At her stall, Gursharan Kaur is selling A4-size posters of slain Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale for Rs 50 each. Other stalls too are selling posters, badges, stickers and other memorabilia of the pro-Khalistan leader who was killed in the Army action on the Golden Temple in 1984.
Gursharan Kaur set up her stall at the Bargari Morcha on June 1, the day it began on the third anniversary of the theft of Guru Granth Sahib from the gurudwara in village Burj Jawahar Singh Wala. The gathering completed 177 days on Saturday.
Under the leadership of Dhian Singh Mand, appointed as the Akal Takht “jathedar” by the controversial November 2015 Sarbat Khalsa, the Morcha is demanding the arrest of culprits behind the incidents of desecration in 2015, as well as those responsible for the police firing at Behbal Kalan in which two people were killed.
SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu have linked the Morcha to the Amritsar attack. Mand denied the allegation and said the Morcha condemned the incident and would be meeting the victims’ families of victims.
“The government is making a mistake by rounding up people from Sikh organisations. Sarkar mahaul khraab karna chauhundi hai (Government wants to disturb peace). Ours is a peaceful dharna and we don’t raise even one slogan against the government. The state government is forcing people to go back to dark days. Such incidents (Amritsar grenade attack) are a matter of investigation rather than blaming peaceful morchas,” Mand said.
The village fair-like atmosphere at the protest attracts hundreds of daily visitors.
Nearly six months and counting: Long stir, creeping fear
The Bargari Morcha, a gathering of radical Sikh protesters, has lasted nearly six months and shows no sign of ending. While it has remained peaceful, its continuance is stoking fears of a Khalistani resurgence especially with the spike in the number of violent incidents involving Khalistani militants, including the November 18 grenade attack on a Nirankari gathering in Amritsar. With the morcha’s demands dating back to incidents that took place during the tumultuous final months of the previous SAD-BJP government, the SAD’s leadership has described those leading the morcha as “stooges” of the Congress. But several Congress leaders are worried too. A back-channel effort by Congress leaders to end the morcha when it was in its third month failed. The police are also jittery about the gathering.
The Morcha site is spread over two acres at the Dana Mandi in the village. The protesters have taken over a panchayat ghar and are using it for langar. A banner announced that the UAE sangat was doing langar sewa. Over 50 police personnel are on 24×7 duty at the site.
There are separate tents for the leaders of the various groups participating in the protest. With an enquiry centre and a medical help centre, there is an air of semi-permanance at the site.
“We have constructed a few toilets, have taken a temporary power connection, and we have also dug a submersible pump for daily needs,” said Manbir Singh Mand, social media in-charge of the morcha.
The morcha leader claimed that more than 5,000 “devotees” visited the site daily.
“Our daily expenditure is not less than Rs 50,000. This comes through voluntary donations as on special ocassions, devotees are in large numbers. We are paying power bill as well to power corporation as one cannot survive on generator for so long,” Dhyan Singh Mand told The Indian Express over tea inside his tent, whose insides are plastered with posters of Bhindranwale.
Outside, private securitymen armed with guns guard Mand.
“We have three demands – the arrest of persons behind desecration incidents at Bargari, Burj Jawahar Singh Wala and other areas; arrest of policemen behind Behbal Kalan firing that killed two persons; and the release of Sikh prisoners lodged in several jails or the grant of parole. Our representatives met CM Capt Amarinder Singh 2-3 times and he has agreed that all demands are genuine and can be solved at the level of the state government,” said Mand.
He said while the government had made many arrests in the desecration incidents, and the SIT investigating cases on the recommendation of the Ranjit Singh Commission had also summoned the Badals and actor Akshay Kumar to record their statements in connection with the controversial ‘pardon’ to Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram
Rahim, the policemen behind the Behbal Kalan firing have not been arrested yet.
“Everyone has seen the fate of Badals, that of the Congress will be similar if they fail to solve this case,” he said. With Mand were Jaskarn Singh Kahan Singhwala of SAD(Amritsar), Paramjeet Singh Sahauli of the Insaaf Morcha. Simaranjit Singh Mann, president of SAD (Amritsar) also dropped in to see him.
On the heels of two massive turnouts at the Morcha on October 7 and October 14, the anniversary of the Behbal Kalan police firing incident, Mand is planning to mark the Parkash Utsav of Guru Nanak Dev at the same place in a big way on November 25.