s eastern flank. Unlike most of the waterways in Gurdaspur district, the R-B Link is not seasonal and never runs dry – and therefore affords impoverished communities that have been drawn to its uncomplaining flanks a ready, gratis, flowing supply of nonpotable but essential water.

The police are not calling it a ‘census’: That’s me. They are calling it a rather more sinister “headcount” – a word that comes weighted with association straight out of the witchhunt manual. National Investigation Agency investigators deny any knowledge of the city’s Muslim Gujjars having had a “direct supportive” role in the attack – or, indeed, any role at all. But the police say they “are ruling nothing out” – which seems precious considering that part of the reason why the shit is still being cleaned off the fan is because the security agencies were initially ruling everything out.

Why nailing service providers is a bad idea

The family quarters in the AFS campus has lots of people currently throwing a fit. As if having to duck heavily-armed terrorists and clueless security honchos for days wasn’t disruptive enough, now the Gujjar essential services have been herded off, too.

One hassles the milkman at substantial risk of pissing off homemakers and orderlies and the nation’s rarest stalwarts, the lactose tolerant.

Following the establishment huddle the previous evening, on the morning of 7 January, even as sleep-deprived investigators found themselves stymied by too many clues but none that would interconnect, it blew up into an acute national security problem that the Muslim Gujjars along the Barpani Nullah had forever had a free foray-and -forage pass into the AFS, entering the compound from the western side – often after a sneaky transfer of ₹20 to jawāns manning the gate – to let their cattle graze and offload some animal fertiliser.

As airfields tend to be, the Pathankot AFS is mostly untenanted land free from constructions. Allowing in small herds of cattle to crop the quick-surging grass (Kikuyu grass – Pennisetum clandestinum) to the height of 4 cm, which the Airports Authority of India mandates as necessary to prevent bird-hits (especially in military airports with weaponised high-speed take-offs and landings), makes good sense and saves scads of mowing money. And keeps the cows – and their Gujjar owners – happy: milch cattle just love Kikuyu grass, and the military families resident in the AFS campus get fresh milk straight out of the udder, so to speak. It’s an arrangement of long, honoured, and mutually-beneficial standing.

This relationship has so far worked out without incident. Since the day the Pathankot AFS was operationalised in November 2006, there has not been a single documented incident of noteworthy malfeasance by the Muslim Gujjars who comprise the station’s civil ordnance component.

Counting the uncountable

The headcount has now been extended way beyond the service threshold of the Pathankot AFS. It has turned into a rapid and pugnacious stocktaking of all the Gujjar Muslim dērās in Gurdaspur.

Late on Wednesday, 6 January, one contingent of the Punjab Police conducted an enumeration operation at Dhaki, a 2.25-sq km, hard-packed urban village of 4,203 documented inhabitants located 1.48-km northwest of the Pathankot AFS. On Thursday, 7 January, Punjab Police landed up at Manwal, a 5.84-sq km urborural enclave of 8,885 inhabitants – and a handful of Gujjar Muslims living, not very well, in unfired mud huts with thatch roofs. The Punjab Police had their assault rifles drawn, like battle was about to be joined.

Other villages, many with peripheral Muslim Gujjar households, have already been marked: 1.88-km from the Pathankot AFS, village Nauṅshera Nalbandan (422.5 acres and with a population of 884 in 167 agrarian households, and an outlier Gujjar Muslim community), and nil-privacy Deriwala, 1.86-km from the AFS, with 3,425 inhabitants in 685 households spread over 986 acres.

How a headcount will be accomplished, and repeated (to establish rate of mobility – or stasis, as the case may be), considering that the Muslim Gujjars remain seminomadic herders and brummagem-sellers in spirit, is a mystery. While many in Punjab have now ‘settled’ – meaning they have homes that cannot be uprooted or disassembled and hustled away during fodder-hunts – their livelihoods depend upon constant replenishment of merchandise from the Muslim Gujjars who have grown firmer, more communitarian roots in Kathua in Jammu, Gurdaspur’s northern neighbour.

