Monday, July 28, 2014

Immigration and Punjabi Youth, an essay by Gurbachan

(translated from Punjabi, the original is at pages 25 and 35 of Amritsar Times, July 23 edition.)

Young laborers from Punjab are trapped in Iraq.  Their families are pleading to the state and central government for their escape.  Efforts are being made to bring them back.  Everybody is behaving as if this is an isolated, one-of-a-kind incident.

Hundreds of Punjabi youth are rotting in the jails of Greece, Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy, and the nations once part of the Soviet Union.  Under a false identity, they wanted to reach Europe or North America.  Young men and women from Punjab go to England or Australia to study.  What they do there, or what happens to them there, cannot be described.  Does the Punjab government not know all this?

It is necessary to reflect deeply about the situation.  Today, the youth of Punjab have become psychologically estranged from their motherland.  Their life-energy is finding no channel to anything worthwhile.  When we reflect on the means of work and livelihood, the schism between the city and the village  has become irredeemably large.  In this age of information technology and business management, a young Punjabi from a humble background, who already feels humiliated, finds himself even more limited.  This young man is restless in his village, alienated in the city, and feels like a refugee in a metropolis.  But even so, he cannot but face the city.  He has to make efforts for his schooling, going to college, getting educated in IT, some kind of vocational training, preparing for a competition, etc.  After getting a half-baked education, he has to then try and find someone who can put in a “good word” for him.  He, like a lost wanderer, seeks after political leaders to get them to “recommend” him.  In his day-to-day life, as he starts to observe rampant bribery, unfair influences, cronyism, and the dreaded police, he finds himself constantly on his guard.  It gets etched in his soul that the system is evil, that talk of moral values is senseless.  That every man is out for himself, and there is little possibility of human sympathy and affection.  Before his life has even taken off, he gets to realize the darkness that is all around him.  This state of affairs is quite brutal.  Brutality is effected not just with guns.  Sociopolitical brutality is usually more devastating.  And economic brutality is perhaps the most dangerous.

The mental horizons and limits of such Punjabi youth have become narrowed.  His limited gaze necessitates a well-lit path.  He has no critical thinking left, and in its place there is frustration and anger towards the powerful.  He can fall into crime, or get involved in violent movements.  If he joins the police, he ends up becoming a torturer himself.  If he joins politics, he indulges in corruption.  This state of affairs pushes a young man, who is hopeful of leading a life of dignity, towards alienation.

The youth of today do not have even the tools which can transform their anger into political rebellion.  Without an intellectual foundation and strategy, rebellion remains stuck at an explosive, disruptive stage.  The young man of Punjab is not capable of a “dialogue”.  He does not consider intellect as a useful weapon.  All through, he has collided with the power of the state only to be beaten.  For decades that has been the story of Punjab’s youth.  Completely defeated, they either turn to drugs, or wish to escape to a foreign land.  When we look back on the “terrorism” indulged in by the young men of Punjab, we never reflect on how the terror and brutality of such a sociopolitical state of affairs might have been a factor in all this, and who was responsible for creating that explosive situation.  The State, with the ostensible aim to eradicate  this “terrorism” indulged in by these young men in the region, has tried to beat down and suppress that individual who has already been suffering and facing a system of brutality and violence.  The State does not try to reflect if the political process, in the guise of democracy, might be brutal to begin with.  Consider the youth of Punjab, or those even elsewhere in India, those who have creative energy, who wish to remain connected to their land, and who wish to live a life of dignity.  When they observe the daily grind of injustice, or when they face a corrupt system day after day, when they are left behind by the urban classes, they either feel a red-hot stream of anger within them, or become resigned and cynical.  This resignation, cynicism, alienation is what makes them risk their lives to go abroad.

This desire and this race to go abroad gives birth to a world that is full of immorality and falsehood.    Fake documents, high-interest-loans, duplicitous travel agents, the thirst to reach UK, Canada or US by fair or foul means… In the human context, it is unlikely that anything good can come out of all this.  A young man who goes through all this cannot look forward to a happy life abroad.  His days and nights are spent in a whirlpool of fear and dread.  When he indulges in liaisons or forms relationships with foreigners, his behavior no longer remains moral.  It is these men who, when they become “legal”, try to dupe and marry a woman from back home.  The fact is that they themselves have been duped at every turn in their journey.  For years, they have endured the silent torture of having a false identity.

Immigration from Punjab is no longer what it used to be.  In the past, a Punjabi, despite facing financial hardship, never felt hopeless about his land and tried to escape.  And he never felt helpless about the whole situation and therefore didn’t risk his life to go abroad.  He used to go abroad with the intent to make money and then return.  It never occurred to him that he had become estranged from his motherland, or that he had been expelled from it.   In the first few decades of the twentieth century, the disenfranchised classes of Punjab were justifiably anxious due to economic hardships.  But, by remaining rooted to the land, they remained spiritually resilent and strong.  They longed to be free, they hoped that in future they would be able to make their homeland a better place, and to celebrate its history and its culture.  The immigration of the “Gadar” movement had this theme.

