Picture Credit: Gurvinder Singh (@forgetfulblink), In Picture: Sharanjit Kaur (writer), Ramandeep Kaur (Jagdish Singh's wife), Akveer Kaur (Jagdish Singh's daughter)

Tatariyewala to Tihar Jail

Sangeet Toor, Sharanjit Kaur

Gurjeet Kaur sat on the corner of the cot and checked her phone again and again. Her ten year old son, Arshnoor, peeked into the phone from behind her shoulder. They were waiting for the video call from Tihar. Gurjeet’s husband, Bhag Singh, was lodged there since the last week of January. He went to participate in the Republic Day parade on January 23. She received a call on the evening of January 27 from her husband telling her that he was detained along with the rest of the people from the village. “He said it was a temporary detention and all of them will be out soon,” she told me. There was no call for two-three days. She, and the rest of the families - twelve in total, had no idea where their family members were. 

Gurdeep Kaur is about seventy years old. She is Gurjeet’s mother. She came as soon as she got the news. “Today, it’s exactly one month,” she said. Gurjeet and Bhag own a dairy. In his absence, Gurjeet has been looking after the work. The dairy system is online. The dairy farmers bring in the milk, she weighs it on the machine and tests it for the fat content, and generates a ticket with all these details. The commercial dairy van comes and picks up the milk and the printed tickets. The dairy is to augment their income; they own two acres of land. But they share this piece of land with the two brothers of Bhag Singh. They also have two buffalos, now completely looked after by Gurjeet alone.

The video call appointment system for Tihar is also online. But Gurjeet finds it difficult to navigate the system as she does not have an email address. Bhag Singh’s nephews help with the appointment. One detainee is allowed to video call the family once in two weeks. Typical call duration is 12-15 minutes. Arshnoor and Gurjeet have been eagerly waiting for the video call. Half an hour passed when the phone rang. Arshnoor took it inside the common living room. Gurjeet hurried inside. Bhag Singh’s elder brother went inside. Two women from the neighborhood also went inside to join the call. The wait was not over. The officer asked them to wait for ten to fifteen minutes. “They went to fetch him from the jail cell,” Gurjeet explained. 

The additional waiting time was hard to get over with. She joined us again in conversation. She did not know where her husband was after the initial phone call. One of the village boys, who is a minor and was caught by the police on Republic Day, was let off after two days. He visited the rest of the families and told them about the whereabouts of the rest. “Navdeep told us on 29th that they were detained at Nangloi police station but were sent to Tihar afterwards,” she said.

Arshnoor called her out as Bhag Singh was on the phone screen. They started to talk haphazardly. Arshnoor greeted his father with Sat Sri Akal but could not talk further and started to cry. Gurjeet took over and asked her husband to cheer up.

“You did not do anything wrong. You went to protest peacefully for your rights,” she told him. “Why are you wearing a cap? It is so hot these days,” she continued. “It’s cold inside,” he replied. The boy lay down on the bed nearby and refused to talk to his father. The father became emotional too on the other end. But Gurjeet and her brother-in-law kept it cheerful. The other two women started to talk about Baldhir who was also lodged with Bhag. Baldhir is twenty nine years old and is a sole earner in the family. “Tell him that we were able to hear him but our voice was not clear on the call the other day. Tell him that we sent him clothes,” one of the women said to Bhag. 

The call was full of reassurances. The legal aid the families were getting from the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee was reiterated. The buffaloes were doing perfect. The weather was pleasant. The dairy was running as usual. The harvest season was awaited. The repeal of the farm laws was assured. Tihar wouldn’t be able to hold them for more than a week. “You all are going to get a grand welcome in the village. We are so proud of you,” Gurjeet said to Bhag.