This is not the first time that the Punjab Police have gone on an invasive and ill-advised ‘headcount’. But the first time they attempted this – during the blame-shifting frenzy following the previous terrorist attack in Dinanagar on 27 July 2015 – it turned into a logistical and methodological washout.

The five terrorists at the Pathankot AFS had ingressed from more or less the same spot on the Gurdaspur-Narowal border and had escaped detection for between 24 and 70 hours. The earlier batch of three had also covered an extraordinary distance on foot, without anyone the wiser, despite that the border belt is not quite unsecured or disregarded by the paramilitary.

Then, too, the Punjab Police – as attention-seeking as now – had, unilaterally and hurriedly, taken the media into confidence about its ethnoprofiling and auditing intentions, before it informed the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s office at the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh.

Which was flat-out foolish overreaching.

In the aftermath of the 27 July 2015 hit, much of Punjab swivelled to focus attention on Muslim Gujjars living precariously in unprotected mud huts (today rather conveniently renamed ‘dērās‘, a word that, to most Sikhs, connotes garrisons of cultish subdenominations) in the border belt, wondering how they had “escaped” being ponked by the terrorists. (Suddenly, outliving a terrorist strike became a disqualification.) And then someone in the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal questioned the Punjab Police’s gall in crashing the power picnic. The Muslim Gujjars were, briefly those days, the unofficial wards of the state.

In umbris potestas est. In the shadows, there is power.

On 3 August 2015, a day before the Punjab government reeled in the Punjab Police, Senior Superintendent of Police (Pathankot) Rakesh Kaushal had been quoted as saying truculently:

“On our part, we have launched a drive to check their antecedents. Their photographs are also being clicked to maintain their [Gujjar Muslim] record.”

Two days later, Kaushal was summarily transferred. On 5 August 2015, along with 31 other police officers, including 8 SSPs, he was given a quick shunt from which he has not found a way back to active policing. Handed the DGP’s Commendation Disc for consolation, he was told to take over, with immediate effect, the Punjab Security Training Institute at the Police Recruits Training Centre (PRTC), Jahan Khelan, Hoshiarpur. RK Bakshi, Commandant, PRTC, was simultaneously brought in as SSP (Pathankot). Such en masse punishment postings were unprecedented.

Not to knock the PRTC – the campus is as pretty as a picture – but its USP is providing well-trained security guards to the public sector and to corporates. It was a demotion to the echelon of police inaction.

The government’s explanation for this so-called “administrative shake-up” was that the terrorists had infiltrated through the Narot Jaimal Singh subtehsil area, which was under the jurisdiction of the Punjab Police.

It so happens that Narot Jaimal Singh is still under the jurisdiction of the Punjab Police. Six months after that rather lesser atrocity, the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot AFS still entered through the Narot Jaimal Singh subtehsil area.

Is SSP RK Bakshi staring at a punitive relocation, too? While the advisory has long been out in Punjab’s giant power combine to never be complacent about the temperaments of either half of the diptych at the government’s apex – the chief minister and his deputy, his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the president of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal – it seems unlikely that Bakshi will face attrition, even as the transfer dominos have begun to fall in Pathankot and Gurdaspur.

Speaking for Bakshi is one significant difference between then and now: The Muslim Gujjar census has not been stoppered this time round. If anything, it is expanding its reach to shimmy up as far north as the Gurdaspur-Kathua border.

The question on everyone’s mind is: Why, what’s changed? (Not this politely, of course: the Badal clan no longer invites poise and civility.)

  • Narendra Modi has changed, in that he answered his rollcall. He didn’t, the previous year. From 13 July-4 August 2015, Modi was in constant peregrination, either abroad or jetlagged and preparing to go abroad again: 13-16 July in Brasilia for the BRICS summit; 3-4 August in Kathmandu on an exhaustingly showy visit.
  • Ajit Doval has changed, in that while in June-August 2015, he had been frenetically expanding and marking his territory – which is, basically, whatever bailiwick wherever held an invitation to interventionist Machiavellianism –the past week has shown him to have settled in, sly and confident of his indispensability.

