Harinder Kaur Bindu, whose father Megh Raj Bhagtuana was killed by alleged Babbar Khalsa International militants in 1991, now leads protests against the new farm regime at Tikri as head of the women’s wing of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan).
The Jamhoori Kisan Sabha is one of the main groups at the Singhu protest. Its president Kulwant Singh Sandhu, who was part of the failed talks with the Centre, was shot in the leg and back in an ambush by suspected Khalistan Commando Force members in 1988.
Sonia Mann, a film star in south India and Punjab, has been a regular visitor to the protests and to Tihar jail where several peasants have been imprisoned following the violence during the farmers’ January 26 march in Delhi. Mann’s father Baldev Singh Mann was assassinated by suspected separatists in 1990 while he was travelling to see her for the first time, just 15 days after her birth.
Kulwant Singh Sandhu, who was shot in the leg and back by suspected Khalistan Commando Force members in 1988
At a Supreme Court hearing on the farmers’ movement last month, attorney-general K.K. Venugopal had alleged a “Khalistani infiltration” into the agitation.
The charge has grown louder since the Republic Day violence, during which the Sikh flag Nishan Sahib was hoisted at the Red Fort — an act the protesters have condemned and blamed on Deep Sidhu, a former BJP campaigner who was seen among the group that had stormed the fort.
“We are Sikh, not Khalistani. None of our farmers are Maoists or Khalistanis. We are people involved in mass movements who believe in peaceful struggle,” Kulwant Sandhu, the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha president, told The Telegraph.
“For nine months we have protested these laws without attacking anyone. We are people who organise langars and believe in the unity of India.”
Sandhu is an accused in at least one of the FIRs on the January 26 violence. His car had come under fire on April 19, 1988, from suspected Khalistani militants. One person was killed while Sandhu and another were injured.
Sonia Mann, whose father Baldev Singh Mann was killed by suspected separatists in 1990, just 15 days after her birth
A former sarpanch from the CPM in Jalandhar district, Sandhu was part of the faction that split from the party in 2001 and later formed the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI).
Sandhu is one among scores of peasant leaders whom Khalistani separatists had targeted in the 1980s and 1990s. One of them was his fellow RMPI member Balwinder Singh Sandhu, killed in Tarn Taran by Khalistani insurgents as late as October last year.
Balwinder Sandhu had been awarded the Shaurya Chakra with his family for successfully resisting armed attacks by separatists in 1993.
Bhagtuana — father of Tikri women’s leader Bindu --- was a member of the Front Against Communalism and State Repression, a far Left group that campaigned through street theatre against Sikh extremism as well as police atrocities and ensured that Hindus were not compelled to flee their homes for fear of insurgents.
When Bindu was 14, Bhagtuana was killed in an attack on a street theatre show in Faridkot district in which about 20 others, mostly Dalit peasants, also died. Bhagtuana is said to have chased the Kalashnikov-toting gunmen with his 0.12-bore single shooter until he was killed.
“We are farmers. We feel hurt when we are called Khalistani. I have lost other family members too to terrorists. We are all here (in Delhi) to save our farms. Some may harbour pro-Khalistan sentiments but they are a minority,” Bindu told this newspaper.
“This government gives every movement some name or the other. Some are called ‘urban Naxals’. BJP people called Muslims the ‘tukde tukde gang’ after they protested against the NRC and the CAA.”
Mann’s father — a playwright and publisher of the Hirawal Dasta, a magazine that backed the political line of the CPIML New Democracy — was gunned down on the night of September 25, 1990, near Amritsar. During the 1975-77 Emergency, his scathing plays had landed him in detention.
Sonia Mann said in a recent video documentary by The Caravan magazine that she had been inspired to join the farmers’ agitation by a letter her father had left for her before he was killed.
It says: “The struggle is on for the emancipation of starving children, of women who are forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their bellies, of workers who trade their blood for bread, of peasants groaning under the crushing burden of debts. And in this battle for a new world, your father, too, is playing his humble role.
“In the times in which you have been born, Punjab stands divided along communal lines. In some places people are being killed because they do not grow their hair long enough, while in others people are being burnt alive for precisely the opposite reason.
“Humanity is being butchered in the name of religion. Having created divisions among people, having initiated a Holi that’s being played with blood, the Devil is having a good laugh from a distance.
“My baby, in the moment of your birth your father is engaged in a battle against the forces of darkness. Such forces are conniving to banish every sun that could bring light into this world.”
In the documentary, titled Revolution in their Blood, Sonia Mann says: “We feed even the policemen deployed against us. Is this the work of terrorists? Terrorism is what they do — using water cannons and tear gas on our elders and hurting them….
“They think only their ideology is correct and others are wrong, because corporate (groups) back them. They want to make money. They are business-minded people. Their governments are made with this money.”
Farmer, son suicides
A debt-ridden farmer and his son allegedly died by suicide in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur village, saying in a note that they were upset over the Centre's new farm laws and the state government's failure to waive their loans.
The farmer, Jagtar Singh, 70, and his son Kirpal Singh, 42, were found dead at their residence in Muhadipur village on Saturday morning, DSP Munish Kumar said.