Charan Kaur is the maternal aunt of Baldhir Singh. Charan and Jasbir Kaur, Baldhir’s mother, were married to the real brothers. Charan’s husband died twenty five years ago and Baldhir’s father died in 2013. Jasbir withdrew from the household responsibilities after her husband’s death. Baldhir does the farming and looks after the land owned by the two families. Charan has three daughters. One is married. The other two were home - Ranjit Kaur and Baljeet Kaur. Baldhir had little idea that he and his village mates would end up in jail. “The police wrote his name wrong - Balbir. They should have asked the village boys to write their own names and their village name. Media was calling us Tootriwaala. But they must be scared that the young boys might write more than names,” Charan said. Who knows these detainees would write history if given a pen and paper, she elaborated.

Harwinder Kaur was bathing the buffaloes in the front yard when we went to talk to her. Her son Ranjit Singh is twenty four years old and is lodged with the rest in Tihar. Her real sister Balwinder Kaur was also with her. The two sisters are married to two real brothers Lahora Singh and Niranjan Singh respectively. “He was looking after the fields and crops. He was the breadwinner. Now his father is doing whatever he can in the fields,” she said. Ranjit’s younger brother Sukhchain is nineteen years old and is preparing to go abroad. “My uncle (Taya) was camping at the borders. Republic Day was special. I also wanted to go but I am preparing for some exams. I am hopeful everyone will be out of the jail soon,” he said.

Ramandeep Kaur was taking care of her three months old son. The joint family was sitting in the front yard. Her five years old daughter, Akveer, offered us water. Jagdish Singh is forty five years old and has been in Tihar since the end of January. His mother, Gurdev Kaur, is seventy five and sat in a chair in one corner of the yard. Akveer told us that her father was in Delhi. “She goes to the school when the video call comes. She had seen him last on January 23 when he left for Delhi,” Raman told us. The family does farming and also sells milk. Raman started to feed the child and told us that the jail wouldn’t be able to keep the villagers in the jail on false charges. She further explained that they got the legal aid from Manjinder Singh Sirsa and that they haven’t spent a single penny on the proceedings so far. 

We wanted to know who else from the village was in the jail and Sukhdev Kaur, Jagdish’s sister-in-law told us about Jaswant Singh, but he has no one in the family. His parents were no more and he was never married. It is the village sarpanch getting the legal updates regarding him.

Gurjeet Kaur is a young graduate and is preparing for IELTS to go to Canada. Her brother, Jagdeep Singh is one the villagers lodged in Tihar jail. She offered us water while her mother Veerpal Kaur arranged two cots for us to sit. Her father-in-law, ninety years old Ajaib Singh, settled near us. He was in the Indian army and was posted at various places including Jammu, Pathankot, Dalhousie and SriNagar. He had to leave the army because his brother, who was also an army man, passed away at a young age at that time. Jagdeep’s father was not home as he went to a local protest. “We mostly get phone calls from Prem Singh Bhangu. He updates us. To tell you the truth, we are confident that we are in good hands legally, and we know that he will be out with the rest of the villagers soon,” Gurjeet told us. Their yard has a small shed right near the front entrance. A fodder cutting machine stood silently; two buffaloes chewed in the fodder nearby. “Have you talked to our extended family on the village outskirts?” Veerpal asked us about Gurpreet Singh who is the grandson of the deceased army man.

A dog started barking as soon as we stepped in after knocking on the iron gate. Buffaloes were under the shed; the dog was tied to a corner of the shed. On the opposite side, one guava tree, one orange tree, one chikoo tree cast shadows on the garlic patch. Violet and white eggplants flashed distinctly through the dull green leaves of the plants.

- Sangeet Toor

Gurpreet does farming and installs motors that pump underground water. His elder brother is in the Indian army.