For all that the BJP leaders were heedlessly skidding about and running into one another and floundering in the bog of molasses called Parliament, they have not supported, with word or gesture, the unethical ethnoprofiling and harrying of Punjab’s Muslim Gujjars. They don’t have to. The results of the headcount are not for public consumption.

Sikkḥī vs Sikkḥiyatā

The anti-Muslim Gujjar bellyaching is being ramped up by the hour on various online forums. In many, an uncertain judiciousness is still saving the day. When – it is no longer ‘if’: that milestone was long passed – matters get too shrieky, admins are pulling the plug. The problem is that when one chat is being crimped by concerned admins, several more are taking its place. These discussions are face-offs between secular Sikhs insisting on the considerate nonalignment at the core of traditional “Sikkḥī” and nonsecular Sikh firebrands advocating a perception of all Muslims as driven and united by a malevolent and invasive “dhārmic bhāichārā“.

(In case you’re wondering, the altercation is actually being carried out using terminologie de l’foi, which I have placed in quotation marks.)

In the more volatile forums, address and manners have descended to differentiating between “Bhaiya Muslims” (Muslims from Central India who politely “leave after their seasonal work”) and “strict Sharia observant Muslims” from “J&K”.

Offline, the debate is on how to ‘reclaim’ “Sikkḥiyatā de ādhār” from being overrun by “parvāsī” (‘migrants’) and “ābādakārī” (‘settlers’). (Once a bit of backgrounded beefing, it was inflamed by reports that a Gujjar Muslim had been arrested after helping the terrorists of the 27 July 2015 attack in Dinanagar affix an IED on the Kathua-Pathankot railway line.)

As of Saturday, 9 January, discussions had  reportedly turned livid in radical Sikh organisations such as the Majha-based Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee (which destroyed a mazār of Peer Baba Abdul Shah at village Palasaur in Tarn Taran district on Thursday, 7 January), the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panch Pardani), the Dal Khalsa, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat (the RSS’s Sikh wing), the Arkand Kirtan Jatha, and the synod of Patna Sahib (which is RSS-compliant).

Parkash Singh Badal’s government has said not a word, nor the Punjab Police tried to tamp down the friction. They seem engrossed in minimising, for their own rude health, the National Investigation Agency’s preliminary findings of a drug-trafficker/terrorist nexus embedded in Punjab’s governmental superstructure. Everyone in Punjab without shit for brains knows the identities of the politicians, police officers, and bureaucrats who provide logistical and informational support to the trans-subcontinental drug supercartel, which is larger and more embedded than the Latin American La Maña.

Nothing is of greater urgency to the Badal family patriarch and his oily son than winning the 2017 election in the face of churning doubts about his governance and his government’s probity.

• • • • •

‘Why trust Muslims with assault rifles?’ – Donald Trump

No Muslims fielded at Pathankot AFS

The National Security Guard (NSG), set up in 1984 as a Federal Contingency Deployment Force to tackle all facets of terrorism in the country, has never permitted a Muslim – or a Sikh – to join its ranks. This ostracism is not written policy – it is just customary law. The 7,800-odd NSG personnel at the barracks-and-training grounds at Manesar, Gurgaon, and at regional hubs at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad comprise a Hindu stronghold.

Therefore, obviously, the contingent of 160 Black Cats that was dispatched in a C-130 Hercules from Hindon airfield to the Pathankot AFS deep in the night of 1 January was all Hindu.

Among the ‘Veiled Vipers’, the Indian Air Force’s 77 Squadron flying C-130 Hercules aircraft, which were used during the Pathankot AFS operation for aerial thermal imaging and multisensor surveillance: No Muslim.

Five Defence Security Personnel died during the terrorist attack on their mess. Two of them were the first casualties at the AFS; three died in hospital. There was no Muslim in the DSC contingent posted at the Pathankot AFS.

