Punjab is one of the few states that has a non-Hindu majority; the other states being Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram in the North East. Due the fact that it is Sikh majority state; any regional aspiration of Punjab is seen as a communal aspiration.
Last week, Hindustan Times published a news item ‘Sikh radicals smudge Hindi, English on Bathinda-Faridkot signboards’. The item purportedly pointed out that extremist Sikhs had smudged Hindi and English signboards on some National Highways near Faridkot.
Hindustan Times and other newspapers that posted this story as a ‘radical issue’ struggle obfuscated and ignored the fact that the struggle for Punjabi language’s presence on signboard was started by a Hindu; they were started by a Kannadiga Professor, Mr. Pandit Rao Dharennavar, of Panjab University, Chandigarh. Pandit Rao gave a legal notice to PWD to write sign boards in Punjabi language on national highways in Punjab. He took out a march in Patiala alone for the sake of Punjabi language.
The Punjabis themselves, till then deep in slumber, awoke to the matter, seeing a Kannadiga fighting for their language. Subsequent to Mr. Pandit Rao’s lone protest, the political groups and linguistic groups got into action and started their own protests. Later, student organisations took the baton across Universities in Punjab, where Punjabi had disappeared from signages as well.
Rule of law is prime, and Hindustan Times would have done good to check the law before it published that news. As per applicable NHAI rules and specifications, in line with constitutional practice, it is mandatory that the regional language has to be written at top on NH signboards within the state where the language is prime; the specifications clearly advise the contractor to have Punjabi language as the first language on signages on National Highways in Punjab. The law, rules and specifications have not been followed by the contractor. Without realising the law, a national newspaper of the repute of Hindustan Times painted this incident of regional pride as a communal issue limited to Sikh radicals. It is such a disgusting approach to a regional identity issue that Hindustan Times needs to apologise to all Punjabis for this approach. Subsequently, tabloid TV channels picked the story and started painting this as some sort of resurgence of Khalistani issue.
Regional Identity struggles happen across India; like amongst Karnataka – Tamilnadu over waters or between Bengal and Gorkhas over Gorkhaland. Nowhere else are such regional identity issues painted as communal issue. It is a travesty that any voice of Punjab for any sort of regional identity preservation or regional assertion is seen as a communal issue immediately; be it the issue of Chandigarh, or the Sutluj-Yamuna Link Canal; and now the Punjabi language issue.
REGIONAL IDENTITY ASSERTION IS NOT COMMUNAL
Punjab has the misfortune of being one of the few states with a Non-Hindu majority; therefore, any aspiration of Punjab is immediately labelled as communal even by so-called intellectuals. For example, Chandigarh and Water-sharing issues are simmering matters and Sikhs as a society have legitimate grievances on that; the non-implementation of the Rajiv-Longowal accord (an accord signed by an Indian Prime-Minister) needs more attention and churning of thoughts amongst us Indians, and needs a look inwards into legitimate regional concerns of Punjab. Moreover, if Tamilnadu-Karnataka dispute on Cauvery waters is seen as a state to state conflict, then why are Haryana-Punjab disputes on Chandigarh & SYL seen as communal issues? Don’t Hindus of Punjab have their interests in interests of Punjab?
Punjab’s regional assertions of identity must be addressed as regional issues ought to be; and the press and other stakeholders must ensure that they should’nt paint Punjab’s assertions as a Hindu-Sikh communal issue but address those issues in times of peace, lest they explode into something nefarious in the hands of vested interests.
TO HINDUSTAN TIMES EDITORS
Hindustan Times (HT) published this news as a ‘radical sikh’ issue; thus painting all protestors with a communal label; this makes a severe dent in HT’s standing amongst Punjabis as a neutral newpaper. It’s a crying shame, Hindustan Times!