Little known to the rest of the country, women of Malerkotla , a small town in Punjab’s Sangrur district, have been supporting their sisters of Shaheen Bagh in the protest against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 , for almost a month now.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, affects the women –and men—of Malerkotla more than it does anyone else in the country. Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees a design to destabilise India’s security by those behind Shaheen Bagh, the CAA robs these families at Malerkotla their own sense of security.
Thanks to a prized gift from the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, not even an extreme group can disrupt the peace and communal harmony at Malerkotla. That has been the real and felt experience of the people there for the last 320 years.
When Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sirhind ordered that the Guru’s sons, Fateh Singh and Zoravar Singh --who were no more than little boys—be bricked alive, Sher Mohammad Khan, the Nawab of Malerkotla, protested. Wazir Khan did not spare the boys, and Sher Mohd Khan went to the court in protest. Guru Gobind Singh blessed the people of Malerkotla, a Muslim dominated town , with peace and happiness. That is part of Sikh history, and not myth.
That part of history goes back to the times of Guru Gobind Singh. But almost 250 years later, when bloody scenes of partition were part of every family in Punjab, Malerkotla was an oasis of calm and peace. No communal riots, no border crossing. Even when Punjab became a killing field in the eighties as Pakistan sponsored pro-Khalistanis of the 1980s, threw the state into turmoil, Malerkotla remained calm and peaceful as ever.
The land where Guru Nanak’s enlightenment came in the form of “Na koi Hindu, Na Koi Muslalman” (No one is a Hindu, no one is a Muslim) is also where “Kudrat de sab bande” reverberates to this day , in the powerfully melodious voices of ragis and others who sing the Gurbani.
It is natural that the slogan of the women of Malerkotla is ‘Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai.. saare kirti bhai bhai’. Supporting them in the protest are the farmers of the state, under different banners. Many other unions across the state are expected to join a rally at Malerkotla on Feb 16.
Incidentally Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarender Singh was also the first chief minister to say he would not implement the CAA in the state, which became the second legislature after Kerala, to have a resolution opposing the CAA passed.
Why is the scrapping of the CAA crucial for the families of Malerkotla?
Almost every household has a family across the International Border in Pakistan’s Punjab. They are related by blood and marriage. They speak the same language and share the same culture, cuisine. They also share their frustration over the sad state of Indo-Pak relations.
Time and again, I have heard the women of Malerkotla tell me that they are never able to attend weddings and funerals in their extended families across the border, because they are unable to get visas. And they miss their relatives at their own family events in Punjab on this side of the border.
When these families look for a bride or a groom , it is the traditional, conservative way of looking for a Punjabi-speaking Muslim. They are either in Malerkotla or in Punjab across the border. And the visa-obstruction notwithstanding, they agree to an alliance in or around Lahore, to remove the homesickness of a sister or a brother already married across the border.
The mention of the Samjhauta Express running fine lights up their faces, and the suspension of the train service between Delhi and Lahore, for any reason, results in sighs and frowns.
For cultural reasons, a Muslim match from Aligarh or Nagapatnam or even Hyderabad, simply won’t do for these Punjabi Muslims. For many , it is a distance marriage, absentee parenthood. The CAA 2019 takes away the little hope of reunion that they had.