Wednesday, March 2, 2011

SHAME: Dub Maro Sarkar Ji

SHAME: Dub Maro Sarkar Ji

Desperate groups, even individuals, are climbing atop water tanks in Punjab, threatening to jump. The government is borrowing safety nets from circus groups and posting cops at water tanks. Why is our polity such an imbecile?  
Here is an article from Punjab Today edition of June 19-25, 2010. For feedback, you can post on our blog right here, or you can also send a mail to


Punjab’s climbing atop water tanks 
And govt is borrowing safety nets from circus groups

Nischay Pal

EVERY SINGLE WATER TANK in Punjab, every single water headworks, every single tall building is a headache for the government of Punjab. And there are thousands of water tanks in the state and hundreds of thousands of tall buildings.
With innumerable groups of people angry with the government and an acute apathy marking the disconnect between the people and the rulers, the size of the headache is increasing by the day.
Punjab’s rulers are unable to find a workable Aspro tablet, and are watching helplessly.
They are borrowing safety nets from the various circus groups, posting police officials below water tanks, asking officials working in tall government buildings to seal the doors leading to rooftops, all in an effort to stop disgruntled groups of unemployed teachers or a bunch of employees from an angry union, or anyone with a grievance and at the end of his wits, to climb atop and hold the government to ransom.
Yet, everyday, the newspapers report about one or the other group of protestors atop a water tank or a building, the office of the Punjab State Electricity Board or Ropar Water Headworks, threatening to jump.
A kerosene bottle in hand, a threat to jump from atop announced loudly to crowds gathered below, local police officials folding hands requesting them to come down -- Punjab is witnessing these scenes with a frequency that is mind numbing.
Clearly, the protesters are now convinced that the government has lost any ability to realize that being unemployed is a bit inconvenient. They are desperate and their choice is between a job and death. So between a slow death and a quick jump from a water tank, they are threatening to chose the later. The resultant spectacle is leading to unprecedented scenes that are replicated several times in a week at many places in Punjab.
When hundreds of teachers in Punjab, who had obtained certificates under a terribly named Education Guarantee Scheme, found there was no employment for them, and no guarantee of it either, they took to protests.
Innumerable petitions to the good sense, scores of dharnas, venting out frustration by disrupting functions where the state education minister would be expected to participate, staging sit-ins in front of the minister’s house; every stratagem in the book failed. The police would routinely beat them up, haul a few to the nearest police station, pick up the leaders from their homes.
When it seemed that the government’s decision to remain deaf and dumb to the teachers’ plight was final, a bunch of them climbed atop a water tank near Education Minister Upinderjit Kaur’s residence in Kapurthala. 
This was earlier this year. There comes a moment in the affairs of men when myriad streams converge at a point, making us see what we either failed to see or refused to acknowledge earlier. 
Atop the 100-feet high water tank, 27-year-old Kiranjit Kaur from Kapurthala decided that the government needs to be shown some light. She had one, and a bottle of kerosene also. Possibly, enough pent up frustration too at the failure to force the powers that be to take notice of her plight.
By the time the flames could be extinguished, her life was. In her death, Kiranjit ignited a debate over the paradigm of our governance. 
It started a series of such protests, and now teachers, veterinarians, pharmacists, electricity board employees, anyone who can climb atop a water tank is doing so.
What seemed a theatre of the absurd has turned into a deathly valley.
‘Karo Ya Maro’ slogans have been sounded from so many water tank tops that the government simply does not know how to move forward. It claims so much development is happening, but then the hundreds waving rags from water tanks tell another story.
The ubiquitous water tank has now been permanently etched into the people’s collective memory as a launch pad for a thousand demands, and with thousands having many genuine demands, the state doesn’t have enough policemen to secure all the watertanks.
Bathinda seems to have emerged a particular favourite with tank climbing protesters. At one stage, a group of seven EGS teachers climbed atop a 70-foot high water tank in the heart of the city, and four of them doused themselves with petrol. After five-and-a-half hours, the state government accepted their demands through a written assurance.
In yet another attempt, three unemployed Elementary Teachers Training (ETT) passed teachers seeking jobs tried to set themselves afire in front of Upinderjeet Kaur’s residence. While cops’ presence thwarted the bid, the water tank is a highly guarded facility now.
Across Punjab, DCs and SSPs have ordered deployment of cops on rooftops in the city, including malls. 
While there could be an element of spectacle and some media publicity involved, no doubt, the fact remains that the form of protests are the loudest evidence of the regime’s failure to deliver the simplest of expectations: a job. 
Success in the state is being defined by an ability of a Deputy Commissioner or a police officer to cajole a bunch of protesters to come down from a water tank.
“Veterinary pharmacist tanky to thalle uttre.” Such headlines are leading to early morning phone calls to a DC, congratulating him at the achievement. “Raat tanky te hee bitayee,” said another headline, and the union leaders got calls praising their ability to hold on at the top of the world, or a water tank.
Now, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is showing some eagerness to call the protesting groups for talks, but is that the solution. The opposition Congress is trying to make some political capital, but is it really any different from the current regime?
The Akali Dal-BJP government can major political capital by addressing the real issue.
What Punjab needs is a review of its entire outlook on the idea of development. Cheap atta-dal schemes co-existing with international airports and malls across Punjab present a vulgar juxtaposition by any standards. 
The people are speaking to the state in the grammar of violence, and the state is talking back in the same idiom. With its thousands of cops, obviously the state will speak the language of violence louder. Pushed, the people are shrieking back, threatening to jump. The grammar of violence has become a part of the discourse. It is time we take note, or go take a jump. As the protesters shout, “Dub Maro Sarkar Ji.” You don’t always need a water tank for that. 

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