Today if you tell a young man that he won’t find anything in a foreign country, he retorts: “And what is here?”  If you tell him that there is spiritual and psychological degradation there, he snaps: “And is that any less here?”  He would perhaps consider the spiritual question at a later time, but for now his direct queries are: “Is hard work valued here?”, “Do you get a job on merit?”, “Can an honest man lead an honorable life here?”, “Is it not humiliating to get even the little things done?”, “Does police behave like human beings?”, “Have the politicians amassed their billions honestly?”

In the past, the youth of Punjab, wanting to find a way out of their frustration and anger, took to violence.  During the Naxalite years, and the years of terrorism, he picked up assault rifles to try and channel this anger.  But state repression has now extinguished that possibility.  The result: the cauldron of anger has now turned inward and that anger is being doused with drugs.  Or, there is this stubborn desire to go abroad even if it means risking one’s life.

The Punjabi youth gambles with all he has when trying to settle abroad.  Even after his gambles pay off, he remains disenchanted and broken in his personal and family life.  He doesn’t experience periods of joy.  He continues to long to once again breathe the air of his land.  But the uncertainty and brutality of his homeland scares him, and so he rejects his longing.  His alienation becomes even more extreme.

What is the way out for a powerless Punjabi who is afflicted with scarcity and chaos?  The vision of his homeland that was once painted by Prof Puran Singh has now been blown to smithereens.  The politics of Punjab regards tall promises, flyovers and frantic construction projects as development.  When Punjab is no longer Punjab, who is all this development for?  It is for those who continue to play colonial politics in a post-colonial world.  For those who consider Punjab as a means to their economic power.  These people confirm only those conclusions which are to their benefit.  Chandigarh was taken away from Punjab – they stayed quiet.  The Punjabi language has lost its value – these people remains satisfied.  The Blue Star operation broke Punjab’s back – these people call it freedom from terrorism.

It is evident that these people live in cities or are rich agriculturalists and are represented by Badal senior, Badal junior, and their cohorts.  They have laid a siege to Punjab’s economy.  For a person of humble background, progress has therefore become synonymous with going abroad and settling there.  In other words, the kind of space that is available to him in his own land is no longer in keeping with the times.  To have the energy of such an individual dedicated to Punjab has not been the focus of anyone, and neither has Punjab’s education system been village-centric.  Today the situation in education and in the job market is such that a village-boy of humble background is incapable of competing with the city-dwellers.  Everybody knows what goes on in government institutions: how teachers while away their time, how students are made to waste their days, how copying is encouraged to clear exams, how boys and girls in colleges spend years and years without any definite resolve.  In universities, people with such backgrounds continue to remain behind.  And this has been continuing for decades.  Forced to dwell in such a suffocating and hopeless environment, the young take to drugs.  Or they want to fly abroad.

Our political class considers Punjabi immigration very superficially.  They present immigration as a proof of the enterprising and crusading spirit of the Punjabi people.  They do not see that immigration that is caused by helplessness diminishes not just the Punjabi individual, but also the future of Punjab and its soil.  The son of its soil, estranged, no longer wishes to be here.  When its young men are busy servicing foreigners, how can Punjab’s regional character remain strong?

When one meets Punjabi boys in Italy, Spain or elsewhere, one finds that not all of them are from economically distressed families.  A while ago, I met some young Punjabis in Milan, Italy.  One of them had even been employed in Punjab Police and he owned quite a bit of land in his native village.  It was his second time in Italy, but he was deeply depressed.  He was so sad that he was almost crying.  He started to speak: “I don’t feel I belong here, but the situation back home is even worse.”  He said: “Punjab has gone down the drain.”  Such utterances are common whenever you meet and talk to our people anywhere in the world.  A great number of these people work in construction, drive taxis, are employed by courier services.  Some have their own stores, some have taken over a post office.  Some are IT people, some are doctors.  Some publish newsletters or papers.  And all of them are good citizens and family men.  But when they discuss politics in Punjab, their anger boils over.  Their common refrain is: “All are corrupt.  They have looted it all.”  One can talk to any Punjabi, he starts spouting against the Badal family.

These are the people who did not want to leave their Punjab, but were helpless.

There are also many among these who are quite content.  The contented ones continue to talk of Punjab: “Can one ever forget one’s motherland?”

They want to return, but become quiet when they think of their past.


Anonymous said...

Situation is not better in other northern states of India either .Sometimes I question if we were ready for freedom and run a country on our own?

Where have we reached ? We are paying high cost of free life .

Anonymous said...

Alienation of people is pervasive all over the world. Everything is so transitory and always in flux. Everyone eventually ends up pining for the mythic 'good old days'.