With a banner in his hands demanding “equal status for Punjabi language in Central government undertakings”, 64-year-old Mahinder Singh, a resident of BRS Nagar, is a busy man these days.
Lok Sabha polls has given him an opportunity to voice his concern to candidates of various parties. With this hope, he went to the venue of open debate which was organised by NGO Mahasabha on Sunday. While Congress candidate Ravneet Singh Bittu and SAD candidate Manpreet Singh Ayali did not turn up for the debate, even then Mahinder Singh kept standing at the venue for more than five hours.
However, what he got in return was utter humiliation and ignorance from the Congress and BJP representatives. They not only snubbed him but also mocked him in full public view. “Former MLA Harish Rai Dhanda from BJP made mockery of this issue and called me an illiterate,” said Mahinder Singh, who is a graduate in commerce from St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. “Congress representative Raman Kumar snubbed me in full public view. When I told him to read my banner once, he taunted me, saying should I read your mobile number too?”
However, he got some respect when he visited the road show of Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday. “I was roaming around at Sarabha Nagar market with the banner to get noticed when H S Phoolka saw me and gave me a thumbs up. He then told Kejriwal in his ear to read my banner and he too gave a smile,” said Mahinder Singh, who has been fighting for the past 34 years to get Punjabi recognised in the Central government undertakings.
His school and college life spent in Kolkata actually made him realise the importance of regional languages, and since then his bond with Punjabi grew. Showing some documents like railway requisition card, reservation forms from West Bengal, acknowledgement cards of postal department and forms of some banks, printed in Bengali language, he said,” All states respect their regional languages. I want a similar status for Punjabi in railways, postal department, airports and banks where forms and documents, announcements should be made in Punjabi too.”
Although he studied Punjabi for only two years as afterwards they moved to Kolkata, Mahinder Singh is now an established writer in Punjabi, contributing to various tabloids, magazines and other publications.
He even wrote a letter to former railways minister Mamata Banerjee in 2009, appreciating her move of preserving Bengali language. “At airports and railway stations in Punjab, even if they write word ‘prasthan’ in Punjabi, they just write Hindi word in Punjabi script which is completely wrong. There is no word like ‘prasthan’ in Punjabi. Even in local trains of Punjab, nothing is written in Punjabi. I also wrote to the airport authorities to make announcements in Punjabi like they do in their regional languages in cities like Kochi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai and Ahmedabad,” said Mahinder Singh.
With his passion for language growing for years, this ex-merchant navy officer is now hoping for some response to his long battle. “Even Simarjit Singh Bains did not show much concern on the issue when I met him. We Punjabis are only degrading our regional language,” he added.