The Garud Commando are the IAF’s answer to Special Forces. Tough as nails, they are however scorned because the Garud are the youngest of the military’s toughies and the government has cleared only 1,028 of them as députés from the mainstream military. Of the 12 who were sent into the Pathankot AFS campus – they were the only forces that engaged in a running head-to-head firefight with far better-entrenched terrorists – one was killed and another is in hospital on a ventilator with six bullets in his sternum. Again, not a single Muslim, in either the three ‘buddy teams’ or six lone stealths.

In effect, the entire five-day antiterrorist interdiction had not a single Muslim of any rank playing any role.

Then, again, it isn’t the Indian military – which shares a heritage and on/off nostalgia with the Pakistani military – that has pulled the plug on recruiting Muslims. Of all the world’s democracies with a substantial percentage of Muslims among their citizenry – and alone of all countries, bar none, where Muslims are inextricable from the Staatskultur – India has a policy against hiring Muslims for the national security apparatus.

It is a legendarily anticonstitutional bias. A showdown at an air force station in, of all places, Punjab, and the only Sikh who participated was in the DSC, which comprises de-retired and warmed-over forces personnel rehired for – I write this without derision: just a job description – chaukidārī. Even among these calm, diligent, avuncular types – not a single Muslim.

One might have expected any sufficiently mature dispensation – government and military – to have cottoned on to such irony.

Salwinder Singh’s FIR backdated: cooking up a cover-up

Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh and Rajesh Verma – the former such a tireless fabulist and deflector that it is clear he knows the archetypal cop mind better than it knows itself – repeated this refrain to investigators and the media, every single time: that the terrorists spoke “Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu”. The Net is awash with proof of this is in hundreds of readily-accessible news reports, and newschannel clips on YouTube.


But nothing about the Pathankot Paradox is as it should be. On the afternoon of Sunday, 3 January, a First Information Report had been lodged based on Salwinder Singh’s oral statement to the Punjab Police (‘Case FIR No. 01 of 2016 dated 01.01.2016 registered at Police Station Narot Jaimal Singh, Pathankot under Sections 364, 365, 367,368, 397, 398, 419 and 171 IPC and Section 25 of Arms Act’). In this FIR, dated (Friday) 1 January 2015, there is the sort of aftermarket lingual duplicity that can recalibrate and revise everything – investigation, culpability, criminal trespass, armed conspiracy, war against the state.

This FIR states that Salwinder Singh had heard the terrorists speaking in “Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Kashmiri”. (Italics mine)

The FIR has been backdated. It is dated 1 January 2015. Salwinder Singh had it lodged two days later, in the afternoon of 3 January 2015.

The NIA, which took over the investigation from a jealously-possessive Punjab Police on 4 January (vide Central government ‘Order No.11011/2/2016-IS.IV’), has not yet got round to asking Salwinder Singh if what he heard was Koshur (spoken in Kashmir) or Pahari, Hindko, or Gojri (spoken in Pakistan Occupied-Kashmir, where Koshur is barely recognised, leave alone common currency).

In India, it isn’t unknown – what is? – for plaintiffs to inveigle upon a duty officer at a police station to backdate, or ante-date, the FIR. While the validation of an FIR is a magistrate’s prerogative – s/he must receive it in time to send it on, even if the run-up to delivery is all deception and distortion – it often happens that after one counsel has accused the client of the opposing counsel of sly backdating, judges tend to weigh the chicanery against the solidity (or otherwise) of the rest of the evidence. If the contention or counterargument of the falsifier is found to be as iffy as her or his ethics, judges will usually toss the case out on its ear.

In this case, it is likelier than not that Salwinder Singh’s FIR will get the bum’s rush: because what at first might seem like an accidental infraction of the law (but by sworn officers of the law) soon takes on the shape and form of a planned transgression.

I have never, in all my years as a journalist, known or heard of a single case of unintentional backdating of an FIR.

What I do know is that once the security establishment admits the gravity of an FIR dated as having been ‘lodged’ strikingly earlier than when it was actually lodged, the case against the five ‘dead’ terrorists could be toast.

Here’s why.