Harjinder Singh s/o Amarjit Singh, age 23 years - Mother Sukhjinder Kaur told me that Harjinder brought four days worth of fodder stock before leaving for Delhi borders. I told him that it will be difficult for us without him but he insisted on going because it was important. He said that the movement is built up because everyone is sharing the responsibility to keep it going. Other villagers were joining the tractor parade too. He promised to come back by January 28th. They were all together on 26th at the Delhi borders when they were arrested. One of the tractors broke down while they were going with the parade. By the time they got it repaired, it was already four in the evening. They had little idea about the approved route also. To stick to the route, they asked the Policemen nearby to help them find the route. The cops offered to accompany them and boarded the tractors, but took them to Nangloi instead. Nobody told me initially. They thought I would get too worried and that everyone will be out in a day or two. But the police asked about their Adhar Cards. Other villagers came asking for the documents and told me about the arrest.

I have myself studied in Chandigarh, and had done a course from Central Training Institute. Then I got married into the farming family. I never thought of doing a job since the household responsibility of the kids, parents-in-law, cattle occupied my time. My elder son is educated and is in the Indian Army. He is posted in SriNagar presently and can’t come home. But he gets the updates on the matter twice a day on phone call.

Harjinder was in ninth class when their father passed away. He didn’t continue with the studies but started farming instead because it is our livelihood. Now, the government has passed these laws. We were petrified when we first heard about the news. We wondered how we would go by; why the police detained them; who will get them out of the jail. I got sick yesterday and that’s when we wondered again. Who would take me to the doctor? Who will look after the cattle? My elder daughter-in-law is here and my grandson is eight months old.

He called one day and we talked for a few minutes. That’s when we finally felt better. Otherwise, we neither cooked nor ate. Anxiety engulfed me. Day and night. What to do? Where to go? Then my sister-in-law and her son visited us and looked after us and the house. Village elders, my elder son and Prem Singh Bhangu have been looking after the legal proceedings.

Daljinder Singh, age 19 years, occupation farming. His mother has been sick for a few years now. He joined the rest of the villagers on January 23 to participate in the Republic Day parade. He thought he would return around January 28 but couldn’t because of the arrest. His mother was not told about his arrest throughout the ordeal. In Tihar also, he was separated from the rest of the villagers. His mental and physical health deteriorated. When Prem Singh Bhangu and Majinder Singh Sirsa met him in the jail, and took notice of his health, they filed an application to get him to the hospital. He was the second one to get the bail. His father was in Delhi when I visited the village for this piece. I gathered the information about him from the neighbors so that his mother wouldn’t know.

Ramandeep Singh, age 29 years, occupation farming. Wife Sarbjit Kaur, mother Sukhjinder Kaur, twin daughters Navreen and Savreen. His father told us that Raman is a vet who serves the cattle in the village for free. He learnt the occupation from his father.

He went to Delhi borders on January 17. The family got to know about his arrest on January 27 but they had no idea about the jail or police station. It was on 29th that Navdeep came home and told everyone about the whereabouts of the rest. For once, they blanked out. They had no idea what to do next. Slowly, they realized that the rest of the villagers were also in the same boat. The protest was necessary. They were prepared for the outcome of the legal proceedings since they gave more importance to win the battle and repeal the farm laws. But his daughters cry whenever they see him on the screen. “When is Papa going to return?”

Amritpal Singh, age 48 years, wife Parmjit Kaur, children are settled in Canada. He does farming with his younger brother. He also went to Delhi borders on the 17th. His sister-in-law Sarbjit Kaur told me that the family got to know about the arrest on the 27th when they went to the Gurudwara. His younger brother then got in touch with the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha. His sister came over to provide emotional support to the family. He told his younger brother that he would come out of the jail only after the rest of the villagers would get out.

Navdeep Singh s/o Jaswant Singh and Manjit Kaur, Age 17 years, occupation student. Grandmother Harbans Kaur, Tayi ji (Aunt) Jasvir Kaur. He went to the Delhi borders on the 23rd. The family got to know about his arrest on 27th. But they soon realised that it was set to happen, if not to Navdeep, then to other people. Navdeep was let off because he was a minor.

Tatariyewala is a small village some fifteen minutes drive from Moga. There are around 600 people in the village. Villagers work small occupations and are dependent on farming for livelihood. 

- Sharanjit Kaur, Jogewala, Moga