In Maur, poll campaign brings alive a brutal electoral memory: ‘Just return me my child’https://indianexpress.com/elections/maur-bomb-blast-victims-compensation-bathinda-lok-sabha-elections-2019-5734433/

In Maur, poll campaign brings alive a brutal electoral memory: ‘Just return me my child’

On the basis of the investigation by a three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by DIG Ranbir Singh Khatra, three dera followers were named as accused in the case. Police have not been able to arrest any of the three.

In Maur, poll campaign brings alive a brutal electoral memory: 'Just return me my child’
The text on pamphlet reads: January 31, 2017: Maur bamb kaand vich maare gaye masoom bache ate do vyakti (Innocent children and two persons killed in Maur bomb blast). (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal)

“Kaalje da tukda si. Jina ne bamb banaya te jina ne chalaya ohna da kakh na rahe (He was very dear to me. May those who made the bomb and those who carried out the blast be wiped out).”

Surjit Kaur is angry. She has her reason too. Her 10-year-old grandson Ripandeep Singh was among seven people killed in a blast in Maur Mandi on January 31, 2017, three days before Punjab voted to elect its 117 member Vidhan Sabha.

The ongoing poll campaign with mobile public address systems upsets Kaur. “We lost Ripandeep during elections. This poll campaign rubs salt on our wounds. Ripandeep had just returned from tuition. There was election meeting by (then Congress nominee) Harminder Singh Jassi. Tea was being served during the meeting. Ripandeep went and got a cup of tea. I told him that instead of drinking that he should drink tea at home. But he said Bebe eh bahut sawaad aa, laung lachian wali aa (Ripandeep told me that tea was very tasty made with cardamom and cloves). He went back to get some more tea. Moments later there was the blast that killed Ripandeep,” says Kaur, wiping tears with her dupatta.

“Lok kehnde paise de ke bamb chalwaya (People say money was paid to carry out the explosion),” she adds.

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In Maur, poll campaign brings alive a brutal electoral memory: 'Just return me my child’
16-month-old Ripandeep looks at the portrait of his elder brother who was killed in the Maur bomb blast. The toddler has the same name as his elder brother. “It took 11 paths of Sukhmani Sahib to get our Ripandeep back,” says mother Harpreet Kaur, holding the portrait. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal)

She has just finished talking to his son Kirtan Singh, a soldier posted in higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir. Ripandeep’s father Kala Singh was also a soldier. Family says he died in an accidental firing by a colleague. Ripandeep, his mother Harpreet Kaur says, was born seven months after the death of her husband. Later, Kala Singh’s brother Kirtan Singh married Harpreet. They have a three-and-a-half-year old daughter Namanpreet Kaur and a 16-month-old son they have named Ripandeep. “It took 11 paths of Sukhmani Sahib to get our Ripandeep back,” she says, hinting that the toddler is a reincarnation of her first born.

Among the seven dead, five were children. Like the family of Ripandeep, the campaign brings back the memories and the trauma to other families too.

At his spare parts shop, right next to blast site, Khushdeep Singh hands out an A-4 sized paper from a bunch of documents. It carries color photographs of the seven dead, which include a beggar Ashok Kumar and his seven year old daughter Varkha Rani, a Congress activist who was taking care of Jassi’s poll office in Maur Harpal Singh and the four other children Ankush Singla (11), Ripandeep (10), Saurav Singla (12) and Japsimran (15).

Khushdeep Singh is Japsimran’s father. The handout reads “January 31, 2017: Maur bamb kaand vich maare gaye masoom bache ate do vyakti (Innocent children and two persons killed in Maur bomb blast)”. There are four requests on handout – to hang culprits by arresting them at the earliest, promises made by Punjab government be fulfilled at the earliest, affected families be given due compensation, and a government job to one member of each affected family.

The families were given Rs 5 lakh compensation. Khushdeep vents his ire. “The victims of Bargari kand were given Rs 1 crore and Mandi Ahmedgarh family of dera followers who were killed was given Rs 25 lakh compensation. Why the same not to us? Why this discrimination? Are we not residents of India? And it all happened due to lapse of the government. How come vehicle with explosives reached here?”