Apex Court precedent: time subtracted is time added

In Rang Bahadur Singh And Ors vs State Of U.P dated 7 March 2000 (‘Appeal (crl.) 397 of 1998’) the Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices KT Thomas and RC Lahoti had concluded:

(1) Exhibit KA-22 (which is the written complaint signed by Bhulani Devi and which is the first information statement) would have been created much after the occurrence and it would have been prepared under the active care and supervision of the local police.

(2) FIR was ante-dated and hence is devoid of any legal utility.

First is that the written complaint made by PW-4 Bhulani Devi which became the basis for the FIR, reached the magistrate only on 3.8.1978. If the incident happened on the night of 1st August and the police was told on the next morning that appellants wer e the dacoits, we have no reason to think that the FIR would not have been registered against the appellants on the same morning. PW-11 investigating officer admitted that no case was registered against the appellants till the night of 2nd August, 1978. If so, the arguments that the case against the appellants was registered only on the 3rd of August 1978, cannot be ruled out. What was the reason for such a peculiar dodging in making an FIR?

At any rate, the reasons advanced by the trial court are by no means weak or untenable for not relying on the evidence regarding identity of the dacoits. In an appeal against acquittal interference cannot be made if the reasons of the trial court are good and sturdy.

We therefore, allow this appeal and set aside the judgment of the High Court. We restore the order of acquittal passed by the trial court and direct the jail authorities to set the appellants free, unless they are involved in any other case.

How to amputate your own rūḥ

The Muslim Gujjars who have woven themselves into Punjab’s subaltern sociohistorical fabric – with their distinctive role in the 1857 irruption – are mostly the Dodhi pastoral nomads. (If Punjab didn’t get the Gujjar Jamindārs, or, as the nomads refer to them with the unironic patronising by the rustic of the effete, rifāhī… Well, tough luck: the landed have sound reason not to bunk from their lands.)

The Mutiny of 1857 was ushered in at Bulandshahr by the revolt of the 9th Native Infantry, which took place on May 21, shortly after the outbreak at Aligarh. The officers were compelled to fly to Meerut, and Bulandshahr was plundered by a band of rebellious Gujars. Its recovery was a matter of great importance, as it lies on the main road from Agra and Aligarh to Meerut. Accordingly, a small body of volunteers was dispatched from Meerut for the purpose of retaking the town, which they were enabled to do by the aid of the Dehra Gurkhas. Shortly afterwards, however, the Gurkhas marched off to join General […] column, and the Gujars once more rose. Walidad Khan of Malagarh put himself at the head of the movement, which proved strong enough to drive the small European garrison out of the District. From the beginning of July till the end of September Walidad held Bulandshahr without opposition, and commanded the line of communication with Agra. Meantime internal feuds went on as briskly as in other revolted Districts, the old proprietors often ousting by force the possessors of their former estates. But on September 25 Colonel (…. flying column set out from Ghaziabad for Bulandshahr, whence Walidad was expelled after a sharp engagement and forced to fly across the Ganges. On October 4 the District was regularly occupied by Colonel Farquhar, and order was rapidly restored. The police were at once reorganized, while measures of repression were adopted against the refractory Gujars, many of whom still continued under arms. It was necessary to march against rebels in […] early in 1858; but the tranquillity of Bulandshahr itself was not again disturbed. Throughout the progress of the Mutiny, the Jats almost all took the side of Government, while the Gujars and Musalman Rajputs proved our most irreconcilable enemies.

‘Imperial Gazetteer of India (Volume 9)’, by India Office, Great Britain; Clarendon Press, Oxford; New Revised Edition 1931

Then, again, hauling out the corpse of the past and buffing and polishing and greasepainting it and blowing enough smoke up its backside to pump its wrinkles smooth is a limited-affect strategy. The past is axiomatically not up to the task of keeping up with the present.