The anger of victims’ families is directed at Jassi who they said did not bother to sympathise with them. “The next day Jassi was campaigning with his son-in-law in adjoining areas. Jassi’s daughter is married to son of jailed Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. If he had any sympathy, he would have come to the families,” said Khushdeep.

On the basis of the investigation by a three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by DIG Ranbir Singh Khatra, three dera followers were named as accused in the case. Police have not been able to arrest any of the three and they were declared proclaimed offenders last year. Earlier this year, police released their sketches. One of the accused, Gurtej Singh, was incharge of a workshop at the dera and dealt with repairs and modification of cars. The car used in the blast is alleged to have been readied for the blast at dera workshop. Amrik Singh, another accused, was said to be a security guard of dera chief and the third accused, Avtar Singh, an electrician, is alleged to have set up electric paraphernalia to carry out the blast.

Family of one of the deceased, Ankush Singla, is ardent dera follower. “Even if some persons from dera has done this, we want that they be set on fire using similar chemical that was used in the bomb, at the same venue. Why is government not arresting them?,” asks Ankush’s mother Ritu Bala.

She, however. adds that dera chief can never be involved in any such act. “No one loves anyone more than his son. We have full faith in guruji. Oh eho jahe kam nahi karde jis naal ghar ujar jaan (He does not do anything, which destroys families),” adds Ritu, holding her one-year-old daughter in her arms.

Ankush succumbed to the injuries sustained in the blast two months later at a hospital. The family says they agreed to cremate Ankush after the assurance that a member of each family would be given a job. Khushdeep alleged that a top government functionary who had promised that they will be given jobs told families later that it was mere a “lollypop” to get the dharna lifted and body cremated. The functionary, as per Khushdeep, then said that he can arrange some jobs in a dhaba or hotel. “We tried to meet Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to complain about this, but could not get time for a meeting,” said Khushdeep.

In Maur, poll campaign brings alive a brutal electoral memory: 'Just return me my child’
The Red Card given to the families of the victims. the card, is essentially an ‘Identity Card for Sikh immigrant families’ where ‘Sikh immigrants’ has been struck off with a pen and ‘Punjab vich attwad naal parbhawit; (affected by terrorism in Punjab) has been written. (Express photo by Navjeevan Gopal)

“We are ready to give Rs 10 lakh against the Rs 5 lakh government gave to us. Just return me my child,” said Ritu.

The sentiment was repeated by Shashi Singla, mother of Saurav Singla.

Shashi is furious with leaders seeking votes. “Saade putt chale gaye te eh leader saade kolon chonaan layi sehyog mangde aa (We lost our sons and these leaders seek our support in elections),” she said.

The families of the deceased have been given “red cards” by the state government, declaring them “terrorism affected” families.

“Miti January 31, 2017 nu Maur Mandi vikhe hoye bamb dhamaake kaaran Saurav Singla s/o Rakesh Kumar di miti ik farvari 2017 nu maut ho jaan karan jaari keeta geya,” reads the description on the card which essentially is “Identity Card for Sikh immigrant families” and where “Sikh immigrants” has been struck off with a pen and “Punjab vich attwad naal parbhawit” (affected by terrorism in Punjab) has been written manually.

The families complain that they were yet to get the pension that is granted to terrorism affected families.

A victim, Jaskaran Singh (27) continues to be bed ridden with 60 percent injuries. “Darakht di us taahni te patte nahi aaye, do saal ton vadh ho gaye blast nu (See, there are no leaves on that branch of the tree. It has been more than two years),” says a shopkeeper pointing towards the blast site and how deadly it was.

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In 2017 Vidhan Sabha election, Congress nominee Jassi finished third in Maur where AAP nominee Jagdev Singh Kamaloo defeated his nearest rival Janmeja Singh Sekhon of Shiromani Akali Dal.