There is a kernel of truth in the accusation of a communitarian imperative that supersedes nationalism – but just a tiny kernel. Since Gujjars comprise a fifth of Pakistan’s population (just as they are a fifth of Kashmir’s), there have been attempts, noted in police complaint registers in the border belt, of feelers from the far more affluent and influential Pakistani Gujjars in Gujranwala, Gujjar Nallah, Gujar Khan, Gojra and Gujrat; and, particularly, from places in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir such as Dadyal, Mirpur, Bhalot (in Mirpur), villages Mandi, Saliyeh, and Kund (in Dodiyal), Kotli, Khoi Ratta, Anderla Kothera, Shaheen Abad, Dakkhana, Phalini, Khor, Ghayeen, Kerjai, Barali Gala, Nidi Sohana, Nakyal, Chooroi, Sehnsa, Bagh (in Haveli), Bura Jangal, and in Muzaffarabad and Neelum districts.

Indian Intelligence have noted some epistolary contact, particularly among the Gujjar Muslims who took the Partition Express to Pakistan and their family who found enough cause to stay behind, despite Hindus and Sikhs racking up a body count ratio of 5:3 in their favour.

In a paper (‘Gujars and Gujarism: simple qaum versus network activism’; Bhalot, Pakistan Punjab; May 1999), Steven Lyon of the University of Kent wrote about “Gujarism [being] a more active variant of being a Gujar which involves seeking out other Gujars within associations and consolidating and maintaining ties to those people based strictly on caste affiliation”. The vast majority of Muslim Gujjars in Punjab are not upper-caste (in stark contrast to the entitled, powerful Pakistani Gujjar community). ‘Gujarism’ might apply in Pakistan: It doesn’t here.

Everybody’s pet phobia

However, doing its best to make matters worse through misinformation is not India’s primus inimicus across the border (although, to be fair, given the Pandemonium at Pathankot, there’s also that). It’s Capitol Hill.

In a note to Washington (a cable leak by WikiLeaks), dated 19 January 2010, titled ‘Neutralising Partition: Changing Demographics in Punjab’, the previous US ambassador to India (July 2009-June 2011), Timothy ‘Deadly Headley’ Roemer wrote:

Tarun Vij, Director of American India Foundation (AIF), asserted that Dalit (former untouchables) laborers from Bihar and U.P. have been replaced by even cheaper un-skilled Bengali-speaking Muslim labor since 2000. “On a visit in 2004, I heard the Muslim call to prayer in Ludhiana for the first time in my life” said Pradeep Kashyap, Vice-Chairman of AIF during a recent meeting with PolOff. Mosques in Punjab, once padlocked after the partition of Indian in 1947 and the ensuing mass exodus of Punjabi Muslims into Pakistan, are reopening and thriving. “Punjab, on both sides of the border, experienced what we would call ethnic cleansing today. There were almost no Muslims left in Indian Punjab, today, that is no longer true. Partition based on religion seems irrelevant in the face of economics” said Kashyap. (Note: The district of Malerkotla is a historical anomaly. Its Punjabi Muslim community was not displaced during Partition and has since prospered because of the protection guaranteed to it by the Sikh community, payback for a 17th century act of kindness by the Muslim Nawab of Malerkotla to the family of a Sikh guru.)

Herkawaljit Singh, of the Punjabi language Ajit Group, echoed the discomfort many Punjabis feel with the rise of Muslim and Dalit migrant communities. He told PolOff [political officer] that the migrants were “culturally different” from Punjabis and did not integrate into mainstream Punjabi society. Although some Dalit migrants have converted to Sikhism, mainstream Sikh orthodoxy – dominated by the land-owning, wealthier Jat community – views the religious practices of these converts as sacrilegious; some Dalits worship living Sikh “gurus”, directly contradicting mainstream Sikh belief. The poor and displaced migrant workers feel excluded from the religious mainstream. The inherent tension occasionally spills over into emotive outbursts, confrontations and violence. The mix is particularly volatile in a state like Punjab, which has the highest proportion of Dalits and transitory workers among its population in India.

However, Punjab, which has seen a relatively homogenous Punjabi-speaking population since 1947, will have to adjust to the changing religious and cultural demographic pattern on the ground. Given the scars of partition and enduring memories of the communal violence in modern-day Punjab, this may not be easy. Dealing with a permanent labor underclass, viewed as ethnically and culturally different from the mainstream, could become a long-term issue for the prosperous state. It will bear watching how the Punjabi population (and the state government) react if the Muslim call to prayer becomes more pervasive across the state in the years ahead.

Roemer wasn’t exactly gifted with the sort of political acuity and insider sociological knowledge necessary to get a larger-than-millimetric inkling of the tangled supercrisis that is Punjab. In the event, at least one of his sounding boards seemed to have visited Ludhiana during a lengthy auditory downtime – for I recall hearing the aẕān from Nūrāni Masjid at Sherpur in early 2002; standing at Giaspura Chowk, near Mohalla Amarpura, from Masjid Chūnī Mehmādi in mid-2003; from Masjid Madīnā at Gulabi Tibba in 2004; and an old muʼaẕẕin‘s quavery bāṅg-ě-ṣubḥ from Masjid Kūm Kalān in October 2007, returned from Sikh caretaking since Partition just that year.

But Roemer’s alarmism had a tangible effect in the US administration’s ever-primed halls of hearsay. Washington spoke to New Delhi. Five months later, India and Bangladesh were collaborating to roll out concertina barbwire fencing within 150-m of the International Border’s Zero Line. It modified the Indo-Bangladesh Boundary Agreement of 1974, which had limited all construction – including barbwire – to inside 150-m of the 0-L.

The Indian government’s significant emending of a longstanding compact didn’t escape the notice of Kashmiri Gujjars: Never slow on the uptake, they and the Bakerwal community demanded a separate Pir Panchal area to call their own and a Tribal Hill Council (an entirely notional idea filched from the Northeast and pickled without tasting), to administer it. (The unanchored, plastic Gujjars don’t do councils, hill or flatland or aerial. They don’t even cohere with one another very well, despite an unappealable endogamy.)

In passing, the Gujjars also demanded the inclusion of the Gojri language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

And that was that.

They’re not exactly pushy, these guys.

History is a carpetbagger

And this is why – as a counterargument to something someone gypsy(ish) suggested – it might be imprudent of Punjab’s Muslim Gujjars to hope for a bailout by the melodic memory of Sahir Ludhianvi, a Karimpura Gujjar with a moniker, Abdul Hayee, unfit for the film recording studio; or ‘Gāmā Pehlwān’ aka ‘The Great Gama’ aka Rustam-e-Hind – in his shadow-life Ghulam Muhammad, born in Gujranwala in 1888 to become the only wrestler in the world to have ever retired undefeated; or the famous early-19th century Panjistani poet, Mīaṅ Muhammad Buksh Qādirī….

Hindus – and, now, many Sikhs, in a gathering bushfire that is threatening to spread – believe that all Indian Muslim Gujjars have a qaumī shāmilāt with Pakistani Gujjars. Those part of a more worldly Sikkḥiyatā perceive Muslim Gujjars as distinct from other Muslim subcommunities: the Ahmadi Muslims of Qadian, the Malerkotla Muslims….

But even this distinction is a shaky one. In March 2009, the stunning singer Idu Sharif of Malerkotla, as fluent in metaphysical Sūfiānā qalām as he is in semiheroic Dhādhī, performed at Muktsar’s Khalsa College but was peremptorily shut down by the organisers when he was about to start singing ‘Heer Rānjhā’, on the grounds that it was too unorthodox.

* * * * *

Let’s face it. When Bollywood has for decades been dressing Gujjar (villains) in black (recall Gabbar Singh in Sholay?), it’s going to be difficult to dig in against more demonising in the same vein. Among India’s (putative) warrior cultures, black clothes have dire connotations: They’re not the ‘cool’ pomo couleur en façon. Black attire means regnal defeat. Black means end (kāāl, end times). And “Kala” is a Punjabi Gujjar subcaste.

No one needs this shit.

As long back as January 2006, BJP patriarch LK Advani, then Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, had known this much. He had walked out of the House over a proposal of a headcount of Muslims in the Indian Army.


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